November 2005


30 Nov 2005

I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. -1 Tim 2:12-13

To add to a previous entry about women’s ordination, it is worth your time to print out and read this 1998 speech by Pastor Tim Bayly. To quote a small portion:

This is neither a small or unimportant aspect of the Genesis account: it was Adam whom God first held responsible for the Fall despite Adam being the second sinner in the Garden. It is because of the sin of Adam–not Eve–that the race of Adam remains under the curse of judgement and death down to this present day. (Rom 5:12-14)… as the New England Primer (one of the most widely used textbooks in the early history of the United States) succinctly sums it up: In Adam’s fall We sinned all.

29 Nov 2005

A friend recently sent along a few links (1, 2, 3, 4) on the Emergent Church Movement(ECM). Modern Reformation also has a very good summary article (hat tip to Oldtruth). I doubt that the ECM influences the worship of most churchgoeers now. One could say the same about seeker-sensitive worship 15 years ago.

It seems from afar that the ECM was spawned by anemic contemporary worship, unstructured theology, gnostic pretentiousness, a desire to be “alternative,” and a focus on imagery instead of Biblical logic. Which sounds a lot like today’s pop culture. Don’t become Anglican, just dabble with its liturgy. Don’t adopt a structure and doctrinal framework (e.g. Reformed theology) that has summed the collective wisdom of ages past, play dilettante and invent anew. Skip the wine, get me a wine cooler.

And then there is the problem of muddled terminology. Modernism is about truth and linear thinking, whereas postmodernism is antifoundational, accepting, blah blah blah. Is this real life we’re talking about? Scads of people didn’t believe in absolutes 20 years ago. The church has always had hospitable people and good storytellers. Many of us who haven’t bought into the ECM do endeavor to humbly accept others. But the Bible is often blunt and the rubber has to hit the road. If Jesus says “No one comes to the Father except through me,” then it isn’t faithful or loving to downplay it to others. Things is the way they is. There need be no conflict between “absolute” and “authentic.”

The ECM, like the Seeker movement, seems profoundly Arminian, both in its lack of structure and its implicit need to help God by providing worship “experiences” that the “next generation” of Christians need. But God is not served by human hands as though he needed anything (Acts 17:25). He could raise up people from stones instead of using us to build His kingdom (Matthew 3:9). We should worship God as He wants to be worshipped, distinguishing of course between elements of worship (prayer, Bible reading, sacraments) and circumstances (time of day, language, etc). God hasn’t changed and neither has the Bible, so why should the elements of worship? We are not called to find manipulative ways to wake the dead. We’re called to faithfully do things the way God wants it done, trusting Him to gather His flock.

28 Nov 2005

Note: Going off the beaten path today to discuss software…

Every red-blooded male using the internet should strongly consider filtering software (it helps to fulfill the A in Piper’s ANTHEM). Men are led by their eyes, and it’s not hard to end up in seedy byways.

For years, we have used Cybersitter; my wife keeps the password. This software behaves itself by not interfering with other programs or slowing down the system. It logs activity for accountability and has a small memory footprint. It does a very good job at filtering bad sites, much better than other packages I tried a few years ago. It seems to use a blacklist combined with some sort of proprietary filtering.

However, Cybersitter lacks nuance. It’s like a repairman who uses a hammer to solve all problems: everything looks like a nail. It inexplicably filters outbound data, so if you type “underrated” on a blog form, it may show up as “unde”, while typing “Sex in Literature” (a Lewis essay) is apt to post as “in Literature”. And there is no option to separately disable this word-filtering feature. Worse, Cybersitter routinely blocks harmless sites. These will show up as a blank page or with half of an article missing. I have had to add dozens of regularly and irregularly visited sites such as sports pages and Christian blogs to its Acceptable Sites list, because sooner or later Cybersitter will block articles on them for some reason or other. Given our family arrangement, it’s problemmatic to add sites to the Acceptable Sites list when you don’t have the password (“O honey…”). And when it comes to researching certain topics such as abortion or homosexuality, be prepared for filter-city and a log filled with what amounts to false positives.

The Cybersitter makers have not eliminated these shortcomings in my many years of using it, and they do not seem interested in doing so. There’s no such thing as simply asking Cybersitter to block porno sites and images. It is basically intended for those supervising children.

Maybe someone someday will release filtering software for adults. Or maybe such software already exists. If you have found it, please send email. And if you have not, Cybersitter, with all its faults, remains as an option. In the spirit of Matthew 5:29, it is worthwhile despite the hassles.

Edit: Two readers of this post have suggested interesting solutions, Covenant Eyes and X3 Watch (hat tip: Ryan and Jim). Both programs do not use client filters, but instead log your internet activity and send them to an accountability partner on a regular basis. This eliminates the annoyance of harmless sites being blocked while still keeping you in bounds. At least one of the solutions claims to be nearly impossible to circumvent. Unfortunately I cannot evaluate these solutions further now because… yes, you guessed it, Cybersitter (aka. the Hammer) is blocking a lot of their content. However, I will research and test these solutions further over the coming weeks and post results.

27 Nov 2005

As Christmas season approaches, can I recommend a favorite hymn? It is How Lovely Shines the Morning Star an adaptation of the German “Wie Schon Leuchtet Der Morgenstern.” Alas, it is hard to find but ITunes does have a fine German version by James Schaffran available. The shorter version provides the basic melody, but get both of them. Here are a few verses from this sublime hymn. O, that modern music had this depth of Biblical imagery!

How lovely shines the Morning Star!
The nations see and hail afar
The light in Judah shining.
Thou David’s Son of Jacob’s race,
My Bridegroom and my King of Grace,
For Thee my heart is pining.
Lowly, Holy,
Great and glorious,
Thou victorious
Prince of graces,
Filling all the heavenly places.

—-

Now richly to my waiting heart,
O Thou, my God, deign to impart
The grace of love undying.
In Thy blest body let me be,
E’en as the branch is in the tree,
Thy life my life supplying.
Sighing, Crying.
For the savor
Of Thy favor;
Resting never,
Till I rest in Thee forever.

—-

Thou, mighty Father, in Thy Son
Didst love me ere Thou hadst begun
This ancient world’s foundation.
Thy Son hath made a friend of me,
And when in spirit Him I see,
I joy in tribulation.
What bliss, Is this!
He that liveth
To me giveth
Life forever;
Nothing me from Him can sever.

25 Nov 2005

“Giving” is a subject that has long been on the heart of my former pastor, Larry Allen. And now Larry has written a book on this topic. Do check it out.

From the back cover:

Growing in the Grace of Giving presents the Bible’s teaching on stewardship and giving in a way that challenges many of today’s contemporary views. It shows that God has entrusted His incomparable riches to us both spiritually and, in many cases, financially. This book demonstrates that God calls His people to use enough of those resources for a life of God-centered simplicity and the rest for a strategic investment in kingdom purposes and the fulfillment of our joy. It argues that the biblical guideline for giving is still the tithe and beyond.

Growing in the Grace of Giving will help you discover that the path to God’s richest treasures is found by redirecting your life away from the cul-de-sac approach, wherein you have been encouraged to keep most of God’s treasures for the fulfillment of your own desires. You will learn how God’s grace is intended to supply an appropriate material balance in your own life so you can become a conduit of joyful generosity for the sake of Christ’s work in a world brimming with opportunities to make a difference for eternity.

23 Nov 2005

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of the kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously — no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner — no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. -CS Lewis

A friend and I discussed yesterday the distressing nature of articles and comments we often see on Christian blogs and message boards where doctrinal discussion occurs. “Uncharitable!” he said, and quite rightly. We see rampant self-righteousness, mocking, smugness, and even on occasion the broad-brush judging of the eternal souls of others (I see no need to pull examples, but will rely on your experience and perhaps your conscience to do the work).

Now, discernment is a good thing (Eph 5:10-11)! The gummy notion that it doesn’t matter what you think is a lie (1 John 5:10). And yet the way we talk matters. In addition to the Lewis quote above, I humbly posit a few things to consider as a backdrop for everything you post on the web, especially when responding to others:

1. Be kind, remembering Ephesians 4:32 (ESV): “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” And Ephesians 4:1-3: “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

2. Be humble, remembering that you are nothing but a foul sinner saved from perdition by grace, a lousy beggar who has found food (Rom 3:9-12). You were bought at great price (1 Pet 1:18-19). Without the cloak of Christ’s righteousness, the moral gulf between you and God is infinitely greater than the gulf between you and Joseph Stalin or Adolf Hitler.

22 Nov 2005

Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad. So the Jews said to him, You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham? Jesus said to them, Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am. So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple. -John 8:56-9

As I told the Jehovah’s Witnesses at the door yesterday, the Jews knew what Jesus was claiming here. He is God the Son. And the Holy Spirit is a person. And the word “Trinity” is simply theological shorthand for truths revealed repeatedly in both the Old and New Testaments.

Opportunities at your door like this are a convicting reminder to always be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15 ESV).

21 Nov 2005

I don’t understand why the religious right fears homosexuality. They say it’s an abomination. The Bible says that shellfish are also an abomination. They who oppose sodomy must also oppose scallops.

Jon Stewart made this quip at a recent event, probably getting it from emails and web sites which mockingly equate the twin “abominations” of shellfish and homosexuality. So, they say, you think the Bible calls homosexuality an abmomination? Well, it says the same thing about shrimp! Hahaha!

This may satisfy those looking for glib putdowns, but it absurdly misinterprets the Bible. That the “abominations” in Leviticus 11:10 and 18:22 were altogether different is clear from the consequences. The prescription for violating dietary laws was ritual purification. The punishment for sodomy was death. It’s noteworthy also that God’s command against homosexuality in Lev 18 is bounded by prohibitions on child sacrifice and bestiality. If commmands against homosexuality were swept away by the New Covenant along with the dietary laws, then so were the laws against bestiality and child sacrifice. (See here and here for more, and also here for the usual accompanying argument that Jesus never mentioned homosexuality).

After thousands of years of scholarly interpretation separating the moral and ceremonial/dietary laws and anaylzing them in light of Acts 10, along come comedians to shed new light on Holy Scripture. Homosexuality has been universally and strongly condemned as sin throughout church history by those who picked Scripture apart verse by verse, “rightly handling the word” (2 Tim 2:15) that they considered “sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb” (Ps. 19:10). To quote just one such saint, here is Matthew Henry on Lev 18:22-3:

A law against unnatural lusts, sodomy and bestiality, sins not to be named nor thought of without the utmost abhorrence imaginable… Other sins level men with the beasts, but these sink them much lower. That ever there should have been occasion for the making of these laws, and that since they are published they should ever have been broken, is the perpetual reproach and scandal of human nature; and the giving of men up to these vile affections was frequently the punishment of their idolatries; so the apostle shows, Rom. 1:24.

The good news for homosexuals and their supporters is that that there is forgiveness… but only with repentance.

19 Nov 2005

As a recent Internetmonk posting noted, there is a basic issue of musical competence in our churches. You once had one music professional on the organ, and that instrument covered the bases. Now, unless perhaps you attend a megachurch, you often have one professional and congregational amateurs, some of whom can barely play at all. Not only do the amateurs have to play their parts right, they have to play in time (not easy). And you need the amateur in the sound booth to mix the sound properly (pros make good money doing this for a reason). The result of all this is wildly inconsistent quality and distractions during worship.

Moreover, it’s mostly bad music that is being played badly. Centuries of wonderful music have been largely discarded. Lewis once spoke of “fifth rate hymns set to sixth rate music.” What would he think of today’s musical vulgarity?

Those of us who prefer content-rich, traditional hymns are like hippos in the dry season, watching watering holes dry up slowly around us. Presbyterians have mostly given in, and the Lutherans and Anglicans are striding in that direction. And with this move usually comes a dumbed-down service, dispensing with Biblical elements of worship in favor of long stretches of singsong choruses, progress videos, and other fluff. Contemporary worship inclines to levity, not the weight of glory. To the casual, not the reverent. How many elements of worship can be dispensed with before a service can no longer be called worship at all?

And why are so few bothered by this sea change?

18 Nov 2005

I do believe in a higher power
one that loves us one and all
not someone to solve our problems
or to catch me when I fall …
I believe in a loving father
one I never have to fear
that I should live life at its fullest
just as long as I am here

Waylon Jennings wrote those words. They’re from a pretty song called “I Do Believe.” He sang it during an interesting Highwaymen tribute that was on one of the country music channels recently (featuring Johnny Cash singing and laughing- grand!). An old NPR article tells us that Waylon’s song “expresses a hard-earned but complicated faith.”

But there is nothing complicated about it. Lewis called it Christianity and water, a “boys” philosophy which “simply says there is a good God in Heaven and everything is all right — leaving out all the difficult and terrible doctrines about sin and hell and the devil, and the redemption.” Sadly, this baseless tune was played at Jennings’ funeral by Kris Kristofferson, who said of it: “[It] is one of the last songs Waylon wrote and is probably my favorite because it is the essence of the man I knew…”

17 Nov 2005

Oldtruth mentions that some have changed Amazing Grace’s lyrics from “saved a wretch like me” to “saved and strengthened me.” If you don’t believe it, check this out. In the words of one hymnal editor, the old lyrics are a blow to self-esteem (indeed!). Fighting on the right side for the wrong reasons, some of the liberals wanted to keep the original wording because it implies disapproval of slavery. That is, its author John Newton was a slave trafficker and the verse is about John Newton, not us. (Perhaps they will next change Romans 7:24 to “O wounded man that I am…”)

R.C. Sproul has observed that what amazes us is justice, not grace. We don’t understand how bad we are and how good God is. In The Holiness of God, Sproul talks about Luther’s debut as a cleric. All was going well until Luther suddenly froze at the altar. Unable to speak or go on, he returned to the table where his embarassed family sat. Luther was supposed to say the words “We offer unto thee, the living, the true, the eternal God.” But, he said:

At these words I was utterly stupified and terror-stricken. I thought to myself, “…Who am I, that I should lift up my eyes or raise my hands to the divine Majesty? The angels surround him. At his nod the earth trembles. And shall I, a miserable little pygmy, say ‘I want this, I ask for that?’ For I am dust and ashes and full of sin and I am speaking to the living, eternal and true God.

Amen.

16 Nov 2005

Lewis discusses the abuse of fantasy in this excerpt from a 1956 letter.

For me the real evil of masturbation would be that it takes an appetite which, in lawful use, leads the individual out of himself to complete (and correct) his own personality in that of another (and finally in children and even grandchildren) and turns it back; sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides. And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman. For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no woman can rival. Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover; no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity. In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself…And it is not only the faculty of love which is thus sterilized, forced back on itself, but also the faculty of imagination. The true exercise of imagination in my view, is (a) To help us understand other people, (b) To respond to, and, some of us, to produce art. But is has also a bad use: to provide for us, in shadowy form, a substitute for virtues, successes, distinctions, etc. which ought to be sought outside in the real world–e.g., picturing all I’d do if I were rich instead of earning and saving. Masturbation involves this abuse of imagination in erotic matters (which I think bad in itself) and thereby encourages a similar abuse of it in all spheres. After all, almost the main work of life is to come out of our selves, out of the little dark prison we are all born in. Masturbation is to be avoided as all things are to be avoided which retard this process. The danger is that of coming to love the prison.

14 Nov 2005

Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita KS has a special attendee. His name is George Tiller and he has done more than 50,000 abortions over the past 30 years. Has Tiller been disciplined by his church? Quite the contrary. His pastor photographs protesters, and Tiller’s wife has written for the church newsletter. Want to see the Tillers taking communion?

If that is not enough, Tiller’s abortion clinic offers a chaplaincy program. Yes, you have the option to photograph, hold, or baptize the mangled body of the child you have just murdered. And, best of all, a pastor can be present (although the Episcopal priest shown on the web site died last year). If this seems like something from a grade Z horror movie, there is a site showing pictures of one of these sessions that is one of the most macabre things I have ever seen.

“How great, therefore, the wickedness of human nature is! How many girls there are who prevent conception and kill and expel tender fetuses…” So said Martin Luther. Tiller’s clinic (and apparently Reformation Lutheran) begs to differ, stating that abortion is “spiritually” acceptable by “many denominations” within Christianity. Alas, evil rationalizing aside, it is sadly true. Many churches, such as Broad Street Presbyterian in Columbus, OH, which until recently housed the Ohio branch office of NARAL, are providing spiritual cover for wickedness. In Tiller’s case, Reformation Lutheran provides “loving” cover for his vile practice.

A topic for your prayers.

11 Nov 2005

A breath of relief is usually heard when someone declares, “Hell is a symbol for separation from God.” To be separated from God for eternity is no great threat to the impenitent person. The ungodly want nothing more than to be separated from God. Their problem in hell will not be separation from God; it will be the presence of God that will torment them. In hell, God will be present in the fullness of His divine wrath. He will be there to exercise His just punishment of the damned. They will know Him as an all-consuming fire. -R.C. Sproul

09 Nov 2005

PBS Frontline tonight was about abortion. One of its themes was that abortion clinics are disappearing in many states, with Mississippi down to one clinic. In the usual tendentious PBS style, the show fades out on the ominous note that Mississippi may soon have no more clinics.

It says something about a lot of things that many see these clincs as oasis rather than gas ovens run for profit. We can go down many ratholes here: Why are these women irresponsibly getting pregnant in the first place? What happens after the birth? What should political policy be? But these are diversions. They cannot excuse the foulness of abortion itself or the seared consciences of its ardent supporters. As Calvin put it: “If it seems more horrible to kill a man in his own house than in a field, because a man’s house is his place of most secure refuge, it ought surely to be deemed more atrocious to destroy a fetus in the womb before it has come to light.”

06 Nov 2005

I do not suppose that I am the only evangelical who finds that the actual exercise of worship, the deliberate lifting of one’s eyes from man and his mistakes to contemplate God and his glory, grows increasingly precious as the years go by, and brings solace and refreshment to the spirit in a way that nothing else can do. Certainly, this was the experience of the great Puritans; and what I want to do is to allow them to share it with us, and lead us deeper into the enjoyment of it for ourselves.

So says J.I. Packer in his richly rewarding Puritan Approach to Worship . Print it, read it, and savor it.

05 Nov 2005

One of the first things you learn as an amateur astronomer is that the view through your telescope is a lot different than the photographs in a book. A nebula that bursts with color on the page is a small white blotch in your telescope, even if your scope looks like this. Similarly, our unaided eyes see the Milky Way in summer as a long wispy cloud instead of the glorious profusion seen in astronomy magazines. This occurs for the same reason that a bright red car by day appears a shade of gray in the dark. Our little light-gatherers, aka. our eyes, just can’t stack up against long-exposure photography.

Far away from the city, the starry sky is, as Charlie Daniels put it, “like diamonds against black velvet.” And yet, the night sky is creation’s best illustration of how “we see in a mirror, dimly” (1 Cor. 13:12). It is as if God has placed a veil over a grand painting. But even in these shadowlands, the monochrome grandeur of the night sky is far more lovely than any creation of man. No wonder astronomers sometimes refer to the firmament as “the heavens.”

02 Nov 2005

To give you an idea of how far away the nearest star (other than the Sun) is to earth, NASA notes that a car travelling 55 miles per hour would take 50 million (!) years to reach Proxima Centauri. The Voyager spacecraft left our solar system travelling at 37,000 miles an hour. It would take Voyager 80,000 years to reach Proxima Centauri and 40 billion years to reach the Andromeda galaxy.