Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Psalm 145 - Great Worship Style!

As we Christians often find ourselves vearing about between different "styles" of worship, I was reminded today that worship is about God and about the truth of what we bring to Him.  Psalm 145 is a wonderful example of simply bringing truth to God, exalting Him for His ways and His character.  Read and enjoy!

Psalm 145

Praising God's Greatness

A Davidic hymn.

1 I exalt You, my God the King,
and praise Your name forever and ever.
2 I will praise You every day;
I will honor Your name forever and ever.

3 Yahweh is great and is highly praised;
His greatness is unsearchable.

4 One generation will declare Your works to the next
and will proclaim Your mighty acts.

5 I will speak of Your glorious splendor
and Your wonderful works.

6 They will proclaim the power of Your awe-inspiring works,
and I will declare Your greatness.

7 They will give a testimony of Your great goodness
and will joyfully sing of Your righteousness.

8 The LORD is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and great in faithful love.

9 The LORD is good to everyone;
His compassion [rests] on all He has made.

10 All You have made will praise You, LORD;
the godly will bless You.

11 They will speak of the glory of Your kingdom
and will declare Your might,

12 informing [all] people of Your mighty acts
and of the glorious splendor of Your kingdom.

13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom;
Your rule is for all generations.
The LORD is faithful in all His words
and gracious in all His actions.

14 The LORD helps all who fall;
He raises up all who are oppressed.

15 All eyes look to You,
and You give them their food in due time.

16 You open Your hand
and satisfy the desire of every living thing.

17 The LORD is righteous in all His ways
and gracious in all His acts.

18 The LORD is near all who call out to Him,
all who call out to Him with integrity.

19 He fulfills the desires of those who fear Him;
He hears their cry for help and saves them.

20 The LORD guards all those who love Him,
but He destroys all the wicked.

21 My mouth will declare the LORD's praise;
let every living thing
praise His holy name forever and ever.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Everything Glorious

I've heard this song now many times.  However, for the longest time I've not really listened to the words well enough to get David Crowder's point in the song.  He's making a really simple logical statement, though he's leaving out the final part for us to figure out ourselves.  Here's how it works:

God makes everything glorious

I belong to God


God is making me glorious, too

Now, this is super-simple, but profound.  I know this is a common thought/feeling among Christians, but I all too often feel like complete scum - sinful, broken, useless.  There is some truth in such thoughts, but God is doing something different with each of His children, which makes all the difference.  Be reminded today that God really does do all things well, included building you and me up into a glorious representation of Himself to the world!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Song of Albion

Lawhead, Steve. The Paradise War. Nashville, Tenn: WestBow Press, 2006.

Lawhead, Steve. The Silver Hand. Nashville, Tenn: WestBow Press, 2006.

Lawhead, Steve. The Endless Knot. Nashville, Tenn: WestBow Press, 2006.

A wonderful fantasy tale (in 3 parts) immersed in Celtic mythology, these books were a welcome respite from my normally serious reading. I've read this author before, but not since high school. Then, I read his version of the Authurian legend, The Pendragon Cycle. I must admit that I prefer those other books, but The Song of Albion is still quite good.

The story is about two men, Oxford graduate students, who step into the Celtic Otherworld and live there for some time. Lewis is the hero; Simon quickly becomes the arch-villain. Simon is the epitome of wealth and privilege in the manifest world and soon pollutes the Otherworld with his selfishness and conceit, nearly destroying it. However, Lewis, a simple exchange student from humble beginnings, grows into the Aird Righ (high king) of Albion as he develops great virtue and deep character. Lewis eventually defeats Simon, but only through his own death. True heroism is heroic to the utter end.

Lawhead, an avowed Christian, only has his faith slip in at the end, where a strong link is made between what Lewis has done for Albion and what Christ has done for us all. His other books generally had a stronger note of Christianity, but never overpowering or unnatural to the plot.
Check Spelling
We must sometimes be heroic ourselves. When those times come, it is helpful to already be familiar with how a hero behaves. Fiction, often looked down upon by many, is a great teacher that we should not ignore.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Ministry Nuts and Bolts: What They Don't Teach Pastors in Seminary

Malphurs, Aubrey. Ministry Nuts and Bolts: What They Don't Teach Pastors in Seminary. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1997.

The subtitle of this book was what drew me to purchase and read it. I've already worked in one field where the practice is often light years from the academic theory - public education. So, having learned my lesson to some degree, I wanted to read and learn in order to fill in the gaps that I sensed, and some I didn't, in my seminary preparation for ministry.

Malphurs is mostly concerned in this book to educate the reader about five key elements of ministry (and these can easily be applied to all of life, as I'll show below): core values, purpose, mission, vision, and strategy. He argues, I think correctly, that the vast majority of churches (he put it at 98%) of all stripes have no clue about these things, with the lucky ones being led by someone who gets it intuitively but most without entirely. In addition to providing explanations of each of these, Malphurs gives steps to proper formation of each and diagnostics to help the church leadership see how well they are doing.

Below, I'll try to show what each of these key elements is, how they interrelate, and how they should work both for the church and for the individual.

Core Values - These are the driving factors at the heart of the individual or church. They can easily be discerned by looking at the budget and the schedule/calendar, for "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." This is the first step and seems likely to be a convicting one, calling the church or person away from wrong or simply unimportant values.

Purpose - For the Christian, there is only ever one purpose that over arches all else - to glorify God. The Westminster Short Catechism says it this way, "Man's chief end is the glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever." This purpose must define all else.

Mission - For the Christian, the mission must always reflect the one Great Commission given by Christ - to make disciples. Making disciples of Christ is the most important and best (only?) way to glorify God. It is best if the church or individual comes to a concise statement of mission that relates their role in the Great Commission.

Vision - The vision is a future-looking picture of what the church or individual will look like when they are fully engaged in the mission. This step is often exciting and powerfully motivating. All sorts of things can use this concept: athletes envision the perfect game, generals envision defeating the enemy, artists envision their finished art before beginning. The church is supposed to ask the question: what would this church be/look like if we were fully engaged in making disciples? The individual can ask a like questions about him/herself. The individual can also consider the sort of legacy he/she wishes to leave behind.

Strategy - The strategy is the changing forms of effort the church or individual will makes to do the mission and to realize the vision. This is really the only part that needs to change or be culturally relevant. All the rest are rooted in the absolutes of God's Word and His plan for the church.

Clearly, these are vital things, and not just for the church. We, as individual Christians and families, would benefit immensely from developing core values, purpose, a mission, a vision or desired legacy, and strategies to get there. This is key to living fully for Christ. However, one caveat - too many churches have these things on file but do not make decisions or exert effort accordingly. This actually creates a worse situation, adding hypocrisy to a lack of direction.

I will be working on my own core values, purpose, mission, vision, and strategy. Why don't you?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Coming to Grips with Genesis

Whitcomb, John Clement, Terry Mortenson, and Thane H. Ury. Coming to Grips with Genesis: Biblical Authority and the Age of the Earth. Green Forest, Ark: Master Books, 2008. $16.99.

In my continuing study on this topic, I picked up this book, on a whim, from my seminary's bookstore. It has turned out to be a very good pick! The book is a collection of 14 articles dealing with the general theme implied by the title. These articles fall under four main headings: the history of the interpretation of Genesis, proper interpretation of Genesis, the Bible's use of Genesis, and special related issues. I'll address each below.

First, the book, through five of its articles, shows convincingly that at no time prior to the 19th century (1800 years worth of Christian interpretation) was Genesis chapters 1-11 ever considered anything other than historical fact. The authors survey the Church Fathers through to the Protestant Reformers, with a consistent young earth view dominating. The only stand-out from the general theme is among the Alexandrian school of the Church Fathers, who used allegory to interpret many scriptures. They interpreted the days as symbolic of ages of the earth, but not what evolutionists need...they felt that each represented one millennium, since the earth was only supposed to last 6000 years before the return of Christ and the beginning of His thousand-year earthly reign. Note that these men still took the earth to be young and accepted the Genesis genealogies as history. Also, note that their frequent allegorizing was heavily criticized in their own day and rejected later. The book completes this historical overview by showing the critical moments when geological theories of deep time began to be accepted among churchmen in the 19th century, leading to a decay of interpretation of Genesis.

Second, in an attempt to show the correct way to interpret Genesis, the authors addressed the genre of Genesis 1-11 and showed powerfully how the framework hypothesis, gap theories, and other attempts to embed deep time into Genesis all fall short. The overall conclusion here is that interpreting Genesis in any other way than history does great violence to the text itself, its natural reading and the way it was obviously understood for thousands of years. (NB: If the ancient Israelites and Church Fathers read this in a way that is different from the way modern scholars do because of modern science, then divine inspiration is destroyed, since they not only did not but could not have understood it aright as it was given. The Bible would have been gibberish for millions of people until the right minds unlocked its true meaning.)

Third, the authors of two articles show that Jesus and the apostles clearly treated Genesis as historical, basing much of their theology and practical teaching upon the root events in the history of man.

Lastly, three special issues were addressed, one of which I've already posted some about previously. They are: the authority of nature as a revelatory agent, the geological implications of Noah's flood, and the problem of evil and death. Each of these is handled well and with much background work having been done.

Overall, this book is a weighty one. The scholars who wrote the articles did their homework! Many questions of the sincerely interested would be answered here. However, as the afterword points out, few will be convinced by even the best arguments, since what is at stake here is spiritual and not merely knowledge.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Presence of Evil Requires the Rejection of Deep Time

The problem of evil is one of the root issues that should cause any thinking Christian to reject any view of creation that includes deep time (millions or billions of years) and/or evolution. Below is a quote from Granville Penn, a British scientist and theologian from the early 19th century. I believe his analysis of the problem is correct and powerful.

To assume arbitrarily, a priori, that God created the matter of this globe in the most imperfect state to which the gross imagination of man can contrive to reduce it, which it effectually does, by reducing the creative Fiat to the mere production of an amorphous elementary mass; and then to pretend that His intelligence and wisdom are to be collected from certain hypothetical occult laws, by which that mass worked itself into perfection of figure and arrangement after innumerable ages; would tend to lessen our sense either of the divine wisdom or power, did not the supposition recoil with tremendous reaction upon the supposers, and convict them of the clumsiest irrationality. The supposition is totally arbitrary; and not only arbitrary, viciously arbitrary; because, it is totally unnecessary, and therefore betrays a vice of choice. For, the laws of matter could not have worked perfection in the mass which the Creator is thus supposed to have formed imperfect, unless by a power imparted by Himself who established the laws. And, if He could thus produce perfection mediately, through their operation, He could produce it immediately, without their operation. Why, then, wantonly and viciously, without a pretence of authority, choose the supposition of their mediation? It is entirely a decision of choice and preference, that is, of the will; for, the reason is no party to it, neither urging, suggesting, encouraging, or in any way aiding or abetting the decision, but, on the contrary, positively denying and condemning it. The vast length of time, which this sinistrous choice is necessarily obliged to call in for its own defense, could only be requisite to the Creator for overcoming difficulties obstructing the perfecting process; it therefore chooses to suppose, that He created obstructions in matter, to resist and retard the perfecting of the work which He designed; whilst at the same time He might have perfected it without any resistance at all, by His own Creative Act... To suppose then, a priori, and without the slightest motive prompted by reason, that His wisdom willed, at the same time, both the formation of a perfect work, argues a gross defect of intelligence somewhere; either in the Creator or in the supposer; and I leave it to this science, to determine the alternative. (Penn, A Comparative Estimate of the Mineral and Mosaical Geologies, 1825)

Also, read below quotes from atheist evolutionists Richard Dawkins and David Hull and decide if a Christian can hold that God created natural selection as the process of evolution and, at the same time, can be held to be free of guilt for creating natural evil.

The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives whimpering with fear, others are slowly devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there is ever a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. (Dawkins, God's Utility Function, 1995)

Whatever the God implied by evolutionary theory and the data of natural history may be like, He is not the Protestant God of waste not, want not. He is also not a loving God who cares about His productions. He is not even the awful God portrayed in the book of Job. The God of the Galapagos is careless, wasteful, indifferent, and almost diabolical. He is certainly not the sort of God to whom anyone would be inclined to pray. (Hull, The God of the Galapagos, 1991)

If the Bible is not believed, including the historical sense of the first 11 chapters of Genesis, then the above is all true and we should reject Christianity and God altogether. However, the Bible makes clear a theodicy which explains that sin is the root cause of all natural and moral evil, that the world was made perfect and will be restored, because of the saving work of Jesus Christ. We cannot afford to abandon this truth for any alternative, no matter what "authority" puts it forward.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

World War I

Marshall, S.L.A., and Alvin M. Josephy. The American Heritage History of World War I. [New York]: American Heritage Pub. Co.; Book trade distribution by Simon and Schuster, 1964.

This short history of the First World War (at 483 pages, it only scratches the surface) is an especially good analysis of how the conflagration began and how the criminally inept peace imposed by the victors inevitably led to the Second World War and various other evils. It treats the major battles in a very sparse way, so that it is difficult to learn any more of them than who was engaged, how many died, and how little land was won or lost for such bloody sacrifice. For greater detail on what being in a WWI battle was like, I much prefer Keegan's chapter on the Somme from The Face of Battle. Also, General "Slam" Marshall, being an American, definitely wrote a great deal more detail about the doings of the American Expeditionary Force in France than any other nation's armed forces. For example, he mentions which American divisions fought in each battle, but hardly ever speaks of formations smaller than armies when writing of French, British, German, or Russian battles. I suppose this is all right, but it definitely means one must read elsewhere for the whole story.

All in all, a good book. The political analysis I mentioned above is excellent. The military side is less so. But several questions still remain in my mind: How did men decide to continue sacrificing themselves at the rate they did, and for so little in return, on the Western Front? Why did the armies not simply refuse their leaders when called upon for the umpteenth time to charge machine gun nests through a hail of shrapnel? It seems to me that, for a time, everyone lost their minds! I hope and pray that nothing similar ever happens again.