Monday, February 28, 2011
Snazzy: "Fuji Finepix X100" by Tim Moynihan. Savvy shooters will immediately recognize Fuji's homage to a classic Leica, both in the beautiful form of this digital camera and in quirky features like the fixed focal-length lens (35mm, in 35mm-equiv.). Also not TOO dissimilar is the price!
Fascinating: "Conan 2.0" by Douglas Alden Warshaw. Anyone who followed the curious path of Conan O'Brien's departure and return to late-night television, and who has a mild interest in the impact of social media, will probably find this article as intriguing as I did.
Funny: "My Father's Fashion Tips" by Tom Junod. A well-written piece that is as fun to read for the writing as it is for the content-- which is interesting, humorous, and also pleasantly intimate.
Anyone?: "Why You're Not Married" by Tracy McMillan. I've known some for whom this article applied (no, not you). All of them are married now-- which goes to show that it's not an impossible lot...
Saturday, February 26, 2011
The writer, Patsy Keith, was working on the piece when Abbey went for her recent procedure, so she took the opportunity to interview us and snap a few pictures. Thanks, Patsy!
Thursday, February 24, 2011
This was great, and with my latest-generation MacBook Pro, the battery life was mostly a non-factor. Still, the iPad had just come out, and it occurred to me on the way to G.A. that the iPad would make a great device for presbytery and assembly meetings. (I saw a few of them on the floor, in fact.)
So when I got an iPad, this purpose was one of the many things I had in mind for it. At the most recent meeting of Covenant Presbytery (where I am a member), I gave it a shot: I planned in advance to leave my MacBook Pro in my briefcase all day, and only use the iPad. Here are a few thoughts:
- There's an app for that: I have a Bible app, a Reformed Confessions and Catechisms app, and even a Robert's Rules of Order app. I also have the Book of Church Order in PDF, and can easily put minutes, committee reports, dockets, and other documents in there in PDF. (I keep these in DevonThink To Go, a companion app to DevonThink, which I use multiple times every day.)
- Lightweight: it's hard to argue that the iPad is, relatively speaking, extremely light and convenient. Certainly far better than lugging all of those in print versions.
- All in one place: In the one device, I have all of the reference material and resources I need. That's great!
- Fast: the iPad starts up fast, and even loads most apps pretty quickly. I didn't find I had to wait to get to the information I was looking for.
- Navigation is tricky: when I open a PDF on my iPad using DevonThink To Go, it opens at the beginning. I have to "scroll" down-- using the flick-style, inertial scrolling so famous on Apple's iDevices-- to find my place. If I switch to another PDF then go back to the first one, or if I close the PDF-reading app and re-open it (maybe after using a different app), again I'm back to the beginning of the PDF. What I NEED is to be able to switch right back to the page I was on.
- Notes aren't easy: I like to be able to put notes in my documents-- especially at presbytery and assembly meetings, where 90% of the information is often already provided in the docket and accompanying pages. While it is possible to make notes on the iPad (I also had the PDFs in Apple's own app, iBooks, which has better navigation and allows notes, but is much slower in loading and running), it's too tedious for doing it easily. I'm not sure I'll be able to easily transition to extensive typing/note-taking using the iPad's on-screen keyboard.
- Multitasking: having access to great apps as I mentioned above is wonderful-- but navigating from one to another isn't. I suppose it's fine for Apple to call what they offer on the iPad "multitasking" but it certainly isn't the easily-switchable, multiple windows setup I'm used to on my Mac. I find it quite cumbersome to switch between apps, even using the "multitasking" options available.
Since my first try at presbytery, I've already found a couple of "fixes" for my problems above-- but even these aren't perfect. For example, I'm giving the PDF reader app GoodReader a try; it allows bookmarking, note-taking, has much better navigation, and re-opens PDFs to where you left off. BUT, the notes I make won't automatically sync with DevonThink on my Mac-- which means I'll need to manually add them, or not have my notes. Also, GoodReader doesn't support my notes and markers from other annotation applications (like Skim, which I regularly use on my Mac), so I have to go in and manually build markers and placeholders, even when I have them through other applications.
What would be the perfect fix, for me anyway, would be improved navigation, note-taking, and book-marking within the DevonThink To Go app. Couple that with improved app-switching and more truly "multitasking" interface, and the iPad is good to go for presbytery and G.A.!
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
See what happens when God promises that the son Abraham has been waiting for years for will certainly come from Sarah's womb:
"Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, 'Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?'"
The man fell over laughing! God has just promised one of the crucial pieces of the covenantal blessing, and Abraham offers an incredulous guffaw.
Sarah, likewise, is caught laughing. In the very next chapter, she is listening at the tent-flap when the visitors tell Abraham of Isaac's coming.
"So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, 'After I am worn out and my master is old, will I now have this pleasure?'"
In both cases, God Himself responds to their laughter-- not with rejection or judgment, but with re-affirmation of his promise accompanied by even more detail: in ch. 17, Abraham is promised that Sarah will bear the child within a year! In ch. 18, they are both told that Isaac will be born within a year.
What is striking about this is how often I wrestle with incredulity. I struggle with promises from God that are far easier to believe than one that a 100-year old man will father a child with a 90+ year-old woman. What is more, the forgiveness of my sin is a finished work, accomplished because of God's steadfast promises to Abraham (in spite of his incredulity!).
I need to take to heart God's purposeful determination to accomplish redemption on behalf of His people! Ultimately, that's exactly what Abraham did:
"On that very day Abraham took his son Ishmael and all those born in his household or bought with his money, every male in his household, and circumcised them, as God told him."
Genesis 17:23 (emphasis added)
Abraham's faith was not supplanted by his incredulity; faith overcame doubt, and in belief Abraham obeyed God.
Monday, February 21, 2011
When we look at the kind of inconsistent presbyterianism I spoke of in my first post, it seems that the presenting issue is suspicion: in these situations we are simply suspicious of one another, and unwilling to grant any charitable or gracious benefit of the doubt toward each other.
This is most evident in situations where a body acts according to its polity, yet others (either outside or within that body) refuse to accept the actions as legitimate. Accusations are made: "they must not see what I/we see" or "if they were focused on the heart of the issue they wouldn't have reached such a conclusion" or "they don't understand the importance of what is at stake." Or doubt is cast: "I'm not sure I can rely on them to handle matter of importance" or "maybe we cannot remain affiliated with them any longer."
There is a good reason why suspicion arises: it is often cloaked in the biblical truth of the sinfulness of man. We know the extent of our own sin, the deceptiveness of our own hearts, and we (rightly) assume that anyone else is as capable of sin as we are. Martin Luther, in the preface to his commentary on the book of Romans, observed that all men will do whatever we believe we might get away with. Here is what he said:
Outwardly you keep the law with works out of fear of punishment or love of gain. Likewise you do everything without free desire and love of the law; you act out of aversion and force. You'd rather act otherwise if the law didn't exist. It follows, then, that you, in the depths of your heart, are an enemy of the law. What do you mean, therefore, by teaching another not to steal, when you, in the depths of your heart, are a thief and would be one outwardly too, if you dared.
This is indeed a troublesome factor, and it's true: our hearts are not trustworthy in our sinful condition. Which leads to the more underlying issue: mistrust.
When people-- even Christians-- interact with one another, the only hope of advancement toward cooperation and community is based on trust. This is why we so often affiliate only with those who are like us: they are the only ones we know we can trust. We otherwise succumb to doubt, suspicion, and eventually mistrust in those around us.
In presbyterianism, this can (and apparently does) lead to congregations, presbyteries, and entire denominations that are surprisingly uniform. People who think and act differently than I do are not easily welcomed by me! And if I can muster a façade of hospitality toward those who are other than me, I still have to overcome my lack of trust in them in order to function in a manner that is presbyterian.
As a result, the tendency among us is to begin to identify with those who are with us, and to suspect and mistrust those who appear to be against us. Even when those who say or act in a manner against what we believe to be wrong are in the majority! Or when they act as a unified body, following proper procedure and polity.
The sister-issue to mistrust then become haughtiness. We look with disdain on those whose ideas, actions, or decisions we don't understand or agree with. We cast disparagement on others because they hold to things we do not hold. And we hold the courts and bodies of the church in contempt when things don't go our way.
This is how we get to a point where individuals, and even groups of individuals, can conclude that an entire presbytery (or even an entire assembly) should be dismissed out-of-hand. Our contempt for their actions leads to contempt for the very nature of them as bodies, and we refuse to recognize them in that nature.
And while this is certainly within our right to question-- after all, as Scripture and our own experience teaches us, we are all fallible, even en masse-- it is simply not very presbyterian to do so in a manner that is out of accord with the very standards and polity that we have taken vows to uphold. But our suspicion, mistrust, and haughtiness stand in the way of our adherence to these vows.
All of this leads us to be only as presbyterian as we want to be. In part three, I'll consider what might be done about the rooting out of the problem.
Saturday, February 19, 2011
(Facebook peeps: you'll have to go to the blog to see these: pastorblog.hickorywithepc.org
Friday, February 18, 2011
Doulos Resources has reached a major threshold, ministry-wise, in terms of where we are as an organization. To break through that threshold and get to the "next level" then we are doing a small fundraising campaign. (To learn more about this campaign, and what the funds will support, visit the Doulos Resources Support page.)
If you are willing, would you consider making a contribution to this campaign? Any amount-- even just a few dollars-- is valued and appreciated.
Here's an easy way to see how close we are to our goal, and to easily make a donation:
(If you can't see the dandy support widget, click here to see it.)
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
When she went for a follow-up visit in September, they found that one of the tubes they had put in her ears had fallen out. This is typical, because as her body grows they will naturally pop out. But for now, she still needs them IN, so they told us they would do it at a later scheduled date.
We initially hoped that we might be able to have it done locally; this would save all of the trouble of getting to Chicago again, and would be one less thing we were depending on the Shriner's Hospital to do. But the cost of the procedure locally was prohibitively expensive.
So yesterday, Marcie and Abbey left for another trip to Chicago. She is having the (very brief) procedure today, and they will return tomorrow.
Please pray for little Abbey as she faces anesthesia again, and for a safe and trouble-free trip for both she and Marcie.
Here's Abbey on the plane to Chicago:
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Part one: the FRUIT of the problem
Anyone who pays much attention to the PCA at a level broader than the local church is aware that there is usually some topic afoot that is a matter of discussion and debate. I've heard and read troubling comments recently with regard to decisions that bodies of the PCA are facing, and actions they are taking (both in my local presbytery and at the General Assembly level).
Let me say on the outset that my comments here have nothing to do with my position on any of the issues. What I observe here holds true on either side of any issue, and is true of me as much as it is true of you. I'm not trying to pick a fight over a certain topic, or pick a fight at all. Rather, I want to reflect on a realization I've been challenged by, and perhaps use my own (admittedly limited) self-awareness to nudge you in a direction of being similarly self-aware.
In a recent debate about the restructuring of a presbytery-wide ministry, one Ruling Elder stood and testified for several minutes about the participation his Session and congregation had in bringing that ministry into his local area. He mentioned his own role, and how he had zealously recruited support and financial contributions for the local branch (including donations from his own pocket). Then he concluded: he was so opposed to the idea of restructuring that if presbytery moved in that direction, he would not rest until his Session joined him in abandoning all support for the local branch of this ministry!
Several things were evident in his testimony. Clearly, this was a man who was invested in the ministry in question. He was equally clear in his commitment to the current structural system. And it was also plain that no reaction was "off the table" for him should things go against his wishes.
The last point is what troubles me. In essence, what he was saying was, "if this body-- a court of the church, to which I have made vows and commitments-- votes in a manner other than what I rise to speak for, I will no longer participate in the work of this body in this particular area."
This approach to church life, the "take my ball and go home" method of diplomacy, is nothing new. Indeed, as my friend Greg Thompson once commented, protestantism itself is based on "the premise of having one foot out the door." But when it is so common an encounter-- when every issue that has a significant amount of disagreement inherent to it is looked upon as a reason to divide-- it is deeply troubling.
What is more, it seems to be increasingly common for the dissenters to openly and casually dismiss the work of the courts of the church. In the past month I witnessed a discussion on a blog, consisting of eight or ten dominant voices and as many quieter supporters, wherein they considered the action of a PCA presbytery (of which none of them is a member). A complaint had been filed in that presbytery against the teachings of a member Teaching Elder, and the presbytery responded by receiving the complaint, acknowledging it, and appointing a committee to investigate the accusations. The committee performed its work over the ensuing six months, then made a thorough report to the presbytery. Upon receiving the report, the matter was further discussed by presbytery and acted upon by an almost-unanimous vote.
The contributors to the blog disagreed with the decision of the presbytery. Their conclusion? Obviously the presbytery was wrong! In fact, they went on to suggest, if not openly claim, that the investigative committee must have been a "stacked" body, and that the members of that presbytery were ignorant of the real issues at hand. They even went so far as to insinuate that most of the members of that presbytery must have been taken in and "snowed" by a deceptive element within them.
Now, these men may be right about all of it: the presbytery may have erred in its decision, and the reasons for its error may be nefarious. The courts of the church do err, and it is incumbent upon the members of the church to watch out for this. My point, though, is that these men have set themselves above one of the appointed courts of the church in the decision. They know better than an entire presbytery!
I've seen, heard, and read similar things at even higher levels. Some years ago, the PCA voted to allow "good-faith" subscription to the Westminster Standards in the ordination of Ruling and Teaching Elders. This means that there is allowance for "exceptions" to the Standards that are more than just differences of wording; for example: how strict must a Christian's observance of the fourth commandment be? Some Teaching Elders hold to a looser observance than the Westminster Standards clearly prescribes. The General Assembly's vote to allow such exceptions means that any Teaching Elder who holds the exception in my example should be able to be received in any presbytery of the PCA.
But this is not the case. There are presbyteries in which such an exception will prevent them from ordination; in fact, some presbyteries will not accept the credentials of a Teaching Elder who is ordained in another PCA presbytery for such an exception! It would appear that the only "good-faith subscription" allowed in these presbyteries is one holding to the decisions of the General Assembly.
Why is this a problem? Because it is a violation of the vows of ordination. When a Teaching Elder is ordained in the PCA, he is asked to take the following vow:
3. Do you approve of the form of government and discipline of the Presbyterian Church in America, in conformity with the general principles of Biblical polity? (BCO 21-5)
When a presbytery as a body refuses to accept "good faith subscription" in the examination of ordinands, its members are failing to act in accordance with vow #3. When a Ruling or Teaching Elder grumbles against the actions of an appointed body (rather than taking proper action of appeal), they are sinning in the breaking of their ordination vows.
Now, they will argue that another vow compels them to do so:
6. 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? (BCO 21-5)
They look to vow #6 and argue they are standing for the truths of the Gospel and the purity of the church. To this I would respond with several points.
First, not every debate is a matter of threat to the truth of the Gospel or the purity of the church. Some people act as if every vote to amend our Book of Church Order is a threat to the purity of the church, and every exception to the Westminster Confession is selling out the Gospel. But both of these documents warn strongly and sternly against elevating them to anything close to such a canonical level.
Second, within the same vow is the same urgency regarding the peace and unity of the church as regarding its purity. Thus, we must be as zealous in our attendance to peace and unity as we are about purity, and just as vigilant.
Third, I'm certain that it's possible to adhere to all vows at the same time (inasmuch as it's possible for any of us to keep any of them!). So those presbyteries that disagree with "good faith subscription" ought to follow proper presbyterian order (outlined thoroughly in the BCO) in accordance with #3, if they have a conscience about #6. Likewise, those Elders who doubt the actions of a court of the church have proper procedures for appealing them.
In practice, however, it is clear that we are only as presbyterian as we want to be. In part two, I'll talk about the root of the problem.
Friday, February 11, 2011
"Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man."
I'm struck by the fact that Jesus' life and ministry, healing and teaching, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension on my behalf (and on behalf of all of His sheep) was done in absolute knowledge of our sin and brokenness.
For John to record so early in his gospel that "he knew what was in a man" (v.25) is foundational-- yet how much do I belittle the saving work of Christ by acting as if what is in ME is not such a big deal? Or conversely, how often do I puff up in false humility with claims that, in spite of Christ's work, I am somehow still unacceptable to the Father because of the weight of my sin?
Christ did not underestimate the magnitude or cost of my sin; He knowingly, lovingly accepted the full punishment for it. And it took the full measure of his life, death, resurrection, ascension, and ongoing intercession on my behalf to account for it. But as we see throughout the gospel of John, the cost was not too high for Christ, nor did He pay it begrudgingly or reluctantly.
Stuart Townend's wonderful lyric comes to mind: "how deep the Father's love for us, how vast beyond all measure that He should give His only Son to make a wretch His treasure."
How refreshing and soothing is the deep, deep love of Jesus.
Thursday, February 10, 2011
Leblanc, a journalist, filled the book with interviews he conducted with people representing a wide swath of the Judeo-Christian faith traditions (and it's important that I emphasize traditions, plural, there because Leblanc's list of interviewees includes a Rabbi as well as representatives from nearly every point on the spectrum of Christianity, not merely or even mainly the evangelical "camp"). All of the interviewees speak favorably on the topic of tithing, sometimes offering reflections on the words of Scripture, in other times presenting testimony of their own experience.
The interviews are well-presented, offering a brief introduction to the interviewee and his/her background, as well as comments about goings-on surrounding and even during the interview. They felt more like magazine articles with a common theme than chapters in a book-- indeed, any given chapter could easily have been in Christianity Today or perhaps even the New York Times, if the Times would willingly carry a piece so openly acknowledging the validity of a biblical teaching.
Somewhat because of this journalistic approach to the topic and the various perspectives on it, the book struggles to offer any didactic value. If you're seeking biblical insight into why a Christian might consider tithing, or for that matter any further Scriptural discussion on giving, you'll be disappointed in this book. What little teaching on tithing it does present is indirect and more a matter of inference than exposition.
This fact leads me to question whether I have been asking more of this series, Thomas Nelson's Ancient Practices titles, than I ought. My first introduction to the series was with Scot McKnight's excellent Fasting, and while offered just enough first and third-person accounts to enrich his explanations, there was also a satisfying amount of instruction from Scripture and from other historical sources (like the Church Fathers). The second title I read in the series, Joan Chittister's The Liturgical Year, was a great disappointment-- both because of a theologically-liberal approach to anything and everything related to the Bible, Christianity, and the Church, and because of the fact that the book was very little more than just a recounting of experiences and personal testimonies.
I have been assuming that Chittister's exchange of substance for sentiment was surely anomalous-- atypical of a series devoted the Ancient Practices, which are so firmly grounded in Scripture. Having read a third title, however, I wonder if I've mistaken the aim of the series; maybe McKnight's title is the anomaly. If that is so, it's a shame, and the series should be re-titled the Ancient Experiences.
This is ultimately what leads to my doubt in the real value of this title. All of the interviews are well-written, the stories are interesting, and the subjects remarkable in their experiences. But much of what we are told is only marginally related to the subject of tithing. It seems the thesis of the book is, "look at all of these people that God has blessed wonderfully, often in spite of great financial trial-- and look! They all tithe."
We live in a time when experiences count a great deal, and theology divorced from "story" is questionable in its authenticity. The danger is in making it more about the story than the theology; in this case, I wonder if Leblanc didn't lose his way.
[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received a copy of Tithing: test me in this by Douglas Leblanc for free, in exchange for my commitment to review the book.]
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
As the individual presbyteries have voted, the tallies and results have been reported by various sources, and one thing stands out as a surprising aspect: the number of presbyteries that are fairly absolute in their decisions.
Here's what I mean: it seems like about a third of the presbyteries in the PCA are divided somewhat evenly about the issues at hand. It may be that the body is almost exactly split-- in which case there is not a sufficient majority to pass the amendments. Or it may be that the minority view (on whichever side it falls, for or against) is still a relatively substantial number. But approximately one third of our presbyteries have some adequate representation of each side.
But the remainder of the presbyteries show decided uniformity. In these cases, there may be only two or three votes that differ from the majority, regardless of whether the majority is for or against the amendments.
The issue of these amendments is not the point; there are strong and loud voices that declaim them as ill-advised, unconstitutional, or even the first step toward liberalism, but there is hardly uniform agreement across the PCA that any of these are accurate assessments. Indeed, when the votes are tallied (both at the assembly and presbytery levels) it is clear that the majority and the minority are not far from one another, percentage-wise.
And yet, somehow, half or more of our presbyteries don't demonstrate this diversity at all. How can it be that so few members of presbytery disagree with the majority on an issue like this, in so many cases?
By way of analogy (somewhat weak), imagine this: how surprised would you be to find that, in the next Presidential election, not only did a candidate carry a state strongly, but that out of 4 million voters in a particular state, only 3% did NOT vote for that candidate? Now imagine this: what if the results were similar in 34 of the 50 states? Now imagine that, in spite of that, the results were still "too close to call" to declare a simple majority?
I think if that were to happen, we might note two things: first, that we are a very divided nation. Without a doubt, such a split vote is indicative of severe lack of agreement on political issues.
But second, we should also note how surprising it is that the states (in the case of my analogy) are so uniform in their opinions. In fact, if it were as stark as I suggest above, we might wonder whether, in any given state, people who "aren't like us" are welcome. And we might conclude that the answer may well be, "no."
I think we might rightly wonder the same thing about the PCA. How can it be that so many presbyteries are so uniform in their voting trends, and yet every indication is that the denomination is generally split over whether these amendments are good or bad?
The only reason I can think of is that elders who don't think "like us" are simply not welcomed into presbyteries. And that's troubling to me, because frankly I know my own sin enough to know that I don't want a presbytery full of guys who think like me. I need those who differ, because the differences are what keep us in check and accountable to one another. In fact, I would argue that this is the real beauty of the presbyterian form of church government: unity amongst diversity. (Remember, there is a big difference between unity and uniformity.)
Which begs the question: are we losing something vital in the PCA by allowing this kind of uniformity to pervade?
Saturday, February 5, 2011
Thursday, February 3, 2011
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?"
Matthew 5:43-47 (NIV)
Three times in the past two weeks, I have heard church leaders either request or utter prayers for the safety of Christians in Egypt. This is a prayer I understand: some congregations support missionaries who are serving in Egypt; some have family or friends who live in Egypt. The political unrest (and now violence) has left Egypt as an unstable and, in many ways, unsafe place to be.
What strikes me about the prayers I've heard, though, is that it is for Christians. What about the people there who are not believers? Why don't they merit our prayers?
When news of the shooting in Tucson, AZ, broke last month, my instinctive response was, "what a sad situation." But when I learned that it had happened just a few blocks from a PCA church-- and, in fact, that it was the church that a seminary classmate serves, and his daughters were in the bank adjacent to the lot where the shootings occurred-- suddenly I was motivated to pay attention and be more regular in prayer.
Why wasn't I motivated to pray before I knew this? Why does it take the proximity of someone we know to make us care about a tragedy or disaster?
I'm convicted by the passage above, from Matthew. I think when we pray for only the Christians in Egypt-- and not for those who have no eternal security-- then we are not doing anything the pagans and tax collectors would do. I think when we only care about tragic events-- and by "care" I mean something much more than morbid curiosity and tongue-clucking-- then we fail to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors.
I'm praying that the heavenly Father, who has called me His son, would cause me to be a "son of the Father" as Jesus speaks of in Matthew 5.