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Monthly Archives: July 2011

Oslo, Norway 2011

Explosions devastated Oslo, Norway today when at least one bomb went off in the center of political power. This is an extremely unusual occurrence in the land the Vikings once called home. CNN reports that a shooting also occurred at a youth camp organized and run by the Norwegian Labor Party which is presently the ruling party in the country; reports are that authorities have made an arrest in the shooting. Needless to say, the country is reeling. Such events might be commonplace in Israel or Afghanistan but Scandinavia is not currently known as a hotbed for extremism of any kind. Susie Madrak is writing over at Crooks and Liars that Islamic terrorists might have played a part in the attacks. The New York Times writes that a group calling itself Ansar al-Jihad al-Alami is claiming responsibility.

The last time I can recall anything of this ilk happening within the Norwegian state lines was the rash of church burnings in the early 1990’s. At least some of those arsons were laid at the door of an infamous Black Metal musician, Varg Vikernes, who, at the time, went by the nom de guerre of Count Grishnackh. The state also convicted him of the murder of fellow Black Metallist, Øystein Aarseth, whose recording moniker was Euronyomous, and who was the leader of the seminal extreme band Mayhem.

The church in Norway is known for a strain of theological liberalism that most American evangelicals deem intolerable. Indeed, the young men who created the Scandinavian Black Metal scene, were notorious haters of Christianity and despised the liberal version of the faith prevalent in Norway at the time. One can only imagine what manner of statement the state church will wheel out in response to this act of savagery.

And it is an act of wanton malice. If this is a politically motivated attack then the murder of young campers is especially inexcusable. What political influence do teenagers wield?

How should a Christian respond to such cavalier disregard for human life? Outrage and anger are completely appropriate reactions to this type of incident. Yes, the Messiah commands us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44) but Jesus was discussing personal attacks. Besides it is a false dichotomy to presuppose that outrage/anger and love/forgiveness cannot exist as responses to the same infraction. Indeed, if we are to love our enemies,and if we are to forgive those who mistreat us, then these commands presuppose a previous evil.

Thoughts?

 
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Posted by on July 22, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Living In Broken Place

Living on a planet ravaged by sin is not for the faint of heart. Once I was caught in a torrential storm in March. No matter which direction I turned my head or the umbrella the sleet and rain continued to pelt me, peppering my eyes with their ingenious technique. That’s illustrates the extent of sin. It’s indigenous to current life and history. For a brief moment in time sin did not exist; in the New Heavens and New Earth evil will not remain. For now we cannot escape it.

How is your Christian walk progressing? One step at a time? Good. Do you need to make changes? Join the club. We need to repent because we are fallen persons who are hungry for heaven, but living in a broken place. We suffer all this because of Adam’s sin. We inherit the sinful nature from Adam as we inherit facial features from our parents. Maybe you think that unfair. It’s certainly mysterious, but a fact that demands our attention. Maybe you’re itching for a bit of good news.

Adam failed and sent humankind and the planet into a tailspin. Jesus succeeded and began to unwind the reign of sin, terror and the devil. We call this the Doctrine of the Two Adams. Adam and Jesus are the two great heads of humanity (Rom. 5). Christ was born to die as a sacrifice for His people. Jesus had to live a perfect life in order to undo Adam’s sin. This perfect life gave Him the right to die for our sins. He earned it. Jesus is called The Second Adam because He came to do what Adam refused to do—obey the Law of God in its entirety. Jesus victory over sin and temptation cancelled Adam’s disobedience.

We can go to Christ when we are tempted (Heb. 4). He will give us aid and comfort in the battle. He knows what it is like to experience temptation and emerge the winner. We succumb long before things get too intense; Jesus withstood the hottest that hell could offer. He can help us stay the course even when our sinful desires begin to run amok. As a Christian, you can go to Him and seek the comfort that is yours by birthright. The right that comes with being adopted by God.

 
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Posted by on July 21, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Blue Chippers Can Hold a Conversation

When I was a teenager I would sometimes grab a ride with a truck driver who could squeeze more syllables out of one breath than a politician caught with his hand in the cash register. The man was a veritable encyclopedia of folk wisdom–like a character out of Twain. Boredom never appeared on his radar because he never repeated a story. Furthermore, he radiated a profound dignity because he never cursed. He was more eloquent, gracious and convincing than many a preacher. Hmmm.

I recall an incident on the opposite end of the spectrum. A chat I had with a mortician in his office about ten minutes before I was to officiate the funeral of a dear saint. Not only was the man mind-numbingly boring, but he was coarse and low-class. Telling racy jokes to a man of the cloth while a family is in tears not ten yards away is nothing if not boorish.

A person’s occupation, station in life and educational level are not accurate gauges of one’s character. One’s conversations are.

Conversation is fast becoming a disenthroned art as our culture slithers into the gutter with all the grace of a drunken ballerina. What passes for civilized discourse in our society usually amounts to nothing more than schoolyard banter. “Hey, dude!” Such language may be fine–to an extent–amongst grammar school aged boys, but a Christian adult must use the art of conversation to glorify the Lord (Eph 4:29). Now, before you clamor that I’m an elitist, let me give fair warning that I’m not advocating a stilted imitation of Masterpiece Theater or Victorian era parlor talk (which I’m sure had it’s share of banalities). I am calling for a decent level of decorum in both the subjects we discuss and how we express them.

The reason I desire a semi-Copernican revolution in our conversational style is quite simple: God holds us accountable for our words. All of them. In Matthew 12:36-37 Jesus utters this chilling statement:  I say unto you that every careless word that men shall speak they shall render account for in the day of judgment. For by your words you shall be justified and by your words you shall be condemned.

Shaking yet?

Please note that Jesus doesn’t mention gossip, slander, backbiting, sexual innuendo, profanity, vulgarity, duplicity, inflammatory rhetoric, falsity, exaggeration, heresy, mockery, denigration, complaining, braggadocio and the like. Nor does he mention mean-spirited, venomous, hateful or angry words. He’s warning us about every single off-the-cuff, useless remark we make. Now, if we must answer to the Almighty for every unnecessary, unthinking word we utter, how much more weight will God give to the aforementioned list of verbal sins?

A Blue Chip Christian knows how to hold a conversation. And a dignified one that pleases God.

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Enjoy Your View, But…

Perspective. Ah, what a word. Quite a concept, that. A father tells a son that a certain course of action is ridiculous; the son thinks the opposite. A mother tells a daughter that she should do “this”; the daughter turns and does “that”. It’s all a matter of perspective, or the way one views a particular situation or issue.

I once had a police officer tell me of a time when he interviewed two eyewitnesses to a crime. One witness declared that the suspect drove off in a blue, two-door Chevy; the second witness recalled a four-door grey Toyota! Guess what? Both witnesses got it wrong—neither of their perspectives was in sync with what really occurred. Their subjective remembrances of the situation did not cohere with objective reality. Hopefully, none of us will ever make a mistake where the stakes are so high. But have you or anyone you know or love made a ghastly miscue of something important? Probably.

Difficulties in marriages, business and the church often arise because persons see things from differing viewpoints. Imagine an orchestra that was playing three different pieces simultaneously. The audience would most likely walk out and the conductor would certainly have a nervous breakdown.

We need not fret over minor disagreements or unimportant issues. Such scenarios are part and parcel of life. But agreement among Christians over essential problems is a vital necessity. Repentance and reflection over our selfishness is an ongoing process on the trek toward Christian maturity. Let us each endeavor to seek unity above all else. Jesus told us that the truth would set us free (John 8:32). An aspect of God’s truth is that He desires us to have both a unified front and cause as we take the battle to the enemy. Don’t ever forget that the Evil One loves Christians to fight amongst themselves.

 
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Posted by on July 18, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Blue Chippers Have a Heightened Perspective

A main factor in determining if you are a Blue Chip Christian is perspective. Mature Christians ask themselves questions that aid in determining a biblical perspective. Questions such as these: What is my purpose in this life? How does God want me to live? Who am I in God’s eyes? But they don’t merely ask the questions. Asking is easy. Christians of maturity will not rest until they discover the answers. Once they find those answers they implement them into their lives. Their lives become a textbook on successful living. They become walking, talking epistles of God’s grace, a testimony to the truth of the faith.

God has created everything with a purpose and humankind constructs things purposefully. You don’t use a hammer to brush your teeth, do you? The first question to answer is your life’s purpose. If you get this one right you’re well on your way to Blue Chip status. If you get it wrong you’ll go backward. Stasis is impossible in the Christian life. You’re either growing or not, living or dying.

The answer isn’t complicated. You were created to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. That’s the first answer in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. Even if you’re not a catechetical type of person or your denominational tradition frowns upon rote learning, you’ll be hard pressed to come up with a more biblical answer. 1 Corinthians 10:31: So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

We can only enjoy God if we glorify Him. If you dishonor the Almighty something quite the opposite of divine enjoyment will happen. He’ll take you to His wood shed, and Jesus knows plenty about wood. He was a carpenter’s son, recall. Please don’t ever forget that He was nailed to a large piece of wood that some unknown carpenter crafted just for Him.

Get somewhere quiet by yourself. Ask yourself if glorifying God is your main goal in life. If you think it is then pretend you’re arguing that case in court. Write out a brief defense of yourself. Then examine it ruthlessly. Ask your spouse, or better yet, ask your children if they see evidence of this. If you conclude that glorifying God is not your primary goal then ask God to help you choose to make it so.

Determine that for the next hour you will monitor your thoughts, words and actions. Record them in a notebook, digital recorder or smartphone and then review each of them and ask yourself whether or not it passes muster. Add an hour each day.

 
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Posted by on July 14, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

On Reading Habits

When I was a younger man I would read the Op/Ed page of the New York Times and scour the columns for new vocabulary words. Each word held endless possibilities to me; a treasure chest of denotations and connotations. I would do the same with William F. Buckley’s column for many years. I found this practice invaluable and I must give credit to the Dominicans who drilled English into my cranium during my grammar school days. I recall the visceral (and sinful) pride I felt when I wrote an essay for a theology class at Kuyper College. The professor was Lyle D. Bierma who was no slouch at anything, I assure you; he currently teaches at Calvin Theological Seminary. But I digress. On the essay, the good doctor asked “Where did you find that word?” I beamed when reported that I’d lifted it from a column by A.M. Rosenthal.

My work as a pastor enables and requires me to read a great deal. I consider it one of the extra benefits of the position. As a confessional Presbyterian I am required to know a vast amount of historical and current theological information. Granted, some of it is minutia. Yet even the minutia fascinates me and many of my peers. This obsession with religious fine-pointery is undoubtedly what drives more than a few well meaning souls into the ranks of the non-denominational movement.  And I fear that it might prove the bane of confessional Presbyterianism.

But how could a well read, informed and inquisitive pastorate prove a detriment to the church? I offer two reasons. One, the flocks we serve have no care for such things; they deem many of these ideas as so much theological frippery. This is primarily a result of the low standard of discourse that is foisted upon the family in the pew. They are accustomed to the banal; the sublime bids them no interest. Second, some of what interests pastors truly has no bearing on the believer’s daily life.

I suggest that a pastor’s knowledge must resemble an iceberg. What you see is not what you get. The majority remains submerged. But I also pray that you, gentle reader, would read. And then read some more. Especially, the Word.

 
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Posted by on July 12, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Please Take Worship Seriously

When I hear a discussion of “worship” I usually discover the participants are inevitably referencing music. Certainly, music is an important component of worship, but it is hardly the only aspect. Different strands of the church’s denominational tapestry embrace varying definitions of worship. Indeed, even in a denomination such as my own, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), one can find a menagerie of attitudes over what is important or essential in a church service.

Music is controversial in the church. In the PCA, for instance we have rock bands on podiums and chanting of a cappella psalms within our tradition. You should see those two ministerial demographic subsets go at it! Next in line for worship polemics are the sacraments. Rome has more than a half dozen, while most Protestant denominations prefer to view only Baptism and the Lord’s Supper as the rites instituted by Christ that deserve so lofty an appellation.

One of the primary functions of the Church’s sacraments is to put a visible mark between believers and the world. Christians are to be in the world but not of the world. Sadly, much of the church’s worship is not only a capitulation to the world–but an embracing of it. By the way, the “traditional” church service can be just as in step with this world as the “contemporary”. Christians must separate themselves from the world; the world has nothing to do with Our Lord.

This doesn’t mean we run to a mountain top and gaze at the clouds all day. It does mean that we should not participate in the idolatry of our culture. Celebrity worship is a major problem in our society. Nothing prohibits us from admiring the gifts of an athlete or songwriter or actress. But we cross a fine line when we move from admiration to adulation. We must examine ourselves continually to measure our progress in the spiritual life. Ministers today feel an acute pressure to perform. The cult of personality places such a burden on some men that it decorticates them of their pastoral energy. They become empty shells of what they were, and phantoms of what they could have been.

Does worship play an integral part in your life. A good test to discover whether or not it does is to ask yourself if God, the Church, Sunday worship and Christian service get you more excited than a media event. What would your answer be?

 
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Posted by on July 8, 2011 in Uncategorized