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Archive | Musings

In the Praise of Protestantism

Sometimes I want to protest Protestantism. Well, to be fair, at least how Protestantism is now. There’s a lot to be discouraged about. But on this Reformation Day I want to put my discouragements aside and praise Protestantism. You may know that on October 31, 1517 Martin Luther famously nailed his 95-Theses to the door in Wittenberg, Germany. While the fire of the Reformation had been burning for some time, this event, no doubt, accelerated what would become the Protestant Reformation. The Reformation was one of the greatest workings of the Holy Spirit since the beginnings of the New Testament church and the days of the Apostles.

To be sure, reality calls us to recognize that the bright sun of Protestantism has been largely eclipsed. The Marburg Colloquy, which first challenged the possibility of a united Protestant church, only stands at the head of what is quite literally a thousand fractures. While this is a sad truth, especially in light of our prayers for the “peace of Jerusalem” (Ps 122:6), I’m not naïve enough to think that the unity for which Jesus prayed when he said, “that they may be one, even as we are one” (Jn 17:11), is achievable on [...]

The First Word of God to His Church

Have you ever noticed that almost every letter in the New Testament–James, Hebrews, and 3 John excepted–opens with the words “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” or a close approximate? Its’ easy, isn’t it, to just pass by those words. After all, sometimes we view them as being a mere formality, equivalent to our own modern, “I hope you are well.” Who cares about mere pleasantries when the body of the letter is what contains the “good stuff.”

Well, it’s true that the Apostles borrowed from the common practice of their own day when they wrote letters. After all, letter writing isn’t a unique Christian endeavor. But it’s far from the truth to think of these greeting only as a matter of custom. Rather, as a part of God’s Word, they’re transformed and given significance. Here’s two ways to think about these greetings—“grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

First, we need to remember that this is an inspired greeting. Though the Apostles wrote the letters, they did so as those who were inspired. Their letters, to be sure, bear their trademarks—their personality and characteristics. The letters [...]

The Logic of Abortion ~ Or Why a Mother Can Kill Her Baby

Mara Clarke of the Abortion Support Network (a pro-abortionist organization) recently debated Scott Klusendorf on the Unbelievable radio show. When pressed as to why it is morally permissible for a pregnant woman to end the life of a human being in her womb, Mara Clarke said,

Mara: “At the end of the day, all I can go with is: women who are living outside of the womb absolutely have a right to- and I don’t say this term- I never say this term- bodily autonomy, right? They have a right to continue with or not continue with a pregnancy.”

Justin (the host of the show): “Ok. So that in a sense overrides any issues of whether we’re dealing with a human in the womb or not for you.”

Mara: “Yes.”

Justin: “The autonomy of a woman over her body trumps that- and that presumably is the distinction then we’re drawing between the toddler and the child in the womb. A toddler is separate to the woman at that point, obviously. There’s not a question of her having control of her body at that point. You’re dealing with a separate individual.”

Mara: “Yeah, we can send [...]

Speaking to One Another in Song

If I’m honest, I think one of the downsides of being a pastor is that I don’t often get to sit in the pews. I know pews aren’t always the most comfortable and the sweat stains on the back of ours may cause some people to wonder why sitting in them would be such a blessing. But there’s something about standing side-by-side with the people of God as they worship. There’s a certain connection that can seem lacking when you’re standing alone at the pulpit.

I was thinking of this when I attended a funeral at our church a couple of weeks ago. I was able to sit in the pews; something I hadn’t done since becoming pastor. And it was a blessing. But what really left an indelible impression on me was the singing of the Psalms. The Apostle Paul said, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Colossians 3:16). The Puritan Thomas Manton observed that we sing Psalms primarily to glorify God, but also to mutually edify one another. He wrote, “It is not meant of teaching from the psalms, but teaching [...]

Joy at Geneva, or: Oh, the Humanities!

Last night was one of the highlights of my 16 month tenure as chaplain of Geneva College.  I got to participate in the Geneva Reading Series, an initiative of the brilliantly creative Dr. Dan Williams.  GRS has become one of my favorite parts of being at Geneva.  It’s a time when the campus community can come together to enjoy and celebrate God’s good gifts among us.  Music, poetry, humorous stories, contemplative essays and other creative compositions by students and faculty remind us of the joy of being human.  GRS is a time to allow our souls a deep, cleansing breath, to revel in being image bearers of the God who has built spectacular beauty into his creation, and especially into humanity.

GRS represents so much of why I love being at Geneva, why I love Christian higher education rooted in the humanities, and why it breaks my heart that the academic disciplines which give rise to such joyful gatherings and which spark such brilliant fire in the hearts of students – music, literature, writing, history, philosophy and theology – are increasingly considered expendable in the brutal but necessary battle to keep college as inexpensive as possible.  Cutting deeply into such disciplines [...]

Speaking With One Another

“Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the LORD and esteemed his name.” – Malachi 3:16

Pastor Kenneth G. Smith preached on these words ten years ago in the congregation I serve as pastor. On that Lord’s Day, we gave thanks that the Lord had allowed us to continue as a congregation for forty years. Looking at these words from Malachi, Ken Smith mused on the words that the godly people of Malachi’s day must have spoken to one another in the midst of trouble times. The comfort, of course, is that the Lord paid attention and heard them and wrote a book of remembrance. God will not forget his people!

But what did those who feared the Lord say to one another? We do not know exactly, but they were obviously words that pointed one another towards God in the midst of an increasingly crooked and perverse generation. God will not forget his people, and we must not forget him either!

Pastor Smith exhorted us to speak to one another as members of the local body in three ways. [...]

A Sermon P.S.

This past Lord’s Day I preached from Psalm 51 on the subject of confession. The message was based on Psalm 51:16, “The sacrifices of God are a broken heart, a broken and contrite spirit, O God, you will not despise.”  My emphasis was how the Lord wants us to offer our broken hearts and sin to him as we worship, not as a precondition to worship.

Toward the end of the message, I was calling the congregation to look afresh at Christ’s work on the cross.  I urged them to see his love and mercy for them, and seek the deep heart washing David yearns for in the psalm.  At that moment I mentioned doing this with “besetting sins.”

Afterward, in the customary handshaking after the service, a wise, older gentleman greeted me.  He then expressed respectfully to me a desire.  He said he wished that I would have gone on to address the question as to what those with ongoing struggles with besetting sins should do.  My message could have been interpreted that there is an easy fix to a deeply-rooted problem.

I have been meditating on that wish further, as it was a good question.  How would I encourage the believer with a besetting sin?  Since I [...]

The Game of Ethics in a Godless World

Picture an aquarium full of only dirt and rocks.

Now imagine that this represents the sum total of reality. There is no mind beyond the walls of that aquarium, no watching eyes, nothing. Life is utterly absent within and without. There is only the stuff of matter.

Now suppose someone were to ask if the aquarium contained morality. Is it in there? If so, where might it be found? Under a rock? Hidden deep in the dirt? Perhaps floating about in the air?

Search as one might, digging here and there, morality would not be found.  It is nowhere.

But now imagine a creature suddenly forming in some mysterious, almost ineffable way. It is a slithering thing, long and inhuman, devoid of consciousness.

Might morality be found in the aquarium now? Nothing has fundamentally changed, save for the creeping creature, and that changes nothing. Morality is still absent.

Picture another scene. Suppose the slithering creature splits into other similar creatures, ones that in turn morph and change into other creatures. Imagine as well plants suddenly sprouting up. Envision rain beginning to fall and entire colonies of scurrying critters forming, ducking into holes and climbing trees.

The aquarium is now teeming with life.

Peering through the glass wall, we [...]

Praying for our Nations

As I write this, the people of Scotland are voting on whether or not they want to remain in the United Kingdom. A remarkable 97% of the people have registered to vote in the referendum, and the turnout at the polls is expected to be the highest in Scottish history – remarkable indeed in a climate of electoral apathy. As I write, the result is impossible to predict – experts reckon it could be decided by a margin as slender as 60,000 votes. The polling organisation Ipsos Mori are saying 51% yes, 49% no.

 

As a Northern Irish citizen of the United Kingdom, I have heard and read plenty of arguments over the last few months as to why Scottish independence would be either the kiss of life or the kiss of death to both Scotland and the rest of the UK. In the ‘yes’ camp and in the ‘no’ camp experts hold forth eloquently, persuasively, passionately, supporting their arguments with telling and pertinent statistics. And then the other side comes back with forceful counter-arguments and equally plausible statistics. It’s all too easy to become like the sheep in Animal Farm who just believed whoever spoke last! How do we pray about [...]

iDolatry

First, a disclosure.  I have an iPad and and an iPhone.  These tools are wonderful helps to me.  After a few double or missed bookings because my wife and I were unaware of each other’s calendars, this summer I synchronized them on these devices (after I convinced her to not use the large printed one anymore in our kitchen).  In teaching, I love how easy it is to plug my iPad into the projector so my students can follow my notes.  I just discovered the Doceri app (I’m always a little behind), which allows me to use my iPad as a whiteboard as it projects what I write on the screen.  Having my iPhone on my commutes saves me invaluable time, as I catch up on phone calls, listen to SermonAudio, or even record sermon or blog thoughts (including these) that I speak out loud in the semi-privacy of my car.  Though far from tech savvy, I am fairly integrated and love these tools.

Yet I am uneasy.  My hand seems to reach for my iDevices automatically, without thinking.  Some nights I stay up too late catching up on emails or just reading the news or blogs.  I find it more difficult to [...]