Thursday, February 26, 2009

Piper's Message to the President

Are You Lost Yet?

Okay, so when Lost first started I thought, "Plane crash show. What can they do with that?" and didn't watch. Then, somehow, I got intrigued, and we watched the first seasons on video. Though the show has meandered, it has set up a very interesting scenario. There are two directions it could go. Given JJ Abram's history, it could go the route of absolute incoherent stupidity (witness: Alias --you can only run a show on Jennifer Garner's looks / revealing outfits for so long). Or, it could be setting up a brilliant allegory --an allegory of what is the question.

The most intriguing thing to me is the names of the characters --each of them representing a different philosophy or world and life view. I am sure I will miss some --and someone else can fill in the blanks.


Hume: one of the fathers of empiricism and naturalism, skeptical of reason, big on experience, emotion, etc.
Locke/Bentham: INteresting they are the same person. Locke: social contract; Bentham: utilitarianism/natural rights --also interesting that he appears to be a figure of religious significance
Rousseau: the noble savage, tabula rasa
Faraday: Father of the experiment, electricity
Austen: early feminist, irony/sensibility, gentle satire
Hawking: theoretical physicist best known for work on time dilation, etc. She served as the guide to the time and entrance points to the Island.
Charlotte Staples Lewis: hardly developed as a character yet, but quite obviously CS Lewis
Abbadon The destroyer of Revelation.
Kelvin one of the fathers of modern physics, a minor character
Christian The guide to Locke --shades of Pigrim's Progress?

Ben Linus: Linus is one of Apollo's three sons, also Charlie Brown's spiritual advisor. Is Ben good or evil? We don't know yet. He has killed Locke twice, but last it appeared that he knew that Locke would be brought back to life on return to the Island.

Haven't figured out yet:

Sayyid: Maybe Islamic worldview?
Jin & Sun: Do have daddy issues --Confucianism?
A lot of characters that have "died" (most lamentably Charlie, Claire (she is dead, right?), Ana Lucia, Michael,and Eko)

So my thought is this is one big spiritual allegory. But, the question is, an allegory of what spirituality? There is a war coming --Widmore (Anti-Christ?) warned of that. He also didn't want Locke to die.

So what's your verdict. What will the end be?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Calvin on Comfort for the Sinner Approaching the Lord's Supper

This is the quickest…method of preparation for you. If you want to derive proper benefit from this gift of Christ, you must bring faith and repentance. Therefore, so that you may come well prepared, the examination is based on those two things. Under repentance I include love, for there is no doubt that the man, who has learned to deny himself in order to devote himself to Christ and his service, will also give himself whole-heartedly to the promotion of the unity which Christ has commended to us. Indeed it is not perfect faith or repentance that is asked for. This is said because some people, by being far too insistent upon a perfection which cannot be found anywhere, are putting a barrier between every single man and woman and the Supper forever. But if you are serious in your intention to aspire to the righteousness of God, and if, humbled by the knowledge of your own wretchedness, you fall back on the grace of Christ, and rest upon it, be assured that you are a guest worthy of approaching this table. By saying that you are worthy, I mean that the Lord does not keep you out, even if in other respects you are not all you ought to be. For faith, even if imperfect, makes the unworthy worthy.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Feast

Okay, so I am not as grumpy today --not that I didn't mean anything I said yesterday. Shape up, sinners! :-)

Contemplating the Lord's Supper today. It really is a beautiful thing that says and does so much to/for us. It is hard to capture it all. First and foremost, it is a proclamation of the Lord's death. This is why Christ instituted it. Could it be that Jesus knew the church would be tempted to empty the cross of its offense, to shove it off in a corner somewhere, and talk about things like happy, prosperous, successful lives? The Lord's Supper makes us keep two awful and wonderful facts in front of us. First: rather than let sin go unpunished, God offered his son --the offensiveness of my sin. And second, God offered his son --the costly love of God in Jesus.

Christians have differed about what the Lord's Supper means, though these distinctions strike me as less strident than in the past. Some, I think, make too much of the Supper as a physical participation in the sacrifice of Christ. Others, undoubtedly, make too little of it. Whatever we make of it, what happens, happens! The Lord's Supper points us back to the Passover, in its deliverance of God's people by the blood of the firstborn and the spotless lamb. It brings us into the Upper Room, reclining at table with Jesus. It takes us to Calvary, and makes us see our savior's face on the cross. And, it brings our hearts to heaven, where Jesus sits at the head of the table, as the bridegroom.

The Lord's Supper takes us back and forward, but it also testifies to the present reality of the unity in Christ of all believers --that we are family bound by common blood, a blood-tie that is closer than natural kinship.

But, it is also a meal. Christ himself feeds us. He brings satisfaction, joy, and nourishment to the hungry and thirsty soul as surely as bread and wine do to our physical bodies.

Let us rejoice!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Hard Questions for the Church of God

1.) What's one thing you no longer do, because Jesus is in your life?
2.) What is one thing you've started doing for Jesus?
3.) What are some tangible behaviors in your life that you are convicted you need God's help to change?

I live an affluent life. There are many things I have bought I wish I haven't. My lifestyle has risen with my income. And, I am starting to ask myself some hard questions about that. I am doing this because I am tired of hearing people's immediate response to any conviction on material things being, "God wants us to enjoy ourselves." Yes, someone said something similar in Scripture. Who was it? The man who tore down his barns to build bigger ones, that's who. It's a problem when Christians begin to sound like the bad guys in parables.

I don't think everyone needs to sell everything to go live in a mud hut. I do think we ought to consider what it means to live moderately. John Piper in his book for pastors entitled Brothers, We Are Not Professionals has a great little chapter, "Brothers, Tell Them Copper Will Do." His basic point was: both copper and gold are conductors. Copper conducts well, and is less expensive. Why do we need gold?

My own principle, which I have often failed to uphold, is to buy quality but not too good of quality. A Lexus is a dressed up Toyota --buy the Toyota (okay, I am a Toyota fan). Buying things that won't wear out in a week is good stewardship. But, is a suit bought off the rack at Dillard's any less servicable than a custom-made suit from the upscale retailer? Is the $1000 bottle of wine really that much better than the $20 bottle?

Our first goal is not to enjoy life, but to enjoy God. IN serving him there is great reward. And, he has called upon us to give generously. To live at a lifestyle less than we can afford, to bless the multitudes who have little. Evil Pope Leo X said, "God has given us the papacy, let us enjoy it." How many Christians think, "God has all the money in the world, let me enjoy what I have." The truth is: God doesn't need our wealth, but he has set you as a steward over it, and where your treasure is, your heart will be.

Is your money in ostentatious houses, multiple homes, luxury cars, big screen televisions (mine is)? Is it okay to have those things as long as you don't "love" them --what does that even mean?

Or maybe it's Monday....

Don't Come Home from Drinking with Jesus on Your Mind, or Jesus Didn't Die So You Could Make a Real Ass of Yourself

I use "ass" in the King James meaning of the word.

Okay, what's stuck in the preacher's craw this morning? The basic comfort that many people in evangelical churches have with excessive consumption of alcohol. Unlike previous generations of PCA ministers, I am not a teetotaler, nor do I believe the Bible demands such of us. One look in my refrigerator would be sufficient to establish this point.

Yet, I find it a sad thing when someone questions whether Christians should consume alcohol, he is immediately met with the objection of freedom in Christ --the liberty we are given from man-made regulations in pursuit of a holy life. Yet, I wonder if some of this protesting is actually against what Paul's intention --professing to be mature in Christ, and is actually infantile Christian behavior, if it is Christian at all. IT is using liberty as an occasion for the flesh.

The truth is this: if you are drinking to the point where you ought not be driving, you are drunk in the Biblical sense of the word. Drunkenness is sin. Don't do it.

Now here me: addiction falls into a different class. People become dependent upon things --sin takes deep and thorny roots. A person struggling to overcome addiction will find nothing but help, support, and counsel for me --Paul's call for gentle restoration.

But, there are a whole host of social drinkers out there --for whom a party just isn't a party unless alcohol is served. Christians who are comfortable consuming multiple alcoholic beverages, treading as close to the line of drunkenness as they dare go, and probably kidding themselves that they have not stumbled over it.

Why not try this: if you like an occasional beer and wine, enjoy one. One? Yes, one. If that's a problem for you, then you have a problem. Do not tell me you can consume five drinks and still honor Christ. Do not tell me you can empty a bottle of wine and still maintain your faculties. Protest your liberty before Jesus, not me.

Or, maybe it's just Monday.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Image at War with Substance

As a child, I used to think I would be a rather suave, sophisticated adult: a snappy dresser who could appreciate the finer things. But, alas, now approaching the 40's, I live in a cookie cutter house (don't get me wrong, it's very nice) in a vanilla suburb (also nice). My wardrobe is typically geeky white male, got on the cheap (mostly) at places like Stein-Mart, Marshalls, and the Maxx (okay, my wife will add my penchant for Bean/Lands End --still pretty square). I like classical music, red wine, and the theatre, but my knowledge of them doesn't go very deep (sometimes, that's a blessing).

I am great with all of this. I work in a very image conscious part of probably the most Southern city on earth. Status, appearance, knowing and being known, and connections are everything. The appearance of wealth is prized. In this, it is not unique, though it has a far different flavor here than elsewhere --people have something to PROVE, and the wealth is not easily worn like in other parts of the country. Incidentally, the wealthiest people I have known (and I have casually known a few billionaires and several more that sat on tens of millions --don't ask me how that happened) are some of the most humble and down-to-earth --it seems that the upwardly mobile, upper-middle are the ones who need the APPEARANCE of wealth.

We run into this in the church. Sometimes, the argument is made that we need to polish image. Words need to be parsed carefully, also tone of voice. Staffing decisions that favor young, polished, handsome athletic types would be prized by some (thankfully, not all). We think, somehow, we need to adorn the gospel with polish. We need beautiful buildings and designer clothes, and a winsome type A personality.

The truth is: Jesus was none of those, nor did he seem to include such people on his team. He picked losers --let's be honest about it. Yes, the early church picked up a physician later on, but I doubt Luke carried the prestige of top-flight doctors today. And, he did this for purpose --he puts his treasure in jars of clay to make sure we know the surpassing greatness of his power has nothing to do with us.

Image does not help substance. Image does not help advance the gospel. Image harms the gospel. The church is not an auto show, where a curvy young thing needs to be strewn across the hood to sell a product. The gospel is the supernatural power of God, and it changes lives. Is the church anemic today because we don't understand this? I think so. Humility, service, sharing the gospel, and cultivating Biblical knowledge and spiritual disciplines work every time they are tried. Why do we keep seeking something better?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Who Do We Blame?

I am all for individual responsibility. The Scriptures teach that we are responsible for our own sins. No more shall it be said (heard) in Israel, "The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge."

Yet, our understanding of human nature bids us look beyond sin as something as a purely voluntary action of the will --and something that can be resisted by mere willpower.

It is an essentially Pelagian view of sin that says all we must do is resist sin, and, when we fail, it is a moral failing --purely our own "fault." Those who think thus need to own Romans 7.

Which brings me to the thorny problem of Who's Responsible? Conservative evangelicals tend to place sole blame on the sinner: if a person becomes addicted to a substance or experience, it is the moral weakness of that person that brought that about. And, implicitly, this gives rise to pride: I am of sterner moral stuff, because I didn't fall prey to lust, or greed, or drunkenness.

And, it tends to us reasoning that certain sins are more serious than others. Some sins, of course, are more serious than others, but not always the ones we think!

I wonder sometimes if our blame is largely misplaced, if loving the sinner and hating the sin actually means hating the purveyor of sin, while having restorative mercy to the one ensared in the sin. This is not quite moral man and immoral society --more like, sin-prone man, and temptation-proffering society. I am finding myself far more angry at the addictors than addicts these days. I abhor the gambling industry. The whole industry is aimed at addicting those who involve themselves in it --they study the psychology of the gambler, and feed off the addiction.

AS I read the Bible, I see both Satan and Jesus operating this way. Satan feeds off weak and sinful human nature --to entice people to slavery. God's condemnation to death rests upon Satan for this (Genesis 3). Jesus is incensed in the temple (no pun intended), not at those who are buying the doves, etc. (thus "driving the market!") but at the dovesellers! HIs anger rests not on the sinners, but the purveyors of sin.

We might say the same thing for porn, alcohol, or drugs. Our anger should at least be somewhat --and I would argue, mostly, directed at the purveyors. Yet, we throw drug addicts in jail. But, at least in 2 of those three things, the purveyors are protected under the free market, and freedom of speech.

Part of the church growing to understand grace must mean that sinners sins ought not to shock us. Indeed, we understand, empathize, and seek to deliver, not condemn. But, it also means directing our anger to the right places: those who profit off the sinful nature.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

We (All) Are Marshall

So, my wife and I watch We Are Marshall the other night. Pretty affecting story --movie largely true rendering of the horrible plane crash that took an entire football organization: players, coaching staff, and fans. Why do sports movies move even those who aren't much interested in sports? Tragedy, triumph over adversity, pathos, etc on full display. And, no neat endings. Marshall's program took over a decade to recover. Jack Lyengel left after 3 years with a 9-33 overall record --and never coached again. The one remaining coach of the old squad (who had driven home) walked away from football forever after assisting in the recovery season.

Whatever the venue, human drama is a moving thing. You could care little for sports, and find yourself caring very much about a tragedy that occurred over 35 years ago. I think that is why so much of Scripture is story: truth ensconced in moving history. We all live a story, and therefore we can find commonality in the "human condition" whether it be an athlete or a mentally ill mathematical genius (which few of us will ever be). So, too, we can touch base with an aged infertile couple like Abraham and Sarah (or Hannah and Elkani, or Elizabeth and Zachariah), or a sexually wayward king, or a despairing prophet, or a rejected Messiah. We know a little of each of those things, and that makes the story move us.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sermon Writing Agony

I am convinced, if I could write my sermons in the shower, they would be so much better. A flood of ideas come with the flood of water out of the shower head (okay, flowery preacher prose there, sorry about that).

But, there is an agony in staring at the text and computer, when ideas seem hard pressed to come.

Sermons can be agony not just for the listener, but for the preacher, too!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Buildings, Programs, and Attractive Demographics

My denomination seems to be in the midst of a building boom, though likely current circumstances may slow that trend. It is a natural outgrowth of our way of "doing church," which is mostly find a nice, affluent suburban --or hip, trendy college, or eclectic, regentrifying city--neighborhood, and put a church there.

Then, having attracted a well-heeled clientele, set out to wow them with architecture and accouterments. Whether a massive traditional structure with a roaring pipe organ and stained glass, or a modern theatre-style with the latest in video and sound technology, our church life is expensive --but we have the people to pay for it.

And, we can justify it all, too. As was said to me at a recent (not my) presbytery committee meeting, "The rich need Jesus too." Now, that was not the subject for debate. Everybody needs Jesus. That's kind of a given, right? The subject for debate seemed to be whether the poor needed Jesus. IT seems to me that Presbyterians, in defiance of our history, have decided it is our mission from God to reach affluent, well-educated types. Please. Don't we think well of ourselves?

Difficult words to say. My own church is affluent, and well-educated, though our building, while large, is hardly ornate or attractive in and of itself, nor is it in a desirable demographic. I love majestic church buildings, grand organs. I even love some contemporary worship, if the content of the songs and sermons are meaty. So, I point this arrow at my own heart, too.

I realize all of this could sound like spiritual pride, and I am certainly not immune to pride (no-one is), but I wonder if the joy and excitement of actually reaching the lost and ministering to the hurting (real kingdom work) has passed Presbyterianism by not because we are not culturally accommodated enough, but precisely because we are too culturally accommodated. Not in terms of seeker-friendly worship or a vacuous, feel-good message, but simply because we have made peace with materialism. The American dream and the Christian dream have melded in our thinking. We think and strategize and plan, but maybe we have missed the main thing --Jesus cared about those who had nothing in this world and put them first on his list. The outcast, the notorious sinner, the self-degraded, the fatherless and widow, etc etc.

These are not the people in our Presbyterian churches. Why not? We have lost the ethos of our founders --evangelical Christianity always found far more fertile fields among the meek and lowly than it did in the halls of power. INdeed, when Presbyterianism grew popular and wealthy, it soon lost its Biblical fire. We have tried to find a way to retain the BIblical fire WHILE being prosperous. I am starting to doubt that is an option given to us in God's Word.

May he save us from ourselves. May the harvest not pass us by. May he make us a tool of mercy in his hand.