Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Who Needs Who?

While visiting with my mother on Monday, we were reminiscing about me and my siblings as teenagers (that was scary). She said that when she and my father made decisions that upset one of us kids, they would look at each other and say, "They will need us before we will need them." So true!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Family and Culture (part 6)

Christ and His Church

God uses several images to describe the Church, which are models that provide images for our marriages (Eph. 5:22-33), the parent-child relationship (Gal 3:26), and the whole household (1 Tim. 3:15). Just as the Body of Christthe Churchis a community of persons with diverse functions that inevitably produce a culture (1 Cor. 12:12-14), so too is the nuclear family, which is an outpost or extension of the Church. Therefore, we begin the first day of each week gathered together as the household of God in preparation for life.

We should think if the Lord's Day worship as practice for life; it provides a blueprintan imageof how we are to live. We are not simply "doing the liturgy," we are learning to "live the liturgy." [NOTE: every church has a liturgy (i.e., order), and that liturgy does ultimately get lived out.] We have learned to come when God calls us and to listen to Him when He speaks. We have learned to respond with gratitude and thankfulness in our hearts. We have practiced prayer and the confession of our sins, and been reminded of His gracious pardon and absolution. We have the privilege of giving cheerfully and of offering up songs of praise. We have learned to receive instruction through the Word preached, and to remember our confession of what we believe. This all culminates in a gathering around the family Table in communion. After we have practiced, we are sent out (with God's benediction), to go to our homes and do it all over again every day of the week.

A stronger self-conscious awareness of the fact that what we are doing at church should impact what we are doing at home. The Body of Christ is not a slice of the pieit is the pieand the family is a slice of that pie. Even within our daily family routines, we are never separated from Christ. Our cooking, eating and drinking; our conversations, labors and love-making; our finances, childrearing, discipline and singing; our resting, playing and hospitality; our praying, reading Scripture and worshiping, are all to be manifestations of the culture of Christ. Not one square inch is to be void of Him.

Thus, it is in this daily context that we take the lessons [the theology, doctrine and exhortations] of the church back to our homes where we actually apply what we have learned. The gospel does not stop with a proclamation to the lost; it continues to speak to those who heard its initial call; it continues to be good news for us. As the apostle Paul puts itas it pertains to our familieswe are to "bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord" (Eph. 6:4). There should be a self-conscious oozing out of love for God, and instruction from the Word of God, omnipresent in our families:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

―Deuteronomy 6:4-9

Friday, September 25, 2009

Family and Culture (part 5)

Step Back

As we individually come to Christ, He tells us:

If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple….So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple. ―Luke 14:26-27, 33

Following Jesus begins with forsaking our relationships with other people, ourselves, and our possessions. All of these relationships are corrupted by sin. As soon as we come to Him, He sends us back to all those relationships, to ourselves, and even to all our material possessions to truly love them as new men in Christ. We now go back to our wives and husbands and children and begin (by the grace of God) to rebuild a city, a community of grace. The streets need to be swept, some demolition must occur, and the ruins must be repaired. If individuals are really transformed by the grace of God, it is inevitable that the cultures they live in will also be transformed. Thereby, the kingdom of God advances in the earth and the transformed family culturesthese individual outposts of the Body of Christ―change the world.

Step back and look at your own family culture; get an aerial view. Do you like what you see? Then keep doing what you're doing. The good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly all have a trajectory; they all produce some kind of culture. So, if you see parts of that family culture that don't look rightparts that are not reflecting the images of the heavenly Father or of Christ and His Churchthen stop doing what you're doing and replace it with something better. Remember, ideas have consequences. You need some new (old) ideas in order to improve on your family culture in order to reflect the Father and Jesus Christ to the world.

This is why sound biblical views of the triune God (theology) are critical. We must know the persons and work of God well (doctrine/ideas), since these form the images to which we will conform. Shallow or fuzzy images will not do. The Bible brings focus to the comprehensive vision of God's redemptive work, and that work extends as far as the curse is found. When God works in us, He also works through us to produce a godly culture that is transmitted to others and to the next generation. We become the salt and light of the world!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Family and Culture (part 4)


Following the Instructions

Back to my furniture-building: when the project looks complicated or overwhelming, I try to focus on a single piece. I can build that. I can follow the instructions. I can produce that one shape or element that is a part of the whole. Nevertheless, I still need to see and remember the big picture. In fact, if I am to ever see the project come to completion, I will need to refer to the plans often, while focusing on the particular task that is before me. I read the directions, in their proper order, over and over again. I read them until I understand them.

God's Word contains the plans and the directions for building a family culture. It's the church's task to maintain and instruct her members in God's Word and to send her members out the door, to their various outposts, where they self-consciously apply those lessons day-by-day. Indeed, it's a grand project, with challenges, frustrations and failures, but also with much help and hope. The inspired Scriptures are for doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction "that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

We all begin this project of building a family culture with different skill-sets, experiences, tools, raw materials, etc. Some aspects of the task will be easier than others. Some families will excel where other struggle. God knew all of this when He called us to the project. By His grace, He is able to supply all of our needs in Christ. So, regardless of where we are when we begin, we must begin; looking to Him who has begun a good work in us. In fact, the apostle Paul tells us that "we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Eph. 4:10); and a big part of those good works include (for most of us), the building of a family culture that conforms to His plans.


Saturday, September 19, 2009

Family and Culture (part 3)

The Importance of an Image

I enjoy woodworking; especially furniture building. After cleaning out my garage, I always start with a set of plans. I need an image of what the project is going to look like when it's finished. Many times, those plans look complicated and I wonder if I can pull it off. The project will often require me to acquire new tools and develop new woodworking skills (e.g., how to curve wood). I sometimes doubt whether I can actually pull it off, and I certainly make mistakes along the way. It's almost always harder than I imagined it would be, but in the end―when the project is finished―I have created an heirloom, something that will be passed on for generations.

We have images in our heads of the way things are supposed to be and over time we become those images. This is why we have to be careful about what goes in, because what goes in eventually comes out. Our mental images are partly and subtly formed from past experiences e.g., our own upbringing and the culture around us. Taking off the old man (old images) and putting on the new man (new images) is essential to our ceasing to be an old man and becoming a new man in Christ (Eph. 4:17―5:2). New images can and must be formed by the Word of God. Thus, we are not conformed to the world but transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12:2). For us, as the new humanity in Jesus Christ, everything has become new. Indeed, we are being conformed "to the image of His Son" (Rom. 8:29). The old images are replaced by new images and thus a new family culture emerges.

It is essential that we have before our mind's eye the picture of God's ideals: an ideal father, husband, wife, mother, children, and household. These images will be grand—too grand at first. We all fall short of the glory of God, but it is His redemptive work, the work of the Spirit in sanctification, that moves us in the direction of those new images. We will need to refer to them repeatedly.

Robert Capon, in his book, Bed and Board, speaking of new parents, writes: "But they can't run right out and be Christian fathers and mothers, because they have next to nothing in their heads about what being a plain father or mother looks like in this day and age." (p. 31). The Church has often sent men out, telling them to be good fathers, without providing a clear image of what that looks like. We have too often said to the hungry, "be filled." Should we be surprised that so many have abandoned the Church, or consider her irrelevant? Within the context of the broad evangelical Church we can hear men honestly attempting to speak to a corrupt culture and calling people to repent but there is often no solid biblical culture to replace it with. Our churches are too often not filled with models of what a godly family culture looks like; for that we will first need some godly husbands and fathers to self-consciously form that image and then lead their wives and children to catch the vision of a family culture that honors our calling in Christ.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Family and Culture (part 2)

Cleaning Out the Garage

Our own views of a subject are often shaped by a variety of sources e.g., family, friends, media, school, pop culture, church, the Bible, etc. We cannot easily sort through all these influences and separate them because they are often jumbled together. In fact, they are likely blurred in our own minds, creating vague or fuzzy images. Therefore, if we are to learn to think more biblically we must begin a winnowing process by which we evaluate our ideas in light of a sound theology, replacing old ideas with new ones. Inevitably, we will find that we have to adjust our views, casting off many erroneous notions and adopting new and sometimes radical views in their place. Unfortunately, it's not uncommon for us to make minor adjustments and yet to perceive them as major. We have often gone one mile in the right direction, when, in fact, we need to go a 100 miles.

God created man in knowledge, righteousness and holiness, with dominion over the creatures. Man forfeited all of that in his rebellion; a perverted man was the result. All kinds of difficulty and misery ensued, with conflicts in the family culture and the broader culture continuing and expanding. In the midst of this chaos, God sent His Son—the firstborn of a new humanity—the second Adam. This new man, who also had knowledge, righteousness and holiness, with dominion over the creatures, is the Redeemer of fallen man. He is the model or image of what we are called to be. Our transformation is our restoration to true humanity, and that true humanity doesn't look like the popular images of humanity. In fact, it is likely contrary to much of what we have picked up along the way.

We tend to defend what we know, or at least what we think we know. "It's my opinion and it is at least as good as yours." Yet, in clinging to a notion simply because it's "our" notion, we are stifled in our growth as Christians. Jesus came to set us free by giving us the truth, and yet we find our old prisons to be the places we know and therefore, they feel like home. It's hard to break out of our patterns. Even when we try it's unfamiliar territory and soon we are sitting back in the security of our old cell.

Shifting the metaphor, cleaning out the garage is a dreaded task; there's a lot of junk we've collected over the years and much of it needs to go. But if we want to build something useful we will need some space, some tools and some plans. And what we need to build is a family culture that we can leave to our children and our children's children. We need to build a culture that's going to change the world!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Family and Culture (part 1)

Do you like the culture you see? Economics, fashion, entertainment, education, the arts, etc. If you follow the trajectory of the broader culture, where do your children and grandchildren land? Jesus taught us that the wise man builds his house on the rock. Scripture tells us that we are to think in terms of our children and our children's children and to, therefore, act in faithfulness to God and His Word. In fact, the sons of Issachar are commended in the Bible for understanding the times in which they lived, and for knowing what Israel ought to do. (1 Chron. 12:23). Do we really understand our times and do we know what to do in the Church and in our families?

We tend to think of culture as something that is "out there," and as having an influence on us and our families. But a culture is found anywhere there is a community of people. It's through culture that our way of living is transmitted from one generation to the next. As Henry Van Til put it: "Culture is religion externalized." This is another way of saying that our ideas or beliefs have consequences, and that these consequences are visible in our communities. We might consider this the "practical" side of philosophy. It matters what we think. Every idea produces a particular kind of fruit. Every culture is the product of ideas. For example, president Obama is the product of years of ideas generated by "Liberation Theology," taught to him by Rev. Jeremiah Wright. He now hopes to lead us all in a similar direction. That's what leaders do.

However, not only do ideas have consequences, consequences have ideas. In other words, we can look at this from the other side. When we see a culture and its fruit, which is what we often see first, we must ask: What ideas produced this culture? What is the theology behind what we are seeing? Many times the ideas have not been thought about in a systematic way. We either do not evaluate the culture at all (it just is), or, the ideas seem to be random and unconnected. This is true for us individually as well as corporately. We all do philosophy, but we don't all do philosophy well. Our philosophies are often haphazard and inconsistent. As a result, the fruit of our philosophy is also haphazard and inconsistent. Since we are inevitably philosophers (i.e., we have ideas), we must strive to be consistently Christian in our philosophy.

A family is a community, and thus it has a culture. Just as the broader culture influences family culture, likewise, family culture influences the other cultures it comes into contact with. The family culture is a reflection of its ideas and beliefs. However, it's not limited to its formal ideas and beliefs; other factors are at work also (e.g., the influences of other cultures). Some people are better than their beliefs and others are worse than their beliefs. What we say and what we do are often in conflict. What we do, however, is the ultimate reflection of what we believe. Thus, we can look at the culture of a family and get a picture of what that family's beliefs and values really are (Matt. 7:20).

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 10: "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ" (4-5). It is, therefore, essential that we develop self-conscious and distinctively Christian ideas about the family culture. What do we want the broader culture to look like? The family culture is critical if we hope to change the world.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Classifications

The Bible doesn't hesitate to classify people: there are the wicked and the righteous, the foolish and the wise, covenant-keepers and covenant-breakers, the living and the dead, those with and without the Son, etc. Contrary to this, our culture has told us that such classifications are false and inappropriate to express; they are not politically correct, and they certainly are not loving. In fact, to see humanity in this antithetical way is downright hateful. We must treat all men the same (we are told), without distinction or discrimination. Nevertheless, the truth is that the wicked, foolish, covenant-breakers among us are dead in their trespasses and sins and will perish forever without the gospel of Jesus Christ. The truth is painful, but that pain points to the needed remedy. Dulling the pain, ignoring the pain, pretending the pain doesn't exist, will not lead to a remedy for the pain. Jesus Christ addresses and resolves the problems of sin, foolishness and covenant-breaking head-on; He came to save sinners. For we are "not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed…" ―Romans 1:16-17


Monday, September 14, 2009

Cyber-Community

The nomenclature of the Internet speaks of the "cyber-community," but genuine community involves geographya specific place and space, with real human relationships. The word "community," as it applies to "cyberspace" is often a euphemism for superficial and transitory self-interests. Anonymity, the lack of accountability, and the ability to vanish enable people to come and go without any costs; the ties are thin. Speed and quantity have frequently replaced the age-old values of thoughtfulness, caution, and love for our real neighbors. Every individual becomes his own arbiter of truth, while virtues diminish.

There is a difference between wisdom and information. What you've heard or read is not the same thing as what you know. Google might return a million links and, in so doing, we can be tempted to confuse superficial knowing with genuine knowledge. True community, however, holds us accountable for the things we say and do. The cyber society allows the hit-and-run with no consequences. Our "information age" is up to its eyeballs in information, misinformation and disinformation, and these are increasingly hard to distinguish. The old fashion community of real flesh-and-blood people still requires qualities like time, patience, and perseverance. To "surf" is to live on the surface; to lurk is to be a voyeur. Human intimacy, however, requires us to know the innermost character of a person, to make judgments and commitments, and to sacrifice ourselves.

The Internet can be a useful tool, but like most tools, it can be used for destructive purposes. We must know our tools and their limitations. Otherwise, someone will get hurt. Christian ethics are the universal standards upon which true community is built.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Chiasm

Rainy days make sunny days brighter.

Storms survived teach us to trust.

Cancelled picnics disappoint.

Plans and expectations.

Dreams and lofty goals.

Hope deferred sickens a heart.

A crisis resolved instructs the soul.

Our weeping nights turn to morning joy.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Hot Tub Religion

"The other day... as I sat there savoring hot tubness, cracking small jokes and adjusting to the feel of being bubbled over from all angles, it struck me that the hot tub is the perfect symbol of the modern route in religion. The hot tub experience is sensuous, relaxing, floppy, laid-back: not in any way demanding...but very, very nice, even to the point of being great fun.

Many today want Christianity to be like that, and labor to make it so. The ultimate step, of course, would be to clear church auditoriums of seats and install hot tubs in their place; then there would never be any attendance problems....

But if there were no more to our Christianity than hot tub factors—a self-absorbed hedonism of relaxation and happy feelings, while dodging tough tasks, unpopular stances, and exhausting relationships—we should fall short of biblical God-centeredness and the cross-bearing life to which Jesus calls us, and advertise to the world nothing more than our own decadence."

J.I. Packer, Hot Tub Religion, 1987

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Children’s Hearts

As Christian parents, we must love our children more than our own lives. This means that we are especially concerned for their salvation and eternal wellbeing. Therefore, it is essential that we pursue every God-given means to that end, being willing to sacrifice to see to it that they love the Lord with all their hearts. No decision should be made without considering the spiritual and eternal consequences (e.g., education, entertainment, friendships, clothing, etc.). Some Christian parents falsely assume that the heart of the child is not something they have any control over, but the Scriptures say otherwise. The nurture and admonition of children in the Lord is commanded by God and is, in fact, the main point of childrearing. It has been commanded by God from the beginning, and that nurture and admonition has always had as its goal the production of godly children. ("He seeks godly offspring. Therefore take heed to your spirit" ―Malachi 2:15)

All of life is to be lived in the context of enjoying God, which means there is a wide range of life experiences that can and should be engaged in, but never apart from their spiritual goal. The ancient and pervasive heresy of Gnosticism seeks to divide our lives into spiritual and secular; whereas the Christian faith unifies our lives so that the spiritual permeates all of life. God loves us and takes care of us, but He is not playing games when it comes to the children He has given us. The stakes are very high, and failure to love Him with our children is deadly. God is not mocked.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! 5 You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. 6 And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. ― Deuteronomy 6

The primary way we accomplish this is by making sure that we, the parents, love God with all our heart, soul and strength and that we clearly have God's Word in our hearts. This is manifest in a thousand ways each day, but it is primarily seen in the sacrificial love a man has for his wife (their mother), and the respect a woman has for her husband (their father), and the total dedication both parents have to the worship of God, both public (in the congregation) and private (in the home); men and women of distinctive godly character; covenant-keepers. When these things are neglected (or not cultivated)when it is clear that a love for God and His glory are not at the top of the listthen the hypocrisy is evident to the children and we should not be surprised when our children also have no genuine passion for the things of God. The real gods always assume the prioritiesyou can tell by the time spent, the money spent, and by what is talked about.

The fruit of godly children comes at a great price, and many who desire the fruit are not really willing to pay the price. When life is over in this world, and we stand before God in the next world, our legacy will speak. What do the children (now grown with their own children), what will the children say about us and our love for God? Will it occur to them to say anything at all? Jesus warned us that following Him was not an easy calling (Matt. 8:17); but He promised great blessing (abundant life) to those who did follow Him. It's not enough to ask Jesus into your heart, He must also abide in your heart and rule in your heart. This is biblical salvation. This is what we must give to our children. This is how we change the world!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Growing Weary

"And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary" (Gal. 6:9).

Discouragement, fatigue, and a lack of results often bring us to the place of wanting to quit. We struggle against our own sins, the power of the devil, and the evil of other people and it seems to require too much effort to keep moving forward. In fact, progress, at times, seems to evade us altogether. "What difference does it make?", we may argue. "The more I struggle against that sin the more it seems to get the better of me. The more I try to help people and get involved in their lives the more criticism I receive. The more I try to witness for the gospel the more I see the country heading away from the Christian faith. I don't have any real impact on the world anyway, so what's the use in trying?" Do you ever feel this way? I do. When we reach this point, we have lost sight of the ultimate goal of God's work in our lives, and we have lost sight of the work of God's kingdom. We have become more focused on the struggles of the moment and fail to remember the promises of God's word.

As I began planning a garden for my backyard a few years ago, I began with a vision of what I wanted it to be when I was finished. I thought about it, laid it out in my mind and even drew plans on paper. Having envisioned what the garden would look like when finished, I next had to set out to accomplish that plan via specific activities, e.g., laying out stakes on the ground to mark of the location, building a compost bin, acquiring tools, etc. I referred often to the plans in my head and the ones on paper.

As I progressed toward achieving my goals there was much hard work involved. Some days, as I was turning and mixing the soil with my shovel and the sweat rolled down into my eyes, and as I considered how much more I still had to do, I wondered whether I would ever get finished and whether it was worth all this trouble. In other words, I grew weary. However, after a little rest, another look at the plans and some contemplation of what that lush garden would look like, I pressed on. The end result was the best garden I have ever had. It turned out exactly as I had planned. My wife commented when the project was finished, "I didn't realize it was going to look this good when you were working on it." I responded, "I knew exactly what it was going to look like from the beginning. This is precisely what I had envisioned."

Likewise, if we are not to grow weary in our work for the kingdom of God, we must never lose sight of God's plans. We must refer to His Word often and be reminded that the daily labor and struggle has a much larger goal in view. We must stop wallowing in self pity and shift our focus back to the role God has given us in His kingdom work. Jesus said, "No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62).

Discouragement comes when we begin to think that success and real accomplishment are dependent upon us―that it is up to us to get results. But the Scriptures tell us that what we are responsible for is that we be found, in the end, to have been "good and faithful servants" of God (Matt. 25:21). All the results are left in God's hands. Mark 4:26-29 says, "The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts up and grows―how, he himself does not know. The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head. But when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest is come." The farmer, from the moment he has sown the seed must leave the sprouting, the growing and the maturing to God. He is only a worker who at the proper time sows and reaps. God controls the rest (Cf. 1 Cor. 3:7).

We should not be discouraged when we don't see immediate results; patience is called for. Rather than fretting, we must go about our day-to-day business, having proclaimed the Word of God, going to bed at night, getting up in the morning, cultivating the garden and doing the things we are supposed to do. Just as the vegetables come to maturity at the right time, so too the fruit of our spiritual labors will eventually appear.

God's kingdom is like a very large farm. It employees many people. Some people have greater responsibilities than others; some have more rows to hoe. Our job is to take care of those tasks God has given us to do, and to do them well. If God has given you the ability to influence (i.e., cultivate) a thousand people then get on with it. However, if He has given you only five plants to care for, that doesn't mean you can take a day off. God does not start a work without finishing it and neither may we. "For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus" (Phil. 1:6).

Have you grown weary? Have you slowed down or quit? Keep your mind's eye focused on the certain harvest―look again to the final plans. Don't be discouraged by the daily labor. Remember the Lord of the harvest, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest" (Luke 10:2). Ask the Lord to send you back to the field and to keep before your mind the fact that "in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary."

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Hermeneutics

The Greek word for "hermeneutics" had its origin in the legend and name Hermes, the Greek god who served as messenger for the gods, transmitting and interpreting their communications to their fortunate, or often unfortunate, recipients. It has come to have reference to the science of biblical interpretation. Hermeneutics is considered a science because it has rules and these rules can be classified into an orderly system. Sound biblical interpretation also requires wisdom because a wooden application of rules will sometimes distort the true meaning of a text. To be a sound interpreter of Scripture we must learn the rules of hermeneutics as well as relying on the Spirit to apply those rules.

Hermenutical principles often drive systematic theology (e.g., dispensational or covenant theology), and at other times a preconceived system drives the hermeneutics. Many Christians don't realize how much outside philosophical influences seep into the Church. For many Christians, these influences are assumed to have always been present. For example, emerging from the 19th century, the 20th century not only gave the Church "Kum Ba Yah," it also gave us existentialism, which promoted the idea that it was up to the individual to find their own "truth" in the pages of Scripture. This would become a driving force in Protestant liberalism, but it also remains present in more conservative evangelical circles as well. It was not uncommon in the 60s (and beyond), for a group of Christians to sit in a circle and "share" what a particular verse "means to them." Everyone was entitled to their "own interpretation."

An existential reading of the Bible would demand that the reader recognize that he is an existing subject studying the words through the filter of his own experiences. This is in contrast to the historic and traditional way of looking at the Bible as a collection of authoritative and revealed "truths," which are outside and unrelated to the reader (i.e., they present truth that objectively exist whether the reader subjectively understands or accepts the truth). From the existential perspective, truth changes and emerges with the person's experiences and development. Such a reader is not obligated to follow the commandments as if an external authority is forcing them upon him, but as though they are guiding him from inside. For the existentialist the Bible would not become an authority in an individual's life until that individual authorizes the Bible to be such.

There is but one truth, and it is an unchanging truth: "…no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit." ―2 Peter 1:20-21. The square root of 64 is 8, even if I don't believe it and even if a bunch of other people say it's not so. Our task is to apprehend the truth through sound mathematical or (in the case of the Bible), sound hermeneutical principles, even if we have to work hard to achieve a reliable result. Biblical interpretation must always be done in the context of the Church, because this is where God entrusted His Word. Thus, the apostle Paul could write to Pastor Timothy and say, "I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth." ―1 Timothy 3:15


Friday, September 4, 2009

How About Some Good News

As doctors are in the business of dealing with the sick, pastors are in the business of dealing with sin. We both see some gross stuff. Fifteen-years-ago I remember thinking I could no longer be shocked by human depravity; I was seriously underestimating the creativity of sinners. I'm always learning about some new physical disease or malady that I had never heard of before, and I usually think, "I don't even want to know about that; it's just one more thing to worry about." This year (indeed, this week), sinners unveiled new expressions of their sinfulness. Sin is the true pandemic of the world, and there is no place of quarantine.

All around us, sinners are sick and dying. You can hear their coughs and the moans. They share their needles. We all live on these mean streets, wondering what's going on just around the corner. The 911 calls come randomly, and often in clusters: "Help!, Help!" The emergency room is often overflowing and we are doing triage as fast as we can while still tending to the minor scrapes and cuts. At times, it can be overwhelming.

It is, therefore, essential that we remember the Great Physician who has given us the remedy for sinners―the only remedy―the only Good News! Otherwise, the bad news would crush us all. Sin is the problem―it accounts for all the problems. And there is only one hope―one cure for sin. Our rebellion against a holy God has sent us all into ruin, but He has moved to redeem us:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. 18Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, 19that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. 20Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God. 21For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. ―2 Corinthians 5:17-21

Thank You Lord, for saving my soul!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Olive Plants

New: 2009



Old & New


Curveballs…

Life is full of curveballs, not to mention the sliders, sinkers, fastballs and off-speed pitches. Every now-and-then we get a nice slow one down the middle. While we're not sure what's coming at us next, we really shouldn't be surprised; the past is full of change-up pitches. This year has been hard, but so have all the rest of the years. Next year will also be hardlife is hardbut life is also very good. Jesus loves us and takes care of us. That is what He's teaching us as He sends the pitches our way. They're all designed to make us better players. Focus on today's pitches and "consider it all joy," because these things are perfecting us (James 1:2-4). Let's not get ahead of the game. Jesus tells us: "Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble" (Matt.6:34).

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Ultimate Taste

As some of you know, I plan on hosting a Culinary Club at Regents Academy this school year, meeting one Saturday morning a month starting in September. (You are invited to signup if you are interestednot limited to Regents students). Our goal is to see how science, art, philosophy and theology come together to delight us; how they are all gifts of God. I ran across this passage in Robert Capon’s book, Food for Thought: Resurrecting the Art of Eating. It captures some of what we will be aiming at this year in the Culinary Club.

“I grant you that the logical order of subjects in cookery (and, certainly, the one adopted by most authors of cook­books) runs something like: Equipment, Materials, Methods, Seasonings. But not every logical starting point is a true beginning. What we’re looking for is not just an opener but a principium, an arche—a beginning in the full sense of the word: a first, essential principle within which the goal of what we are up to is implicit from the outset. Indeed, what we want is a terminus a quo, which is actually a sacrament, a very present praegustatum of that ultimate Taste, which is our end.

And if that’s what we want, then seasoning must come first. Man, as we’ve said, is the animal who cooks his food. But cooking isn’t just heating things up, just as architecture isn’t simply the piling of blocks one on top of another. Cook­ing is the expansion, by reason and skill, of flavor into art. All distinctively human activity involves a kind of priestly lifting of nature into forms that, while new to nature itself, are actually elations and perfections of it. Dogs like taste well enough; but what man has done with garlic!

Enough of that, however. There is something even more important behind and within taste. God, if we believe the Scriptures, created the world out of delight; and he runs it, not by shoving things around with main force, but by at­traction—by desire for Himself as the Highest Good.

You thought the world was run by physical laws? Dear me! Reformulate that for yourself immediately, because it is a classical instance of the reductionist fallacy. Physical laws don’t do anything—and they explain things only at the lowest level. They are simply descriptions of how desire for the good works out in practice. An example: Everything Arthur Schnabel does when he plays, say, the Emperor Con­certo can be described physically; but if you want to talk strictly—at the level of ultimate explanation—you have to say he plays it out of a desire to make music. Likewise, all cooking is physical activity; but the cook is drawn, through­out the process, by the good of taste.

Seasoning, therefore, is a sacrament, a real presence in a specific matter, of the desire for the Highest Good. Man, when he sprinkles his oregano, is doing in his uniquely human way what the stars in their courses do in their own: moving, in response to delight, toward Delight Himself—and making the process delightful every step of the way. It is desire that transforms mere existence into life; accord­ingly, seasoning is the true beginning of the subject of cookery. Q.E.D. [quod erat demonstrandum].”

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Model of Machen

In 1891 the famed presbyterian scholar J. Gresham Machen was born. Moody Monthly said of him: “Machen’s life-long plea for holding forth the Word of God and the Christ of the Bible must be the watchword for every pastor and layman who wants to climb the heights of spiritual power and pass on to succeeding generations a Christian faith that will stand.”

In H. L. Mencken’s obituary of J. Gresham Machen (January, 18, 1937), he wrote:

“The Rev. J. Gresham Machen, D.D., who died out in North Dakota on New Year’s Day, got, on the whole, a bad press while he lived, and even his obituaries did much less than justice to him. To newspaper reporters, as to other antinomi­ans, a combat between Christians over a matter of dogma is essentially a comic affair, and in consequence Dr. Machen’s heroic struggles to save Calvinism in the Republic were usually depicted in ribald, or, at all events, in somewhat skeptical terms. The generality of readers, I suppose, gathered thereby the notion that he was simply another Fundamentalist on the order of William Jennings Bryan and the simian faithful of Appalachia. But he was actually a man of great learning, and, what is more, of sharp intelligence.

What caused him to quit the Princeton Theological Semin­ary and found a seminary of his own was his complete inability, as a theologian, to square the disingenuous evasions of Modernism with the fundamentals of Christian doctrine. He saw clearly that the only effects that could follow diluting and pol­luting Christianity in the Modernist manner would be its com­plete abandonment and ruin. Either it was true or it was not true. If, as he believed, it was true, then there could be no compromise with persons who sought to whittle away its essen­tial postulates, however respectable their motives.

Thus he fell out with the reformers who have been trying, in late years, to convert the Presbyterian Church into a kind of literary and social club, devoted vaguely to good works…”

In 1924, Machen wrote in the introduction of his book Christianity and Liberalism:

“The purpose of this book is not to decide the religious issue of the present day, but merely to present the issue as sharply and clearly as possible, in order that the reader may be aided in deciding it for himself. Presenting an issue sharply is indeed by no means a popular business at the present time; there are many who prefer to fight their intellectual battles in what Dr. Francis L. Patton has aptly called a “condition of low visibility.” Clear-cut definition of terms in religious matters, bold facing of the logical implications of religious views, is by many per­sons regarded as an impious proceeding. May it not discourage contribution to mission boards? May it not hinder the progress of consolidation, and produce a poor showing in columns of Church statistics? But with such persons we cannot possibly bring ourselves to agree. Light may seem at times to be an impertinent intruder, but it is always beneficial in the end. The type of religion which rejoices in the pious sound of traditional phrases, regardless of their meanings, or shrinks from “contro­versial” matters, will never stand amid the shocks of life. In the sphere of religion, as in other spheres, the things about which men are agreed are apt to be the things that are least worth holding; the really important things are the things about which men will fight.”