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”