Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Glen Beck and American "Christianity"

By now you've likely heard of the rally organized by Glen Beck this past weekend in Washington D.C. I'm not here to make statements about Beck's political views. Many love them; still others hate them just as much.

I do however like what Russell Moore had to say in regards to what this weekend says about the state of American Christianity:

Too often, and for too long, American “Christianity” has been a political agenda in search of a gospel useful enough to accommodate it. There is a liberation theology of the Left, and there is also a liberation theology of the Right, and both are at heart mammon worship. The liberation theology of the Left often wants a Barabbas, to fight off the oppressors as though our ultimate problem were the reign of Rome and not the reign of death. The liberation theology of the Right wants a golden calf, to represent religion and to remind us of all the economic security we had in Egypt. Both want a Caesar or a Pharaoh, not a Messiah.

You can read his whole post here.

PRTS Conference

I went to the Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary Conference last week, and let me tell you, it was absolutely FANTASTIC! Without question, it was one of the best conferences I've ever attended. The messages delivered were absolutely top-notch, and the conference was small enough to be conducive to fellowship with other attendees as well as providing the opportunity to interact personally with many of the speakers.

The audio for this conference is available online at SermonAudio.com. I would commend it all to you, but I would especially like to recommend The Song of David's Son by Iain Campbell. This was quite simply one of the best sermons I've ever heard. I've already listened to it three times and been more richly blessed by it each time I've heard it. I hope you get a chance to listen to it and are similarly blessed.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Friday Fun...Brian Regan

Paired with last week's "No Frills Airline" it seems a pattern might be developing. Here's some more from our old favorite, Brian Regan:

Football Is in the Air

Okay. Let me just get this out of the way right off the bat. This post has absolutely nothing to do with Christianity, the Bible or the church. It's not even an installment of Friday Funnies (which will be coming up a little later, by the way). If you are a regular reader of this blog, it's quite possible that you will have no interest in this post.

That being said, today Webster Groves High School (my alma mater) will begin its defense of the Missouri Class 5 State Football Title. For those of you who might not remember (like that's possible!) or who never heard about it in the first place, the Statesmen's run through the playoffs was punctuated by a quarterfinal win over Chaminade in what immediately became known as "The Miracle at Moss" (so named for Webster's Moss Field, where the game was played).

Check out the video below and fasten your seat belt. With no less than five game-changing plays, it's hard to imagine that the final 45 seconds of a game has ever been more thrilling.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Wednesday's Words of Wisdom

"Just as the caterpillar becomes a butterfly, as carbon is converted into diamond, as the grain of wheat upon dying in the ground produces other grains of wheat, as all of nature revives in the spring and dresses up in celebrative clothing, as the believing community is formed out of Adam’s fallen race, as the resurrection body is raised from the body that is dead and buried in the earth, so too, by the re-creating power of Christ, the new heaven and the new earth will one day emerge from the fire-purged elements of this world, radiant in enduring glory and forever set free from the 'bondage to decay.'"

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. IV, p. 720.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Creation Groans

I preached yesterday on Romans 8:18-27. One of the things that this passage deals with is the fact that all of creation is broken as a result of sin. Just as God cursed Adam (and all mankind with him) when Adam first sinned, so too was creation itself cursed.

Why would God do this? Donald Grey Barnhouse offers the following answer in his Commentary on Romans (Volume III, p. 129):

“This He did in order to bring forth the lessons that all of His spirit creatures could see, leaving the ruined creation as an object lesson to show that there is no path of blessing except yieldedness to the will of the Creator, and that every departure from that will means death.”
As a result, each time we do battle with weeds and thorns and thistles, and each time we hear news of hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes, let us be reminded of our sin. And as we are reminded of our sin, let us also be reminded of the fact that Christ Jesus has offered himself as an atonement for it.

The Bible is Not About You

Many of us tend to see the Bible as a book which serves one of two primary purposes:
  1. It shows us how to be better people
  2. It shows us how to be happier people
We tend to read it (especially the Old Testament) in a way that leads to what Bryan Chapell calls "The Deadly Be's" (be like David, be like Abraham, etc.). The problem is, that often these "heroes of the faith" are not worth emulating (adultery, murder, deceit...), and even at their best, we are wrong to take them as the hero of any story. In every instance, God is rightly understood to be the hero.

The Bible certainly can help us with being both better and happier, but these things are not primarily what the Bible is about. Ultimately, the Bible is not about me. It is about Jesus. This clip from Tim Keller's message at the 2007 Gospel Coalition Conference provides a helpful corrective as to how we are to understand the Bible.

Video montage put together by Heath McPherson. Artwork by Gustave Dor.


Friday, August 20, 2010

We Shall See Him...

Saw this video today. Much in the same vein as this one I posted last week, it gives us a little glimpse at the joy the church will experience when Christ, her groom, appears, and what it will be like when we see our father face to face.

(HT: Craig Vanbiber)

Friday Fun...No Frills Airline

Somewhat dated? Absolutely.

Still funny? Without question.

Apparently every time I fly, I am in the "No Frills" section. Tim Conway, Harvey Korman and Carol Burnett star in this classic sketch from the Carol Burnett Show.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Lord of the Rings vs. Lord of the Cross

I recently was introduced to a blog by Tony Reinke entitled Miscellanies: A Cross-centered blog. I've greatly enjoyed it, including today as he posted the following snippet from Peter Kreeft's The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings:
“The most fundamental Christian symbol is the Cross. This also is perfectly opposite to the Ring, The Cross gives life; the Ring takes it. The Cross gives you death, not power; the Ring gives you power even over death. The Ring squeezes everything into its inner emptiness; the Cross expands in all four directions, gives itself to the emptiness, filling it with its blood, its life. The Ring is Dracula’s tooth. The Cross is God’s sword, held at the hilt by the hand of Heaven and plunged into the world not to take our blood but to give us His. The Cross is Christ’s hypodermic; the Ring is Dracula’s bite. The Cross saves other wills; the Ring dominates other wills. The Cross liberates; the Ring enslaves.”

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Wednesday's Words of Wisdom

Jesus of the Scars is a poem by Edward Shillito (1872-1948), an English pastor who had seen firsthand the horrific trench warfare of the First World War.
If we have never sought, we seek Thee now;
Thine eyes burn through the dark, our only stars;
We must have sight of thorn-pricks on Thy brow,
We must have Thee, O Jesus of the Scars.

The heavens frighten us; they are too calm;
In all the universe we have no place.
Our wounds are hurting us; where is the balm?
Lord Jesus, by Thy Scars, we claim Thy grace.

If, when the doors are shut, Thou drawest near,
Only reveal those hands, that side of Thine;
We know to-day what wounds are, have no fear,
Show us Thy Scars, we know the countersign.

The other gods were strong; but Thou wast weak;
They rode, but Thou didst stumble to a throne;
But to our wounds only God's wounds can speak,
And not a god has wounds, but Thou alone.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Steak on a Paper Plate

Trevin Wax has some interesting thoughts on worship today. He argues that form does matter, but suggests that in determining our church's "worship style," the primary question ought not be about contemporary vs. traditional. Rather, it should be about casual vs. serious.
Christians need to sense the weight of God’s glory, the truths of God’s Word, the reality of coming judgment, and the gloriousness of God’s grace. Trying to package the bigness of this God into most casual worship services is like trying to eat steak on a paper plate. You can do it for awhile, but at some point, people will start saying, "I want a dish."
You can read the whole post here.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Redemption and VIP Suffering

I always feel a little uncomfortable talking about how Christians should respond to suffering. I mean, I can tell you what the Bible says about how you should face it, but honestly, I've been blessed with a life that (relative to many) has measured pretty low on the suffering scale. In light of this, my words ring a little hollow even to myself. I can only wonder how they sound to one who is actually going through the pain of life's trials.

Susan Maynor is a friend of ours from our old church in St. Louis. She is much more of an authority on the subject. About five years ago she was widowed when her husband lost his battle with cancer, leaving her with two young sons. I was quite impressed then (and have been ever since) at the faith Susan displayed as she walked through this experience.

A couple weeks ago Susan remarried. Many of us sent our congratulations via facebook. I was especially touched when I read her response to the bevy of messages she had received: "Thank you for all the congrats--so lovely--how I'm blessed and humbled by the sweet, sweet hand of redemption."

And today, I am once more impressed, as in her blog she reflects on the idea of suffering like a VIP. Susan rightly considers her suffering not in a vacuum, but ponders it within the context of the sufferings of Christ in his work of redemption. As she does, she asks, "Can I really get it if I am comfortable, avoiding suffering of any kind?" She answers her own question:
Not really.

Though I don’t have nor will ever know nails in my hands or thorns on my head, the more I lose and suffer in this world, the more I gain in understanding the redemption story. The more I get how truly redemptive it is that I got married again. Or that my children now have a father who can coach baseball and grill hot dogs.

The more I walk this journey, the more I know I need to follow him no matter what because suffering is about as VIP as I can get.
You can read the whole post here.

Being In Love: A Terrible Reason To Get Married

I often tell couples that "being in love" is a terrible reason to get married. Don't get me wrong. I hope that if you do get married that you are in love with your spouse. What I'm saying here is that this ought to be a circumstance of your marriage, not the reason for it.

I say this because there will almost certainly come a day when you won't feel the same you do today. Feelings ebb and flow; that's their nature. And if a feeling was the basis of your marriage, then it goes without saying that when that feeling isn't as strong (or isn't there at all) that the marriage is in grave danger.

What is far more important than any feeling is the idea reflecting the image of God through covenant keeping. This is what John Piper is getting at in this short clip:

(HT: Vitamin Z)

Take My Yoke Upon You

Yesterday at Calvary, Reverend Polk preached a wonderful message on Matthew 11:28-30, in which Jesus proclaims, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light."

Two observations that he made which I found to be quite helpful were the following:
"We labor in Christ not hoping for some great reward, but because that great reward is already ours, not on the grounds of our works, but because of the faith he has already generated in our minds and hearts. We labor not because we’e anxious, but because we’re grateful, and that makes keeping the law a pleasure and not a burden."
"As Christians we are called to serve Christ in our lives as individuals, but we are also called to serve him together...The yoke Jesus speaks of not only binds us to him and his purposes individually, but it also binds us to one another."
These two facts inform how we are to respond to the grace of God, both in how we relate to him and in how we relate to each other. May the Lord use these truths in our hearts and minds this week to conform us to the image of Christ.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Restoration, Not Replacement

Scotty Smith comes through with this nugget today via Twitter:
We're in a story of restoration, NOT replacement. Jesus said, "I am making all things new," not, "I am making all new things."

Friday Fun...Improv Everywhere

Improv Everywhere is a group based in New York City that is dedicated to causing scenes of chaos and joy in public places. Undercover "agents" as they are referred to have pulled off over 100 "missions" ranging from peculiar to downright hilarious.

For this week's episode of Friday's Funnies, I thought I'd share a few of their more recent missions...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

In That Day the Deaf Shall Hear...

I just saw this today; perhaps you've already seen it. If not, check out the video below and prepare to have your heart warmed as this eight-month-old baby who was born deaf has his cochlear implant turned on. Note specifically his reaction to hearing his mother's voice for the very first time.

I had the following three thoughts when I saw this:
  1. I must be having troubles with my contact lenses, because my eyes are getting a little watery.
  2. As cool as that was, that's the kind of thing the disciples got to regularly see when they followed Jesus (the restoration of hearing to the deaf, sight to the blind, etc.).
  3. As much joy as you could see in that little baby's face when he first heard his mother's voice, how much more joy will I experience in that day when I hear the voice of my heavenly father and see him face to face!
(HT: Joel Hathaway)

Gospel-Powered Parenting

As summer winds down, the school year is looming very large on the horizon for parents and children alike. For some it is already here. If you are sending your child off to school for the first time, no doubt there is some nervous apprehension not only for the child, but perhaps even more so
on the part of the parents.

Michael Kelley experienced many of these feelings today sending his six-year-old son off to school for the first time. His pain proved to be our gain though, as it led to a great post on one way that the gospel speaks to parenting. In it he writes:
This, I choose to believe, is where the gospel is brought to bear on the first first day of school. We’ve tried our best to prepare Joshua. To teach him about Jesus. To raise him in love and faith. But have we done enough?

Unquestioningly, no. We have not. I have not.

I have not been the perfect father.

I have not been the perfect teacher.

I have not been the perfect example.

But the gospel? Well, the gospel is God making up for what we lack. And in parenting, as in all cases, we lack very, very much. The gospel doesn’t excuse our lack; it assumes our lack. Because of Jesus, in this situation where I can’t do much else, the only avenue left for me is to believe.

Which ironically, is where I should have started to begin with.
Read the whole thing here.

Marriage Conference

My good friends at Knox Presbyterian Church just north of Detroit annually have a great marriage conference and this year's conference October 22 and 23 should be no different. The keynote speaker, Ric Cannada, will emphasize and focus on a broad and multi-generational view of the Christian family as he considers how we can work together in a covenant community to produce another generation of committed Christians following after us.

Ric currently serves as the Chancellor and Chief Executive Officer of Reformed Theological Seminary, where he has been since 1993. Before that, he served as a Presbyterian (PCA) pastor for 20 years.

One of the really neat aspects about this conference is that it is held at the Detroit Renaissance Center and the registration fee of $109 per couple includes a room at the hotel. You can register by e-mail at ryanmcvicar@knoxepc.org, or by calling Ryan at (586) 469-8500.

Here is the schedule for the conference:

Friday Evening, October 22nd
2:00 - 6:30 Hotel arrival and Check-in
5:00 Group Date at 42 Degrees North (optional)
7:00 Session 1
8:15 Break
8:30 Session 2

Saturday Morning, October 23rd
8:30 Breakfast date with your spouse
9:30 Session 3
10:30 Break
10:45 Session 4
12:00 Departure

How Can a Loving God Be So Violent?

Zack Eswine was my homiletics (preaching) professor when I attended Covenant Theological Seminary. If you’ve heard me preach and like what you heard, in large part you have Zack to thank for it. If you didn’t like what you heard, well, I must not have paid enough attention in class.

Zack now pastors at my former church home, Riverside Church in Webster Groves, Missouri. Last Sunday he preached on Genesis 6, Noah and the flood. In so doing he wrestled with the very difficult issue of how we are to understand a God who would willingly take the lives of almost all of humanity.

He wrote a blog post covering his thoughts and I recommend reading the whole post, but here is an overview of his thoughts:
1. The entire tone of Genesis 6 is lament
2. God is not presented as throwing a tantrum
3. God is not presented as a dictator hungry with exerting his power
4. Genesis 6 presents a picture closer to that of a lamenting judge
5. We all instinctively long for judgement
6. Finally, God begins to un-violent us through Jesus

Are You a Good Person?

Are you a good person? I suppose that most of us would instinctively answer, "Yes." After all, we try to be nice to people, help out when we can, and avoid anything we would perceive as a grievous misdeed.

But if we are to even begin to judge our "goodness," the question that is begged is, "Against what standard will we measure it?" Our tendency is to grade on a curve, comparing ourselves to others in the world (and usually to the worst of others at that). But God does not grade on a curve. When it comes to goodness, his standard is perfection. It's pass/fail and we all fail.

I saw this great thought today from Jared Wilson:
"Measure up to us" was the expectation of the Pharisee.

"Measure up to me" is the expectation of God.

Which is harder?

Thank God that in Christ Jesus the harder is done and the easier is worthless.
Indeed, Christ Jesus not only died the death that we should have died, but before that he lived the life we should have lived. That is why God can look upon us and account us as "good." If we are united with Christ through faith, then his righteousness becomes ours. By receiving this goodness that Christ offers, true goodness can truly be ours. But if instead we say, "I'll pass," then we are only destined to fail.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

An Interesting Outreach

Kevin Golden is an old friend of mine from my college days and the pastor of Village Lutheran Church in Ladue, Missouri. Village Lutheran seeks to be, as they put it, a traditional Lutheran church, reaching out untraditionally.

Due to their location in a very nice part of town, a large number of walkers, joggers and bikers pass their church every weekend morning. In light of this, they came up with what I found to be an interesting outreach highlighted in the short video below.

It's a little thing. But it's a point of connection. And especially in an affluent neighborhood where traditional outreach/mercy ministries might not be as needed, it is, as Kevin put it, "a very tangible yet simple way to share the love of Christ." Beyond this, it is something that God might very well use to create an open door for the gospel.

May all of our churches refuse to budge on the gospel of grace: We are all sinners in need of a savior, and that savior is (and can only be) the one who died for our sins, Christ Jesus. As we stand firm though, may we similarly be thinking of creative ways to serve the communities in which we are located, simply yet tangibly sharing the love of Christ.

Wednesday's Words of Wisdom

"Run, John, run,"
The law commands,
But gives neither feet nor hands.
Better news the gospel brings:
It bids us fly and gives us wings.

John Bunyan

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Virtual Trip to the Temple

Have you ever looked at the images on Google Maps or other similar services? I find it so cool that not only can you see a map of a location, but you can overlay it with actual sattelite photos as well. For some locations there are even street level photographs so that you can take a virtual walk down the street.

As far as we know, there is no sattelite imagery available from before 70 AD when the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed. I guess they lost the tapes. As a result, Google Maps cannot take you to the Temple as it existed in Jesus' time. If they could though, it might look something like this model created by Dr. Lisa M. Synder:

(HT: Justin Taylor)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Save the Date!

Last week I mentioned the upcoming Puritan Reformed Conference. It occurred to me that if you happen to have any interest in that conference, you might also be interested to know that two of its speakers (Joel Beeke and David Murray) will also be speaking on October 30th at the 7th annual Mid-Michigan Conference for Reformed Theology in Flint, Michigan.

I pass along this information as sort of an advance notice. In the interests of full disclosue, this conference is hosted by Calvary Presbyterian Church, where I am the Associate Pastor. If you would like to be notified as more information becomes available, please leave a comment below or send me an email at pcscrib@hotmail.com

If you would like to listen to audio from any of the prior years' conferences, it is available here.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Friday Fun...Tim Hawkins on Aging Rock Stars

Tim Hawkins takes a look at the phenomenon of aging rock stars and makes a few suggestions as to how the following acts might tweak their greatest hits:
  • The Village People
  • Eric Clapton
  • Tom Petty
  • The Who
  • KC and the Sunshine Band
  • Neil Diamond
  • The Eagles
  • Garth Brooks

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Puritan Reformed Conference

Here's another great conference for those of you in or near Michigan. Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary will host the second annual Puritan Reformed Conference August 26-28 in Grand Rapids. The theme will be "The Beauty and Glory of Christ" and the list of speakers is top notch, including Joel Beeke, Iain Campbell, David Murray, Richard Phillips and many others. Click here for the conference schedule.

The conference is priced very reasonably at $65 if you register by August 14, rising to $90 after that. There is a special student rate of only $25 for college and seminary students and their spouses, and single day rates are also available. Registration closes August 24.

Wednesday's Words of Wisdom

"The Church is in an excellent state when it is sustained by God alone."

Blaise Pascal, Pensées #861.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Vive la Différence!

Earlier today a friend of mine, Craig Dunham, pointed me to a fascinating display of photos from the Prints and Photographs Division of the Library of Congress. The Denver Post’s photo blog recently ran this compilation of color photographs taken between 1939-1943.

I was especially interested in the photo posted here, which was taken by Jack Delano in September, 1941 at the Vermont state fair in Rutland, Vermont. My interest in this photo goes beyond its artistry to the fact that my great-grandparents owned a farm in Rutland County that my father visited many times as a child.

Personal interests aside, what I found striking in all the photos was how vivid the colors were. It occurred to me that part of the reason for this is that we (at least those of us under a certain age) tend to think of these times as having occurred in varying shades of gray. Our only exposure to them is in old black and white photos and film. I remember the experience as a child of seeing an old baseball uniform at the Hall of Fame and being initially surprised. All of the sudden I realized that teams had colors in their uniforms back then…it wasn’t always the gray team against the white team!

Similarly, this is what makes it so important that we constantly be reminded of our sin. Nobody enjoys this, but without it, we will tend to think of ourselves as basically good people who stand in need of nothing more than a little tweaking; people who deserve some kind of reward for the way we’ve lived our lives. But when we realize the fact that we are sinners, unable to please God by our own abilities, rebels who deserve his righteous judgment, then the death of Christ on our behalf becomes far more beautiful yet. Just as it is the contrast with our expectations that makes the old photos so wonderful as art, so it is the contrast with what we deserve that makes the grace of God so vivid in its beauty.

Monday, August 2, 2010

We All Need the Gospel...Continually

Tullian Tchividjian, Senior Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, posts the following quote today from B.B. Warfield:
There is nothing in us or done by us, at any stage of our earthly development, because of which we are acceptable to God. We must always be accepted for Christ’s sake, or we cannot ever be accepted at all. This is not true of us only when we believe. It is just as true after we have believed. It will continue to be true as long as we live. Our need of Christ does not cease with our believing; nor does the nature of our relation to Him or to God through Him ever alter, no matter what our attainments in Christian graces or our achievements in behavior may be. It is always on His “blood and righteousness” alone that we can rest.
This quote is in the same vein as a post from Tullian a couple weeks ago which spoke of our ongoing need for the Gospel. I highly recommend his blog, On Earth as it is in Heaven, as his Gospel-exalting, Christ-centered theology constantly deepens my appreciation for the grace of God.