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To Condemn Surfing? Define Your Christianity.

“Protestant missionaries… had forced surfing deep into the shadows… To Calvinists, surfing was a sinful exercise, leading only to unbridled licentiousness and godless impiety. Go surfing they pronounced from their pulpits, and eternal flames awaited.” Pacific, 131.

Simon Winchester (one of my favorite authors) makes this passing statement  about surfing and 1820’s Hawaiian Calvinism. Calvinism is condemned in less than forty words in the midst of a 492 page book which concerns the ecological, international, and economic importance of the Pacific Ocean. Why did Calvinism get discredited in the midst of a discussion on the ocean? With no footnote or historical anecdote, the assertion was made that Calvinists believe that surfing leads to hell’s flame.

I am not arguing that such condemnations have never been made. Somewhere someone at some time has most-likely condemned wave riding, yet Winchester’s statement demonstrates that outside of the church people have presuppositions about what defines the Christian. People assume they know what is Christianity. That assumption is based on how we reflect Christianity; how we define it. To an unbelieving world, we define Christianity, not in our words only — but also in our actions.

What defines you?

What defines your Christianity?

Is it defined by a condemnation of surfing or some other lawful activity? Is […]

The Glory of God Revealed in the Church

Last week I left the beauty and glory of Southern California. I left behind a peaceful ocean. I left behind the mountain ranges that speak of his glory. I left behind palm trees and cool breezy evenings. I left behind the city and the people that I love. Where did I go you might ask? I went to Central Indiana, of course! Marion to be precise.

Every four years Reformed Presbyterians from around the globe gather for an international conference.

As Reformed Presbyterians gathered from 10 nations we enjoyed the singing of psalms with 2000 like-minded believers. We enjoyed the preaching of Gentle Reformation’s faithful leader, Professor Barry York. We enjoyed sessions on missions, biblical counseling, and various other sessions to encourage, admonish, challenge, and convict.

Why leave Southern California for Central Indiana? Why leave mountains and ocean and glorious natural revelation for the sleepy flatness of  Central Indiana? The answer is quite simple. God’s glory is revealed most beautifully in his people. The church is the fullest expression of his glory on earth. I left my home so that I could be with my people; his people.
Abraham Kuyper said,

It is evident that while every flower and star enhance his glory, the lives of angels […]

A Complete Christ for Your Complete Needs

The Christian life is full of needs. We are a needy people. Our needs go beyond the duty of being justified in the presence of a holy God. For there is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). We also know that we have an obligation to be holy as the Spirit conforms us to the image of Jesus Christ (I Peter 1:16). We have a charge from the New Testament to be faithful and gentle and to reflect goodness, among other duties (Galatians 5:22-23).
All of these needs can be overwhelming at times. Our desires for newness of life and protection from the world and purity of life are strong desires for anyone who is united to Christ.

Of course, even with strong desires we fail.

Often our failures in the Christian life flow from the error that has us look at justification from a Protestant or Reformed perspective; understanding that we are justified by faith alone, relying on a sovereign God who elects and shows mercy on whom he will show mercy (Romans 9:15); and yet when it comes to our sanctification, we throw off our reformation principles and rely on the principles of worldly self-help, Arminian discipleship […]

Behold Your Mother

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. John 19:26-27

During his crucifixion Jesus spoke these words to his mother and to the Apostle John. Have you ever read this portion of the Scripture and thought “what in the world is going on here?” The redemptive nature of the things that are said from the cross are clearly seen, but “behold your mother?”

Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.
Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
I thirst.
It is finished.
Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.

Why does Jesus tell John that Mary is now his mother and then tell Mary that John is now her son? 

Of Burner Phones and Busy Lives: Making the Best Use of Time

A couple of weeks ago I walked into a cell phone store and said,  “I would like to trade in my iPhone 6 for a dumb phone.” Puzzled, the clerk asked why I would do such a thing. I told him I longed for the simplicity of the 2000s. The look of puzzlement continued as I described why I only wanted talk and text: I am tired of the media access on my phone. It’s a time vacuum.

He consulted with another employee and then informed me that they no longer sold dumb phones and said I would have to buy a “burner phone” to avoid media. I could try CVS or Target. All phone plans now carry a media charge; it cannot be avoided.

I went home disappointed, but as a small victory in the media-fatigue battle I deleted my Facebook app. I love you all, but you don’t need to join me on coffee dates with my wife and you don’t need to accompany me to the park with my children. I don’t need to see your vacation pics while I’m waiting for the light to change. There are better ways for me to use my time.

The Apostle Paul, writing to the church in Ephesus, gives a […]

The Value and Labor of Women in the Church

Hannah gave thanks to God for his favor and provision. She prayed, “He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor.” (I Samuel 2:8)

In many ways Hannah’s prayer was a prayer that looked forward to its fulfillment in the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus lifted the needy and the poor through his completed work of redemption. Among those categories of persons that were lifted, women were given a prominent place in the New Testament Church. For the first time in history, because of the gospel, women were valued.

The New Testament world was a place where women were not valued outside of the role of mother and bearer of children. Even as mothers and wives, the ancient world’s value of the female gender was minimal at best. According to Roman historians there was an “extreme shortage of females” in the ancient world. Historians note that there were around 130 males to every 100 females in the New Testament Roman world.

How could this be?

Social historian, Rodney Stark quotes a first century letter of a man named Hilarion to his wife wherein he reveals the […]

For Beauty and Glory

Why do I love the way that Vermeer painted yellow? Can I describe the joy produced by concentric circles on an Art Deco water pitcher? What attracts people to spend thousands of dollars on an Eames designed Herman Miller chair? Why does the Chrysler Building’s crown make me smile? What accounts for the sensation produced by the visual elegance and dramatic displays in a Bierstadt painting of Yellowstone or a photograph of Yosemite by Ansel Adams? Why do lines on a 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air produce happiness?

There are so many beautiful things in this world.

You may believe the answer to these experiences of joy and satisfaction are the product of an un-sanctified worldly-mindedness. You may call for the repentance of one who places value on such earthly things. But what if enjoyment of beautiful things is part of our sanctification as believers? What if the appreciation of beauty, design, and craftsmanship is a reflection of something heavenly, and in itself is a reflection of God’s character?

A Plea for Poets, Plumbers, Philosophers, and Physicians

Over a lunch of Lebanese shish and tabbouleh, I had a conversation with a young man training at a well-known and respected university to be a medical doctor. During that discussion he mentioned that he hoped he could train at a school that viewed patients as more than research subjects. He longed for his university to understand the biblical view of man. His desire is to serve in his chosen field as a servant of God working from a biblical worldview. The Image of God and a biblical anthropology were important to this future physician. This young man is right.

The 1967 Geneva College paper called Foundational Concepts of Christian Education says, “Man’s fall into sin affected not only his moral nature, but also his intellect, thus making him prone to error, and requiring divine revelation to determine ultimate standards and values in all fields.”

Divine revelation.

In all fields. 

Psalm 77 to Auld Lang Syne

Many people sing Auld Lang Syne on New Year’s Eve. For some years I have been singing a portion of Psalm 77 as a way to bring in the new year.

The following translation is based on the metrical translation found in the Book of Psalms for Singing (1973). May this very useful custom be brought into your home as you reflect on God’s never failing grace in the midst of life’s struggles.

And Happy New Year!

Psalm 77:7-15
Tune: Auld Lang Syne

Forever will the Lord cast off, show favor never more?
His steadfast love forever cease? His promise come no more?
Has God forgotten all His grace? Has his compassion gone?
Or can it be His mercies all, He has in wrath withdrawn?

Then I replied, Such questions show my own infirmity.
The firm right hand of Him Most High through years must changeless be.
The LORD’s deeds I remember will, your works of old recall.
I’ll ponder all which you have done and weigh your wonders all.

O God most holy is your way; what god is like our God?
O God of miracles, your strength, you have made known abroad.
You have redeemed your people all, the power of your arm shown.
Your people sons of […]

Of Scotch Whisky and Christmas Trees

Scotch whisky and Christmas trees.

Few topics can separate brethren as quickly as alcohol and Christmas. This is especially true in the Reformed and Presbyterian community. This time of year, those with the minority conviction of not celebrating Christmas often find themselves to be the object of snickers and well-meaning banter. In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul calls us to exercise charity toward one another, to not flaunt our freedom. How do we do that when convictions and opinions are so strong?

How would the gospel have us respond to those with different convictions about Christmas? To understand that we need to step back and ask ourselves what we believe concerning the observance of the day and why. And we need to use charity as we discuss an issue that quickly stirs emotional responses from all sides in the discussion.

Essentially there are only three views on the observance of Christmas.

Commanded Christmas Observance

Can we turn to the New Testament and prove that the church of Jesus Christ must celebrate the birth of our savior? I honestly have never met a serious Christian who believes that we are commanded to celebrate the birth of […]