Sunday, March 29, 2009

Our magnificent office

It's been a while since I've come across a writer any more able to convict me of a lackadaisical attitude toward prayer -- what the older writers called sloth -- than Alexander Whyte (1836-1921). For many years Whyte was considered the most eminent preacher in Scotland from his pulpit at Free St. Georges Church in Edinburgh. I've been reading his collection of sermons on prayer Lord Teach Us To Pray. I've been reading it slowly to let it sink in. This is devotional material of the highest order. Often sermons don't translate well to the page. Not so with Whyte's sermons. Reading them one can feel his tremendous passion and clearly see his ability to create pictures with words. Here is Whyte on the "magnificent office" of prayer:

Prayer is the magnificent office it is, because it is an office of such a magnificent kind. Magnificence is of many kinds, and magnificent things are more or less magnificent according to their kind. This great globe on which it strikes its roots and grows is magnificent in size when compared with that grain of mustard seed: but just because that grain of mustard seed is a seed and grows, that smallest of seeds is far greater than the great globe itself. A bird on its summer branch is far greater than the great sun in whose warmth he builds and sings, because that bird has life and love and song, which the sun, with all his immensity of size, and with all his light and heat, has not. A cup of cold water only, given to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple, is a far greater offering before God than thousands of rams, and ten thousands of rivers of oil; because there is charity in that cup of cold water. And an ejaculation, a sigh, a sob, a tear, a smile, a psalm, is far greater to God than all the oblations, and incense, and new moons, and Sabbaths, and calling of assemblies, and solemn meetings of Jerusalem, because repentance and faith and love and trust are in that sob and in that psalm. And the magnificence of all true prayer--its nobility, its royalty, its absolute divinity--all stand in this, that it is the greatest kind of act and office that man, or angel, can ever enter on and perform. Earth is at its very best; and heaven is at its very highest, when men and angels magnify their office of prayer and of praise before the throne of God.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Tim Keller: evangelist to skeptics

@ The Layman

A cinematic bucket list

Yahoo has come out with 100 Movies To See Before You Die. To the best of my recollection I've seen 72 of them. I have fond memories of most. There's one high seas epic that my life wouldn't have been impoverished if I'd never seen, but overall this is a superb list. So many of my favorites are included.

I believe I'll stop at 99 though...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Stopping traffick

Last night at our church a remarkable woman from Oasis India spoke about her ministry to -- and rescue of -- girls swept up by human trafficking in India. These are teen and pre-teen girls sold into virtual slavery to work in brothels in major urban centers like Mumbai, Bangalore and Goa. The latter is the popular tourist destination on the Arabian Sea, known for its beautiful beaches and also known for one of the largest child pornography and child prostitution industries in the world. Prostitution by women over 18 is legal in India, but this dubious legality provides a shield for child prostitution. The younger the girl the higher the price she will fetch. This isn't just an Indian problem. This beast is fed by dollars and euros. Judgment Day is coming.

In the meantime a courageous band of Christians is working to rescue these girls from the clutches of the exploiters. Our guest told stories of dangerous midnight excursions to phone booths to pick up girls fleeing for their lives. In other cases girls are unwilling to receive rescue because they aren't told what kind of work it is that they're being offered to escape the poverty that still afflicts 70 percent of Indians. Often a family member will sell them to someone offering a job working for a wealthy family. The stories reminded me of stuff I've read about Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad during slavery days here in America. Today in India there's an underground railroad run by organizations like Oasis and International Justice Mission. Instead of being chased by plantation owners with dogs they're chased by pimps with cell phones, often aided by the blind eye of the authorities.

Another thought I had was this. There are very smart, engaging voices writing bestselling books about how Christianity is an evil cult responsible for most of the ills in the world. I'd love for the "New Atheists" to hear this woman talk about how when Christianity comes to a village it empowers the weak and the oppressed. It gives dignity to women who were formerly seen as second-class citizens. Incidentally, this is one of the reasons why the spread of Christianity is so violently opposed by upper-caste Hindus. I'd love for them to see how the gospel motivates people to give their lives to rescue street children from the squalor of vast slums like the one shown in Slumdog Millionaire, the one right next to the airport seen by every traveler who arrives by air to Mumbai. Conditions in India today are much like conditions in first century Roman times. The reason Christianity spread so rapidly throughout the Empire was that Christians "the little Christs" treated each life as precious and every individual with dignity. Something similar is happening in India today. Christopher Hitchens is smart. He's a smart fool.

The means of grace

A young guy I used to know from our last church recently wrote on a popular social networking site that he was confused about career, relationships, and some of his theological convictions. He asked if he should go into the desert for three years like the Apostle Paul. My answer was "No, keep availing yourself of the means of grace." I'm sure he knew what I meant, but I suspect a lot of believers aren't familiar with this term. Simply put the Westminster Standards define the means of grace as the Word, sacraments, and prayer.

Iain Campbell unpacks these essential foundations of the Christian life here.

Machen's consistent Christianity

One more quote from J. Gresham Machen's autobiographical essay Christianity in Conflict:

When I was a student at Princeton I admired Warfield [Princeton theologian B.B. Warfield], as we all did; but I was far from understanding fully his greatness both as a scholar and as a thinker. I was still playing with the notion that a minimizing apologetic may serve the needs of the Church, and that we may perhaps fall back upon a Biblical Christianity which relinquishes the real or supposed rigidities of the Reformed system. Subsequent investigation and meditation have shown me, as over against such youthful folly, that Warfield was entirely right; I have come to see with greater and greater clearness that consistent Christianity is the easiest Christianity to defend, and that consistent Christianity -- the only thoroughly Biblical Christianity -- is found in the Reformed Faith.

I couldn't resist sharing this one even though I know some of my readers will disagree with it. That's ok. To use C.S. Lewis's probably overused metaphor of Christianity as a house with many rooms -- this is the room I've chosen to live in, but I love having fellowship in the Main Hall with Christians from the other rooms. Of course, my Roman Catholic friends believe they own the whole house! More typical today, though, are those who would demolish the house thinking what we need is a Christian faith without any definite boundaries. A village green approach. Machen addresses that impulse in this lecture.

The Creeds and Doctrinal Advance

Monday, March 23, 2009

Fred Barnes: journalist, TV pundit, church planter

Fred Barnes has a fascinating piece in in The Wall Street Journal about being part of an Anglican church plant in Northern Virginia. Man, it brings back some memories! I've written previously about our church planting experience and how it changed our attitudes about the church. One of the questions you often hear is "why plant new churches when so many existing ones are struggling?" Barnes writes:

There's a theory behind church planting. It rejects the idea of trying to fill up existing churches before building new ones. Old churches are often "closed clubs" that don't attract new residents or young people or "the lost," says the Rev. Johnny Kurcina, an assistant pastor of The Falls Church. Besides, population increase far exceeds church growth in America. This is especially true in cities.

As an Episcopal Church rector, Mr. Yates began thinking about planting churches 20 years ago. But the bishop of Virginia "wouldn't allow us to discuss it," he says, fearing that new Episcopal churches would lure people from older ones. In 2001, he was allowed to plant a church, but only a county away in a distant exurb.

Mr. Yates was strongly influenced by the Rev. Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan. Mr. Keller has led in creating new churches -- Redeemer has planted more than 100 churches in New York and other cities around the world. Innovative new churches, he has written, are "the research and development department" for Christianity, attract "venturesome people" as fresh leaders, and have the spillover effect of challenging existing churches to revitalize their ministry.

Read the whole thing

Sunday, March 22, 2009

J.I. Packer on propitiation

I used a chapel message by J.I. Packer to help teach Sunday School this morning (can't go wrong there) and so have been thumbing through Knowing God this afternoon. It was a formative book for me, and I hate to think how much worse the state of the church in the West would be without its influence. The edition I have has blurbs by everyone from Bill Hybels to R.C. Sproul. I thought it was worth reproducing this forthright passage on propitiation as the heart of the Christian gospel. Though "propitiation" is used only four times in the New Testament (Romans 3:21-26, Hebrews 2:17, 1 John 2:1-2, 1 John 4:10), the idea it conveys runs throughout the Bible.

The gospel tells us that our Creator has become our Redeemer. It announces that the Son of God has become man "for us men and for our salvation" and has died on the cross to save us from eternal judgment. The basic description of the saving death of Christ in the Bible is as a propitiation, that is, as that which quenched God's wrath against us by obliterating our sins from his sight. God's wrath is his righteousness reacting against unrighteousness; it shows itself in retributive justice. But Jesus Christ has shielded us from the nightmare prospect of retributive justice by becoming our representative substitute, in obedience to his Father's will, and receiving the wages of our sin in our place.

By this means justice has been done, for the sins of all that will ever be pardoned were judged and punished in the person of God the Son, and it is on this basis that pardon is now offered to us offenders. Redeeming love and retributive justice joined hands, so to speak, at Calvary, for there God showed himself to be "just, and the justifier of him that hath faith in Jesus."

Do you understand this? If you do, you are now seeing to the very heart of the Christian gospel. No version of that message goes deeper than that which declares man's root problem before God to be his sin, which evokes wrath, and God's basic provision for man to be propitiation, which out of wrath brings peace. Some versions of the gospel, indeed, are open to blame because they never get down to this level.

J.I. Packer, Knowing God

Friday, March 20, 2009

The long take

Using the definition given on IMDb, a shot is "a continuous block of unedited footage from a single point of view." It can last from a fraction of a second to many minutes. Again from IMDb, a take is "a single continuous recorded performance of a scene. A director typically orders takes to continue until he or she is satisfied that all of his or her requirements for the scene have been made (met?), be they technical or artistic." Another way of saying it is that a take is what happens between when the director says "action" and "cut." It often takes many takes (how about that alliteration!) to get a finished scene and/or shot. Shots and takes are the raw material that the director and editor use to fashion the final product.

For film buffs the long take (or long shot) is a cherished subject. Like baseball fans debating whether Mantle or Mays was the greatest, cinephiles debate which is more impressive -- Hitchcock's shot in Notorious that begins at the top of the stairs and ends on a close-up of the key in Ingrid Bergman's hand, or his ten-minute takes that make up Rope. One of the most impressive is the 7:47 tracking shot that opens The Player. Here director Robert Altman (1925-2006) brilliantly sets up his satire on Hollywood while at the same time cleverly paying homage to famous long shots of the past. Rope and Orson Welles' Touch of Evil are both mentioned by name. Though the clapboard the camera opens on shows scene 1, take 10, it reportedly took 15 takes to get this intricately choreographed scene to Altman's satisfaction. All accomplished with no CGI tricks, just a camera crane, an adept camera operator, and actors hitting their marks. Oh, and a pretty fine director to conceive something like this in the first place.

Watch more of these here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The secret place

Down to Gehenna, and up to the throne, he travels the fastest, who travels alone. That is to say, secret sin, and secret prayer, have this in common; that they both make a man travel his fastest. Secret sin makes him who commits it travel his fastest down to Gehenna,—that is to say, down into “the fire that is not quenched.” Whereas secret prayer makes him who so prays travel his very fastest up to the throne of God, and up to his own throne in heaven.

Alexander Whyte, Lord Teach Us To Pray

Mark Driscoll's chronological snobbery*

I like Mark Driscoll. It's amazing what God has been able to accomplish through the ministry of Mars Hill Church and Acts29. I really appreciate his stalwart defense of the substitutionary atonement as central to the gospel. But I start to get worried when pastors begin appearing like rock stars all over the national media. CNN, Nightline, The New York Times...he's everywhere lately. Recently Pastor Mark chimed in to claim the victory of "New Calvinism" (meaning us) versus the narrow-minded, fearful "Old Calvinism" of yesteryear. There's a kernel of truth within Driscoll's broadside, but it's obscured by his confusing and overly broad characterizations.

Pastor James Grant explains @ In Light of the Gospel

*C.S. Lewis wrote that chronological snobbery is "the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that count discredited...every age has its own outlook. It is especially good at seeing certain truths and especially liable to make certain mistakes." (Surprised by Joy)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Merging for the sake of the gospel

Justin Taylor has this round-up of news and links relating to an extraodinary story here in South Florida -- the calling of Tullian Tchividjian (Billy Graham's grandson) to replace D. James Kennedy as senior pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian, and the merger of Coral Ridge and New City Church, the church Tchividjian planted. It's extraordinary for a number of reasons, one being the huge difference in style between these two churches, another being the fact that they come from two different denominations. In the alphabet soup of American Presbyterianism it's refreshing to see a move that enhances unity instead of promoting further division. From all appearances this looks like a case of elders and laypeople setting aside personal preferences for the furtherance of the gospel. I'm sure they will need much prayer in the days ahead to make this work.

UPDATED: here's a brief video from our local newspaper.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The twofold grace of faith in Christ

Christ was given to us by God's generosity, to be grasped and possessed by us in faith. By partaking of him, we principally receive a double grace: namely, that being reconciled to God through Christ's blamelessness, we may have in heaven instead of a Judge a gracious Father; and secondly, that sanctified by his Spirit we may cultivate blamelessness and purity of life.

John Calvin, Institutes 3.11.1

Active faith

The writer of Hebrews (my guess is Apollos) exhorts his readers to "hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful." He then shows what that looks like in Hebrews 11, a Technicolor portrait of some who held fast to the end "by faith." I think its interesting and significant to note the biographical details chosen in this tightly edited Who's Who of Old Testament Saints.

Abel offered a more acceptable sacrifice
Enoch was taken up
Noah constructed an ark for the saving of his household
Abraham went out not knowing where he was going, lived in tents, and offered up Isaac
Sarah received power to conceive
Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau
Jacob blessed each of the sons of Joseph
Joseph gave directions concerning his bones
Moses' parents hid him for three months
Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, left Egypt, and kept the Passover
The Israelites crossed the Red Sea, and circled the walls of Jericho
Rahab gave a friendly welcome to the spies

In some cases these aren't the incidents I would have chosen to include. For Joseph I would have said something about his interpretation of dreams or his resisting the seductions of Potiphar's wife. But no, the writer gives us this detail about the bones because it shows most clearly that Joseph was looking forward in active faith to an event four centuries in the future -- the Exodus from Egypt. As New Testament saints we set our sights toward another Exodus, one that could happen in a hundred years or tomorrow. When we inherit the city with foundations, "whose designer and builder is God." Hebrews is sprinkled with reminders not to become too comfortable here.

I wonder what might be said about my active faith? By faith Stephen did x. I'd like it to be something similar to what's said of Noah in verse 7. By faith Stephen "being warned by God concerning events events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household...and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith." This ark being Christ, the ultimate object of Noah's faith and ours. Christ -- the "something better" that was promised to the Patriarchs, that they glimpsed from afar. Jesus made this plain to the skeptics that followed him around. "Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad." (John 8:56)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith...

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Why Johnny can't preach

I'm not a preacher, but I love preaching (faith comes by hearing after all!). Nothing stirs my soul more than Christ-centered preaching done well. Kevin DeYoung is a preacher and he's been blogging on T. David Gordon's book Why Johnny Can't Preach. Gordon believes that the average Christian in the average church -- including evangelical and Reformed churches -- typically will not hear a Sunday sermon that could even be called mediocre. DeYoung summarizes Gordon's negative case in part 1 and gives some practical advice in part 2.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Leary on the Christian film industry, Chance on the recession

A couple of weeks ago there was an interesting NPR segment about some folks who are spending lots of cash trying to create a Christian film industry to rival that of godless Hollywood. The story details the phenomenal box office success of films like Fireproof, and the creation of the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival to promote movies on "subjects that evangelicals care about." Needless to say this has inspired much heated reaction around the web, both pro and con. To me a Christian film industry makes as much sense as a Christian toothpaste industry. What's next, a chain of Christian movie theatres to show the newest Christian movies? Well, I guess we already did that with books and music. What I'd welcome, and what would have more effect on culture in the long run, would be Christian filmmakers making movies of excellence on subjects that we all care about. Movies that build on the rich and varied heritage of cinema instead of trying to carve out some competing niche. That's not to say that believing artists shouldn't or can't challenge dominant cultural assumptions in their chosen calling. It can be done without slapping a Christian label on it. Allow me to slightly misquote T.S. Eliot..."the last thing I would wish for would be the existence of two literatures cinemas, one for Christian consumption and the other for the pagan world."

I've just gotten around to reading the always thoughtful Michael Leary's take on this. After parsing some of the culture war rhetoric coming from the festival organizers Leary identifies another problem with this supposed coming of age of Christian filmmaking. It has more to do with marketing than it has to do with the gospel.

The truth is that vision statements like this aren't making Biblical distinctions at all. This simply isn't how the Bible works. They are not even cultural distinctions. They are marketing distinctions. By framing the differences between Hollywood media and Church media in these kinds of a-biblical thematic terms, this vision statement isn't drawing the dramatic line between spiritual life and death that it thinks it is. It is simply drawing a line between two different kinds of products: We don't want to see your filth, Hollywood. We are going to make our own films. We are going to leverage our market. We are going to buy tickets and go to them. We are going to award them prizes! Then we are going to buy them when they come out on DVD. We are going to do this until the pile of our products over here is bigger than your pile of products over there. This will be our signal that we have won the hearts and minds of the* culture. We will gain total thematic dominance over your dark and nefarious visions one DVD and related study guide at a time.

Is this really the "narrow path"? If so, why does it look exactly like the broad one that has led Hollywood to destruction? This kind of Christian film marketing is theologically insane. In the NPR story, Fireproof producer Stephen Kendrick explained why the film was such an instant success: "We did a lot of screenings showing the film to 'influencers,'" he explained. "That would be pastors, ministry leaders, those would be people who speak to the audience." The worst effect this envisioned Christian Film Industry would have on American christianity has little to do with these films themselves. I have no problem with people having family friendly media around. And the loss of narrative intelligence that accrues from being immersed in such didactic media is easy to deal with. The most deadly fallout is the culture that appears in the wake of Pastors and other ministry leaders being thought of as "influencers," which is an awfully Orwellian euphemism for "advertisers." This subversion of the Church by business in the guise of evangelism isn't worth whatever it produces.

Read the whole thing.

And now some good, solid sense for these tough economic times from the great Peter Sellers -- playing Chance the guileless gardener of Hal Ashby's wonderfully unique Being There. This is one of those obscure films that I love to recommend. I'd never heard of it until my friend Bill gave me a copy a few years ago. It's become one of my favorites. This scene also stars Jack Warden as the President and Melvyn Douglas as industrialist Benjamin Rand. The late 70s context tracks nicely with our own.

Being There (dir. Hal Ashby, 1979)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

William Saletan on the strip-mining of humanity

On Monday, President Obama lifted the ban on federal funding of stem-cell research using destroyed human embryos. If you support this research, congratulations: You won. Now for your next challenge: Don't lose your soul.

continue reading @ Slate

HT: Jeffrey Overstreet

Monday, March 9, 2009

Monday is for Machen

We saw in a previous post the central role played by Machen's mother in building a foundation of faith as a child. Later, she helped him withstand the doubts of his university years, including this wonderful bit of gospel comfort.

Another thing used to be said to me by my mother in those dark hours when the lamp burned dim, when I thought that faith had gone and shipwreck had been made of my soul. "Christ," she used to say, "keeps firmer hold on us than we keep on Him."

That means, at least, when translated into wordly terms, that we ought to distrust our moods. Many a man has fallen into despair because, losing the heavenly vision for the moment, passing through the dull lowlands of life, he takes such experience as though it were permanent, and deserts a well-grounded conviction which was the real foundation of his life. Faith is often diversified by doubt, but a man should not desert the conviction of his better moments because the dark moments come.

But my mother's word meant something far deeper than all that. It meant rather that salvation by faith does not mean that we are saved because we keep ourselves at every moment in an ideally perfect attitude of confidence in Christ. No, we are saved because, having once been united to Christ by faith, we are His forever. Calvinism is a very comforting doctrine indeed. Without its comfort, I think I would have perished long ago in the castle of Giant Despair.

J. Gresham Machen, Christianity in Conflict

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Just another day?

If we turn Sunday into a day for living it up, for our sport and pleasure, indeed, how will God be honored in that? Is it not a mockery and even a profanation of his name? But when shops are closed on Sunday, when people do not travel in the usual way, its purpose is to provide more leisure and liberty for attending to what God commands us that we might be taught by his Word, that we might convene together in order to confess our faith, to invoke his name, [and] to participate in the use of the sacraments.

Calvin, John Calvin's Sermons on the Ten Commandments (as cited in R. Scott Clark, Recovering the Reformed Confession)

Friday, March 6, 2009

Who's intolerant now?

Mollie Ziegler Hemingway has the answer

Intro to a master

To be an artist means never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

Akira Kurosawa, the Japanese director and screenwriter, made thirty films over fifty-five years before dying in 1998 at the age of eighty-eight. One of the giants of the cinema, he influenced filmmakers worldwide as few others have. Steven Spielberg considered him "the pictorial Shakespeare of our time." Martin Scorsese spoke of his "Passion. Dynamism. Force. Exhilaration. Speed. Terrible Beauty." Francis Ford Coppola thought he should be the first filmmaker to be awarded a Nobel Prize...Kurosawa was a humanist who through his existential depiction of life fought to retain a sense of hope in a world he perceived to have become meaningless in the midst of great social change.

A master of the two most popular kinds of Japanese movies during his era, the jidai-geki (the costumed samurai films set in medieval times) and the gendai-geki (the realistic, domestic dramas set in contemporary Japanese life), Kurosawa anchored his movies in the Japanese culture and spirit. Nevertheless, Japanese critics thought him "too Western," for in giving shape to his stories, Kurosawa often borrowed from Western literary sources (Tolstoy, Shakespeare, Goethe, Dostoyevsky)...Rather than being Eastern or Western, his films possess a universality that is rooted in what one of his literary mentors, Dostoyevsky, called "the eternal questions--those of humans in their relations to themselves, their society, and their universe."

Robert K. Johnston, Useless Beauty: Ecclesiastes through the Lens of Contemporary Film

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Is being unclear a virtue?

Yes it is according to the Emergent/Emerging Church folks. Gary Brady blogs on an insightful critique of the EC given by Pastor Chris Hand of Crich Baptist Church in the UK.

@ Heavenly Worldliness

Bottom line? "The EC is not emerging out of or into a sound evangelical church." Which is another way of saying that though the criticisms of Westernized Christianity by Emergent leaders like Brian McLaren, Dan Kimball, Rob Bell, etc. are often correct, the alternatives they offer are getting farther and farther from Christian orthodoxy.

For more on this subject I recommend Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck's book Why We're Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

"An idea for a short story..."

Manhattan (1979, dir. Woody Allen)

A hiding place

It's been a rocky week at the Ley house. Just when you think you're getting the hang of this parenting thing, days and nights like the last 48 hours happen. Days and nights that leave a new parent muttering to his or herself, "What am I doing wrong?!" (I can see the experienced parents out there nodding knowingly.) Shannon is stretched to the breaking point, and last night I felt my patience and calm giving way to frustration. So this morning I nonchalantly opened up to Psalm 32 and realized something I've been doing wrong. Something that has nothing to do with the wildly divergent advice one gets on taking care of an infant from books, doctors and friends. First I encountered these words of solid comfort for the Christian, no matter the situation or season of life.

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

Here is a psalm that begins by preaching the gospel. But this gospel demands a response. The response it demands we read a bit further down -- acknowledging, uncovering, and confessing the aforementioned transgression/sin/iniquity (note the symmetry). We uncover and then the blood of Christ covers. The alternative -- silence -- results in spiritual and physical malaise (i.e., "my bones wasted away", "my strength was dried up"). I spent some time uncovering and confessing this morning during my morning commute. It dawned on me that I've been so preoccupied with caring for little Samuel, supporting Shannon, and trying to be the best parent I can be (all good things!), that I've neglected praying for him, Shannon and myself. I realized I spent far more time praying for the three of us before he was born than in the 4 weeks since. I think we've both been trying to do this in our own strength, and this week it's catching up with us. That kind of self-reliant, performance-driven parenting doesn't glorify God, and doesn't lend itself to enjoying God or this precious gift he's given us. Thank the Lord for his timely word that instructs us and brings us back to our senses, for we're often like the mule mentioned in verse 9! I'm not promised that the challenges of life will get any easier, but this psalm reminds me that "steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the LORD." Even when I'm ready to tear my hair out...

Monday, March 2, 2009

Visible and invisible

There is a distinction to be drawn between the church as people see it and as God alone sees it. This difference is the historic distinction between the "visible church" and the "invisible church." "Invisible" does not mean that no part of it can be seen, but that its exact boundary is not known to us. Only God knows (2 Tim. 2:19) which members of the earthly congregations are inwardly born again, and so belong to the church as an eternal and spiritual fellowship. Jesus taught that in the organized church there would always be people who seemed to be Christians, not excluding leaders, who were nevertheless not renewed in heart and would be exposed and rejected at the Judgment (Matt. 7:15-23; 13:24-30, 36-43, 47-50; 25:1-46). There are not two churches, one visible and another hidden in heaven, but one church only, known perfectly to God and known imperfectly on earth.

The Reformation Study Bible, "The Church"

Sunday, March 1, 2009

One, holy, catholic, and apostolic

The church on earth is one in Christ despite the great number of local congregations and denominations (Eph. 4:3-6). It is holy because it is consecrated to God corporately, as each Christian is individually (Eph. 2:21). It is catholic (meaning "universal") because it is worldwide. Finally, it is apostolic because it is founded on apostolic teaching (Eph. 2:20). All four qualities may be seen in Eph. 2:19-22.

The Reformation Study Bible, "The Church"

Death of a heartland icon

Paul Harvey, Talk-Radio Pioneer, Is Dead at 90 (NYT)