Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Children in Worship

R. Scott Clark blogs today on the benefits of children partaking in worship with their parents on Sunday morning. He writes:
Yes, having children in church means that it will be slightly less entertaining and possibly less moving emotionally. It’s a little harder to be enraptured by the latest chorus when your child is fidgeting next to you or someone else’s is wailing in your left ear. That’s okay. You might not have the same emotional “high” this week as you did when there was children’s church. That’s okay. Worship isn’t about your experience of religious ecstasy. It’s about hearing God and responding appropriately, according to his Word.

God doesn’t mind that your emotional experience is less intense. He takes the long view. Your children will grow up not segregated from public worship and the means of grace. They’ll grow up a part of the community of the redeemed and watching baptisms (so they can see what happened to them). They’ll see the supper administered and they'll ask, “When can I have it?” They’ll hear the Law and the Gospel and they’ll grow up knowing that this is their identity, that it’s really true, that God said, “I will be your God and your children’s God.”
Read the entire post here.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

C.S. Lewis on Affection

“We feed our children in order that they may soon be able to feed themselves; we teach them in order that they may soon not need our teaching. Thus a heavy task is laid upon this Gift-love. It must work towards its own abdication. We must aim at making ourselves superfluous.”

“By having a great many friends I do not prove that I have a wide appreciation of human excellence. You might as well say I prove the width of my literary taste by being able to enjoy all the books in my own study…The truly wide taste in humanity will similarly find something to appreciate in the cross-section of humanity whom one has to meet every day. In my experience it is Affection that creates this taste, teaching us first to notice, then to endure, then to smile at, then to enjoy, and finally to appreciate, the people who ‘happen to be there.’”

“The moment when one first says, really meaning it, that though he is not ‘my sort of man’ he is a very good man ‘in his own way’ is one of liberation.”

C.S. Lewis on Friendship

“Lamb says somewhere that if, of three friends (A, B, and C), A should die, then B loses not only A but ‘A’s part in C,’ while C loses not only A but ‘A’s part in B.’ In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s reaction to a specifically Caroline joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him ‘to myself’ now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald. Hence true Friendship is the least jealous of loves.”

C.S. Lewis on Eros

"For it is the very mark of Eros that when he is in us we had rather share unhappiness with the Beloved than be happy on any other terms…Eros never hesitates to say, ‘Better this than parting. Better to be miserable with her than happy without her. Let our hearts break provided they break together.’ If the voice within us does not say this, it is not the voice of Eros.”

“The event of falling in love is of such a nature that we are right to reject as intolerable the idea that it should be transitory. In one high bound it has overleaped the massive wall of our selfhood; it has made appetite itself altruistic, tossed personal happiness aside as a triviality and planted the interests of another in the centre of our being. Spontaneously and without effort we have fulfilled the law (towards one person) by loving our neighbor as ourselves. It is an image, a foretaste, of what we must become to all if Love Himself rules in us without a rival. It is even (well used) a preparation for that. Simply to relapse from it, merely to ‘fall our of’ love again, is – if I may coin the ugly word – a sort of disredemption. Eros is driven to promise what Eros of himself cannot perform.”

C.S. Lewis on Charity

“Of all arguments against love none make so strong an appeal to my nature as ‘Careful! This might lead you to suffereing…To my nature, my temperament, yes. Not to my conscience. When I respond to that appeal I seem to myself to be a thousnad miles away from Chrsit. If I am sure of anything I am sure that His teaching was never meant to confirm my congenital preference for safe investments and limited liabilities. I doubt whetere there is anything in me that pleases Him less.”

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken…The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”

Book Review: The Four Loves

In his book The Four Loves, C.S. Lewis takes a look at four different types of love: Affection, Friendship, Eros, and Charity. Click on the four headings to see some of my favorite quotes from each of these sections.

To be certain, I found some parts of the book to be more helpful than others. The section on Friendship quite frankly did not do a whole lot for me. Not quite sure why, it just didn’t. I found the chapters on Affection and Charity both helpful. The chapter on Eros, I found to be fantastic. In fact, I plan to incorporate it into future pre-marital counseling that I do. On the whole, it was an enjoyable book filled with Lewis’s trademark wit and wisdom.

Monday, March 29, 2010

That's My King!

Pardon me as I copy off Kevin DeYoung who posted a similar clip this morning with this rousing description of our Lord by S.M. Lockridge. Well worth the six minutes...

Friday, March 26, 2010

Film & Theology

While I was in seminary I took a week-long class called “Film and Theology.” It was a fun and interesting class taught by Denis Haack of Ransom Fellowship, which encouraged me to do more than simply watch movies. Instead it was suggested that I would do better to interact with them in such a way that I might better discern what messages they are attempting to communicate.

If you, like me, enjoy watching movies and thinking about them theologically, then you might find this post from the Resurgence very interesting. It includes audio of lectures by Pastor James Harleman of Mars Hill Church in Seattle from his monthly classes on Film and Theology.

(HT: Vitamin Z)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Big "Thanks" to Crossway Books!

Last week, Crossway Books had a post on their blog recommending thirteen of their books to pastors. They then asked pastors to make a comment on a Crossway book or two that they have personally found helpful, and they would enter them in a drawing for a package of the original thirteen books.

Well, 83 people responded and guess whose name got drawn? A package arrived yesterday with the following books in it:

I had already been looking forward to reading a number of these books and now have had my interest piqued in a few others. Thanks so much to the folks at Crossway! Now I only need to find time to do some more reading!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Pitching's Ten Commandments

My friend Craig Dunham is an author, Christian Ethics teacher, fellow alum of both Covenant Theological Seminary and the University of Missouri, and now the coach for the Jr. Varsity baseball team at Westminster Christian Acadamy in St. Louis (which produced the Detroit Tigers' first round draft pick last year, Jacob Turner). Today he handed out to his pitchers what he called an "original (and highly contextualized) paraphrase of Exodus 20:1-20" (containing the Ten Commandments).

Some examples Pitching's Ten Commandments:
2. You shall not make for yourself a mess by falling behind counts or walking batters. You shall not drag or work at a slow pace; for I, the Coach your Teacher, am a just Coach, punishing the pitchers for the sin of not throwing strikes no later than the third or fourth inning, but showing mound time up to a full seven innings to those who love pitching and care about the strike zone.
4. Remember your fielders by throwing strikes. Three balls you are allowed to do all your work, but three strikes is a Sabbath for the Coach your Teacher. With them, you shall not wear out your team, neither you, nor your infielders or outfielders, nor your parents or fans, nor your girlfriends or wannabe girlfriends, nor the scout within your gates. For with three strikes in mind the Coach made the decision and the line-up, the fielding positions, and all who are in them, but he rested on the fact that you are going to make good pitches. Therefore the Coach trusts you to throw strikes so the team can make outs.
10. You shall not covet your teammate’s velocity. You shall not covet your teammate’s curveball, or his changeup or slider, his two-seam or four-seam, or any pitch that your teammate throws.’

Read the whole list here.

Congrats to the Smith Family!

Webster Groves High School (my alma mater) recently announced its 2010 class to be inducted into the Statesmen Sports Hall of Fame. The induction banquet will be October 16 and at that banquet, one of the special awards given out will be the Froebel Gaines Family Award. This year’s (very deserving) recipients are the family of my dear friends Mike and Karen Smith.

Mike and Karen have five children who have graduated from WGHS, with numbers six and seven graduating this year and next. The 2010-11 academic year will be the 17th consecutive year that at least one of their children has been a student at WGHS.  Each of those children has been involved with athletics, but more important than that is the Christ-like love that the whole family has shown to countless students over the years who have come to consider the Smiths as their adopted family.

In addition to this, in recent years this love has been extended to the country of Kenya, where Karen has ministered through the missionary efforts of Get the Word Out, Inc., which she founded. To learn about the wonderful work being done there, watch the video below taken from a Kenyan national newscast in 2009.

I am thankful to know them and am blessed to be able to consider them my friends. Congrats to the Smiths!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Is Christopher Hitchens Right?

Christopher Hitchens wrote an article yesterday for decrying “the wall of silence” within the Roman Catholic Church that has shielded abusive priests from legal prosecution. In the article, Hitchins issues a Reaganesque call to Pope Benedict to tear down this wall.

Though this is often not the case, I must admit that I find myself agreeing with Christopher Hitchens on a number of points. For instance, Hitchens is right that there ought not be “men and institutions that are above and beyond our laws.” The abuse of defenseless children (as well as shielding the perpetrators) is inexcusable, and it ought to be punished. Not only do I agree with this, but I think the vast, vast majority of Christians would as well. Far more importantly than majority rule though is the fact that the Bible agrees with it, and thus it is the true Christian position.

He is also right in his unspoken (yet implied) sense that forgiveness ought to be available for “sins like divorce, abortion, contraception, and homosexuality between consenting adults.” It is not that these are not sins (though there certainly is diversity of Christian opinion at the very least on contraception), rather that the grace of God is larger yet than ANY sin, and the blood of Christ Jesus is capable of cleansing one of ALL unrighteousness.

Where Hitchens is wrong though is in his assumption that those who hold to certain unbiblical positions and yet call themselves Christians, are indeed the voice of true Christianity. Thus they become the straw man that he (rightly) argues against.

Hitchens also states, “Invariably and without exception, (Christians) inform me that without a belief in supernatural authority I would have no basis for my morality.” Hitchens is slightly off base here. The argument is not that the belief in a supernatural authority is the basis for morality, but rather that the actual existence of a supernatural authority is its basis.

The idea is basically this: Without a divine law-giver, there can be no over-arching law of morality. Hitchens is right to condemn child rape. But on what basis? It is on the basis of the fact that it stands in opposition to the moral law which emanates from the character of God. There is morality, therefore there must be a God. This is quite different than saying you have to believe a certain set of precepts in order to have morality.

May the lesson that we as Christians learn from this all be twofold:

1) Let us live Christ-like lives in the midst of our world so that they can see what the true Body of Christ looks like, making it harder for them to caricature who we are.

2) Let us take care not to use the same tactics in our argumentation, but rather seek an honest and open discourse wherein we attempt to truly understand what others are saying so that we can rightly apply the truth of the gospel to their thoughts.

Why Do We Love Underdogs?

Each year, the NCAA tournament is one of my favorite sporting events. There's a reason they call it March Madness. It's because the best part about it is the upsets by the no-name schools from the tiny conferences, who annually knock off the big boys like Georgetown, Wisconsin, Villanova and (especially!) Kansas. If you're anything like me, you don't mind seeing your brackets completely implode if it's becasue Cinderalla has shown up at the dance.

Doug Wolter suggests that our love for underdogs is rooted in the fact that Jesus was the ultimate underdog.
He came as a tiny baby from the little town of Bethlehem. He worked in obscurity as a humble carpenter. He grew to be a poor man despised by the world and betrayed by his friends. And he died a humble death on a cross. But there was victory. Victory and glory seen through humility.

I love the line from one song that says, “Who would’ve thought that a lamb could rescue the souls of men?” That lamb is our Victor. That’s our Champion. The lamb who was slain. The Savior who came out of nowhere to defeat the greatest opponent ever-sin and death. And we will spend eternity in awe of this humble, crucified King.

So, why do we love the underdog? Because we follow the One who lived humbly, suffered greatly, and died horribly, but now reigns in victory.
You can read Doug's whole post here.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Misplaced Fear

Regardless of your political leanings, last night's vote on health care was unquestionably an historic vote. We see this both in the excitement among those who supported the bill, as well as in the fear of its consequences so evident among those who were against it.

Russell Moore has a great post today though on what our response as Christians should be. His thoughts in it include the following:
Is it a problem that some of us who are tranquil as still water about biblical doctrine and ecclesial mission are red-faced about Nancy Pelosi and the talking heads on MSNBC? Is it a problem that some who haven’t shared the gospel with their neighbors in months or years are motivated to vent to strangers on the street about how scary national health care will be?

It’s not that I think Christians should be disengaged from issues of justice (God forbid!). It’s just that I wonder if we wouldn’t represent Christ and his kingdom better if we did it with a certain tranquility of Spirit, a tranquility that signals we’re not afraid of the rise and fall of temporal kingdoms and their policies.
He goes on to say:
So if what you’re afraid of is a politician or a policy or a culture or the future of Western civilization, don’t give up the conviction but give up the fear. Work for justice. Oppose evil. But do it so that your opponents will see not fear but trust, optimism, and affection.
Read the whole thing here.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Gospel Roots of March Madness

The Wall Street Journal yesterday had an interesting article about Dr. James Naismith, the inventor of basketball. Note the specifically gospel-directed emphasis of Naismith's work:

As a young Christian, Naismith received a master's degree from Montreal's Presbyterian Theological College. Convinced that he could better exemplify the Christian life through sports than in the pulpit, he moved to Springfield, Mass., to serve as a physical-education instructor at the Young Men's Christian Association's International Training School for Christian Workers (now Springfield College). Naismith's vision? "To win men for the Master through the gym."

Read the whole article here.

(HT: City Church)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Ten Books for Preachers to Read

In the most recent issue of Preaching Magazine, Al Mohler suggests the following 10 books for preachers to read in 2010. I've already gotten a little bit of a jump start on the list having read three of them (numbers 3, 4 and 5), and am looking forward to following his advice on a number of others.

  1. Christ-Centered Worship: Letting the Gospel Shape Our Practice by Bryan Chapell (Baker Academic)
  2. The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future by Robert Darnton (Public Affairs)
  3. Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck (Moody Publishers)
  4. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church by Michael Horton (Baker Books)
  5. The Trellis and the Vine: The Ministry Mind-Shift that Changes Everything by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne (Matthias Media)
  6. Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches by Russell D. Moore (Crossway)
  7. Ancient Word, Changing Worlds: The Doctrine of Scripture in a Modern Age by Stephen J. Nichols and Eric T. Brandt (Crossway)
  8. Perspectives on Christian Worship: 5 Views edited by J. Matthew Pinson (B&H Academic)
  9. Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults by Christian Smith with Patricia Snell (Oxford Univ. Press)
  10. The Young and the Digital: What Migration to Social-Network Sites, Games, and Anytime, Anywhere Media Means for Our Future by S. Craig Watkins (Beacon Press)
(HT: Justin Taylor)

Friday, March 12, 2010

God, Election, and Mystery

If we truly have a God who is infinte and eternal, a God "who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think" (Ephesians 3:20), wouldn't it only make sense that finite beings such as ourselves would not be able to completely comprehend everything about this God?

C.J. Mahaney has this to say about being comfortable with the mystery of God:

(HT: Zach Nielsen)

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Christianity and Sports

Anyone who knows me more than just a little bit knows that I'm a big sports fan. Recently Christianity Today had a cover story by Shirl James Hoffman arguing that Christians have by and large succumbed to the sports culture and need to dramatically change their attitude toward (and emphasis on) sports.

This has spawned somewhat of a discussion on the topic lately, and my fellow Michigan resident and friend Ted Kluck was on the Al Mohler Radio Program Tuesday discussing the relationship between Christianity and sports.

If you're a Christian and a sports fan, I reccommend listening to his appearance (can you "appear" on the radio?) with Dr. Mohler. To an even greater degree though, I suggest taking a look at Ted's book, The Reason for Sports: A Christian Fanifesto. It's a smart, funny, interesting read that I greatly enjoyed.

Ted has also co-authored two other great books along with Kevin DeYoung: Why We're Not Emergent and Why We Love the Church.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Solus Christus

I never cease to be amazed at the insights of John Calvin. I was doing some sermon prep to preach on John 14:6 ("I am the way and the truth and the life") when I came across this little nugget from his commentary on John:
"The statement amounts to this, that whoever obtains Christ is in want of nothing; and, therefore, that whoever is not satisfied with Christ alone, strives after something beyond absolute perfection."

Ministry Idols

Last Sunday I got a call at 5:45 a.m. from our senior pastor's wife telling me that he was sick and asking if I'd be able to preach that morning (at 9:15 & 11:00). I was scheduled to teach a Sunday School class on the first commandment, so I spent a couple hours transforming it into a sermon and preached it. I survived and so did all of the congregation, so chalk another one up to the grace of God!

Having just dealt with the topic of having no other Gods, I've been thinking the last couple days about what idolatries I have in my life as a pastor. Low and behold, I was making my morning sprint through a number of blogs I follow and Justin Taylor has a post on that very topic. More specifically, he includes a Mark Driscoll sermon (posted below) in which he goes through a number of typical pastoral idols. Taylor summarizes them as follows:

1.Attendance idolatry: Does your joy change when your attendance does?
2.Gift idolatry: Do you feel that God needs you and uses you because you are so skilled?
3.Truth idolatry: Do you consider yourself more righteous than more simple Christians?
4.Fruit idolatry: Do you point to your success as evidence of God’s approval of you?
5.Method idolatry: Do you worship your method as your mediator?
6.Tradition idolatry: What traditions are you upholding that are thwarting the forward progress of the gospel?
7.Office idolatry: Are you motivated primarily by God’s glory or your title?
8.Success idolatry: Is winning what motivates you at the deepest level?
9.Ministry idolatry: Do you use the pressure of ministry to make you walk with God?
10.Innovative idolatry: Does it matter to you that your ministry be considered unique?
11.Leader idolatry: Who, other than Christ, are you imaging?

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Kingdom and the Church

Kevin DeYoung posts today on the relationship between the Kingdom and the Church. Though going somewhat against the grain of many of today's church trendsetters, he (as usual) provides wise insight.

But once we understand that the local church is the witness to and manifestation of the kingdom the Bible makes more practical sense. In the kingdom, possessions are shared so that no one has to suffer want. That’s why the needs of the covenant community are met through the deacons. In the kingdom, unrepentant sinners are barred from entering. That’s why we have membership and church discipline. In the kingdom there is relational harmony and everyone is accepted by God and delights in God through his Son Jesus Christ. This is not only the goal of the church, but only in the church could we ever expect to see these realities.

So yes, we desire to bring the heavenly kingdom down to earth. But the kingdom that comes, the one we are looking for and living in, shows up in the church.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Book Review: The Trellis and the Vine

The controlling metaphor of this book is that of the relationship between a trellis and a vine (hence the title). The function of the trellis is secondary. That is to say that it, in and of itself, is not important. Its importance, rather, is found in its ability to support the vine. It is the vine that is ultimately important.

Colin Marshall and Tony Payne suggest that the framework, structures and committees, of the church serve as the trellis to the vine of proclaiming and applying the Gospel to the lives of people. Far too often though, we spend all our time and efforts focussing on "trellis work" while not paying enough attention to the vine.

The answer to this problem, they suggest, comes through training disciples to train disciples. While this might not be quite as easy as they sometimes make it seem, there are any number of good suggestions in this book as to how it is practically done.

I personally feel that Marshall and Payne are on the right track and I highly reccommend this book to pastors, elders, and other ministry leaders. If you'd like to hear about this book from a far more authoritative source than myself though, check out what Mark Dever has to say below.

UPDATE...Click here to download a free discussion/study guide for The Trellis and the Vine.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

We Aren't the World

Russell Moore is dead-on with his commentary on the uproar among some Christians regarding the new version of We Are the World, and the fact that it does not include the line Willie Nelson sang from the original: "As God has shown us, by turning stones to bread..."

I had always wondered when exactly it was that God had shown us that.

The Duty of Pastors

In doing some sermon prep I was reading Calvin's Commentary on John 10 and came upon this passage:

And he who is not the shepherd. Though Christ claims for himself alone the name of a shepherd, yet he indirectly states that, in some respects, he holds it in common with the agents by whom he acts. For we know that there have been many, since the time of Christ, who did not hesitate to shed their blood for the salvation of the Church; and even the prophets, before his coming, did not spare their own life. But in his own person he holds out a perfect example, so as to lay down a rule for his ministers. For how base and shameful is our indolence, if our life is more dear to us than the salvation of the Church, which Christ preferred to his own life!

What is here said about laying down life for the sheep, may be viewed as an undoubted and principal mark of paternal affection. Christ intended, first, to demonstrate what a remarkable proof he gave of his love toward us, and, next, to excite all his ministers to imitate his example. Yet we must attend to the difference between them and him. He laid down his life as the price of satisfaction, shed his blood to cleanse our souls, offered his body as a propitiatory sacrifice, to reconcile the Father to us. Nothing of all this can exist in the ministers of the Gospel, all of whom need to be cleansed, and receive atonement and reconciliation to God by that single sacrifice. But Christ does not argue here about the efficacy or benefit of his death, so as to compare himself to others, but to prove with what zeal and affection he is moved towards us, and, next, to invite others to follow his example. In short, as it belongs exclusively to Christ to procure life for us by his death, and to fulfill all that is contained in the Gospel, so it is the universal duty of all pastors or shepherds, to defend the doctrine which they proclaim, even at the expense of their life, and to seal the doctrine of the Gospel with their blood, and to show that it is not in vain that they teach that Christ has procured salvation for themselves and for others.
For those of us who are pastors, may we all exemplify this type of shepherd, willing to follow the example of our Savior. And for everyone else, pray for your pastors that this might indeed be true of them, and continue to keep them in your prayers.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Warnings on Self-Righteousness

Tullian Tchividjian had some real good thoughts on self-righteousness yesterday. In addition to the expected (and warranted) warnings for "conservative, buttoned-down, rule-keeping" types, he also included this observation about those who have reacted against such a view of things:

It’s simple: we can become self-righteous against those who are self-righteous. Many younger evangelicals today are reacting to their parents’ conservative, buttoned-down, rule-keeping flavor of “older brother religion” with a type of liberal, untucked, rule-breaking flavor of “younger brother irreligion” which screams, ”That’s right, I know I don’t have it all together and you think you do; I know I’m not good and you think you are. That makes me better than you.” See the irony?

In other words, they’re proud that they’re not self-righteous!

Free Audiobooks From

Every month offers the download of an audio book or two for free. This month Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship and John Piper’s Fifty Reasons Jesus Came to Die are available. Click here to take advantage of this great offer.

(HT: Justin Taylor)