Friday, December 28, 2007

Sweet Summertime

Well, they say it's going to be a long, hard winter. So here's a little word of encouragement: Less than five months till boating season. And here's a little taste o'summer to help you make it through the frost and cold. (My son Jason on the Columbia River, workin' the wake behind Buster Boat.)

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Sublime Gift

(Malachi 4:5-6) Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.

One of the glaring deficiencies of the Old Covenant was the frequent and horrific disruptions of covenant succession. We ache, wince and recoil as we read the accounts of the faithful and humble Aarons, Davids and Josiahs who begat the treacherous and lecherous Abihus, Absaloms and Manassehs. But praise be to God, one of the distinguishing features of the New Covenant is the prevalence of fathers whose hearts are turned to their children, and children whose hearts are turned to their fathers; the predominance of multi-generational households of faith filled with cross-generational love, concord and deference.

In this season of gifts and thanksgiving may the LORD grant us true thankfulness for every minute of fellowship that we enjoy with our children, and faith to trust Him for the return of the wandering prodigals.

Friday, December 21, 2007

A Delightful Mixing of Metaphors...

Suddenly I have this urge to climb stairs, holding someones hand, whilst twisting and shouting...Enjoy!

Trinity Church Family Camp 1995-96

Eugene Rosenstock-Hussey noted that “vacations” differ from “holidays” in that vacations are individual whereas holidays are corporate. Individuals or individual families take vacations, corporate bodies celebrate holidays. Holidays bring people together in time and space to commemorate and celebrate. And the gathering together both reinforces the things celebrated and forges communal bonds.

Through the years our annual family camp “holiday” has been an important and delightful part of covenant-community at Trinity Church. In 1995 we began the tradition of meeting every Labor Day at Double K Retreat Center on Snoqualmie Pass. Last year we conducted our 13th consecutive camp at the same time and location. Sadly, we have outgrown the facility and hence will begin meeting at a different site in June of 2009. So I’ve decided to do a little tribute entitled, “Holidays at Double K.”

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas Feast Photos

I just figured out how to embed a slideshow in my blog. Here are some great pictures, courtesy of Sue Knight. To start the show just double-click on one of the pictures, and then click the start arrow/trinangle thingy. Enjoy.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Trinity Church Christmas Feast

For my money, communal dance is perhaps the best metaphor for Christian community around. Concentration and joy. The one and the many. Young and old. Unity and diversity. Skill and beauty. Masculinity and femininity. Initiation and response. Leading and following. Music and rhythm. The bow and curtsy of deference/honor. Up-tempo and down-tempo. Simplicity and complexity. Conformity and freedom. Body and soul. Order and exuberance.

Quite wonderful really. Sometimes you are just so filled with thoughts of divine grace that y'just gotta dance.

Massa Technology

Right now I have 650 emails in my "Inbox", some answered and some not. They say that the trick is to master the technology, insead of the technololgy mastering you. Sounds grea...umm, sorry, gotta go. I just received a new email and my phone and cell-phone are ringing. (Can I get a witness?)

Friday, December 14, 2007

The Skinny on Huckabee

Ben House is an elder in the CREC, a voracious reader and an able cultural and political critic. I found his musings on Mike Huckabee very enlightning. You can read Ben's thoughts on the presidential hopeful by clicking here.

Pardon me, but your slip is showing...

The Republican presdidential candidate Rudy Giuliani is pro-choice (pro-abortion) and anti-terrorism. The former mayor of New York city is vowing, if elected, to protect our nation from a repeat of 9-11 (the once-in-a-blue-moon event during which around 3,000 Americans lost their lives.) Giuliani does this whilst supporting a "medical" procedure that daily takes that many little American lives. And this he does with a straight face. Hmmm. Pardon me Mr. Giuliani, but...

An Oasis in the Wilderness

Well, the presidential race will begin in earnest after the New Year. And it will most likely be (for the most part) a recycling of past blah-fests. But the video below gives us at least a glimmer of hope. I disagree with Huckabee's equivocation of "six days", but I love his testimony regarding the existence and activity of the living God. This candidate's bold witness to the truth is a refreshing oasis in a wilderness of political rhetoric, and an island of religious conviction in a sea spineless double-speak. But we need to postpone endorsement. It's early in the process.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Could this be my long lost sister?

Last week as I was surfing the web, I ran across some links to the extreme fighter "Molly Helsel" (second from the left on the poster below.) Given the extreme feminity of all the Helsel women I know, the pictures and videos of "cousin" Molly leave me somewhere betwixt laughter and tears.

Honor to whom honor is due...

Last week we hosted our annual banquet to thank and honor the folk who serve the saints at Trinity Church. As a vocational pastor, the church sends me two "thank-notes" each month (in the form of paychecks.) In this regard my cup runneth over. But we have a growing cadre of servants who are either upaid or indadequately paid for their faithful labors. And so, once a year it is our joy and privilege to honor such and thank them for their service. Here are a few pictures from our celebration and my "thanks" to the elders at Trinity Church.

To the Elders of Trinity Church:
Brothers, you are no-hirelings. Week after week you demonstrate your god-given desire and ability to lay down your lives for the sheep. When the attacks have come, from within and without, you have carefully identified the danger, approximated the location of the sheep and cheerfully interposed your persons between the wolves and the sheep.

Brothers, you are faithful imitations of the Great Shepherd. The real test of a shepherd’s heart is not how he cares for the ninety-nine sheep who are munching contentedly on the grass to which they have been led. No, the real test is what the shepherd does with the wandering sheep. Some wandering in rebellion (picture here a sheep in dark glasses with a leather jacket, collar upturned.) Some wandering in ignorance (picture here a cross-eyed sheep with the brim of a baseball cap a tad askew, chasing a butterfly near the edge of a cliff.) Regardless, you have, again and again, left the ninety-nine and gently but firmly pursued the one; coaxing and chiding, nudging and exhorting them back to the safety of the fold.

Brothers, like Christ, you have led the sheep to green pastures and beside the still waters. When providence has taken your sheep through the valley of the shadow of death, you have walked with them through the same, and ministering to them nothing less than the very presence of Christ as you did. Weekly, you have spread a table for those in your care in the presence of a world yet hostile to the Gospel our of Savior Jesus Christ, and have fed your flock with the bread of heaven and the cup of blessing. You have been God’s means to shower the sheep with goodness and cover them with mercy.

Brothers, as you have sat in session you have been one and many. Supernaturally united in purpose and submission to the Great Shepherd, and decidedly different in your takes, views, solutions and counsel. And all delightfully so, because you have contended with grace, disagreed with charity and deferred with humility. At times, I have loved and appreciated you the most when you were arguing against my position (how do you do that?)

Brothers, if the Holy Spirit is “another Advocate” then you have been, in your service to the saints, “another-‘nother advocate” as you represented the cares and concerns of your parishes to the session. Even when you disagreed with your parishoners in principle, you represented them and their views with passion and clarity. And witnessing your advocacy, I have grown in my understanding of Christ and his Spirit’s advocacy on our behalf. Thank you.

Brothers, you have shepherded as examples to the flock. You have not driven the sheep to love their wives, honor their parents and disciple their children, you have led them to these obediences. You have not driven the sheep to love God, His Word and His sacraments. Rather you have led, by example in the very same. As your pastor, I have learned, and am learning much from your humble examples. Again, thank you.

Christ has promised to reward all who spend themselves in his joyful service. May the LORD return blessings to you thirty, sixty even a hundredfold for your faithful labors on behalf of the flock.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The same only more so...

We have always loved and admired our son Josiah. But, truth be told, marriage has had a striking effect upon him, and all for the better. He is the same wonderful guy that he has always been, only more so. Likewise, his wife, Shannon, is a real beauty (both inside and out) and in the zenith of her pregnancy radiates that same breath-taking beauty, only more so. In a few weeks Josiah and Shannon will bring to clans Helsel and Visser our very first grandchild. And we will collectively continue to be the blessed-by-God's-grace families that we have always been, only more so.

A Family of Raccoon Tours

I am extremely blessed to live and love in a family of raconteurs (skilled tellers of anecdotes.) Although each of my children has their own unique style of storytelling, mimicry and expression, all four can hold you spellbound, move you to tears, or best of all, evoke that table-slapping, breath-stealing sort of laughter. The video below is a sample of Jason's dry wit and comic sense of timing. Jas is a good representation of the four and their well-honed ability to take the mundane and make it memorable in the telling of it. Enjoy.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Lord, please don't "take" me...

(Matthew 24:34-39) Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away. But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only. But as the days of Noah were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered into the ark, And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be.

Two themes are very prominent in the I Wish We’d All Been Ready/Thief in the Night music/movies (see posts below): Christ’s imminent return (his any-day-now “cloud coming”) and people being “taken” at that return. But how can Christ’s return be imminent for our generation if Jesus promised that it would happen within forty years (a “generation”) of his prophecy? And how can it be a good thing to be “taken” if being “taken” at Christ’s return is analogous to being “taken” by the Noaic flood?

Isn’t it much simpler to understand Christ’s “coming” as his coming to Jerusalem in judgment in A.D. 70, and being “taken” as being taken in that horrific judgment?

Jus’ wonderin’.

Friday, December 07, 2007

I wish we'd all been ready...

Okay, in order to make proper sense of these videos you'll need to view them in the correct order. Watch them top to bottom.

The first video represents a whole raft of songs written and recorded in the spirit of Larry Norman's I Wish We'd All Been Ready, and a whole snarl of movies written and produced in the spirit of Thief in the Night. These songs and movies all assumed that the best way to get lost souls into God's kingdom was to scare them with thoughts of "The Rapture." Evidently plain declarations of the justice and mercy of God exhibited in the Cross of Jesus Christ and careful expositions of the Bible were not deemed sufficient means to win people to the LORD.

These songs and movies were so ubiquitous in the seventies that most Christians born before 1970 have some sort of "rapture horror story" of their own. My sister, Sylvia, has a real hum-dinger which we get to hear from time to time at family gatherings.

The second video gently pokes fun at the "scare'em saved" ethos of the first video. We don't get to hear the sermon that follows the song, but I sincerely hope it was an exposition of scripture that draws attention to the reality that the "cloud coming" in Daniel 7:13 (and therefore Matthew 24:30) was not to the earth, but rather to "the Ancient of Days" (i.e. to God in heaven.)

For the record, I love the brothers who wrote the rapture songs and produced the rapture movies, and truly admire their zeal whilst simultaneously contending that it was not "according to knowledge" (Romans 10:2).

Thursday, December 06, 2007

The Viking Age

"When the age of the Vikings came to a close, they must have sensed it. Probably, they gathered together one evening, slapped each other on the back and said, 'Hey, good job.'" (Jack Handey, Deep Thoughts)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Happy Birthday Rach!

Our daughter Rachael (dazzling smile, green jacket) came home last weekend with three of her roomates to celebrate her birthday. We trekked up to Leavenworth to frolic in "Little Bavaria" and to feast together at Visconti's. We are so very thankful to have a daughter who is beautiful both inside and out; thankful to have been graced with her lovely music, melodious laughter, delightful verse and dry wit over the last couple o'decades. And thankful that she is now surrounded by such wonderful, joyful, fruitful, godly women over in Seattle. Our cups overfloweth, yea verily.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Free at last, free at last...

In Steve Martin's recently released autobiography, Born Standing Up, he relates an interesting anecdote about the burden of debt. Martin loved comic books as a young boy and purchased them by borrowing money from his father. Soon he owed about seven (1955) dollars to his father who reminded him often of the debt. Every time Martin thought about the debt he was filled with remorse, shame and anguish. This went on for some months, until, as a birthday present, Martin's father forgave the debt. "I was so relieved to be free from this burden" Martin recounts, "that I never again bought anything on credit."

Whether or not it was Glenn Martin's intent to teach young Steve this lesson, the wise parent would do well to inculcate a similar revulsion to debt-spending in their covenant kids. And all would do well heed the example of this fiscally-not-so-Wild and Crazy Guy.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

At least they're wearing helmets...

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld onced mused about the wisdom of wearing a helmet when sky-diving. He concluded that if your parachute failed and you hit the ground at terminal velocity, you would (for all practical purposes) no longer be wearing the helmet. Rather, the helmet would be wearing you, saving it from serious injury/damage at impact.

With that said, three cheers for the flying-squirrel men of New Zealand! And remember kids, if you try this at home, always wear a helmet. (Note: do not try the somersaults on your first day. You see, we build to that...)

Friday, November 30, 2007

Entertainment in Worship

The following quote was published in 1971. I wonder what the good doctor would say about today's worship?

"Still worse has been the increase in the element of entertainment in public worship - the use of films and the introduction of more and more singing; the reading of the Word and prayer shortened drastically, but more and more time given to singing. You have a "song leader" as a new kind of official in the church, and he conducts the singing and is supposed to produce the atmosphere. But he often takes so much time in producing the atmosphere that there is no time for preaching in the atmosphere. This is a part of this whole depreciation of the message.

Then on top of this, there is the giving of testimonies. It has been interesting to observe that as preaching as such has been on the decline, preachers have more and more used people to give their testimonies; and particularly if they are important people in any realm. This is said to attract people to the Gospel and to persuade them to listen to it. If you can find an admiral or a general or anyone who has some special title, or a baseball player, or an actor or actress or film-star, or pop-singer, or somebody well-known to the public, get them to give their testimony. This is deemed to be of much greater value than the preaching and the exposition of the Gospel. Have you noticed that I have put all this under the term "entertainment"? That where I believe it truly belongs. But this is what the Church has been turning to as she turned her back upon preaching."
(D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, p. 17)

Why should the devil have all the good music?..

Growing up I was profoundly shaped by the Contemporary Christian Music movement of the seventies. I, and many just like me, adopted Larry Norman's song Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music? as our anthem. To justify our desire to infuse popular music into Lord's Day worship we appealed to Martin Luther's use of "bar tunes" as an important historical precedent. And this we did feigning respect for how the Church has worshipped the LORD in ages past.

I intend to write more on this. But for starters, consider this quote from Leonard Peyton:

"Many Christians who appropriate the goods of popular culture cite Luther as a precedent. A common claim is that Luther used tunes “from the bar.” However, musicological research since 1923 is weighing in heavily for Luther as the composer of his own melodies. Luther did use a musical form called a “bar” form. But this is a technical term referring to the architecture of music, not, as would normally be expected, a place where alcoholic beverages are consumed. Others mistakenly cite Luther’s famous question, “Why should the devil have all the good tunes?” When Luther spoke of the devil metaphorically, it was directed at the pope, not the pub. To rephrase what Luther was saying, “Why should we leave the great old hymns to the Roman Catholics?” It was an apology for the traditional, not the contemporary!"


Ten kinds of people...

There are ten kinds of people in the world: Those who understand binary and those who don't.

Three kinds of people...

There are three kinds of people in the world: Those who can count and those who can't.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Go to sleep, God is awake...

"Have courage for the great sorrows of life and patience for the small ones. And when you have laboriously accomplised your daily task, go to sleep in peace. God is awake." (Victor Hugo, 1802-1885)

In the Bible, sleep is both a metaphor for, and indicator of, true faith. In Psalm 127, the LORD gives sleep (faith) to one tempted to build his house by sheer human effort. In Psalm 3, King David recounts his flight from Absalom and how, when he found himself surrounded by a murderous horde, laid himself down and took a little nap!

We are most vunerable and least "productive" when we're asleep. And yet the faithful sleep soundly, confident that the One building their houses and guarding their loved ones "never slumbers nor sleeps." In contrast, the faithless stay up way too late, and when they do finally fall into bed exhausted, they toss and turn worried about all that didn't get done during the day, revising mental lists, vowing to do better, adjusting their agendas, and fretting over how to protect their homes from harm.

Hugo is right. When it's time to work, work hard. But at the end of the day (and perhaps even for a few minutes after lunch) "...go to sleep in peace. God is awake." For, as the author of Hebrews noted, "without faith it is impossible to please Him [God]." Really. So scoot. Off you go now. And don't forget to brush your teeth...

I promise the earth will keep spinning, even without your willing it to do so! Scout's honor.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

A little Christmas tune...

For a little Christmas tune click on "Have Yerself..." title in the PW JUKEBOX on the sidebar (to the right.)

Jus' plain thankful...

"O LORD my God, I will give thanks to thee forever." (King David)

I am thankful to have been raised in a multi-generational matrix of divine love and truth; for parents and siblings who love me unconditionally , and for grandparents who prayed for me, my brother and sister, my wife and children until the day each was "gathered to his/her people."

I am thankful for a wife whose inward beauty eclipses her outward beauty; who is as strong in faith and perseverance as she is tender in mercy and feminine graces.

I am thankful for sons and daughters who are also my brothers, sisters and friends. (I am required to love them, but extremely grateful that I like them as well.) They really are, individually and collectively, a hoot! I am thankful for a daughter-in-law who has brought so many blessings and graces to our family; brought so much happiness to our son, and will be bringing our first grandchild to us in January.

I am thankful for clan Helsel's love of story, books, hard work, laughter, good food, learning, four-part harmony and blue-collar wisdom/sensibility.

I am thankful for clan Boe's example of diligent labor, frugality, generosity, patriotism, service, hospitality, propriety and beauty.

I am thankful for Trinity Church's reverent worship and raucous celebrations; for a session of elders that take their work (but not themselves) seriously; for deacons who "deac" and for a community of saints who live and laugh, feast and forgive, in a manner worthy of their name.

I am thankful for the dark valleys of this last year and for the merciful passing of Ellen's mom. And thankful that Christians never have to say goodbye, rather, just "see you later." I am thankful that death is indeed swallowed up in life!

I am thankful for the motorists in our fair city whose driving tests my understanding of Christ's parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew 18.)

I am thankful for the various (and increasing) aches and pains to which I awake each morning and for the wonderful way that they keep me focused and longing for the final redemption and resurrection of all things.

I am thankful for the steady stream of "hard providences" that so very quickly take me to "tether's end", and force me to seek the wisdom of God's Word, the consolation of prayer, the counsel of my brethren and the supply of the Holy Spirit.

I am thankful for the ample reservoir of love that waters the various communities in which I live and move. And for the way that fervent love covers a multitude of my sins, and makes possible the forgiveness which my sinful failings all too often require.

I am thankful for the warm hum of tube-amplifiers and the rich electric sound of an American Stratocaster (three cheers for Leo Fender, wherever you are!)

I am thankful for whoever came up with the recipe for "Inversion I.P.A." at the Deschutes Brewery. (Absolutely amazing! How do they do get that little carmel zing at the end of each draught?)

I am thankful for the gentlemen who figured out how to harness and combine the various attributes of aluminum, steel, plastic, rubber and oil to create the full-suspension mountain bike. I am thankful for the gift of "leg and lung." And for the body's amazing ability to "self-repair" broken bones, sprains, bruises, contusions and abrasions.

I am thankful for the geniuses who gave us iPods, the internet and podcasts. And for the artists, pastors, teachers, authors and readers whose labors infuse our drive, work and work-out times with a wondrous supply of information, entertainment and beauty.

I am thankful for the novels of Khaled Hosseini and for his poignant pictures of grace, forgiveness, transforming love, redemption and sacrifice. And for the awesome ability of our God to draw straight lines with crooked sticks.

But most of all I am thankful to be a baptized member of a religion of GRACE. I am profoundly grateful that I do not receive what I deserve, but rather receive divine mercies and favor worthy of my savior Jesus Christ, who alone is worthy of the good that spills down from heaven and into my life each day.

Too glad to be true. But true nonetheless. O LORD, my God, I too will give thanks to you forever!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Out of the Mouths of Infants...

"Out of the mouths of infants You have ordained praise." (Psalm 8:2)

Last night Trinity Church hosted the African Childrens Choir here in Wenatchee. Wowsers! 'Twas a magical evening filled with song, dance and a couple dozen-or-so joyful incarnations of the child-like faith to which every believer in Jesus is called.

And from all reports, things only got "funner" as our families hosted choir kids and their chaperones for a night.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Truck Drivin' Man

I'm just figuring out how to add audio files to Parbar Westward. To hear "Truck Drivin' Man" click on the Title (above), click "Download", click "Open", and then play the file (it should load directly into your media player - iTunes or Windows Media Player, etc.) And finally, if you would be so kind, please click the comment button below and let me know if you were able to hear the audio file.

P.S. As you listen to "Truck Drivin' Man" please keep 2 Corinthians 11:1 in mind.

Monday, November 19, 2007

No Greater Love...

Although I do not have a bible proof-text, I'm fairly certain that an accurate guage of true love is the willingness to "move thy neighbors goods with gladness and mirth, yea verily."

This morning a gaggle of saints from Trinity put on their work-gloves, put their muscles to good use, put wise-cracks, smiles and even laughter on their lips, and doing so put the "party" into "moving-party." What a joy it is to live with these folks!

Ain't community grand?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Dan and I

On March 2, 1962 Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points as his team, the Philadelpha Warriors defeated the New York Knicks 169 to 147. One of his teammates who scored a single point that night would later remark, "Yeah, I remember the night that Wilt Chamberlain and I combined to score 101 points in a single game..."

Now, hold that thought for a moment.

Pictured above are Dan and Karen Bass. Karen is the one who, togther with my beautiful wife, envisioned and designed our new kitchen. Dan was our contractor/craftsman on the project. It was a joy to work with believers, and our love and respect for the Basses only grew during the weeks that we were working closely together.

After a few months have gone by, my plan is to casually remark to admirers of our new kitchen, "Yeah, this is the kitchen that Dan Bass and I remodeled together..."

All Things New

For my wife's birthday last May, her sister, Nina, gave Ellen a kitchen remodel. Now that the renovation is nearly complete I have concluded that there is something decidedly Christian about home-remodel projects. At the very least they are potent metaphors for God's saving and sanctifying work in the life of a believer. Viz:

Costly. Both salvation and home-renovation are costly endeavors. And in our case both could only have been accomplished through the gracious provision of another.

New and yet the same. Considered one way, the saved-sinner and the newly-remodeled kitchen are the same; the same locus, the same recognizable "shape", performing the same sorts of daily routines/duties. But considered another way, the saved sinner and the newly-remodeled kitchen are vastly different. That which was old, ugly and disfunctional has been replaced by that which is new, beautiful and useful.

Slow and hard. Unlike the "Extreme Home Makeover" show on TV, remodeling/sanctification are "slow and hard." If the changes are going to last and be a blessing for generations to come, they must be done carefully, and they must be done in a particular order (each new change dependent upon the changes that preceded it.) The renovation must be done by a Master-craftsman who knows the master-plan and the appropriate materials to use. The project must be overseen by a contractor who possesses the right tools to demolish and rebuild; a workman who can labor patiently and lovingly with raw material that will quite often resist his renovative plans and purposes.

Never quite finished in this life. Our house was built in 1921 and we have lived here for the last 16 years. Although we are only the third owner of the house, it has seen quite a few repairs, renovations and remodels over the years. And it continues to be, just like its inhabitants, a work in progress.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Expression Completes Delight

“I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not be able to tell anyone how good he is; to come suddenly at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch; to hear a good joke and find no one to share it with.” (C.S. Lewis)

Perhaps this explains why food and drink taste so much better when taken with people you love. The expression of delight perfects, or completes, the enjoyment. How wonderful!

Only Two Options...

"The honest man takes pain, and then enjoys pleasures; the knave takes pleasure, and then suffers pains." (Benjamin Franklin)

"The wise does at once what the fool does at last." (Baltasar Gracian, 1601-1658)

'Nuff said.

The Real Test

"The community is the true sphere of human virtue. In social, active life, difficulties will be perpetually met with; restraints of many kinds will be necessary; and studying to behave right with respect to these, is a discipline of the human heart, useful to others, and improving to itself." (Samuel Johnson)

We Chrsitians are very prone to evaluate our progresss in the faith by how well we perform in the prayer-closet, or by what is happening behind our eyes and between our ears. But Mr. Johnson is right. The true measure of virtue is community, not the hermitage. The real test of our Christlikeness is not how we fare in isolation, but rather how well we love, serve, disagree with, and defer to, others in the hurly-burly of church, family and civic community.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Ouch, and Thank-you

Last weekend one of our deacons at Trinity Church informed me, in a very gracious and good-humored way, that a couple of words in last Sunday's corporate "Prayer of Confession" had sailed right over his head. To which I replied, "Ouch, and thank-you."

We preacher-types would do well to consider Binkley's frustration in the comic-strip above, and to take heart the words of J.C. Ryle (the old Bishop of Liverpool), who exhorted pastors regarding their congregations, "If we love them, our objective will not be to impress them with our learning but to help them with theirs . . ."

Ouch, and thank-you Reverend Ryle.

A Messy, Albeit Glorious Affair

(John 17:21-23) That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.

This is a portion of what many have called “Christ’s priestly prayer” and hearing it, we begin to understand the perfection of Jesus’ union with the Father and his overriding desire for those he came to save.

Jesus prays that his followers would be one just as the Father and Son are one. Jesus then describes his oneness with the Father in terms of mutual-indwelling (theologians call this perichoresis.) The Father indwelling the Son and the Son indwelling the Father, simultaneously; multiple persons intimately involved with one another; each loving, deferring to and seeking the well-being and glory of the other.

There is a powerful and perennial temptation to idealize this communion (the communion of the saints.) But the truth is that covenant community is a messy, abeit glorious affair; a hurly-burly business filled and fraught with sin and strangeness, hurt and help, repentance and restoration, consternation and communion. To attempt the sort of oneness that Jesus describes is a risky business. Every opening of our souls to the brethren for edification and encouragement exposes us to the possibility of abuse, manipulation and/or neglect. Every advance, or increase, in mutual-indwelling multiplies the risk of hurt and harm. But note what it does as well: It tells, and indeed convinces the world that the Father sent the Son into the world to save the world. Perichoresis, the practice of Biblical covenant community, is a potent declaration of the Gospel, and the ultimate and efficacious antidote for unbelief. The effectiveness of tracts, crusades, concerts and street evangelism all pale in comparison to the powerful testimony of covenant community; for it is a living, walking, breathing demonstration of God’s power to make a new vibrant humanity out of the graveyard of Adam’s fallen race; a testimony of God’s ability to take cosmic rebels, rascals and recluses, and fashion them into a kingdom of royal priests who are able to live reconciled to God and to one another, inclined to serve and overflowing with the self-denying love and sublime joy present in the Holy Trinity from eternity past.

True community brings heaven down to earth; the perichoretic union of the saints displays both God’s character and His purpose to save the world. This cannot be done in the spirit of isolation, insulation or independency. Rather it must be done by diverse members joined together in the spirit of joyful interdependency; diverse members who are, as Paul taught, members of one another; covenantally ONE, even as the Father and Son are one.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

So, which kind of climber are you?...

Several years ago, a wise minister once told me that the people who would be coming to me for pastoral advice would almost invariably fall neatly into one of two categories: People who wanted counsel, and people who wanted counseling. The first class of people would be genuinely interested in what God has to say about their life patterns, choices and rationales. The second class of people would simply be looking for some shred of Biblical support for the patterns, choices and rationales that they had already adopted; or, at the very least, some pastoral permission to ignore what God says about the same. A decade of pastoral counseling has proved the wise minister's prediction to be both sagely accurate and emminently helpful.

So, which kind of "climber" are you? Are you seeking wisdom or validation from the sources of wisdom that God has provided for you?

Biblical Counsel (sort of...)

Paul is perfectly (and for some, painfully) clear about a Christian's ability to forsake what is wrong and to embrace what is right. He wrote something like this to the church in Corinth, "Every temptation you encounter is common to the human race. And God who is faithful, will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able to resist. In fact, with every temptation He himself will provide you a way to escape, so that you will be able to endure/avoid it."

Bob Newhart's psychologist may not have the right tone and demeanor, but he is spot-on in his message - at least for believers. Enjoy (or I'll bury you in a box.)

Monday, November 05, 2007

The Ol' CZ

I grew up riding motorcycles with my dad and brother. My dad's brother (Uncle Herb) owned a Suzuki/CZ motorcycle store down in Cottage Grove, Oregon. My first bike was a Suzuki Trail 120, followed by a Honcho 90, followed by a Duster 125 which I stripped down and raced a few times and then purchased my first (and only) factory race bike: The CZ 250. CZs were made in Czechlosovakia, weighed a ton, but had mountains of torque and a near indestructible gear box. I had my uncle Herb modify the bike pictured above giving the suspension a whopping 7 inches of travel, front and rear (today's bikes, routinely have over double that!)

There were three riders who rode/raced CZs at the Puyallup Raceways Motorcross Park in the early seventies. During the winter months, all of us would pray for the starting gate to freeze in the ground, forcing what is called a hand-on-helmet start. When the starter raised the green flag above his head, all of the riders were required to place their left (clutch) hand on their helmets. When the official dropped the flag, (non-CZ) riders would grab their clutch levers, stomp their shift levers into first gear, pop their clutches and try to outrun the other riders to the first corner. We three, we happy three, we band of CZ brothers would skip the clutch-grabbing part and with the engine screaming at 3/4 throttle, stomp the bikes directly into first gear, and accelerate noisily to the "hole-shot" in the first corner. Frozen-gate races were the only races that we were first into the corner, and we savored every opportunity we were given to out-scramble the much quicker "Jap bikes."

It's kinda fun to think about the Lord of Creation "fixing" races with a wave of His frost-bestowing hand, and thereby enabling the fat and slow ones to have their day on the track. Well, at least every once in a while...

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Excellent Joke

In C.S. Lewis' wonderful poem "Donkeys' Delight" the Oxford don likens salvation to entering into "the excellent joke" which at first glance seems a tad strange, or at the very least, a little trite. But when you consider the essence/makeup of jokes it actually makes perfect sense. Every joke has a "setup" which takes the hearer in a particular direction. The "punchline" is simply an unexpected diversion from the path established by the "setup." Here's an example:

Setup - "When I die, I want to go like my grandfather did, in his sleep..."
Punchline - "Not like all the other people in the car, screaming and yelling."

The setup establishes certain stock scenes and/or motifs. The punchline wrenches us from those scenes and takes us (quite unexpectedly) to an entirely different scene. And when it does, we laugh, giggle or guffaw.

Now, this being the case, Lewis is spot-on. Salvation is the ultimate "excellent joke."

Setup - Adamic and personal sin against a three-times holy God invoking His just and holy wrath.
Punchline - Free grace, pardon, cleansing and adoption as sons.

And so Lewis concludes:
I repented, I entered
Into the excellent joke
The absurdity. My burden
Rolled off as I broke
Into laughter; and soon after
I had found my own level;
With Balaam's Ass daily
Out at grass I revel,
Now playing, now braying
Over the meadows of light
Our soaring, creaking Gloria
Our donkeys' delight wonder we Christians laugh/bray so much, and so heartily...

All Saints Sunday, 2007

(Hebrews 11:39-12:1) And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect. Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,

A few years ago some friends of ours returned from a visit to Scotland, and the wife/mother of said family remarked how wonderful it was to walk to through the church’s grave-yard on the way to Sunday worship, thereby being reminded of whom they were gathering with to honor God in song, prayer and meditation.

Historically, the Church has set aside this Lord’s Day to remember and celebrate the reality that we are indeed, as the author of Hebrews notes, surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses as we run the corporate and individual races marked out for us.

Five centuries ago, as the Holy Spirit initiated what we now know as “The Protestant Reformation”, the Church of Jesus Christ was cluttered with, and distracted by, remembrances of a plethora of saints. Not content to remember a single saint per day, the Church piled saint’s day upon saint’s day until each calendar week fairly well groaned under the weight of dozens of remembrances and festal celebrations. Ironically, in many cases this resulted in less attention, honor and devotion to the One whom these several saints had faithfully revered, served and adored.

This is most certainly not the sin of our age. But we need to considered the possibility that our Reformation fathers threw out some Biblical “baby” with their Reformational “bath-water.” Yes, of course, it is true that we need to avoid the Church’s pre-Reformational excesses regarding the remembrance of saints. But we need to do so without neglecting the clear commands in scripture to be mindful of those who have finished their races in faith and now comprise the cloud of witnesses cheering us on as we strive, by faith, to finish ours.

Here are a few diagnostic questions: How well do you know Church History? Who were Augustine, Ambrose, Arius, Athanasius, Anselm and Arminius? Do you own, and have you read, a copy of Eusebius’s Church History and/or Foxe’s Book of Martyrs or even a more accessible book like Hanula’s Trial and Triumph? Do you regularly regale your children with stories of the patriarchs, prophets, apostles, fathers, martyrs and saints of old? As you wrestle to be free from the various entanglements, burdens and discouragements of sin, are you mindful of the “great cloud of witnesses” surrounding you? Do you take care to draw strength, wisdom and direction from the words and deeds of those who have gone on before you in the faith? Simply put, have you avoided the sin of “saint obsession” by committing the sin of “saint neglect”?

The author of Hebrews tells us explicitly that the faithful who have preceded us in death are not complete. They await both the resurrection of their bodies and the wholeness of Christ’s entire body assembled with them at the end of time and history. And therefore, do they look forward to our weekly gatherings in heaven (just as we do) as a foretaste of the resurrection health and wholeness that is yet to come.

Each week, in the Lord's Service, directly following the “sursum corda” (the “lift up your hearts” responsive) I remind you that we are assembled here “with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven, and with all the church on earth.” Take care then to remember this truth when we go to the Lord’s Table and together “discern the body of Christ.” As I have exhorted you before, your eyes should be open and scanning the faces of those seated around you. But be careful as well to turn the eye of faith to “the great cloud of witnesses” with whom you sit and sup in wonder and worship before the throne of God. They are supernaturally present with us, or more accurately, we are supernaturally present with them in heaven (as the author of Hebrews teaches us a little later on in chapter twelve.) So…

Come let us worship the Lord together “with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven”

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A delightful language lesson...

Aloha (ah-LOH-hah): Aloha means hello, love, mercy, compassion, pity, or goodbye. More importantly, it is an expression of the heart. Aloha is shown in numerous ways. A person who gives a lei to a visitor is sharing aloha. Aloha is also a spiritual recognition of the physical person, and thus, is sometimes expressed through an embrace or handshake or other form of physical contact because for many, it is important to feel the other person.

Mahalo (mah-HAH-loh): Mahalo means being thankful. In Hawai`i, mahalo is more than a polite expression of appreciation. Mahalo is often expressed in action rather than words, by making a contribution, being courteous to others and respectful of the host culture. For some of Hawai`i’s cultural experts, visitors who take the time to understand and be aware of who Hawai`i’s people are, and who share that knowledge with others – that is a tremendous way of expressing mahalo.

"Way down below the ocean, that's where I wanna be..."

Molokini Crater on the Horizon

Coconut Beach (on Maui)

Day Five of Gene and Ellen's Excellent Hawaiian Adventure: Today, Nina (Ellen's sister) sent us on a snorkeling cruise. We left our Hotel at 5:30 am in order to reach the boat harbor by 6:15. We cruised out to the world-renowned Molokini Crater for some snorkeling. Providentially the wind came up (you should be singing Psalm 29 here) and we had to exit the water sooner than planned. But soon we were motoring back across the strait to reach the calmer shores in the lee of Maui. As it turned out the barrier reef off of Coconut Beach was even better than the much vaunted Molokini reef. Wowsers! Myriads of tropical fish, abundant coral in almost every color of the rainbow and even a few sea-turtles, all within a couple arms' lengths. Ellen got a little chilled after the first dip and so didn't make the second swim (which kinda makes you wonder how the Vikings ever made it across the channel to plunder England, "Excuse me, Sven! I'm getting a little cold here, could we go back to the fjord?") The wind continued to rise and so the ride back to the harbor brought to mind images of those Alaskan crab boats crashing through waves, water splashing up on to the foredecks. Pretty cool actually. In defense of my little Viking, her stomach weathered the trip without a flutter, while mine was extremely grateful to pull back into the slip (it's after 5:00 pm now and the room is still swaying beneath my chair!) Aloha.

P.S. Can anyone name the song in the title to this post and the performer who made it famous?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Aquarium on Maui

Aloha y’all. Day four on Maui: Today’s highlight was our visit to the Maui Ocean Center. Wow! This aquarium rocks! Although all the exhibits were very well done, they saved the best for last: Two scuba-divers hand feeding three species of enormous rays, amidst 24 different kinds of fish, and a dozen or so sharks. Of course the obligatory placards next to the windows all assured us that what we were seeing was the result of four billion years of evolution, but the eye of faith saw nothing but evidence of God’s infinite creative genius and playful sense of humor. Soli deo gloria!

Mai-Tais at Sea

Aloha. Day three in Ka’anapali: Today’s highlight was a sunset all-you-can-eat-and-drink catamaran cruise. At 4:00 pm we waded a short distance through to the surf, boarded our vessel and sailed northwest towards the island of Molokai. According to our (typically friendly/gracious) first-mate, Molokai has less than 8000 residents (compared to Maui which has about 125,000.) The historic leper colony of Father Damien is located on a remote shore of Molokai, and the island is, in general, difficult to get around on. The Molokai folk are very friendly but quite averse to any development of their pristine island. A few years ago, a cruise ship line obtained the state’s permission to dock on Molokai. When the first (and only) cruise ship attempted to do so it was met with jeers, catcalls and not a few rocks. The only franchise fast-food restaurant on the island is a Subway. The main town on the island boasts two NAPA Auto stores, which for some strange reason are located across the street from one another. Hmmm. It sounds like my kind of place. Hang loose.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Everybody's Gone Surfin'...Surfin' USA!

Here are a couple of surfing pics. The reason the photographer was able to get pictures of us standing up on our boards: His camera shoots eight frames per second. A normal camera would not have been able to catch the random nano-seconds that we were upright and "surfin'."

Hang loose.


Aloha from Kaanapali Beach just north of Lahaina on the Island of Maui! Through the extreme generosity of Ellen's father (Henning Boe) we are enjoying a week on the beach in Hawaii. We (Henning, Ellen's sister Nina, Ellen and I) are staying in the Penthouse of the Quest Resort Hotel (the pictures are the views from our balcony.) For a boy who grew up back-packing, camping and riding motor-sickles, this is quite deluxe. I am so very glad to be a card-carrying member of a religion where you don't get what you deserve. Too glad to be true, but true nonetheless. Hang loose.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Kneeling in the Assembly, Part III

Ezra 9:5-6) And at the evening sacrifice I arose up from my heaviness; and having rent my garment and my mantle, I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto the LORD my God, And said, O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens.

Luke 5:8) When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.

John Wesley once noted that “the angle of knee determines the attitude of the heart.” This adage is surely an overstatement, but nonetheless true in large measure. We are not disembodied spirits, and we are commanded by God to worship Him with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength. And to offer up to Him our bodies as living sacrifices. Therefore, in our weekly Lord’s Day Service, do we stand to offer our praises to the King of Glory, and at one point even lift our hands to bodily demonstrate our enthusiasm in worship, our eagerness to embrace God as our Father, and our readiness to receive, open-handedly, all that He would give to us. When God’s Word is preached we assume the posture of students learning from their master. And at the Table we continue to sit, not as disciples, but rather as honored guests at the Lord’s Feast.

But what is the Biblical posture of contrition? What is the angle of the knee most frequently adopted by those who are confessing their both their sinfulness and their unworthiness? You know the answer already. The knees are bent in a bodily indication of abject humility before the throne of Him who is perfectly holy. And the head is bowed in a bodily display of the heart’s remorse, anguish and sorrow over sin and wickedness.

“But I can do all of that between my two ears” the Gnostics will surely object.

“I know its in the Bible, but it’s not a part of our tradition” some Pharisees will certainly chime in.

“But kneeling is a very uncomfortable position for me to assume” some who don’t get it at all will proffer.

But some will say, “Let me take my place beside Ezra, Peter, and the myriads who have gone before me in Christ’s church, and allow me to assume their posture as I confess my sins. Sharp rocks and gravel would be preferable, but in their absence, this plush carpet will do. For regarding my transgressions, I covet the opportunity to preach to my stony heart with my buckled knees. And regarding my confession, I would have the Lord know my shame and grief.” Welcome to the court of the King pilgrim…

Kneeling in the Assembly, Part II

Psalm 146:8) The LORD raiseth them that are bowed down: the LORD loveth the righteous:

In the Kingdom of God, the way up is the way down; if you want to save your life, you must lose it; if you would be great, you must be the servant of all, and if you would receive glory, then you must humble yourself before the LORD.

As Paul taught, God delights to justify everyone whom He calls, and to glorify everyone whom He justifies. As strange as it may sound, we ought to crave the glory that God has promised to bestow upon those whom He has redeemed and is fitting for worship before His throne and service in His kingdom. We just need to be careful to crave this honor in the way, and through the means that He is pleased to give it.

And here, as always, Christ is our model and guide. For whatever God does to us, He does to us in Christ, who took the form of a servant and being made in the likeness of men, became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. And because the Son was pleased to humble himself, the Father was pleased to exalt him and to give him a name which is above every other name.

Therefore the true worship of Jehovah must include both an exaltation of His person and a heartfelt humbling and debasing of our own. If we insist upon clinging to our dignity, poise and self-respect, then we set ourselves against His purpose to glorify Himself by raising us up. But if we come before Him with our knees bent, our heads bowed and our hearts filled with the knowledge of our utter unworthiness, then He is pleased to glorify Himself by exalting us and adorning us with the beauty of holiness, and the comeliness of Christ’s righteousness.

According to the scriptures, fitting ways to humble ourselves in His presence include prayers of confession, bent knees, bowed heads, and a constant marvel at our invitation into the Lord’s household, expressed in the sort of hymns where we wonder aloud, “Why was I made to hear thy voice and enter while there’s room, when thousands make a wretched choice and rather starve then come?”

Kneeling in the Assembly, Part I

Exodus 34:5-9) And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation. And Moses made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped. And he said, If now I have found grace in thy sight, O Lord, let my Lord, I pray thee, go among us; for it is a stiffnecked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for thine inheritance.

This narrative in Exodus is rife with divine glory. At God’s command, Moses had prepared the second set of stone tablets, upon which God Himself would again inscribe the Ten Commandments of the Covenant. After Moses had ascended to the heights of Mount Sinai, the LORD descended to him in a cloud and stood there with him, declaring His own name, goodness, grace and justice.

Moses’ response to God’s self-revelation is worth noting. Although the greater part of God’s declaration concerned the covenant mercies that would spill down through a thousand generations, it did not induce Moses to “kick back and relax” in God’s presence. Rather, Moses “made haste” to bow his head toward the earth and worship God for His divine patience and longsuffering, and directly following to beg God’s pardon for Israel’s persistent stubbornness and sinfulness.

We who ascend weekly to the heights of Mount Zion would do well to imitate Moses’ example of reverence, humility and supplication. As God reveals Himself to us in the assembly, reminding us of His covenant law and reaffirming its attendant blessings and curses, we too, should make haste to bow ourselves before Him, confessing our sins and seeking the mercy that He has already sworn with an oath to give us in Christ.

God Takes Our Name

Exodus 3:3-6) And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God.

One of the incredible benefits of baptism is that we are baptized into the name our God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And as a result we are known in this world as “Christians”, the christened or anointed ones; the ones who bear the name of the Anointed One, the Lord Jesus Christ. Obviously this is all to the good. God, in infinite goodness and mercy has allowed us to take His name; permitted us to be identified with Him in the once for all sign and seal of baptism and in the ongoing moniker of “Christian.”

But as wonderful as all this is (and it is truly wonderful!) there is an even a greater, more significant way that we have been identified with Jehovah, the Great I AM that I AM. At the burning bush, Jehovah revealed Himself to Moses, in part by naming Himself. But take care to note the very first name that God used to make Himself known to Moses: The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In so doing, God forever identified Himself with His people; He willingly bound up His good name and staked His reputation, as it were, with the wellbeing of the ones to whom He had pledged His love and favor.

So the next time you are tempted to doubt God’s faithfulness to His promises, remember this: He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Remember that He could no more renege on His promise to bless all the families of the earth, then He could cease being who He is and always has been. God will make Abraham’s descendants more numerous than the stars in the sky, because the only way the LORD could break this promise would be for Him to stop being who he is in His essence and who He has declared Himself to be.

Christian, always be grateful for the name that you bear; the name lovingly bestowed upon you in your baptism. But take care to rejoice as well that Your Creator and Redeemer has, for reasons entirely beyond our limited capacities to understand His sublime goodness, condescended to take the names of those He purposed to bless, and to include them in His own great name. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; and by covenant association, of John, Justin and Cicilia; of Kay, Patty and Brynn; of Rose, Ken and Kayli; of Brent, Khiree and Zachary. Too glad to be true, but true nonetheless.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Four Handed Guitar

Wow. The title says it all.

Norwegian Hip-Hop Tuba Maestro

Take the dry wit and charming accent of a Norwegian tuba maestro and blend it together with hip-hop rythmns and celtic dissonance and voila! you have this clip. Please note at the end of the video that the sheet music is available to anyone who would like to try this at home on their own personal tuba (or whatever his horn-thingy is.)

Saturday, October 06, 2007

500 Years of women in art

This is a very cool little montage of images for at least two reasons. Firstly, by showing a half-millennial, chronological progression of art, the failure of modern art is neatly and adeptly exposed. And secondly, it is a wonderful ode to the "fairer sex's" ability to enthrall the "not-so-fair sex." Enjoy.

They must have buried it too deep

This clip provides good motivation to pray for our troops in Iraq. Note: I abhor foul language, but am happy to extend the judgment of charity to the soldier you will hear, given the reason for his exclamation.

The Finest Chevy Ever Made

In my humble opinion, I think the finest car Chevrolet ever made was the '66 Chevelle Malibu. My first car was a midnight blue version of the car pictured here. It had a 327 with a four-barrel carb under the hood, dual exhaust with cherry bomb mufflers and sported the classic Cragar mag wheels. It was a four-speed with a "Trooper" rear end which meant that it would do 55 mph in first gear; up and over 75 in second; up and over 100 mph in third gear; and in fourth gear...well I never had the guts to let it all the way out in fourth. Fun to drive on the highway. Not so fun on the hills of Seattle in traffic.

The '65 Malibus were too boxy, and the grill-work and tail-lights '67 Malibus got too complicated. But the '66...perfection! Clean lines from front to back, tasteful accents, a roomy interior, power to pass and an engine that you could actually work on without a master's degree in electronics and environmental science. Ah yes, the good ol' days.

I later owned a red '66 Malibu with a 283 and a four-speed. And even later, after we started having kids, in an effort to blend aesthetics with practicality, we purchased and restored a '66 Malibu station-wagon. I loved it, but my dear wife was, shall we say, a little less sanguine about the ol' wagon.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Fun or Fear in the Presence of God?

(Hebrews 12:28-29) Wherefore [since we are] receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire.

Last week, as I was driving around town, I heard an advertisement for a church in town that claimed to be the ecclesiastical remedy for religious boredom, and most importantly (according to their radio spot) FUN!

As C. S. Lewis penned over fifty years ago in his wonderful book, Mere Christianity: “God is the only comfort, he is also the supreme terror; the thing we most need and the thing we most want to hide from. He is our only possible ally, and we have made ourselves His enemies. Some people talk as if meeting the gaze of absolute goodness would be fun. They need to think again. They are still only playing with religion…We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven – a senile benevolence who, as they say “liked to see young people enjoying themselves” and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be said at the end of each day, “a good time was had by all.”

We would agree with our brothers in Christ that boredom ought not in any way to be associated with the worship of the Lord most high. But we would respectfully disagree that “fun” is the proper remedy for liturgical orthodusty.

As the author of Hebrews reminds us, we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, a kingdom whose progress cannot be halted, and whose purposes cannot be thwarted. Therefore, the only suitable response is to serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear, remembering that the object of our worship is a consuming fire. The word "acceptably" reminds us of the possibility of "unacceptable worship." The Greek word for “serve” is the word from which we get our English word “liturgy.” The Greek word for “reverence” is elsewhere translated “shamefacedness”, i.e. the ability to be ashamed that prevents one from being so. The Greek word for “fear” indicates great caution, circumspection and awe.

Fun? Absolutely not. Wonderful, joyful and soul- satisfying? Absolutely.

So…Come let us worship the Lord together!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Cultic Continuity

(1 Peter 2:1-5) Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious. To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.

I need to begin with a definition of a word that most people only understand in its pejorative, or negative, sense. The word is “cult” and the primary meaning of this word is: a system of religious devotion directed towards a particular figure or object. The adjectival form of “cult”, being then “cultic.”

Although we are very prone, as moderns, to miss the liturgical language and cultic connections linking the worship of the Covenants Old and New, the New Testament is indeed filled with such correlations. Where we moderns see only disconnects and disunity, the authors of the New Testament saw only harmony, consonance and fulfillment in the glorious transition, nay, transformation, of Old Covenant into New Covenant worship.

In fact, you could say that if it was the intent of the New Testament authors to introduce a form of worship that was completely innovative, different and disconnected from Old Testament rites and meaning, then they did an awfully poor job of doing so. For they continued to use words and terminology that for first century audiences were absolutely loaded with cultic inference, import and instruction. Terms such as “temple”, “priests”, “offerings” and “sacrifices” under gird and suffuse New Testament descriptions of New Covenant worship.

The Spirit-inspired authors of the New Testament consistently conceived, and regularly taught, a liturgical paradigm explicitly founded upon, and expressly connected to, Old Covenant cultic rites and rituals. So welcome New Covenant priests, to the Temple of the New Covenant. As together we seek the renewal of our covenant with our covenant making and covenant keeping God, let us now offer up the sacrifices peculiar to, and prescribed for, this glorious age in redemptive history. So...Come let us worship the Lord together!

Monday, June 04, 2007

"Father, have I done something wrong?"

1 Corinthians 11:28-29) But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.

Recently, one of our church families with young children was out of town for the weekend and wound up worshipping at a church in the town where they were visiting friends. The church with whom they worshipped do not practice paedo-communion, and therefore were the small children not served the bread and wine of the Lord’s Table. The littlest saint in this family was very disturbed to see the elements pass by him and he began to cry plaintively. And after both bread and wine had passed by these dear ones who have grown wonderfully accustomed to weekly communion, one of them turned to her parents and queried pitifully, “Father, have I done something wrong?”

This little one’s question demonstrated that she understood the meaning and import of the Lord’s Table even better than the elders who had excluded her from the Table. She correctly knew herself to be a genuine member of Christ’s body with all of its attendant duties and privileges. And she also rightly understood that the only biblical ground for being excluded; in other words, ex-communionated; or excommunicated; would be serious sin in a hardened state of impentitence. And so her question, “Father, have I done something wrong?”

This little saint’s query evidenced that she was in perfect accord with Paul’s command to rightly “discern the Lord’s body.” She was recognizing the body of Christ seated all around her, and herself as a bona-fide member in good standing of that body. Hence her legitimate distress regarding her apparent severing from the body of her Savior. And hence her eagerness to know and repent of any misdeeds in order to be restored to her people, her Lord and the glad fellowship of his Table.

This covenant meal, this feast of feasts was intended to strengthen, not sap faith; to encourage belief, not erode it. So come young and old, come male and female; come red, yellow, black and white (all precious in the Savior’s sight) come healthy and come infirm; come sound of mind and struggling; come strong and come weak, so long as you…Come and welcome to the Table of the Lord.
(Matthew 28:18-20) And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

This Lord’s Day is Trinity Sunday, the Sunday that the historic church of Jesus Christ has set aside to remember and celebrate the triune nature of our God, who is one God and three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

To the extent that the Christian Church has ceased to celebrate this glorious doctrine, she has in like measure forgotten, devalued and even begun to distain the very same. Although evidence of this neglect abounds everywhere, one example will suffice. Directly after the 9/11 attacks, the leaders of our nation convened together in the national cathedral in Washington D.C. for a time of mourning, prayer and solace. This overtly religious ceremony was conducted by a Christian minister, a Jewish rabbi and a Muslim imam. Sadly, a great number of Christians watched this service and welcomed the spectacle as an indication that all religious peoples really do worship the same god after all, even though they do so in significantly different ways.

But the holy scriptures are quite clear to the contrary. To possess the Son is to possess the Father and the Spirit. The three persons of the godhead are conjoined in such a way that, as Jesus put it, “he who rejects the Son, rejects the Father who sent him.”

Realizing our proclivity to forget, we sing the Apostles’ Creed every week in the Lord’s Service, to remind ourselves of God’s triune character and nature. We begin and end our service invoking the name of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit seeking His, and not any other god’s, blessing upon our worship. And when the three names of our one God are thus invoked, we add our heart-felt and hearty “Amen!” as we recall our baptism into this holy community of service, love and fellowship. So…Come let us worship the triune God of Scripture together!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Seeing and Hearing Jesus

(John 14:8-9) Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us. Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father;

We have assembled together this morning to worship God. And the surest way to do so truly and rightly, is to seek, apprehend, know and adore Him as revealed in His Son, Jesus Christ.

And the good news is that in faithful, Lord’s Day assemblies of the saints, revelations of Jesus Christ abound! Monday through Saturday we remain individual and diverse members of Christ’s body, but on Sunday morning, in the assembly, the many diverse members are gloriously fitted together in order to display and make knowable the goodness and glory of our Savior Jesus Christ. In the assembly we see Jesus, and seeing him we see the Father.

Jesus is the Word. He is the eternal logos of the Father. Therefore, when we hear God’s Word read, sung, preached and prayed in the assembly, we are not merely hearing about Jesus. We are hearing Jesus. And hearing Jesus, we hear the Father. This morning as the Gospel portion of God’s Word is read from amidst the congregation, we will all stand together as we recall and celebrate the Word of God (Jesus) who came to us in human form 2000 years ago, and the Spirit of Christ who dwells in our midst today. Jesus was, and is, Immanuel, God with us.

Near the close of our worship service, we will sit and sup with the Lord at His Table. According to Jesus, the bread that we eat and the wine that we drink are his body and his blood. Although we deny that Christ is physically present in the elements, we most heartily affirm that he is really and truly present. Present to bless, encourage, love and bestow nothing less than his very self. And knowing and receiving Jesus in the bread and wine, we know and receive the Father and are filled afresh and anew with the Holy Spirit.

True worship brings us before God in the face of Jesus. And face to face with God in Christ, we are transformed into his likeness by the power of the Holy Spirit. So…Come let us worship the Lord together!

Temple-esque Worship

(Hebrews 8:5) Who serve unto the example and shadow of heavenly things, as Moses was admonished of God when he was about to make the tabernacle: for, See, saith he, that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed to thee in the mount.

A few chapters later in the book of Hebrews the author teaches us that the New Covenant church gathers to worship God, not on Mount Sinai, but rather on “Mount Zion…the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” The whole book of Hebrews is a multifaceted declaration that the earthly types and shadows of the Old Covenant have been replaced by the heavenly realities of the New. But note the close relationship between Old and New Covenant worship. The author of Hebrews tells us that the Old Covenant patterns and forms of worship, revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai, were based upon the patterns and forms of heavenly worship; worship taking place in the immediate presence of God.

In other words, the Tabernacle and its ceremonies were earthly sketches of heavenly substance; earthly figures of heavenly actualities; earthly shadows of heavenly protocols. It was the relation of portrait to person, or sculpture to model. The earthly forms were not the heavenly realities, but in their striking similarity revealed much about heavenly worship. And that was precisely God’s intent all along: To train His people for heavenly worship via the earthly forms that closely resembled it.

Following the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ, the Old Covenant earthly forms gave way to the New Covenant heavenly forms after which they were patterned. In a very important sense, New Covenant worship, because it is heavenly worship, is older than Old Covenant worship. Strange, yes? New Covenant worship dispenses with, by fulfilling the forms that Moses was given on the Mount, and embraces the heavenly realities of which the Mosaic forms were only a shadow. And that is why the historical liturgies of the church of Jesus Christ are, we might say, Tabernacle or Temple-esque. Because if Old Covenant earthly worship was patterned after heavenly worship, and New Covenant worship is heavenly worship, then New Covenant worship must needs manifest meaningful similarity to Old Covenant worship. Again, think: sketch and reality, portrait and real person.

First century Jewish Christians evidenced their distain for heavenly worship by clinging to the Old Covenant forms and patterns. Modern Christians tend to evidence their distain for heavenly worship by conceiving and clinging to liturgies that bear little or no resemblance to Old Covenant forms and patterns (which, again, were themselves based upon the heavenly forms and patterns.)

But God has a better way for His people: Simple, robust, heartfelt, un-hypocritical, joyous, reverent, submissive, active, sensate, bodily, antiphonal worship, according to the pattern revealed to us on the Mount. So…Come let us worship the Lord together!