Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
It can be challenging to come up with fresh approaches to the Advent Season year after year. Yet, the Glorious Event is so significant that it bears a fresh sounding of every note. In previous years, I have done the songs of Advent (Zechariah's, Simeon's, the Angels', Mary's etc), and the prophecies of Advent.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Thursday, November 4, 2010
Okay, so Tim Keller's comment on my last post got me thinking....
- Cities are beehives of productivity. In the same building, you will find CEO's who command multi-million dollar salaries and fast food workers making minimum wage, and all of them are busy, busy, busy, making the economy of a city hum. Heaven is not a place of indolence --my father works, and I work. Part of being in the image of God is being productive.
- Cities are multi-cultural. Since the late nineteenth century, the nations have poured in to North American cities. The mix of languages and cultures at the same mingling together and retaining their distinctiveness, add zest to the city. Heaven will be the gathering place of the redeemed of all the nations.
- Cities are built to impress. I love Chicago, because it got a chance to "do over" after a great fire, and they did it right. Chicago is built on a swamp. After the fire, the city fathers elevated the city, so now all utility and garbage collection happens on lower level streets, below the sidewalks. You don't share the street with garbage in Chicago. They reversed the flow of the Chicago River away from Lake Michigan out of sanitary concerns: they drank Lake Michigan water. Brilliant. City of Big Shoulders indeed. Steel girders and human ingenuity gave us the skyscraper, and skyscrapers convey wealth, beauty, and ingenuity. Many of them are iconic: Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning, the aforementioned Hancock and Chrysler buildings, etc. Heaven is clearly built to impress us with the ingenuity and wisdom of God.
- Cities are cultural centers. They are repositories of the best of cultural artifacts. Go to Chicago and see their incredible Monet collection. The Guggenheim Museum in New York is itself a work of art. There are public art installations, and theaters on every corner. Great symphonies reside in great cities. Great temple-like building are built to house them. Everything is lavish and done well. Heaven is the abode of he who does all things well, the Author of beauty and music.
- Cities are endlessly interesting. There are always new diverse neighborhoods to explore. My wife grew up in Pittsburgh, and yet we are still discovering new neighborhoods and new things to do --and Pittsburgh is certainly far from the largest of cities. Heaven will have an infinite number of fascinating things to explore.
- Cities gather up impressive people. Imagine what it takes to build a building in a city, with its maze of regulations, unions and challenging property. Then, think of Donald Trump. The Donald is a master of self-promotion, and I am sure there are better real estate minds, but he is the one that everyone knows. The brain flow goes toward the cities --they are places of great universities, and great minds, and great things happen there on a massive scale. Heaven will be full of impressive people --not those that impressed the eyes of the world when they were here, but those through whom God did great things, often in secret, while they were here.
- Cities provide for every human need. Imagine the massive amounts of water needed for a city. Imagine what is needed to eliminate rainwater from the streets of a city. Imagine the emergency services needed. Imagine the amount of food that must flow into a city, the amount of electricity and other forms of power. Imagine the information superstructure that flows through cables --the massive interconnection of computers and telephones. Transportation, sustenance, sanitation, rescue, entertainment are provided by the city in spades. Heaven will be the fulfillment of all our needs, and all our sanctified wants.
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
There is a tendency to idolize both one's upbringing and the small town, and it is not my intention to do that. I know full well the ugly side of small town life: the provincialism, the petty infighting, the divisions, etc. I also know that the small town itself is dead or dying in many places. It is the rare small town today that is a self-contained society, with a vibrant communal life and commercial and career opportunities.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Thursday, September 30, 2010
Monday, September 20, 2010
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
Yes, if you are a regular reader, you will notice this photo, one of my favorites of all time. The former home of the Woodward Avenue Presbyterian Church in Detroit, aka "St. Curvy's." It's my favorite picture of a church corpse.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Perhaps fueled by the Sonship movement that was prevalent in the PCA in the 80's and 90's, for a long time it was stressed that Christian men needed accountable friendships --another man to whom they could confess anything, and who would hold them accountable for doing the right thing.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Monday, August 9, 2010
Monday, July 26, 2010
Ever since I was a child, I have enjoyed evening worship. Part of this is nostalgia, but this does not render it any less significant. Journeys with my father to old Fourth Reformed in Grand Rapids, perhaps stopping in to see my grandparents briefly before the "long" 20 minute ride home, conversations less important for their content than the fact they happened. Later in life, the sonorous Bronx accent of Charles W. Krahe, so striking to Midwestern ears, on the Seventh Reformed broadcast on the car radio on treks back to Hillsdale College after weekends at home.
Then, the delight of listening to John R. de Witt at the grand, long, full evening services at Seventh Reformed when I was privileged to serve under him: multiple weeks on the story of Blind Bartimaeus by the roadside begging, expositions of Genesis, chapter by chapter, and the singing of sturdy, old hymns.
In our present context, an informal setting, sometimes with heart-stirring spontaneous prayer, different hymn tunes and instruments than the morning, and folks lingering a good while afterwards in fine Christian fellowship and the cords of love.
I have pleasant associations with evening worship. Yet, that is not the only reason I like evening worship. I would greatly miss it if I served a church that did not worship, whether together, or in small groups in homes, on Sunday evenings.
1.) As many have noted, a Sunday without evening worship can, and often does, become the Lord's hour, not the Lord's Day. I notice this when I travel and stay with family. Our Sabbath evening ritual gives a nice balance to the day, keeps Christ in view, and prepares us for the week ahead.
2.) Evening worship has a different feel and flavor. Even if the format of worship is the same, the timbre of it has always differed at night. I have noticed this from my youth, to my days in seminary at First Presbyterian here, in Virginia, and our evening services at Trinity. Sunday morning has a majestic, rousing feel, and Sunday evenings have a softer, intimate feel.
3.) Compared to our ancestors, we sit under a paltry amount of preaching. Sermons have grown shorter and shorter, and services fewer and fewer. Most churches no longer have midweek prayer and preaching services (we don't either, though I often wish we did). Evening worship gives us another opportunity to hear from God.
I hope no-one will take this as necessarily an indictment against not having evening worship. It is more a plea for an old way that has fallen off in many quarters, and which I, for one, am sad to see go.
Friday, July 23, 2010
I read a lot of biographies, and, take my word for it, Manchester's 2 completed volumes on Churchill (The Last Lion) are without peer. I look forward to the third, which another must complete, Manchester having met his demise.
Of course, he could hardly have had a more interesting subject. The second volume is entitled "Alone." Alone Churchill was. Reading a chronicle of British leadership in the 30's would be comical, if it weren't so sad, and if it hadn't cost millions of lives. The portrait of Churchill is of a titan of a man --greatly flawed, as great men often are. Yet, he was a man of his convictions. He was miraculously prescient in regards to Hitler, and what he would do, when many British weren't so much cowering in fear, but gaping with admiration. The latent anti-Semitism of Britain, coupled with its own sense of defeatism, led Baldwin and Chamberlain, and the vast majority of their elite countrymen not only to kowtow to Hitler, but to help his cause. The Times suppressed the accounts of Kristallnacht, and accounts of the persecution of the church. Anything that did not fit the overriding narrative of peace, and even alliance, with Germany, was suppressed. Edward the Abdicator frolicked with the Fuhrer. The "Dear Vicar," PM Stanley Baldwin, refused to rebuild the nation's defenses while Germany rebuilt the Ruhr, and reclaimed and fortified the Rhineland, all to public acclaim.
Churchill was dumbfounded. Was this the Britain that had won the Great War? The one that caused the Kaiser's government to fall and sue for peace? Churchill had opposed Versailles, and its draconian demands on the German populace. Yet, he saw the same Britain, so merciless at Versailles, now aiding and abetting a country of 70 million people in central Europe, preparing once again to menace its neighbors.
The lesson is this: the right thing is seldom the popular thing. Sometimes it requires being ostracized and standing alone. The difficulty is in knowing when one's opinions are, indeed, in the right. But, as was Churchill's case, sometimes it really isn't that difficult to know. The difficult thing is to stand fast, despite all ostracism and ridicule. The civilized world may not have survived if it hadn't been for Winston Churchill. Because of him, it did.
Nothing short of Scripture holds the subjective and objective better than the old Heidelberg Catechism. Consider this:
Question 27. What do you understand by the providence of God?
The almighty and ever present power by which God upholds heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that leaves and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and unfruitful years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, and everything else, come to us not by chance but from God's sustaining hand.
Question 28. How does the knowledge of God's creation and providence help us?
Answer. We can be patient when things go against us, thankful when things go well, and for the future we can have good confidence in our faithful God and Father that nothing will separate us from God's love. All creatures are so completely in God's hand that without the divine will they can neither move nor be moved.
Positively Davidic. Not pollyannaish. Realistic. Life is hard. Things go wrong, even (and maybe even especially) for the children of God. We are not unmoved movers, but flesh-and-blood being, subject to the tumult of experience.
We act, we suffer, we are morally culpable, and somehow God is sovereign over it all. God is sovereign over suffering --a hard truth that is, but also comforting; how much worse would it be if certain things were out of God's control?
What Christ gives us is hope. Hope for the despairing melancholy. Hope for the person who has made shipwreck of his life. Hope for the one caught in the clutches of thorny rebellion. If we are his he has saved us from the just consequences of our lives, and will save us from all that currently plagues us. If we are not yet his, his hand is out to us to bring us this resilient hope: nothing can separate us from the love of God: peril, tribulation, nakedness, famine, or sword.
Sunday, July 11, 2010
I am struck, in our 24-7 world, at how difficult it would be to bring those who make their living in the service economy into the life of the church. The decline of the concept of a day of rest in our society and among the people of God has created a problem I hear precious few Christians addressing, namely, when is the person who makes his living at Home Depot or Burlington Coat Factory allowed the luxury of a day of rest and worship?
I remember when we were living in VA, an ancient blue law, never enforced, being mocked and ridiculed. The law guaranteed the right of the laborer not to labor on Sunday. In all the rights guaranteed to workers in this day and age, this one is not, and I wonder why the church remains largely silent on it.
We often treat the Fourth Commandment as a private affair: we are not to work, but to rest and worship. It is a gift, not a burden. But, the Fourth Commandment is largely addressed not to the individual, but the one who has others in his employ. It is not just that he is to rest, but his servants, his animals (those whose labor he owns) and his guests.
So, let's say the church does its job and shares the gospel with those in the service economy. When can we incorporate them into worship, into the life of faith? When do they get their day of rest? It is a rather callous response from the church to tell them to find another job --most jobs in the service economy do not come with weekends.
I suggest we do three things. First, perhaps churches need to band together to offer other opportunities to worship than the Lord's Day. This is not making the Lord's Day optional. It is a provision to thos whose schedule is not their own, just as the Christian slaves used to gather after sundown, when their workday was done. It is accomodating a society that has abandoned a day of rest.
Second, we need to speak prophetically to the culture. Christian business owners used to close on Sunday: Truett Cathy is the one remaining example, JC Penney and Sam Walton in not-too-distant memory. Christian workers deserve the freedom to observe their day of rest and worship. In a world in which every accomodation is made to every sort of religious practice and scruple, the First Day observance, joining in the corporate life, worship, and fellowship of the people of God is fundamental to Christian community.
Third, we need to teach on the Lord's Day. We need to present it not primarily as a list of don'ts. It is for man, not man for it. It is for rest, and for worship. Yes, there are things we must do, and things we ought not. But, primarily, it is a day for families to gather in the Family, around the altar of God, call on his name and hear his voice. We have let this great gift be trampled upon by society, and are the poorer for it.
Part of justice for those who are less in command of the culture is just that the church cry out for them to be given a regular Christian Sabbath. Remember the soul of the person who waits on your table next Sunday....
Friday, July 2, 2010
Yet, as I reflected upon it, I am probably more grateful for the PCA now than I have been in awhile. Part of it was just being duly reminded of some great truths by Drs. Duncan and Keller in their presentation.
But, part of it is the glorious irrelevance of the GA. I do not mean that at all in the sense that we do not need each other, we ought not to be connected, etc. I mean it only this way: I will return home, love my family, repent of my sins, and try to minister in Jesus' name to my flock and those around. The man sitting in front of me who voted the opposite on everything will return home, love his family, repent of his sins, and try to minister in Jesus' name to his flock and those around.
And, maybe, just maybe, he learned something from me, and I from him.
That would not be true in many, many denominations. So, I am grateful for the PCA. Our denomination probably grates on all men in every camp from time to time. But, grating is not all bad. It is grating that smooths off rough edges.
I do have repenting to do. Skip Ryan gave a beautiful presentation on the effects of the bondage of sin in his life, and the root of those things being man-pleasing. I see so much of this in myself. I have this inherent desire to agree with whoever I am with at the time. I might agree on most things, but I need to be willing to disagree in love, on occasion, as well! Unity and uniformity are not the same thing. My fear for the PCA is that every group loses sight of this truth.
Jesus is all-sufficient. While I will not step the pulpit this Sunday, my brothers will. Many of them voted completely the opposite of the way I did this past week. Yet, the gospel was not at stake. It was not up for a vote. Policies, procedures, rules, and vision were. Those things are adiaphoral. Christ is pre-eminent. Oh, how I need him.
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
2.) GA is a hard place for introverts. I see people I'd love to meet in person, not to schmooze, but inherent shyness makes this difficult.
3.) I think some people unfairly trade off their prominence. I do not think all prominent people do this. God gave some people prominence, and they are generally good stewards of it. Others, not so much. I mean, does the president of the seminary really have to be the first person at the microphone to nominate a chairman? C'mon! I wonder if his evil plan is to take over the PCA --once he is elected to the SJC, his hegemonic power will be complete. Okay, this is tongue in cheek. Sort of.
4.) I am grateful to God to be debating the issues we debate, and not the issues most other churches have to debate. Our big issues are small, unlike those in more mainline denominations.
5.) Good time with friends old and new is a good part of General Assembly. It seems tragic, however, to walk by the Ryman Auditorium every day, and not be going to an Opry...
Quite obviously, my brain is frizzled from long hours in committee. Who ever decided that windowless rooms work well for meetings ought to be shot then hung.
Monday, June 28, 2010
At the very least, read from page 19 on.
I agree with Tim's historical analysis, and I am generally on board with this vision of each correcting the other. He says what I have tried to say for a long time, but not nearly as well.
And, I felt convicted.
And, I felt confused, because I feel like a meld of all 3 branches!
Saturday, June 26, 2010
Anyway, I stand on the cusp of our annual denominational bacchanal, the General Assembly. And, being of a sociological bent, I always find what people say both regarding and during GA interesting, for it is human nature on display. It is not always what is intended that is most interesting, but the subtext of words that I find interesting. Each of us wants to think that our own motives are pure (the purest!), our own positions are most consistent and well-reasoned, and therefore the other guy stinks.
Perhaps that is even true of me as I write this blog.
What so frustrates me about the PCA, other than our overweening pride, is just the way we marginalize those who disagree with us. If you are a member of the PCA, go and watch this video here. Tell me if you catch him marginalizing those with whom he disagrees. Here's a hint; it's about @ 1:30.
Note well, I do not think President Chapell INTENDS to marginalize. He simply assumes certain things, and his assumptions sneak into his choice of words.
Another example would be found here, paragraph 3. Those who think we need a new strategic plan genuinely believe, as Pastor Robertson does, that it is a needed next step in denominational development. I disagree, and that disagreement is fine. At least it is to me. According to Pastor Robertson, it is not. He writes, " Some are threatened by it as they are by anything new, but over all it is something we must adopt if we will continue to be a leading denomination for biblically faithful churches." To be against the plan, you see, is to be "threatened...by anything new," (and yes, I've written George about this).
Other examples can be found across the blogosphere. Conservatives in the PCA fit Jim Hunter's definition of disaffected groups, but those who devised the plan, are spirit-led and prayerful (Vintage73.com). I have no doubt the planners are prayerful and spirit-led, but could this not be equally true of those who dissent? Why must we marginalize?
So, what's the problem? I want to note that my problem is not with the "hungry progressives" because they are progressive. Though my own convictions fall on the conservative side, I do not think that everyone must agree with me. What I detest is marginalizing someone for dissenting: the "I count, you don't count" statement. I would hasten to add that conservatives can be just as guilty of this. It is just that the conservatives are not in power.
The powers that be are presenting a plan that will "unify," but in the process, it becomes apparent that by "unity" they mean "uniformity," or, perhaps, "leaving behind those who disagree." Suppression of dissent is, to my mind, a mark of insecurity.
Even if you're not PCA, and have no idea about the issues, it makes an important point. We each want to cast ourselves as the "Christ" party --above the fray, looking down at those insular, short-sighted, fractious nincompoops who don't understand how to behave in a gospel way. We, the enlightened, are above all this, and if others could just see it our way, they would understand. We are, after all, good men, entrusted with positions of leadership.
As I often point out, whether one is a good man or not is important, but not determinative. I have no doubt that there are many good men with whom I disagree. Being good (and truly there is none good but God, I know a bit of my own heart) and being right are not the same thing. I can be wrong; they can be wrong.
All of this is why my main fear for the PCA is not liberalism or even cultural capitulation. My main fear is that we are a proud lot, and I put myself and my conservative brothers right in the midst of that indictment.
At the same time, I am grateful for our leaders, past and present, who are anything but proud. I had the honor of working for Cortez Cooper, and of counting him as a friend and mentor. Corty was one of the most prominent and visible men in the PCA in his day. To this day, at almost 80, though he is not as visible at the denominational level, he continues to pastor. He has done interim work at churches of over 2000, and of churches of 20. He has labored in places as diverse as Greenwood, MS, St. Louis and Narrows, VA. He goes where he is called, preaches to presidents, stock car drivers, sturdy mountain folk and catfish farmers. He is a humble, godly man. I pray that many of our more prominent men might manifest the spirit of a Corty Cooper, and not think of themselves more highly than they ought.