Friday, December 31, 2010

Books for December 2010

Treat Your Own NeckTreat Your Own Neck by Robin McKenzie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A good book, and helpful for considering body mechanics and healthy ergonomic practices as well as useful stretches for both recovery and prevention of neck pain.

The Children of MenThe Children of Men by P.D. James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Very good story, though quite dark for much of the book. I had read that it had an apocalyptic angle to it, and it certainly does. James deals with matters of faith a little bit flippantly for my tastes, but not so much that it obscured the quality of the story.

The Subversive Copy Editor: Advice from Chicago (or, How to Negotiate Good Relationships with Your Writers, Your Colleagues, and Yourself)The Subversive Copy Editor: Advice from Chicago by Carol Fisher Saller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Very good book; an interesting look at copy-editing and the functional dynamics of the work. There are a lot of good workflow ideas and advice here, as well as fun anecdotes and a lighter approach to the work of publishing.

View all my reviews

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Bits and Tidbits, end-of-the-year 2010

Funny: Help! My Half-Elf Is Pregnant! These are excerpts from a Dungeons & Dragons magazine advice column. Very funny stuff.
Strangely Beautiful: Lori Nix's Stunning, Tiny Dioramas Depict an Abandoned World. These are amazing, and betray a fascinating worldview as well.
Also Funny: Awkward Pregnancy Photos. It still surprises me what some people consider artistic and/or appropriate. (Warning: one pic has a bare booby.)
A Real Problem: Walking Santa, Talking Christ. A look at the real statistical differences between those who say they are active in church vs. those who actually ARE active.
Mayonnaise: The Guiltless Pleasure. I like this piece, not so much because I agree with his love of mayo, but because I love his writing style.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, everyone. I pray that, as Advent comes to a close this afternoon, and Christmastide begins, the Lord will bless each of you with the joy of His coming and the hope of His grace and mercy.

Here are some especially delightful Christmas treats for your listening pleasure (video links-- click through to the blog if you're reading this on Facebook)-- some of the lesser-known, but absolutely beautiful, carols:

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Books for fall 2010

The "bad news is that I haven't done a very good job of keeping track of books I've read lately. The good news is that I'm using a new (to me) service called GoodReads that will clean up my reviews a bit. I'll make use of GoodReads's sharing tools to post reviews here.
Books I've read fairly recently:
Agnes, Daughter of William the Baptist or The Young TheologianAgnes, Daughter of William the Baptist or The Young Theologian by James M. Chaney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was the “sequel” to Chaney’s William the Baptist: annotated edition, and follows Agnes, one of William and Dora’s children who wishes to be admitted to the Communion Table for the Sacrament. Like William the Baptist it is written in a dialogue style, and it is very readable.
Agnes is not quite as good as William, which may explain why it is so hard to find a copy. Still, it is a good book and worth the read, if you can find it!

Acts of the Apostles (Mind Over Matter Series)Acts of the Apostles by John F.X. Sundman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A good, fun read. After a somewhat complicated start, this one will draw you in and keep you interested.
I read it as an ebook; I'm not sure if it is available in print. It reads well as etext, which seems a bit fitting given the subject (though it feels a little dated, set in the mid-90s). There were a few annoying artifacts which I am pretty sure are the fruit of using Smashwords, not poor editing. But overall, it was well laid-out and flowed well in iBooks.

A Guide to Biblical Commentaries & Reference WorksA Guide to Biblical Commentaries & Reference Works by John Frederick Evans
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book is unlike any I have seen: while D.A. Carson and Tremper Longman both have offered similar bibliographies and surveys in the past, neither was as thorough nor as detailed as Evans. Furthermore, both Carson and Longman (understandably) focused on only one of the testaments.
Evans’s A Guide to Biblical Commentaries & Reference Works is the most comprehensive survey of commentaries around. It is very up-to-date, even including commentaries released in the second half of 2010. And it is extremely useful, offering guides for students of the Bible from every level.
Any seminary or Bible college student, pastor or ministry worker, or even professors who interact with the Bible will be grateful for this as a ready-reference.
(Full disclosure: I work with the ministry that publishes this volume.)

A Visit from the Goon SquadA Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I didn’t finish this book, but I’m done with it, at least for now. I read a little more than 50% of it.
This is a strange book. It’s more of a collection of short stories, with the characters in the stories loosely connected to the characters in the other stories. It jumps around in a historical timeline with no evident rationale, and at the beginning of each chapter (which is actually a new short story) you’re disoriented and lost for a few paragraphs. There are some sections that are frank about adult ideas, but very little that is explicit.
Still, it was a reasonably good book (the part I read). I put it down for a few weeks, and when I came back to it I was completely lost. I didn’t start over, but I did have to work to regain a sense of who was who. After a couple of tries, I simply lost interest. I think a good bit of the reason why was that I had very little invested in the characters, as I had encountered each of them only briefly in one or two stories.
I think the writer is clever with much of what she does here, and this might be a great book for a vacation or holiday when it could be read straight-through over a few days.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Bits and Tidbits, November 2010

Friday, November 12, 2010


We're going on a trip...

We'll be in Charlotte and in Columbia for a little under a week, then traveling and resting in Tennessee for another several days.

While in Charlotte, I have the privilege to give a couple of lectures at Reformed Theological Seminary. If you think of it, please pray for me to be of some use to those in training for ministry.

We'll also get to see our families, and have a few days just to rest and relax as a family ourselves. Please pray for our travels, our rest, and our relational re-connection on several levels.

Be back soon!

Monday, November 8, 2010

One more on communication in conflict

On Friday I posted some thoughts about communication while in conflict. Here's one more thought that I find useful; I meant to include this one in the previous post, and simply forgot it!

Don't be confident when discussing conversations you were not a part of. Instead, be ready to have your view and understanding of that conversation changed. I've been in discussions where I heard someone begin to tell another person what they said during another conversation. This gets especially sticky when the one doing the "telling" was not even a part of the original conversation! And it can be a real problem then, as well.

Often we will be told something in a report on what was said, and because of the source of that report we believe that we know the content of that conversation even as if we had been a part of it. But we are wrong in that belief-- it is just as likely that the person reporting to us mis-heard or misunderstood what was being said as it is that they got it right. Plus, we need to remember how strongly the Bible speaks against gossip and slander-- two sins that are far too easy to be a part of in the reporting of a conversation.

If we must bring up a previous conversation-- and especially one that we weren't a participant in-- it is far better to approach with questions, asking for clarification about both what was said AND what was meant. If we can approach such circumstances this way, we may come away with a much different (though more accurate) view of what was said.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Communication in conflict

I'm still learning a lot about conflict and how to deal with it in a way that is loving, honest, and dignifying toward others. I imagine I'll be learning about that until glory; I certainly hope I don't STOP learning about it!

That said, I've picked up a thing or two about communication during times of conflict that I think are helpful. Here are a few thoughts:

Don't tell someone how they feel. Instead, tell them how YOU feel. I've heard people tell others something like, "You're angry..." or, "You're upset..." I've never seen this produce helpful results; if anything, the one being addressed usually does NOT feel the way they are told that they feel, and now they also feel misunderstood and defensive. The truth is that only you know how you feel, and only I know how I feel; if I try to anticipate their feelings, I'll probably get it wrong.

I recently had an interaction with another pastor who had been presumptuous in dealing with a particular circumstance in which we both had a part. I was frustrated, confused, and unsure how to deal with the aftermath of his presumption. I know that, often, frustration or confusion on my part comes across to others as anger. It was so helpful that my fellow pastor said, "I feel like you have withdrawn from our conversation, and I don't know if I've done something to upset you." That opened a door for me to communicate how I was feeling, and invited me back into collaboration with him. We stopped being adversaries and started being partners again.

Don't just listen to what they are saying. Instead, also listen to what they are telling you. We can use a lot of words when in dialogue about problems before us. Sometimes, those words can suggest things that are only a part of the story. I was once a part of a team that was giving counsel to a leader in authority who was dealing with someone who had acted wrongly; that authority figure asserted that he was trying to do things "by the book" and handle the offender accordingly. However, this leader had inadvertently run rough-shod over the other person, who had been open to correction and repentance before they were so caustically mis-handled!

I was grateful for the wisdom of another member of our team who lovingly pointed out to this leader how it was possible to "do the right thing in the wrong way." The authority figure wouldn't hear it, though, and we had to listen to what he was telling us beyond his words: he was unwilling to do things "by the book" if that meant that his authority would also have to include dealing lovingly with those under him. Sometimes words alone will actually mislead, but there is a larger message to be heard.

Don't judge circumstances (or people!) in the moment alone. Instead, assess them in context. I have faced problems with others that we focused on very precisely, and we worked out a great amount of detail about them. We may have arrived a a fair grasp of the immediate consequences of a problem, but often later learned that there were more factors involved than we took into consideration. This is often the case when someone has a very strong reaction about something, and our inclination can be to take that reaction at face value, in isolation of other factors. Consequently, we draw conclusions about the circumstances (and the person reacting to them) that are based solely on that moment.

I was in a meeting once where one member of a team checked another with a strong rebuke that, to the recipient, sounded like an unfounded accusation. The "accused" was so upset that he left the meeting. Afterward, in a conversation with a few of us, the "accused" man was clearly angry at the man who had rebuked him-- but we reminded this man of the other man's character, which was not that of a rash, accusing, and belligerent person that this man had determined him to be in the moment. In the larger context, those circumstances took on a different light.

Those are a few lessons I've learned-- sometimes the hard way!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Bits and Tidbits, October 2010

Friday, October 29, 2010

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Rethinking education

Here's a great animation of a presentation done by Sir Ken Robinson, who proposes some great ideas for how we might rethink and re-model our educational processes:

I'd love to see this worked out into curricular models and nuts-and-bolts concepts.

Also, I think this approach is highly compatible with some of the tools for learning that the Classical model of education employs. And it also sounds a little bit like some of Charlotte Mason's ideas.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Spiritual Life Conference 2010

Our Second-Annual Spiritual Life Conference will be on November 5-7. This year's conference is focused on the subject and theme of "Christ-Centered Worship" and our speaker will be Dr. Mark Dalbey.

The conference will include lectures on Friday evening, Saturday evening, and Sunday morning; an open Q&A Lunch on Saturday; and worship together on Sunday morning. The cost is kept as low as possible to make it easier to attend: $10 for members/regular attenders of HWPC, and $20 for non-members/non-regulars.

If you're interested in more information, check out the website:

Friday, October 1, 2010

Video Tidbits, September 2010

Rich Hall on Tom Cruise:

(HT: Glen)

Bill Cosby, on understanding "southern":

John Rutter does benedictions:

(HT: Holli)

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Bits and Tidbits, September 2010

Monday, September 20, 2010

Important reading

This post from Scot McKnight's "Jesus Creed" blog is, I think, vitally-important reading for all Christians today: Beck's Black Robe Brigade (by John Fea).

John Fea, Professor of History at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, has written a helpful reflection on the intersection of American history (or some parts of it) with faith and politics. Fea's assertion, which I believe is true far too frequently, is that we are regularly being presented with claims and conclusions that are based on parts of history, and/or that are based on simple answers to questions that are far from simple (if they can even be answered at all).

The issues discussed in the aforementioned post are very real and present issues that are coming soon to a town near you (if not to a church you belong to!). It is worthwhile to be aware of all of the questions asked in that post, lest we fall into blind or ignorant acceptance of cultural/political half-truths.

This dovetails with ideas that I've been reflecting on, and intend on posting about, centering around the question, "Who are you quoting?" (Look for that in the next couple of weeks, hopefully.)

Fea has a forthcoming book, Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? A historical introduction which is due out in February (pre-orders are available through Amazon-- see the link for the book).

Friday, September 17, 2010

Smart folks I know...

I thought it might be nice to do a round-up of some of my buddies who are bloggers. I highly recommend the following:
  • Barlow Farms. A friend and former neighbor covers just about all the bases. Jon lived in the same apartment complex while we were in seminary, and I got to know him enough to recognize that, when he had something to say, it was worth hearing.
  • The Nesting Place. An old acquaintance blogs on (extraordinarily creative) home decorating. "Nester" (aka Myquiline, in the offline world) and I were Young Life leaders together in another age.
  • In Light of the Gospel. A fellow pastor looks at important questions, ideas, and people. James is the pastor of a church about 20 minutes from mine, and he and I have gotten to be friends over the last several years.
  • Half-Pint House. A friend blogs about everyday life. Megan and I became friends through her blog first; interestingly, I began reading it because (at that time) her family was preparing to move to St. Louis to begin studies at Covenant Seminary, where I was then a student. She and her husband Craig (who is a highly-capable blogger in his own right, at Second Drafts) became some of our very good friends.
  • Traveling. A sent-out missionary reflects on where theology, culture, and life intersect. Bethany was one of my youth group students for about four years, so I get to claim some degree of spiritual influence on her; now she returns the favor in spades.
  • Scribo Facio Noto. A classmate challenges the status quo of church and ministry. Matt and I shared a lot of common ground while in seminary, and I continue to find that we still do.

Here's a disclaimer: every one of these folks has tons more traffic than I do, so I'm surely only linking to them because I can claim to know them. But all of their blogs are worth reading.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Something tells me I'm into something good...

If you didn't catch any of the new series Parenthood last year, you missed a gem. A capable ensemble cast tackles the topic pretty well, and doesn't pull punches (too much, at least).

Story-wise, there is a lot of depth and some profundity to find. One of the aspects I appreciated about the show was that they faced some real and substantial issues head-on: inter-racial couples, separation and divorce, learning disabilities, and teen rebellion were a few. They also didn't mind admitting frequently that there are always consequences to choices, and sometimes the consequences are severe.

At another level, we found the acting and direction to be of better-than-average quality as well. It's refreshing to find a show that, a) isn't presented as "reality"; b) doesn't rely on sexual innuendo or slapstick comedy and laughtracks; and c) doesn't revolve around some sort of behind-the-scenes legal or medical angle.

There are some disappointments. It's a little far-fetched how much this large extended family is able to prioritize things like a nephew's baseball game. And there are occasionally scenes that are suggestive enough that we'll make sure the kids aren't sneaking a peek.

But how can you NOT like a show that ends its first season with Craig T. Nelson (yes, "Coach") singing Herman's Hermits' "Something Tells Me I'm into Something Good" while playing the ukelele?

Parenthood starts season #2 tonight on NBC. You still have time to watch the last episode of season 1 online, if you hurry.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

9/11 commercials

American Airlines (one of the two, with United, whose planes were hijacked) aired this ad after 9/11. It's a good ad, seeking to rebuild confidence without boasting or downplaying a tragedy.

United Airlines aired this ad following 9/11; theirs was very different from American's but also good in similar goals. (I've always liked how United uses Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue in different ways in their ads.)

Here's a commercial that Anheiser-Busch made in acknowledgement of 9/11; allegedly, they aired it only once because they didn't want to profit financially from it.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Books for August 2010

My reading is picking back up, and I managed to get a couple of books finished (or "finished for now") last month...

  • Free Culture by Lawrence Lessig. This book, a fascinating look at copyright and intellectual property law and where it needs to go, is great. Lessig is one of the authorities on the subject, and also one of the big promoters behind Creative Commons, a licensing approach that solves many of the problems faced in today's intellectual property climate. Two incidental comments about this book: first, it's available for free in an eBook (PDF) format from Lessig's website; second, it marks the first book for me read entirely in eBook format, which I read on the iBooks app of my iPad. (9)
  • Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition. I didn't read the whole thing, but just the new parts (I've owned the 14th and 15th editions as well). There is some great new content about electronic formatting and publication, which is invaluable to me at this point. This book is a must-have reference if you do any serious writing or editing. (9)
  • Shopgirl by Steve Martin. I've talked about my appreciation for the talented Martin before, and generally he doesn't disappoint in this novella. There are some scenes that are charged with enough adult-themed content to make some people uncomfortable, and some language that is a bit coarse. What I appreciate about Martin, though, is how honest his writing is: he's able to capture in words emotions, circumstances, and descriptions that are so difficult to articulate; and he portrays life in these scenes in a truthful manner. If you liked the movie Good Will Hunting you would probably like Shopgirl. I read it in one evening. (8+)

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Bits and Tidbits, August 2010

Monday, August 30, 2010

Video Tidbits, August 2010

How to be alone:

(HT: Jenny)


(HT: Anthony)

Elderly Couple Plays Piano:

Walken reads "Goodnight Moon":

(HT: Travis)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Pastoral retreat

Today, I'll begin a three-day break from my "routine" to take a pastoral retreat.

From now until Wednesday, I'll spend a lot of time in quiet, alone. I'll read a lot, pray a lot, write a lot, and think a lot. I'll study the Bible, I'll study some books, and I'll study my own heart.

This is the second such retreat for me; I found some similar time last fall, when Abbey's surgery was cancelled the first time. I found it to be refreshing in ways that, until then, I didn't know I needed to be refreshed. I came away renewed in my vigor and excitement for my pastoral ministry at Hickory Withe Presbyterian Church, and with a heart given-over to the people of my congregation.

This time, I'm praying for the same. I'm also hopeful that I will be productive in my retreat in more concrete ways (last year's was, too). Here are a few goals for me:
  • Pray through the entire congregational roll
  • Develop outlines of sermons for the next 4-6 weeks
  • Write notes of encouragement to at least 6-8 families in our congregation
  • Plan our six-part Advent sermon series
  • Lift up the officers and their families in extended prayer
  • Write the liturgies for the next 2-3 weeks of Sunday worship
  • Journal about how God is renewing my heart
  • Finish 2-3 chapters of a book (writing)
  • Read through Acts, Genesis, and Romans
We are blessed to live near a conference center (its about 45 minutes from our house) where they have space set aside for this sort of retreat. Thus, I'll drop Jack and Molly off for school, go to the retreat center all day, then come home around 5:30-6pm each day.

If you think of it, I'd be grateful for your prayers during this retreat. God can use it powerfully, and I pray that He would.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Economic bubbles

I recently read this fascinating comment from Paul Graham:

By 1998, Yahoo was the beneficiary of a de facto pyramid scheme. Investors were excited about the Internet. One reason they were excited was Yahoo's revenue growth. So they invested in new Internet startups. The startups then used the money to buy ads on Yahoo to get traffic. Which caused yet more revenue growth for Yahoo, and further convinced investors the Internet was worth investing in.

[Paul Graham, "What Happened to Yahoo?" August 2010]

This is a key piece of the puzzle, it seems to me, for the precipitation of the "
dot-com bubble" that burst in 2000.

What is interesting is that, with the more recent housing/real estate bubble that burst, a not-dissimilar (though slightly more complex) cyclical pattern emerges, involving negative equity, credit-default swaps, and subprime mortgages.

Is there a cyclical pattern that precedes such "bubbles" and their subsequent bursting? If so, shouldn't we look for some economic theory that would allow us to identify the pattern before it reaches epidemic scale?

What do you think? (I'm talking to you, Scott Cunningham!)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Inception's end (spoilers warning)

I've been thinking about the end of Inception for a couple of weeks (since we saw it), and I have a theory about the ending that I think makes sense.

Two meta-comments: first, this post contains something (many somethings, actually) that may spoil the ending, so don't read it if you don't want to do that.

Second, I welcome anyone's comments-- but I want to give a special call-out to Jason Kennedy on this one.

So, here's my theory for the ending (spoilers coming now-- avert your eyes!):

I think the key to it is that Cobb's totem switched. Somewhere in the middle of the movie the switch began: I think it was when Cobb and Ariadne were watching his children play outside. The switch solidified toward the end, before he woke up-- actually, it was about half-way through his last time in limbo, when he finally let go of Mal.

Cobb's new totem was his children's faces-- NOT the tipping top. When he saw their faces, he knew it was real.

I know what the best objection to this theory is: others aren't supposed to know the totem, and he told Ariadne all about that moment with the children during the dream. But there are several things that overrule that objection:
  • First, a lot of the totems were known, to a certain degree. Cobb actually told Ariadne what the key to his spinning top totem was, and Arthur revealed the key to his totem too. There's no inconsistency with the storyline for Ariadne to know that the key to knowing reality would be for him to see the children's faces. It was the faces themselves-- and what they looked like-- that was the totem.
  • Cobb's totem was very personal-- the top was actually Mal's totem before it was his, wasn't it? So, for him to let go of her means that he would need a new totem; it makes sense for the kids to be it, since he chooses highly-personal totems.
  • No one else would know what the children's faces looked like, except Cobb's father, who (we get the picture) long-ago left behind the work of dealing in dreams. So the faces would be a perfect totem.
  • The kids in the movie were different in the end (reality) from the ones in the dream. It was subtle, but they had different actors playing two-year-older children. Had Cobb been in a dream, they would have remained the same, wouldn't they?


Monday, August 9, 2010

Sermon Texts for August 2010 (updated)

The first posting was completely wrong! Here's an updated version:

August 1 Psalm 118 -- We speak to God in worship: We Pronounce Our Thanksgiving to God
August 8 Psalm 4 -- We speak to God in worship: We Declare Our Petitions to God
August 15 Acts 1:1-11 -- Marching Orders
August 22 Acts 1:12-26 -- The Apostolic Appointment
August 29 Acts 2:1-13-- Spirit Anointing

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Change is a-comin'...

I think that Carl Trueman's assessment of the coming change regarding homosexuality and a biblical, orthodox position on the matter is pretty much spot-on.

Commenting on the commentary regarding the recent U.S. District Court overturn of California's Proposition 8, Trueman makes some excellent points about what the implications will eventually be for Christians. (If you haven't been following, Proposition 8 was an ban on legalized homosexual marriage, and the U.S. District Court overturned it on August 4.)

Maybe these implications won't come into effect immediately; I wouldn't be surprised if an appeals court overturns the District Court's decision if for no other reason than it was a bit extreme in a few statements. But I think Trueman is right with regard to the general trajectory of our culture, and Christians will need to do some business with their beliefs.

Trueman's points are:
  • We can no longer assume our children will agree with us on this issue.
  • No one will be allowed to offer any criticism-- however reasonable-- of gay culture without being labeled a "homophobe".
  • Churches will find inconsistencies to be very inconvenient.
  • Evangelical leaders who take a stand against homosexuality as sinful activity will be likened to white supremacists.
[Click here to read the full version of each point.]

I think Trueman's point about our children and the presumption that has been exercised is especially poignant. Jay Adams made a similar point about the relative decline of marriage in general in his book
Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the Bible: cultural support and overlap of public opinion with what happens to also be a biblical teaching allowed generations to ignore the need for solid Bible instruction on a difficult subject. When public opinion and cultural support shifted (as it did for marriage and divorce, and now is doing for homosexuality), the church was left without much general, lay-level knowledge about the Bible's teaching on the subject. That leaves us with sound-bite style (mis)quoting of a couple of familiar passages, which a thoughtful opponent can too-easily dispense with.

My fear of the coming changes Trueman outlines isn't so much that it will make ministry and life more difficult for Christians and the church; rather, it is that American Christians (and churches) that are too comfortable with the ease and lack of difficulty we've enjoyed for centuries will compromise rather than face the reality of deciding between culture and Scripture.

Prove me wrong, Lord-- please, prove me wrong.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Rejoinder about DADT...

In my recent post about the "Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell" (DADT) policy, I stated that I felt like the overtures to General Assembly were poor because they represented support for a compromise toward sin.

At General Assembly, more information came to light about this situation.

As I mentioned in my previous post, the Department of Defense has been tasked with reporting on whether repealing the DADT policy would have a detrimental effect (or any other effect) on the function of our military. What came to light at G.A. was that our chaplains, specifically those in certain roles and positions, had been asked to voice their perspective on this
by the Defense Department. In other words, the PCA, through its chaplains, was given a platform and a voice to speak about homosexuality.

This changes things a great deal. I still think that DADT itself is a compromise-- but I also think that this represents an opportunity to speak frankly about homosexuality and the sin involved in it from a biblical perspective. In light of that, I supported the overture as it was (but it doesn't matter now whether I supported it or not, because the Assembly voted in favor of it-- which means that I support it now either way).

Thursday, July 8, 2010

How many Macs have I had?

Most people who know me know that I'm fairly tech-savvy, which is mostly just a hobby/interest of mine. I started using computers in 4th grade, when the Apple II came out-- my school had a great lab and I cut my teeth doing simple programs in Basic on the Apple IIe (the education edition).

I used the Apple IIe at school, and at home we had an IBM Selectric II typewriter and a Coleco Adam computer, until late in high school. In my Senior year, my school obtained one Apple Macintosh computer-- the "Classic". I had found my computing platform of choice.

Since then, I've owned 12 computers -- and all but four of them have been Macs. (In the late 90s, I was too broke to continue buying Macs-- they were still in the thousands of dollars range, while I could build a Windows PC for a few hundred dollars.) Here's my list:
  • Macintosh LC (1991)-- this one was my high school graduation present. We splurged for the 13" monitor (that was an upgrade from the 12") and the new Apple StyleWriter inkjet printer (which was a re-branded Canon printer). It cost almost $4000, and had a 40MB (that's MEGAbyte) hard drive and 2 MB RAM. Over time, I upgraded it with more RAM (all the way up to 4MB), a modem (and later a faster modem), the "System 7" Mac operating system, an external hard drive, a different printer, and a trackball. I had a ton of software that I owned, and each program took up a few hundred kilobytes or at most a meg. I used my LC until 1998; it's in a farm cabin on some family land now, but it still runs.
  • iMac DV 400Mhz-- after the season of Windows machines that begat frequent frustration, we were given this iMac in 2003. It ran System 9, when we got it, and we upgraded it to the OS X 10.3 "Panther" operating system. It ran great for several years, and while it was really heavy it was a good "family" machine to keep in the corner of the small dining room of our seminary apartment. We used it until late 2005, when the hard drive died and we bought a Mac Mini (more on that in a moment).
  • iBook 12" 1.2Ghz-- when the Windows laptop we bought in 2001 for seminary finally gave it up in 2004, I bought a Mac laptop, the 12-inch iBook. This was a great computer, and I loved it-- a great size, plenty of speed and power, and it was still running strong two years later when it was stolen!
  • Mac Mini-- when the iMac hard drive failed in 2005, I thought about swapping it out for a new one-- at that time, a new one would have cost about $100. We decided to put that $100 toward a Mac Mini, which would extend the life of our computers for some time to come.
  • MacBook-- in the fall of 2006, my iBook was stolen-- right before classes started for both seminary and the school where I taught. Within 48 hours, I had replaced it with a MacBook, the new line of Mac laptops that had replaced the iBook line a few months earlier. That MacBook has been a very good computer, though I replaced the hard drive a couple of times (once because of failure, and once as an upgrade). That Mac is now Marcie's main Mac, since I got a new one recently (details to come).
  • PowerBook 17" 1Ghz-- this was another hand-me-down, and we got it in 2007 (though it was originally sold in 2003). It was Marcie's main computer from the start, giving her more freedom than the Mac Mini (which had become something like a digital hub/family computer). It felt a bit slower than the other, newer Macs around the house, but it still ran well until January when the hard drive finally failed.
  • iMac 20"-- in 2007 we replaced the Mac Mini with a 20" iMac, which we still have and is still our digital hub and family computer. Now the kids are becoming avid Mac users as well, and they love to spend time on the iMac.
  • MacBook Pro 13"-- this is my current Mac, which I got in April. It's great, and will probably last me as long as my others have. I've gotten quite used to the small laptop form-factor (12", 13" and now 13" again) and find it a joy to use daily.

I think it is worth noting that, except for my stolen iBook and the Mac Mini, all of our Macs had (or have) lives exceeding 4 years, with some of them going for longer: the LC for 7 years, the first iMac for 6 years, and the 17" PowerBook for 7 years. And until April, the newest Mac that we owned was three years old. That's really something compared to the fact that, for 5 years, I went through 4 different Windows computers.

Those are the Macs I've had. How many Macs have YOU had?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Worship 10: What's in my pastoral prayers

I posted previously on the importance of the pastoral prayers (aka congregational prayers or prayers of the people). I'd like to say a little bit more about content of the pastoral prayers.

First, a disclaimer: I don't claim to have the "definitive" list of what should be in the congregational prayer, by any means. I recognize that I probably have missed at least a few things (and maybe a number of them), and I'd welcome you to comment with things that you think should be added!

For example, one congregant recently commented that he would like to hear me pray for our military more often. He was absolutely right! I didn't realize until he said it that I had overlooked that important topic, and I now include it regularly in one section of my pastoral prayers.

That said, what I now present as "prayers of the people" in weekly worship is based on months (and even years) of making adjustments and additions in my own leadership of pastoral prayers during worship, and that itself was based on years of sitting under faithful and capable pastors in different churches and hearing them pray for our congregations.

Here is what I offer regularly in our season of congregational prayer:
  • Meditation on the worship theme. Every week, the liturgy of our worship is crafted around one or more themes that are themselves drawn from both the sermon and other factors. I take one of those themes (usually the most prominent one) and we meditate on it for a moment. I try to include Scriptural ideas (direct quotes as much as I can) in that meditation, and also some drawing together of those ideas with the sense of application for the day.
  • Prayer for one aspect of the church. In this section, I essentially rely on the set of topics that I identified in my book, For All the Saints: Praying for the Church and use one of them each week, rotating through the whole list over time. There are 15 topics, and I've identified several distinct ways that we can pray for the church in each topic, so there's a lot of room for variety here even though we rotate through.
  • Prayer for one segment of creation. We are commanded in Scripture to pray for our government and those in authority in it (I Timothy 2:1-2; cf. I Peter 2:13-14), and we ought to do that as a congregation. I remember one pastor in my hometown, the memory of whom challenges me now 20 years later, because (among other things) of his faithfulness to pray for our nation's president and other elected officials every week. In our congregational prayers, we break it down into these segments, praying for one each week in rotation: our local community (the unincorporated area where the church is, and the two adjacent towns); our region (both the county we are in, and the metropolitan area in the next county over that we are increasingly becoming a part of); our state; our nation; and for the whole world. Incidentally, I have begun to include prayers for our nation's military in my prayers for our nation, and for all military servicemen-- ours and others-- in my prayers for the world and for peace. Though my prayers for each of these is different every week, two consistent themes emerge for all of these every time I pray: first, that the leaders at each level will recognize the limits of their own authority and the sovereignty of God to grant them any authority at all, and that they would bow the knee to God in acknowledgement of their need for His salvation and for His guidance in their leadership; second, that both the authorities and those they lead (including us) would recognize that no work of politics, military action, or social activism can bring true and lasting peace, but that we would place our trust in Christ alone to bring peace and not in any of these as idols toward that end.
  • For our sister congregations and denominations. We are part of a larger work of Christ, yet it can be easy for a local church to focus primarily on what the Lord is doing in their congregation alone. For that reason, and because we genuinely hope for the prosperity of our sister congregations and denominations, we pray for one each week. Here again, we have a list (ours consists of seven nearby PCA churches, six other nearby congregations, and seven other denominations) that we rotate through each week. For congregations, I try to pray specifically for their pastor(s) as well as for the ministries of their church and their partnership in the Gospel. For denominations, I pray for the health of the denomination, for its commitment to the Gospel and to God's mission in the world, and for any known difficulties within each denomination to be handled with truth, mercy, and love. I get more comments and feedback about my prayers for other congregations and denominations than just about any other aspect of worship. I've had folks exclaim their surprise that I prayed for a church in another denomination, and indicate how much they felt welcomed by this part of my prayers. Not long ago, I was in Walmart and spoke to the lady behind me in the checkout line, who recognized that I was a pastor (from my clerical collar); she said that she was from so-and-so Baptist church, and I mentioned that their church happened to be in our congregational prayers the previous Sunday. She was blown away! Isn't it a shame that simply praying for one another is so astonishing?
    For our missionaries. We have a few missionaries (and "ministry workers") that we support financially, and several more to whom we have committed prayer support. Our list includes several domestic church planters, several campus ministers, one international church planter, a couple who work with Native American peoples, a couple planning to serve in India, and two missionaries on the U.S./Mexico border. We include one of these each week, praying for any specific needs as we know of them and for their mission work in general. We pray for their families, and we pray for their financial and prayer support.
  • For our congregation. One of the best models for pastoral prayers I had prayed every week for a few members of the congregation, slowly working his way through the entire roll. We would get letters about a month before "our Sunday" asking for any specific prayer requests, and he would include those requests that weren't marked as private. I have tried to emulate this practice, praying each week for three or four people/households and simply going through alphabetically, then starting over again. (At first I did the letters like my former pastor, but our congregation is small enough that most of the time I already know generally how to pray-- though I do ask our congregation to keep us informed for how they would like for us to be praying with and for them.) I always begin my prayers for each person/household with a prayer of thanksgiving for something specific that they contribute to the community of our congregation, and then pray for them in any other ways that are known to me (that is, ways that I believe it appropriate to pray for them in public-- some people are much more comfortable than others with having their prayer needs announced in public, even in the context of congregational prayers).
  • For any other needs. Sometimes there is someone who is sick, who recently lost a family member, or who has some other item for prayer or praise. Most weeks there are at least one or two ad-hoc items for prayer that weren't printed in the worship folder prayer list, but that I include fairly spontaneously. I always include that at this point in the congregational prayer, so those who are familiar with my prayers will not be surprised that I've gone "off-list"!
  • Confession of the weakness of our prayers. I think it is important to acknowledge that the things we have prayed for, and the way that we have prayed for them, is not exhaustive or even adequate. At this point, we confess to God that even our most selfless prayers are dependent upon His grace and work on our behalf for their perfection. We also give thanks that we can rely upon His complete knowledge of our lives and our hearts, and that even those items for prayer that we haven't or wouldn't share with others are known to Him and answered in His perfect will.
  • The Lord's Prayer. We conclude our congregational prayers every week with a corporate praying of the Lord's Prayer. This serves at least two functions: it draws the congregation into a final participation in these prayers (which, hopefully, they have been following all along and praying with in their hearts); and, it reminds us of God's care and provision as "our Father" to Whom we lift up all of these words of prayer.

One more comment about the above: with a little forethought and care, it's not difficult to tie all or most of the sections together a bit. For example, I often will refer back to the theme throughout the rest of my prayers, and will pray for both the theme and the aspect of the church to be clear to our sister congregations, to be demonstrated to our region/nation/world/etc., to be effectively administered by our missionaries, and so on.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Books for June 2010

I read these books in June:
Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel in Western Culture by Lesslie Newbigin: this book was great, and very stimulating in thinking about culture and philosophical ideas. I think a couple of Newbigin's conclusions go a little too far, but given that this book was written 25 years ago, it is surprisingly prescient still today (and the age might also explain my thoughts on those few conclusions). (9+)
Counterfeit Gods by Tim Keller: as usual, Keller delivers. This time he takes on the idea of idolatry, which plagues all of us, and offers such helpful insight into the causes, symptoms, and biblical solutions to idolatry. (9+)

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sermon Texts for July 2010

July 4 Genesis 10 -- The Table of Nations
July 11 Genesis 11 -- Babel, Babble, and Bible
July 18 Acts 1:1-11 -- Marching Orders
July 25 Acts 1:12-26 -- The Apostolic Appointment

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Video tidbits, June 2010

(HT: Ray)

(HT: Drew)

(HT: Kevin)

(HT: Cameron)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Bits & Tidbits, June 2010

Five Mistakes I Make in My Marriage: this is a great list of mistakes that occur in most marriages, frankly. I'll use this in future pre-marital (and marital) counseling.
Bret Michaels Explains His Bandana: yeah, Bret's a little over-the-top with the constant bandana. I'm glad to finally get some closure on this nagging question. Not.
World's Largest Hamburger: I guess there's something impressive about this interesting record-setter; Certainly the fact that they went to the trouble of making a bun and putting "fixins" on it. At the same time, it looks a little bit digusting. (HT: Jeff)
Fifty Worst Inventions: maybe I'm a little too sympathetic to Steve Wozniak, but I don't think the Segway should have been #1. (HT: Tim)
Too Much Government?: this is a great piece from Chuck Warnock about all of the ways that we benefit from our government.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

More on General Assembly overtures

Someone e-mailed me and asked how I thought each overture vote would go.

I'm very limited in my capacity to speculate/anticipate on this sort of thing-- I've tried in the past and been surprised as where I was wrong. That said, here are my best guesses for what the Bills and Overtures Committee (B&O) will bring, and how it will go:
  • Overtures 3, 4, 8, 19, 26, and 27 are all boundary changes for presbyteries. All of these will pass quickly.
  • Overtures 1 and 28 are simple resolutions/affirmations of existing positions, and probably both will pass. #28 may be thrown out because it is so redundant, but given the subject matter, I doubt it.
  • Overtures 2, 7, and 9 are all appeals to amend BCO 9-7 regarding diaconal assistants and clarification thereof. I expect that B&O will combine these into a single harmonized overture, taking something of the best of each (and the final result will probably be mostly #9). I would think this would pass, but not without some discussion on the floor.
  • Overtures 5 and 18 address the same issue in very different ways: one is a BCO amendment, and the other actually undoes a BCO amendment from last year (until it can be properly approved). #5 addresses the problem, but also gives open acknowledgement that there are some parts of the BCO that are "non-binding" (which at present is only due to a "temporary statement" adopted 34 years ago at the 4th G.A.!); therefore, it may be defeated for lack of willingness to declare any part of the BCO officially "non-binding". Given the climate of fear regarding litigation and other consequences with regard to same-sex marriage, I'd be surprised if #18 passes-- unless it can be done with the illicit amendment from last year remaining in place while the approval carries on, which would be weird.
  • Overtures 6 and 20 look at variations of future General Assemblies, both requesting study/consideration by the Administrative Committee. I don't see why either should fail, because it doesn't represent any increase in cost to the Assembly.
  • Overture 10 offers a proposed BCO amendment that would open up diaconal ministry to unordained men and women. This overture will have to be presented on the floor of the Assembly as-is, it seems to me, because it simply wouldn't work to consolidate it with any other amendment: it DOES overture an amendment of BCO 9-7, like the ones above, but also other parts of the BCO. And it is different from #25, both because #25 doesn't offer a BCO amendment and because #10 goes much further than #25. My guess is that #10 will be defeated.
  • Overtures 11 and 15 both offer amendments to the BCO regarding how mission churches are overseen and organized. These will probably be combined by B&O and offered as a single overture, and it will pass without much discussion.
  • Overtures 12, 17, and 22 all ask the PCA to urge the retention of the "Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell" policy. These will be consolidated into a single overture, and there will be a number of people who rise to speak in favor of it. One or two brave voices will speak against it, because (as I said in my earlier post) it is hiding from biblical proclamation about a difficult public topic and the overture is based on the grounds of avoiding legal action. Nevertheless, it will pass.
  • Overture 14 (about "intincture" in General Assembly worship) will be presented on its own, and there will be some discussion about it. I'm not sure how this one will go, but my best guess is that it will be voted down because: a) intincture isn't prohibited by our BCO's Directory for Worship; b) our BCO's Directory for Worship is (unofficially) "non-binding"; and c) it sets a poor precedent for how we determine what forms and styles of worship are acceptable for future General Assemblies. However, IF it passes, look for overtures in 2011 that seek a similar prohibition for certain music styles.
  • Overture 21 affirms the coordination of disaster relief efforts, and it will be presented on its own. It will pass.
  • Overture 23 asks for a study committee on political and economic justice, and it will be presented alone. There will be some who speak against it because they will argue that it isn't the role of the church to speak to this sorts of public matters (yet many of the same will affirm the declaration about the sanctity of life, in spite of the fact that it directly speaks to the public policy issue of abortion). Others will oppose it because it represents a cost to the Assembly to erect a study committee. Overall, though, I think (and hope) it will pass.
  • Overture 24, the call for PCA renewal, will probably be presented as it is: an alternative to the proposed Strategic Plan. There will be some floor debate about it (probably a surprising amount-- at least, surprising to me), and it will be narrowly defeated after several calls for division (= counting of the votes), and the proposed Strategic Plan from the Administrative Committee will pass.

And that wraps up all of the overtures (though not all in numerical order). It will be interesting to see where I'm right and where I'm way off. Next week, we'll all find out.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Some thoughts about "Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell"

I got a letter today from a group that works with PCA (and other) chaplains in the military, and I didn't like what I read-- but, I gather, not for the same reasons as many pastors who read it.

Let me say this first: I am thoroughly grateful for the work and ministry of our military chaplains; I have the deepest respect for those who serve in the military in general; and I have no desire to see any of these (and perhaps especially chaplains) to be caused hardship or difficulty in their work or ministry.

The aforementioned letter addressed the soon-coming repeal of the "Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell" (DADT) policy that has been the practice of our military with regard to homosexuals for about 28 years. (Before 1982, there was open practice of discharging anyone who admitted to being gay-- or in some cases who was simply thought to be gay-- even if there had not been any homosexual act discovered or committed.) DADT, which was a compromise from the start, essentially says that military leaders are not allowed to ask anyone if they are a homosexual, those who are homosexuals are not allowed to tell that they are, and a minimum of a certain level of conduct is required before an investigation about someone's homosexuality may ensue.

In May of this year, the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate both attached amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act (that determines the approval of the budget for all of national defense-- you can bet this is an important bill) that move to repeal the DADT policy. All of the votes to repeal are not to take effect until the receipt a report from the U.S. Department of Defense (and certified by the Defense Secretary, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and the President) stating that repeal of the DADT policy would not adversely affect military effectiveness.

Now, in the letter I keep referring to, the following points were made regarding the result of the repeal of this policy (claims in bold, my responses following each):

It would redefine the word "immoral" for the military and legitimize homosexual behavior.

Not any more than has already taken place in our culture, and not in any way that threatens the authority of Scripture. We are already living in a world that generally thinks of homosexual behavior as mainstream, morally-acceptable, and probably based on genetic heredity. This law doesn't suddenly change that-- in the military or otherwise. We lost the battle on that front a generation or two ago, for the most part. Nevertheless, that doesn't remove the authority of Scripture from the world, nor does it undermine its place.

People often throw around the word "morality" as if it is a static, fixed concept, but it isn't. Morality is the fruit of ethics, which is itself a product of worldview. Which is to say, no two Americans can safely assume that anyone else they come in contact with shares their morality, because few of them have actually reflected on their worldview, and fewer still understand the way that their worldview shapes their ethics and morality. (This isn't to say that there aren't like-minded people; only that we cannot assume that someone is like-minded simply because of some other commonality, even if that common ground is something like attending church together.)

The word "immoral" is redefined by everyone, all the time. The repeal of this law will have little or no affect on that.

It would allow an open-ended definition of "open homosexuality"

The word they are looking for is "arbitrary"-- and again, that's already in place.

When I was in college, a friend went to basic training for a few months. When he came back, he told me about his bunk-mate (we'll call him "Ben"), who was engaged to be married to a great girl that the guy had been dating since early in high school (my friend met her, and thought she was great). Ben was never a very athletic guy, and he didn't have the sort of zeal for guns and swagger that some in the military possess; he was a little nerdy, was small-framed and unimpressive physically, and was terrified of the Drill Sargent, but he wanted to get the computer training that the military could provide him. Ben was dismissed from basic training, and there was little reason offered-- but my friend suspected that he had bumped up against an arbitrary definition of the kind of "open homosexuality" prohibited by DADT: someone in the chain of command had determined that Ben's conduct felt a little to effeminate, not quite "manly" enough, and Ben had been "outed" inadvertently by his lack of certain qualities.

In other words, the arbitrary definition is already there, and I don't see how repealing DADT will make it any better or worse.

There's a meta-issue surrounding especially these first two points: definitions of morality and open homosexuality in the matter that DADT offers them (to the extent that it does) are really only with regard to behavior. Insisting that we keep these policies in place is perfectly fine if what we are looking for is the external façade of someone's idea of biblical morality. In other words, if all we want is "whitewashed tombs" (Matthew 23:27), by all means let's insist on keeping DADT. While we're at it, let's renew the call for the 10 Commandments to be posted in our courthouses, and mandatory prayer to be held in our public schools.

But we're not called to preach a legalistic, external pharisaism to our world; we're called to proclaim the Gospel, which is not just a change of clothes but a change of identity. If anything, DADT gives us (and our chaplains) a false sense of accomplishment because we've conveniently created a method for hiding sin.

It would open the door to make any kind of speech against a homosexual lifestyle a matter of "hate speech" and "civil rights violations"

Now we're getting to the heart of the matter: a fear of litigation and legal repercussions for preaching the message of the Bible. This is a valid and real threat-- not only in the military, but in a country that has embraced the idea of "hate speech" and that declares that the only sort of accountability that can be exercised or ethics taught is the one that says, "you can't hold anyone accountable or call anything else a sin." The threat of restricting hate-speech in my pulpit is just as likely as it is in the military.

There's a certain extent to which I simply don't care about that. And I'll say more in response to the last point.

It would curb evangelical chaplains' bold preaching when covering such sins

No it wouldn't-- or rather, it shouldn't. If a chaplain (or any pastor) is told, "do not preach what the Bible teaches about ___ or you will face the penalty of ___" they should stand ready to face that penalty. There are PCA pastors fighting racism, greed, and other sins common to our culture whose congregations have told them to stop or face termination-- and they should keep on preaching against those sins. Scripture and church history are full of those who were told not to preach or face beheading, being burned at the stake, being impaled, being crucified-- and they rightly kept on preaching.

When we are ordained as PCA pastors, we are asked to take the following vow (among others):
"Do you promise to be zealous and faithful in maintaining the truths of the Gospel and the purity and peace and unity of the Church, whatever persecution or opposition may arise unto you on that account?"

No amount of potential court action should curtail the preaching of the Gospel. If a PCA chaplain's bold preaching of the Truth is curbed by the repeal of the DADT policy, he should be brought up on charges for abandoning his ordination vows. Period.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Worship 9: Prayers of the People and Pastoral Prayers

Charles Spurgeon-- one of the greatest preachers of the last few hundred years, who was called the "prince of preachers"-- was once asked which he would sooner give up in the worship service, if he could only do one: his sermon, or his prayers for the congregation.

He thought about it, and after much consideration declared that the question was complex and difficult, but if he must choose between the two, he would have to choose the congregational prayers.

Imagine that: the Prince of Preachers, whose sermons were heard by thousands each week and emulated by others, felt that the pastoral prayers were closer to the heart of his pastoral ministry than his preaching.

This season for prayer that comes in the middle of worship for most congregations-- which is often called the pastoral prayer, the congregational prayer, or the prayers of the people-- is an essential part of ministry within a congregation. If Spurgeon took the pastoral prayer/prayers of the people that seriously, the rest of us (pastors) should take it very seriously, too. This means several things, it seems to me:
  • They shouldn't be hurried. One of my former pastors taught me this lesson best, because he never hesitated to keep praying until the prayers were "done". (Of course, we could pray for hours without adequately praying for all of the needs and concerns of a congregation, but that's beside the point.) I find that my pastoral/congregational prayers are usually 10-15 minutes, and that's vital time for the life of our congregation. I've never gotten a complaint that my prayers were too long!
  • They should be intentional. Good prayers at any time are purposeful, not consisting of empty phrases and the same thing repeated over and over again, but expressing well-formed ideas that are useful for the matter being prayed for. How much more so for the congregational prayers! How many pastors enter into this season of prayer too casually, having given little consideration to what they will pray for and how they will pray for it? If the number is one, that is one too many: this time of prayer should be considered, studied, prayed about, and prepared for in the same manner as the sermon and the rest of the liturgy.
  • They should attend to many needs. Obviously there will be items for prayer that are known to everyone, and these should be included in the pastoral prayers. But there are other things that are valuable to include in these seasons of prayer. Praying for the congregation regularly, for the missionaries that your church supports, and for the leaders of the nation are a few ideas. I'll follow up soon with a post about the content of my pastoral prayers, and say more on this then.
  • They should be instructive. This time of prayer is a weekly opportunity for your congregation to learn how to pray. Many of them long for a more vibrant prayer life, but do not know how to get there. Let your pastoral prayer be a model for them each week.
  • They should be corporate. This means that the congregation should be included in the actual praying of the prayers. In our congregation, we accomplish this in two ways: we have a printed list of the general topics that will be covered in that week's prayers, so that the congregation may pray along silently as I pray aloud, and we conclude our congregational prayers with a corporate praying of the Lord's Prayer.

I'll address what comprises the content of my pastoral prayers in a follow-up post.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

4 Reasons to Buy BP Stock

BP's stock has taken a huge hit in the last two months, dropping 50% in value. Many are taking their anger out on BP by selling their shares.

Here are four reasons that I see as good justification to buy BP stock:
  • A huge number of people who had nothing to do with the leak caused by the explosion of Deepwater Horizon have pension investments in BP-- including the vast majority of British citizens. The fall of BP's stock price (and the loss of dividends) represents a significant adverse affect that common citizens will have to bear for a while to come.
  • Likewise, the local merchants who are BP franchisees have been, and will be, adversely affected by these events, as well. Boycotting BP, selling shares of BP stock, and otherwise opposing the company hurts your neighbors who own BP stations, your local economy, and that of others around you.
  • If BP goes bankrupt, or even approaches bankruptcy, because of reaction like the mass-selling of stock shares, they will not have the financial solvency to fund cleanup and recovery efforts. In other words, one way to invest in the cleanup and recovery of the huge oil leak/spill in the gulf coastal area is to buy BP stock!
  • These events have been so public, and such an international scandal, that BP will almost certainly become one of the most responsible and environmentally-conscious corporations of our day. I would guess that, within the next few years, BP leads the way in pioneering new technologies to answer the concerns about fossil-fuel dependence.

A fifth reason, substantially less-altruistic than the above, is that the stock represents a great "buy" value, assuming the company will recover and rebound to its former value (and more).

Friday, June 18, 2010

Genesis 9:1-17 outline

I'm going to start posting my sermon outline on my blog each week, a few days before Sunday. We have a handful of folks in the congregation who I know are studying along during the week in preparation for Sunday's sermon, so I hope this will be helpful to them.

Here's this week's outline:

Genesis 9:1-17 -- Promise & Covenant

God's promises bring dignity and covenant to all mankind.

I. God's promise of dignity (vv. 1-7)

II. God's promise of His covenant (vv. 8-17)

Major themes here: Waiting, Promises, Dignity, Covenant, God's faithfulness

Thursday, June 17, 2010

General Assembly anticipation

Once again, I'm looking ahead to the General Assembly of the PCA, starting in less than two weeks. As always, I'm really looking forward to it and anticipate that it will generally be a great week.

Like last year, I'm teaching a seminar (actually, this year I'm teaching two) during the time devoted to workshops and seminars. Mine will be on Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning.

Also, as I have done for the past two years, I will serve on a Committee of Commissioners. This year I'll serve on the Covenant Seminary Committee (again-- I did that one two years ago, too).

A new twist this year is that I'll be helping a friend staff one of the exhibition booths. Ginger Korljan has reached out to me and to Doulos Resources as a potential partnership, and we (some of the Doulos Resources board) will be working her booth, especially encouraging folks who are considering transition or are in the midst of it.

There are a number of overtures that have been offered this year, and I'll comment on each one briefly (and a couple, not-so-briefly):
  1. On "ministry to seniors"-- I think this is a good overture, echoing what has already been suggested by the Christian Education & Publications folks about emphasizing ministry to seniors.
  2. To "prohibit deaconesses"-- while I understand the sentiment expressed in this overture, I think it misplaces the emphasis on wording and terminology where that is less helpful. A better overture, seeking to accomplish the same thing, would offer clarification about who the diaconal assistants are and what their function is, where such clarification is needed. (And where it isn't needed, this overture doesn't do anything to strengthen what is already clear.) More on this idea in a few overtures.
  3. To "expand the boundaries of Pacific Northwest Presbytery"-- this presbytery is already HUGE, and from what I understand many presbyters must take a plane to get to the meetings, so I don't see how expanding the boundaries serves their ministry as a presbytery. At the same time, I am not a member of that presbytery, and therefore I speak in ignorance. If they want to expand, that's fine with me.
  4. To "revise the boundary of Central Georgia Presbytery"-- this is pretty standard-issue realignment.
  5. To "amend the BCO clarifying how non-binding sections are to be amended"-- this is the overture that Covenant Presbytery offered, which I discussed earlier. I'm still in favor of seeing this pass, since last year's Assembly made an amendment that seems to me to have been out of order-- but more than that, I'm glad that the topic will be raised for discussion, which may be the most important thing.
  6. For a "feasibility study on a bi-annual General Assembly"-- I love G.A., and would not like to see us meet less. That said, I recognize the practicality of this overture, and would be willing to consider the advice of a study committee on the subject.
  7. To "specify that those who assist Deacons may not be ordained"-- much like #2, this looks like something of a kludge amendment: it sort-of fixes part of the perceived problem, but doesn't offer a real solution and opens up its own set of problems. Does this mean that the Ruling and Teaching Elders may not assist the Deacons in any formal capacity? (If so, that contradicts the BCO's requirement that the Session shall take up those duties that the Deacons are unable to perform.) Look to #13 for more on this topic.
  8. To "revise the boundary of Savannah River Presbytery"-- like #4, nothing to see here.
  9. To "prevent assistants to the Deacons from being commissioned or installed as office-bearers"-- not very different from #7, this one also includes those who are "commissioned"-- which is curious. Does this mean that someone who is appointed by the Session as a diaconal assistant must resign from that capacity to be commissioned as a short-term missionary or recognized as a WIC officer? The semantic problems these amendments introduce are as confusing as what is already in the BCO, if not more so.
  10. To "amend the BCO to allow unordained men and women to perform diaconal ministry"-- here's a departure from the others. "Let's open it up to anyone in the church!" I'm grateful for the boldness of Northern California Presbytery to offer this overture, if only because it punctuates the fact that not everyone in the PCA is either confused or on the "no women in the diaconal ministry" camp.
  11. To "amend the BCO to allow latitude in oversight of mission churches"-- this is a needed amendment, because church planting methods and strategies have changed a lot in almost 40 years, but the BCO's language about how mission churches are established hasn't.
  12. To "ask the government to retain the 'Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell' policy"-- I think this overture is lukewarm and half-a-loaf. Why the "Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell" policy is perceived as inherently better than full disclosure has no basis in the Bible. Are we effectively saying, "it's okay for there to be practicing homosexuals in the military as long as we don't KNOW about it?" I recognize that the removal of this policy leaves our chaplains vulnerable to potential litigation and/or disciplinary action, but I have to wonder if this is justification for anything at all when it comes to standing firm for biblical truth. Maybe I'll blog more about this another time.
  13. To "amend the BCO stating that 'assistants to Deacons not to be elected, ordained, or installed as if they were office-bearers"-- echoes of #2 and #7 here, but this one is getting closer to an actually useful address of what many see as a problem: while the BCO states that the office of Deacon is, in the PCA, an office for men only, there are some congregations where women are selected alongside men and are treated differently only insofar as it comes to whether they are ordained in the same manner. In other words, there are women serving in the function of Deacons, with the title of Deacons, and (as far as the congregation is concerned) in the office of Deacon. Whatever the justification for such a practice, it's not doing things "in order". The function of an "assistant to the diaconate" is not an office, and shouldn't be treated as one (nor should it be left in such an ambiguous state that it could be mistaken as such).
  14. To "prohibit the use of intincture at General Assembly"-- here's curious one. In the several Assemblies that I've been to, the practice of Communion in the opening service has been a diversity of practices: service in rows, and coming forward; use of real wine, and use of grape juice; use of leavened bread, unleavened bread, and whatever category the styrofoam wafers sometimes passed off as "communion bread" is; and, last year, the option of intincture (which is the dipping of the bread into the wine/juice and consuming both at the same time-- and I think it is actually called intinction). I don't prefer intinction, because it's usually done for the sake of expediency (and because I frankly don't like the way it tastes). But I question whether that is the thing we should focus on for instruction or prohibition for future Assemblies. Why not say, "no styrofoam passed off as bread" or "always make real wine available, in accordance with our WCF and BCO standards"? This sounds like a case of, "I'm not used to it that way, so it must be wrong."
  15. To "revise the BCO regarding mission churches"-- like #11, this is a much-needed overture that offers good changes to how mission churches are overseen and organized.
  16. To "affirm unordained deaconesses"-- here's another one that is just a little gutsy because it challenges the (sometimes very loudly) vocal group that opposes anything like an official stance on what women CAN do in their service in a PCA church.
  17. To "instruct MNA, et al regarding 'Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell'"-- see my comments for #12.
  18. To "require proper vote on amendments of BCO 59-1 and 59-6"-- this overture is addressing the same issue as #5, but in a different way. They want to require the proper procedure for BCO amendment to be required for the amendment offered last year of the "non-binding" sections. The function is the same: it raises a needed question about procedure and when we can diverge from it.
  19. To "move Wilkes County from Western Carolina to Piedmont Triad Presbytery"-- another border change, like #4 and #8.
  20. To "consider participation in General Assembly by virtual private network"-- here's a glimpse into the future of denominational assembly: it's optional to attend in a literal, physical manner, and instead you can register and log in via video teleconference and participate. I think this overture is about 2-3 years too early, if for no other reason than that churches tend to be slow to adopt newer technologies. But the day is coming.
  21. For "coordination of disaster relief efforts between MNA and MTW"-- basically, why can't our different agencies cooperate in a more coordinated fashion when it is expedient for good ministry to do so? I think this may be the first step in seeing greater unity between these two agencies.
  22. To "retain 'Don't-Ask-Don't-Tell'"-- see #12 and #17.
  23. To "erect a study committee on political and economic justice"-- this is a breath of fresh air: an overture for the study of something that actually matters to people who aren't presbyterian policy wonks, and that isn't done for the sake of setting the stage for heresy trials. In other words, something that will generally advance ministry on many fronts and bring unity to those serving in such ministry. (For the newcomers to the PCA: yes, this is actually allowed in our denomination!)
  24. A "call for PCA renewal"-- I'm ambivalent about this one, because, on one hand, who doesn't want biblically-based renewal in the PCA? But on the other hand, this is presented as an alternative to the proposed Strategic Plan, which I also happen to like. I'm hoping we can find a way to divide the vote on this one, calling for renewal without dispensing of the Strategic Plan.
  25. On "the role of men and women to office in the church"-- I appreciate that this states affirmatively what roles are availed to both men and women, and that it does so without any assumption that the BCO must be amended to affirm such things. I don't agree with every word, but I think it may be a step in the direction of putting this discussion to rest-- at least for now.
  26. To "move Wilkes County"-- an echo of #19, from the other presbytery involved.
  27. To "transfer Harnett County, NC from Central Carolina to Eastern Carolina Presbytery"-- more boundary movement.
  28. A "sanctity of life resolution"-- this is a well-stated resolution, but I'm not sure what it accomplishes that isn't already stated and affirmed elsewhere in the actions of previous assemblies.

So, that takes care of my annual pre-G.A. post!