Monday, November 30, 2009

Strauss' Last Day

Today was Strauss' last day. For the past ten years he has been "one of the family", a faithful companion, always seeking to please us, loving us unconditionally and always desiring our company. Strauss was, hands down, the best dog we've ever owned.

We who hope daily in the resurrection suspect that there might well be a resurrection of the animals that we loved in this life, and who functioned as integral parts of our covenant households. But only time and eternity will tell for sure.

Rest in peace Strauss, son of Levi, trusted friend, guardian of the Helsel home and protector of Helsel children. We will miss you terribly, but rejoice in your release from the pains of these last few years. Vaya con dios "Wonder Dog."

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Helsel Thanksgiving

My sister Sylvia and her daughter, Lydia, were unable to join us at my parents; Josiah and his family spent Thanksgiving with his in-laws, and Jason joined the Rice family down in Tri-Cities for the festal day of thanks.

But my brother, Ken, and his family (Bonnie, Kyle and Casey) were able to come up from Cottage Grove, Oregon to join Ellen, Rae, Bekah and me for Thanksgiving at my folk's place in Edmonds, WA. We were also blessed by the company of Whit, a young man from Thailand who was an exchange student at my nephews' school for a year.

We enjoyed an amazing turkey-dinner together on Thursday (my mom is a phenomenal cook and hostess) and took in the new 3D A Christmas Carol movie at the IMAX Theater on Friday, followed by a stroll through the sculpture park on Elliot Bay.

As they say, "A good time was had by all." I am so very thankful for my family, and for how very much I enjoy their company. My cup truly "runneth over."

If you are interested, here are a few more pics.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Eyes-Open Worship II

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me;
I am shielded in my armor,
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock,
I am an island.
(from Paul Simon’s I am a Rock)

“Beware of all isms, except for prisms.” (Unknown)

One of the idols du jour is individualism. If you are a modern American evangelical Christian you struggle, at least to some degree, with the pernicious notion that you are, as Paul Simon crooned, “a rock…an island.” But salvation, biblically defined, is salvation not only from sin and death, but to the holy community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit and to the community of Christ’s body, the Church.

This bent towards individualism shows up in many places, but perhaps most surprisingly in our observance of the Lord’s Supper. In the tenth chapter of his first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul reminded the saints in Corinth that partaking of the communion bread made them “one bread and one body.” Two chapters later, Paul chided the Corinthians for thinking individualistically and not recognizing their place in, and need for, others in the one body of Jesus Christ.

Sandwiched between these two important references to Christ’s body (the Church) is Paul’s warning to not drink the wine of the Lord’s Table “unworthily” (1 Cor. 11:27). Two verses later Paul went on to define “unworthily” as “not discerning the Lord’s body.” Taken in context, this is another reference to the Church, the one body of Christ gloriously comprised of many diverse members.

This being true, to partake of the Lord’s Supper “worthily” we probably ought to be taking the bread and the cup with our eyes wide-open, looking around us to see our brothers and sisters in Christ and knowing ourselves to be joined together with them as “one bread and one body.” But inexplicably, most modern evangelicals seize this as an opportunity to close their eyes and thereby close themselves off from those around them, and individually meditate with guilt and shame upon the broken body of Jesus as he hung upon the cross. As pious as this sounds, this is not what Paul meant by “discerning the Lords’ body.” And therefore not a worthy partaking of the cup.

As the author of Hebrews reminds us, Lord’s Day worship is corporate worship; it is “the general assembly and the church of the firstborn.” It is not a collection of saints worshipping God individually whilst being in the same room together at the same time. Paul Simon is wrong. We are not individual rocks. Together we form the one loaf who is Christ. We are not islands. We are the many diverse members who together make up the one body of Christ.

Given our bent towards prideful individualism, eyes-closed worship is a dangerous posture to adopt in corporate worship. Eyes-open worship reminds us of our place in the one body of Jesus Christ, and our desperate need for the wholeness that can only be found in concert and community with other Christians.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Liturgical Permanence

"Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best – if you like it, it “works” best – when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don't notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be the one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.

But every novelty prevents this. It fixes our attention on the service itself; and thinking about worship is a different thing from worshipping. The important question about the Grail was “for what does it serve?” “Tis mad idolatry that makes the service greater than the god.”

A still worse thing may happen. Novelty may fix our attention not even on the service but on the celebrant. You know what I mean. Try as one may to exclude it, the question “What on earth is he up to now?” will intrude. It lays one’s devotion waste. There is really some excuse for the man who said, “I wish they'd remember that the charge to Peter was Feed my sheep; not Try experiments on my rats, or even Teach my performing dogs new tricks.”

Thus my whole liturgiological position really boils down to an entreaty for permanence and uniformity. I can make do with almost any kind of service whatever, if only it will stay put. But if each form is snatched away just when I am beginning to feel at home in it, then I can never make any progress in the art of worship. You give me no chance to acquire the trained habit-habito dell arte [the practice of one’s art]. - C.S. Lewis (HT: Scott Welch)

Feminism Unmasked

"Feminism is mixed up with a muddled idea that women are free when they serve their employers but slaves when they help their husbands." -- G.K. Chesterton (HT: Trev McCallum)

Monday, November 23, 2009


"The sight of a woman being tattooed live on the altar accompanied by the sound of a buzzing ink gun provided a startling backdrop to Sunday's evangelical sermon.

Your parent's church service this was not. In the drive to stay relevant, the Gold Creek Community Church has been hosting a series called "Permanent Ink" that featured Sunday's live-tattoo finale." (from The Seattle Times article entitled, Tattoos at Mill Creek Church pierce skin, soul - November 23, 2009)

The first time I read this recent article in the Seattle Times I was reduced to incoherent spluttering (ook...ack...erk...icky-btang.) But upon some reflection came up with three dissimilar comments. Let me know which one you like best (or least.)

1) These are hard times for satirists.

2) Do you keep find yourself wondering how you're going to find time to go to church and get a tattoo? Now you don't have to choose. You can do both at the same time!

3) Somewhere back in the seventies when the Church was busy abandoning the historic liturgies and music of her past, some older saint had to have prophetically warned some of the innovators at his beloved church, "Mark my words you young whipper-snappers: If you keep trading your liturgical inheritance for a mess of modern-pottage, someday the Church will be tattooing congregants on the altar as a part of its Sunday morning worship!" There would have been a brief pause broken by raucous laughter, knee-slapping, and the dabbing of mirth-induced tears from the corners of youthful eyes, followed by a breathless, "Oh yeah grandpa, like that could ever happen!"

Octopus in Love

Too funny!

He'll Take Care of the Rest

I saw Keith Green in concert, in Moscow, ID, sometime in the late 70s. He preached for as long as he played (upsetting many who had come to hear a music performance). But I thoroughly enjoyed the concert and the preaching. Here is a little sample of Keith's live music. Enjoy.

He Descended into Hades...

(1 Peter 3:18-20) For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.

Every week in our worship service we sing the Apostle’s Creed. And doing so we affirm that the Lord Jesus Christ “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried. He descended into hell, the third day he rose again…” But what do we mean by “He descended into hell”? Do we mean the place of fiery judgment? Actually, no, it would be more proper to say that Jesus descended into “Hades.”

In the Old Testament, everyone, good, bad and in-between expected to die and go to Sheol (the netherworld of departed spirits.) Recall how when the witch of Endor called “up” the spirit of Samuel, the spirit of godly Samuel told the ungodly (and still living) Saul, that he (Saul) would soon join be joining Samuel “down” where he (Samuel) was.

In the NT, God’s people referred to Sheol as Hades. Recall Jesus story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16. In Jesus’ parable, both men died and went to the netherworld (which Jesus called Hades.) But it is important to note that within Hades there were two distinct districts. The rich man was in a place of extreme torment, and Lazarus was in a place of extreme bliss (which Jesus’ termed Abraham’s Bosom.) But both were in the realm called Hades.

Before Jesus’ death he prophesied that he would spend three days and nights in the heart of the earth (i.e. “down”.) But he also promised the repentant thief that on the day of Jesus’ death that the thief would be with him in Paradise. Hmmm…

So taking all things together, it appears that Jesus, after his death, descended to Paradise, taking the thief with him, where he then preached to the spirits (as Peter noted.) And then in Christ’s glorious resurrection, took Paradise with him into heaven above. So that when Paul later visited Paradise, instead of going "down" to it, he was caught "up" into Paradise (2 Cor. 12:2).

This also helps us understand the account of departed saints who appeared to their loved ones after Jesus’ resurrection and before his ascension. It seems that in that 40 day period between Christ’s resurrection and his ascension, a few of them dropped in to say “hey” to some of their family and friends.

In Jesus’ death he conquered death and the Lord of death (Satan.) In his descent into Hades he rescued the souls who by faith had known him and longed for his appearing. In his resurrection he took himself and the subterranean Paradise into heaven, temporarily re-zoning the cosmos until his final return when all the faithful who died before that return are brought back to an earth, transformed, renewed and glorified via the prayers of God’s people, the preaching of the Gospel, the administration of the Sacraments and deeds of love and mercy.

This is what we confess every week as together we sing the Apostles’ Creed. What glory! Alleluia, what a Savior!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Eyes-Open Worship

"Ritual actions are important to us. They are significant in the Bible, and we don’t ever want to fall into the trap of relegating them to the status of being insignificant. But there is another important element in all of this.

We are gathered together as an organic body. This means that our liturgy is corporate. When we say amen, we say it together. When we partake of the bread and cup, we do it together. When we sing, or confess the Creed, we do it together. When we raise our hands in the Gloria Patri, we do it together. This is not accidental.

There is nothing wrong, obviously, with individual acts of piety. But individual acts of piety are not liturgical acts, and we want to lean against the notion that we are being individually devout while just happening to be in the same room. We are a body, and we want to function smoothly together as a body.

This takes practice, and discipline, and love, and like-mindedness. As Paul says with regard to the Lord’s Table, we are to wait for one another, defer to one another, stay in step with one another. As a Puritan once put it, we serve a precise God. That being the case, we want to serve Him with precision. This is not the same as serving Him as though He were fussy and persnickety. Precision and communion are glorious—we are not trying to worship in lockstep, but rather we are trying to worship God with one heart, soul, mind, and voice." (Douglas Wilson)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The "Wise Guys" at Trinity Teens

Andy Millard, Patrick Tilly, Cole Loomis, Caleb Aumell and Jordan Ghiglia.

Jason Helsel on D'Jembe.

Hypocrite or Heir?

"In Job’s uttermost extremity he cried after the Lord. The longing desire of an afflicted child of God is once more to see his Father’s face. His first prayer is not “O that I might be healed of the disease which now festers in every part of my body!” nor even “O that I might see my children restored from the jaws of the grave, and my property once more brought from the hand of the spoiler!” but the first and uppermost cry is, “O that I knew where I might find Him, who is my God! that I might come even to his seat!” God’s children run home when the storm comes on. It is the heaven-born instinct of a gracious soul to seek shelter from all ills beneath the wings of Jehovah. “He that hath made his refuge God,” might serve as the title of a true believer. A hypocrite, when afflicted by God, resents the infliction, and, like a slave, would run from the Master who has scourged him; but not so the true heir of heaven, he kisses the hand which smote him, and seeks shelter from the rod in the bosom of the God who frowned upon him. Job’s desire to commune with God was intensified by the failure of all other sources of consolation. The patriarch turned away from his sorry friends, and looked up to the celestial throne, just as a traveller turns from his empty skin bottle, and betakes himself with all speed to the well." - C. H. Spurgeon (HT: Ellen Helsel)

Eyes-Closed Worship

"Modern evangelical worship is not truly corporate worship. It is rather an assembly of individuals who worship God individually while standing in the same room together." (Unknown)

Note something in the videos below: All the saints are singing with their eyes wide-open. In Paul's first letter to the church at Corinth he identified several ways that the saints were misusing and abusing one another. Paul's solution to every abuse was the same: "Look to Christ and understand your union with him and all who are joined to him by faith."

Jesus died to unite his people to the Godhead in him (in Jesus). But he also died to unite us together as one body in him (in Jesus.) Worshipping with our eyes closed cuts us off from the very ones whom Christ died to unite us together with. Other saints are not distractions to be shut-out and ignored. They supply what we lack as we worship God in the assembly, and form a significant portion of the prize secured for us in Christ's death and resurrection.

Whether intentionally or unintentionally, eyes-closed worship says, "I don't really need those around me to worship God in spirit and truth. And I really prefer to embrace Jesus "a la carte"; just the head, but not the body, thank you."

Eyes-open worship affirms our utter insufficiency apart from the many diverse members of Christ's body, and delights in God's gift of the same. Eyes-open worship embraces Christ as he offers himself; "totus Christus"; all of Christ, head and body.

O Sing a New Song!

O Sing a New Song to the Lord from Daniel Foucachon on Vimeo.

These are a couple of videos taken at a recent Christ Church (Moscow, ID) psalm-sing. The people singing are congregants and not necessarily members of any formal church-choir. They are joyfully singing divinely inspired lyrics from "God's Hymnbook" (Psa. 95:2). And they are singing loudly and skilfully (Psa. 33:3). I love how the four-part singing simultaneously pictures God who is one and many (one God and three persons) and the many diverse members of Christ's body who are gloriously fitted together to form one body in Christ (Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 12). Soli Deo Gloria!

Before Thee Let My Cry Come Near from Daniel Foucachon on Vimeo.

I'm Unhappy and You're the Reason

"Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content." (Philippians 4:11)

Unlike Rat, in the Pearls Befor Swine comic above, Paul believed that contentment was an internal, not an external problem. By God's grace, the Apostle to the Gentiles had learned the ability to be happy regardless of his circumstance or situation. Sadly, many Christians today tend to operate more like Rat with his "I'm unhappy, and you're the reason" way of dealing with discontent. I say "sadly", because, whereas Paul could be happy in every situation, these Christians cannot be happy any situation, even in the midst of great blessing.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Danger of "Quiet" Times

We are all Gnostics to some degree, perennially inclined to favor the spirit over the body, preferring isolation to community, and prone to reduce our religion to "right-thinking" devoid of loving deeds. But God likes matter. He created it. And He likes community. He created that too.

In fact, He likes them so much that He has eternally joined Himself to human flesh so that He can live in community with mankind forever.

For those of you silently objecting to the charge of Gnosticism right now I have an observation and a question. Firstly, why are you objecting silently? Why aren't you railing at your computer screen out-loud? And secondly, when you pray alone, do you do so silently or vocally? Do you pray with or without the body that God has given you?

As Justin Taylor observes here there really is no Biblical warrant for silent prayer. The psalmists, prophets and even Jesus himself prayed spirit and body.

Is it mere coincidence that that vibrant, communal, public, service-oriented religion is waning at the same time that "Quiet Times" are held in such high esteem? I think not. As our fathers-in-the-faith noted, "Lex orandi, lex credendi" (The law of prayer is the law of faith.) In other words, how we pray shapes what we believe and ultimately how we live. This is no trifling matter.

So stop praying silently like Socrates, and start praying vocally like David and Daniel. Turn your quiet-times into noisy -times; daily discipling yourself to love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind, soul and strength.

The Violence of Sanctification

A field of ripened grain is a beautiful sight to behold, but, in that state, not very useful as nourishment. Several acts of violence are necessary to transform the grain-on-the-stalk into steaming loaves of freshly-baked bread.

Although we Christians repeatedly express our desire to be useful in the Lord's service, few of us welcome the several acts of violence required to make us so. In truth, we would rather remain the waving heads of grain in the field than suffer the trauma of the scythe, the threshing floor and the grindstone. But, as Samuel Rutherford noted:

"Be content, ye are his wheat growing in our Lord's field. And if wheat, ye must go under our Lord's threshing instrument, in his barn-floor, and through the sieve, and through his mill to be bruised, as the prince of your salvation, Jesus was (Isa. 53:9), that ye may be found good bread in your Lord's house."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Take and Eat

Revelation 10:8-11) And the voice which I heard from heaven spake unto me again, and said, Go and take the little book which is open in the hand of the angel which standeth upon the sea and upon the earth. And I went unto the angel, and said unto him, Give me the little book. And he said unto me, Take it, and eat it up; and it shall make thy belly bitter, but it shall be in thy mouth sweet as honey. And I took the little book out of the angel’s hand, and ate it up; and it was in my mouth sweet as honey: and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter. And he said unto me, Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings.

In the grips of his glorious vision, John was commanded to take, and then eat “the little book”, i.e. God’s inscripturated Word. The Angels did not tell John to merely read the book. He was told to eat it.

By design our weekly worship service is packed with God’s Word, read, sung, prayed and preached. But this is no automatic blessing, for “to whom much is given, much will be required.” It is, in fact, quite possible to merely dabble with God’s self-revelation, to treat it like you would any other book, to merely hear or read it, instead of eating it. Here are three common ways of dabbling with God’s Word:

By turning it into a mere intellectual exercise: Analyzing it. Dissecting it. Criticizing it. And looking for apparent contradictions or inexplicable difficulties

By turning it into a mere moral map, or “how-to” book: How to have a nice life. How to have a happy marriage. How to have well-behaved children. How to manage your finances. How to overcome low self-esteem and other crippling conditions.

By turning into a mere collection of uplifting and inspiring phrases: If you are content to “cherry pick” your way around the Bible, ignoring whole books, chapter and large portions of chapters, this is very possible. There are enough “refrigerator magnet” verses for 3 or 4 refrigerators. And if you’re too uninspired to do that yourself, your local Christian kitsch distributor would be happy to sell you a book of two of “inspiring” verses.

But God said “take the book” and God’s messenger said “eat the book.”
How do you know whether you are dabbling with God’s Word or “eating” it? If you are eating it, then you, like St. John, are being transformed and energized by it.

The food we eat, when it is metabolized by our bodies, either builds up the body with new or repaired tissue, or is used for energy that is expressed in activity. If you are “eating” God’s Word, then Christ’s body (and you in it) is being edified, built-up and strengthened as a result. If you are “eating” God’s Word, and not merely using it (God help you) as a play-thing, then you are activated in deeds of love and mercy in the service of Jesus Christ.

Do not fool yourselves. Take and eat. The question then, is not what will you do with any portion of scripture that is read, sung or preached in your hearing. But rather, what will God’s Word do with you? Christian, take and eat. Do not dabble. Do not truncate the taking in and digesting of God’s Word into a mere intellectual, practical or inspirational exercise. Your Creator and Redeemer purposes to heal, cleanse and transform you by means of His holy Word. So, take and eat.

Modern Court Jesting

During the age of kings and queens court jesters served a very important function. They were not employed for mere comic relief. Jesters had unique royal permission to mock the ideas, fads, policies and practices of the day. If any other of the king's counselors would have attempted similar ridicule or punditry, they would quickly have been relieved of their heads. As social critics, the court jesters lampooned with hilarity and satirized with impunity.

Most of the time SNL is just downright silly (or crude.) But, at their best, they serve us as court jesters; mocking the aspects of our society that truly need to be mocked. And thereby helping us to look at, and think twice about, certain cultural phenomena. Twilight-mania is one such phenomenon, and below you will find SNL's well-deserved poke at the same. Enjoy.

For a more serious critique of Twilight I highly recommend Doug Wilson's series in the webzine version of Credenda Agenda which you can find here.

Dude, Perfect

I don't care how many times it took to get these shots. It's still pretty cool. Enjoy.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Guitar as Rhythm

I often remind my guitar students that the world can be very neatly divided into two categories: "guitar players" and "cattle." If you are the former, the video below is a "must see." If you are the latter, just keep mooooving along little dogie.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Refiner’s Fire, Part I

Into His likeness
We all must grow
Ever more like Him
Body, mind and soul

Into His likeness
That's my destiny
He will complete the work
He began in me

In the third chapter of his first epistle, John exults, “Beloved, now we are the sons of God, and it does not yet appear what we shall be. But we know that when [Jesus] shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”

John begins with two indicatives: We are (present tense) the children of God. And, our present imperfections will not last forever (i.e. the best is yet to come.) Looking forward, John revels in the sure knowledge of two future realities: Seeing Jesus in person, and being like Jesus. And note how John connects these two things together, seeing Jesus transforms us into his likeness.

This amazing transformation will be completed the instant that we behold Christ face-to-face. But prior to that wondrous moment, God is continually molding us into ever increasing Christ-likeness. As Paul notes in Romans 8:29, God’s purpose in predestination is not mere salvation from the flames of hell. Those whom God has “called according to His purpose” have been predestined “to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Jesus.)

To be quite honest, this is a lengthy, painful and arduous process. As a pastor friend of mine once noted, “Sanctification is long, slow and hard.” Amen, brother.

Although it is true that God is using everything to accomplish this task of remaking us in Christ’s image, there are three specific means that God seems particularly inclined to use: Word, Sacrament and Trials.

Word – As David noted in Psalm 19, “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.” To which Paul added in his letter to the Romans, “do not to be conformed to this world, rather, be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” God the Holy Spirit shapes and molds us by His Word (see also Hebrews 4:12; 2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Sacraments – The central glory and import of baptism is union with Christ (Romans 6:1-5). All secondary benefits flow from this primary benefit of being covenantally joined to Christ in the water of baptism. At the Lord’s Table we partake (covenantally) of the body and blood of our Savior Jesus Christ. Although much more could be said about this, “You are what you eat” will suffice for this discussion. Communion is co-union with Christ. (This, by the way, is a powerful argument for frequent Communion.)

Trials – In his letter to the Philippians, Paul expresses his supreme desire to know Christ in “fellowship” of Christ’s sufferings “in order to become like him…” Initially this is not a pleasant thought. Who in their right mind would like to go through a trial just for the sake of being miserable? But remember what John wrote (see above)? Apprehending Jesus transforms us into his likeness.

So, embrace God’s purpose for you in salvation: Christ-likeness. Embrace the means that He has ordained to accomplish this arduous task. Read your Bible diligently and listen actively to sound preaching in order to apprehend Jesus by faith. Embrace the import and glory of the Sacraments, reminding yourself daily of the central meaning your baptism (union with Christ) and running eagerly to the Communion Table to feed upon him by faith.

And learn to glory in trials and tribulations, knowing that God is refining your faith (1 Peter 1:7) and perfecting the image of His Son in you (James 1:1-4; Malachi 3:3).

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Blessed Sledgehammer

We serve an awesome jealous God
Whose anger burns when we
Deem anything more precious
Than his sovereign majesty

In Deuteronomy 6, Yahweh commands His people not to "go after other gods" reminding Israel that He is "a jealous God among" them. For this very reason the LORD will always set Himself against anything that we love or trust more than Him. God knows that we can only be truly happy when He is our supreme happiness. And so, in an ongoing display of covenant-kindness, He takes His cosmic-sledgehammer to anything that we place above Him. And this, as Samuel Rutherford noted, ought to be an occasion for rejoicing.

"I am most gladly content that Christ breaketh all my idols in pieces: it hath put a new edge upon my blunted love to Christ. I see he is jealous of my love, and will have all to himself." (Samuel Rutherford, The Loveliness of Christ)

Who Has More Fun Than People?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Surest Tonics

Most of the time, the best solution is the simplest solution. And more often than not, the simplest solution is overlooked. Our problems are complex (we think) and therefore (we reason) so must be the solutions to our problems. But as C. H. Spurgeon observes below, sometimes in the grip of despondency we just need to go for a walk in the woods (or a mountain-bike ride in the hills.)

As the "prince of preachers" notes, to not make or take opportunities to refresh ourselves amidst the "fresh air of the hills" is to make of ourselves "a self-immolated victim." God forbid!

"There can be little doubt that sedentary habits have a tendency to create despondency in some constitutions…To sit long in one posture, poring over a book, or driving a quill, is in itself a taxing of nature; but add to this a badly-ventilated chamber, a body which has long been without muscular exercise, and a heart burdened with many cares, and we have all the elements for preparing a seething cauldron of despair, especially in the dim months of fog –

When a blanket wraps the day,
When the rotten woodland drips,
And the leaf is stamped in clay.

Let a man be naturally as blithe as a bird, [or else] he will hardly be able to bear up year after year against such a suicidal process; he will make his study a prison and his books the warders of a gaol, while nature lies outside his window calling him to health and beckoning him to joy. He who forgets the humming of the bees among the heather, the cooing of the wood-pigeons in the forest, the song of birds in the woods, the rippling of rills among the rushes, and the sighing of the wind among the pines, needs not wonder if his heart forgets to sing and his soul-grows heavy. A day's breathing of fresh air upon the hills, or a few hours’ ramble in the beech woods’ umbrageous calm, would sweep the cobwebs out of the brain of scores of our toiling ministers who are now but half alive. A mouthful of sea air; or a stiff walk in the wind's face, would not give grace to the soul, but it would yield oxygen to the body, which is next best.

Heaviest the heart is in a heavy air,
Ev'ry wind that rises blows away despair.

The ferns and the rabbits, the streams and the trouts, the fir trees and the squirrels, the primroses and the violets, the farm-yard, the new-mown hay, and the fragrant hops - these are the best medicine for hypochondriacs, the surest tonics for the declining, the best refreshments for the weary. For lack of opportunity, or inclination, these great remedies are neglected, and the student becomes a self-immolated victim." (Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

On Every Page

"The Old Testament is Jesus predicted; the Gospels are Jesus revealed; Acts is Jesus preached; the Epistles, Jesus explained; the Revelation, Jesus expected." (Alec Motyer, Look to the Rock)

Only Jesus Himself Will Do

Here's a question: "Why are so many church-goers weak, struggling and depressed these days?" The simple answer would be: "Well, they're not being taught God's Word." But too often these "struggling saints" are in churches that take the Bible and doctrine very seriously. So, what gives?

In the twenty-fourth chapter of his Gospel, Luke records the conversation that took place between Jesus and some disciples on the road to Emmaus. In this conversation Jesus disclosed the key to understanding all of Scripture: Himself. In essence Jesus said, "The whole Bible, front to back and side to side is about me."

In the sixteenth chapter of his Gospel, John records Jesus' last words to his disciples before his passion and death. In this discourse Jesus promised to send the gift of the Holy Spirit after he had returned to his heavenly Father. But he also revealed the purpose of the Holy Spirit when he said, "He shall glorify me." (John 16:14a)

In the law of Moses, God's people were thrice forbidden to "boil a kid-goat in its mother's milk." In other words, the Israelites were not to take something intended to nurture and sustain life and turn it into a means of slow death. As noted above, the Scriptures were given to reveal Jesus who is himself the resurrection and the life (John 11:25). The Spirit was given to reveal Jesus who is himself the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). Therefore, to the extent that preaching reveals the person and work of Christ, it brings life. And to the extent that it ignores or obfuscates Christ, it brings death. As M. Craig Barnes notes:

"Protestant churches today are filled with people who have learned the right answers to the questions about the content of our faith. They know the stories of the Bible, the teachings of the prophets and apostles, and why their particular brand of church has interpreted the Bible the way it has. But in every soul the insatiable thirst for holiness perseveres. The living water that can quench this thirst is not more right information about Jesus. Only Jesus himself will do. And Jesus is not a what; he's a who. So the preacher dare not reduce the person of Christ to orthodox theology about him, or the souls of everyone in church that day will leave as parched as they arrived." (M. Craig Barnes, The Pastor as Minor Poet)

The God-fearing Greeks in John 12 approached Philip with a profoundly insightful request: "Sir, we would see Jesus." It's high time we asked the same from those who bring us God's Word.

Monday, November 09, 2009

The Main Source of Your Unhappiness

Modern psychiatry tends to take a dim view of talking to yourself. But the Bible depicts talking to yourself as the epitome of mental health, provided you are saying the right sorts of things. Here’s what Martyn Lloyd-Jones has to say on the matter:

“The main trouble in this whole matter of spiritual depression in a sense is this, that we allow our self to talk to us instead of talking to our self. Am I just trying to be deliberately paradoxical? Far from it. This is the very essence of wisdom in this matter. Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problem of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment [in Psalm 42] was this; instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself, ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul?’ he asks. His soul had been repressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says: ‘Self, listen for a moment, I will speak to you’. Do you know what I mean? If you do not, you have but little experience.”

“The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say to your soul: ‘Why art thou cast down’–what business have you to be disquieted? You must turn on yourself, upbraid yourself, condemn yourself, exhort yourself, and say to yourself: ‘Hope thou in God’–instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way. And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do. Then having done that, end on this great note: defy yourself, and defy other people, and defy the devil and the whole world, and say with this man: ‘I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance, who is also the health of my countenance and my God’.” (Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression)

So grab a good cup of coffee, grab your Bible and then grab yourself by the lapels and give yourself a good talking to. Stop listening to your random fear-and-ignorance generated thoughts, and start talking to yourself, recollecting, rehearsing and recounting who God is, what He has done and what He has promised to do. True and lasting joy awaits those who will, regardless of present circumstance or situation.

If you would like to hear more on this I strongly recommend that you listen to this sermon by C. J. Mahaney. I have never heard a finer exposition of Psalm 42.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Thunder Road

My son Jason has been working many long hours to restore his 1980 Honda CX500 Deluxe. As you can see, he did a great job. Nice work Jas. Keep'er under a hundred, son.

Well the nights busting open
These two lanes will take us anywhere
We got one last chance to make it real
To trade in these wings on some wheels
Climb on back
Heavens waiting on down the tracks
Oh-oh come take my hand
Riding out tonight to case the promised land
Oh-oh thunder road, oh thunder road oh thunder road
Lying out there like a killer in the sun
Hey I know it's late we can make it if we run
Oh thunder road, sit tight take hold
Thunder road (Bruce Springsteen, Thunder Road)

Worship with "Crowd Appeal"

Regarding worship, modern Christians tend to place a premium on creativity and immediacy. While the historic Church has favored biblical fidelity and long-term effect when crafting and preserving worship liturgies.

Sadly, we moderns have too readily set aside "tried and true" in favor of "new and improved" heedless of the long-term consequences of "worshipping God the way that I want to." As Simon Chan observes:

“One of the reasons many churches have abandoned good liturgical practices is a failure to understand why these practices developed. Sound liturgical practices may not have an immediate effect on worshipper, but if we know that they are right practices, then the absence of any obvious immediate effects should not prompt a quest for alternatives with greater crowd appeal. Instead, we should be looking for ways to improve the practices. We persevere in them because they are true; and the truth not only sets us free from the pressures of false demands that the world imposes on the church but also makes us into the people we know God wants us to be.” (Simon Chan, Liturgical Theology)

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Of Rainy Days and Crowns

"For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us." (St. Paul)

We finite creatures tend to get stuck in the moment. We easily forget that our present sufferings serve a larger purpose and will not continue unabated forever. And thusly convinced, we grumble and groan to the same extent that we see our sufferings as random accidents to be stoically endured. And we are discouraged and embittered to the same extent that we lose sight of "the glory that is to be revealed."

We use our puny selves as yardsticks to measure the magnitude of our trials and conclude that they are mountainous. Paul used the glory of Him who fills the universe as the yardstick to determine the size of his sufferings and concluded that they were miniscule.

Present affliction, disease, abandonment, heartache, alienation and/or depression are painful to be sure. And no suffering is easily borne. But if we are to bear the various trials that God has promised to send, and as James commanded, to rejoice in them, then we must learn to view the tests of today in the blazing light of future glory.

As John Trapp once noted, "He that rides to be crowned, will not think much of a rainy day."

Friday, November 06, 2009

The Fellowship of Suffering

“…that I may know Christ, and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings.” (St. Paul)

It’s a little bit odd, but there is nothing like a service project, family vacation or backpacking trip gone horribly wrong to bond people together. And it would seem that the worse the weather/hardship/discomfort, the more intense and long-lasting the bond that is formed in the crucible of suffering.

This helps to explain the otherwise inscrutable desire of Paul to experience the sufferings of Christ. Like his Savior, Paul too had been misunderstood and misquoted, misused and abused, betrayed and abandoned, tried and imprisoned by his moral inferiors. And yet, when the dust of affliction had begun to settle, the net effect was what Paul could only describe as “fellowship” with Jesus.

I think this intimate communion is what Samuel Rutherford had in mind when he penned, “Well’s them who are under crosses, and Christ says to them, ‘Half Mine.’”

No Pain, No Gain

There is a curious side effect to aerobic exercise. After a certain period, usually about 20 minutes, the body releases endorphins ("any of a group of hormones secreted within the brain and nervous system and activating the body’s opiate receptors, causing an analgesic effect" - Oxford English Dictionary) into the blood stream causing, what some have termed, "the runner's high."

For me this happens at precisely 22 minutes into my workout. The first 21 minutes of the bike-ride or run are mostly about pain and the persistent pleas of various joints and muscle groups to "cease and desist." But then, miraculously and quite wonderfully, at 22 minutes, my body's cries morph from "Stop, you idiot!" to "Nice going buddy...we're with you...go for it." If you've never experienced this, trust me, it can be rather addicting.

Similarly, there is a mysteriously potent comfort that comes to the faithful as they undergo various trials, afflictions and sufferings. It is a consolation so profound and so unlike the day-to-day graces that God regularly bestows, that those who have experienced it long to experience the heavenly solace again, even if it means obtaining it through suffering. As John Bunyan once wrote:

"Look how fears have presented themselves, so have supports and encouragements; yea, when I have started, even as it were at nothing else but my shadow, yet God, as being very tender of me, hath not suffered me to be molested, but would with one scripture or another, strengthen me against all; insomuch that I have often said, 'Were it lawful, I could pray for greater trouble, for the greater comfort's sake.'"

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

When Up is Down and Down is Up

Elizabeth Elliot's husband, Jim, was murdered by the Auca Indians giving her the opportunity to show them the love and forgiveness of Christ and lead a great number of them to salvation.

Joni Eareckson Tada was paralyzed as a young girl, giving her a global platform from which to declare the perfectly wise and loving sovereignty of God.

John Bunyan was imprisoned for over 18 years during which he conceived and wrote one of the top-selling books of all time, The Pilgrim's Progress.

Kenneth and Connie Parker were winners of a $25 million jackpot. Their 16-year marriage disintegrated just months after they became rich beyond their wildest dreams.

Jeffrey Dampier, a $20 million winner, was kidnapped and murdered by his own sister-in-law.

In 2002, Jack Whittaker won the largest individual payout in U.S. lottery history and immediately assured everyone, "I can take this much money and do a lot of good with it right now."

But it didn't work out like that.

Whittaker's life was consumed by hardship, including the death of his beloved granddaughter Brandi, who was a victim of a drug overdose, and the breakup of his marriage. "If I knew what was going to transpire, honestly, I would have torn the ticket up," said Jewell Whittaker, Jack Whittaker's ex-wife.

"As the wicked are hurt by the best of things, so the godly are bettered by the worst." (William Jenkyn)

In the Cellar of Affliction

"When I am in the cellar of afflction, I look for the Lord's choicest wines." (Samuel Rutherford)

"We often learn more of God under the rod that strikes us, than under the staff that comforts us." (Stephen Charnock)

"It is said that in some countries trees will grow, but will bear no fruit, because there is no winter there." (John Bunyan)

Here's a question: When you find yourself amidst the pain of affliction, what is your first response? a) Cry out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Please take the pain away right now!" or b) Exult in God's fatherly care and kindness and begin to prayerfully consider what He is trying to teach you.

If we are honest, most of us would have to answer "option a", but "option b" is certainly more consonant with the "For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives" of Hebrews 12:6.

Although our flesh tries to argue otherwise, the pain of affliction is not evidence of God's abandoning us. It is in fact just the opposite. It demonstrates that our heavenly Father is here and actively loving us as His children. And, were God to answer our pleas to take the pain away, the lesson intended to produce Christ-likeness would vanish with the pain.

If nothing else, the pain of affliction ought to direct our attentions and affections heavenward. As Thomas Watson put it, "When God lays men on their backs, then they look up to heaven."

Lord, make it so for all who love You. And start with me.

Monday, November 02, 2009

The Diamond Dust of Heaven

"Adversity is the diamond dust Heaven polishes its jewels with." (Robert Leighton)

"One son God hath without sin, but none without sorrow." (John Trapp)

"Affliction may be lasting, but it is not everlasting." (Thomas Watson)

"Not to be afflicted is a sign of weakness; for, therefore God imposeth no more on me, because He sees I can bear no more." (Joseph Hall)

"The Lord does not measure out our affections according to our faults, but according to our strength, and looks not what we have deserved, but what we are able to bear." (George Downame)

"A common but futile strategy for achieving joy is trying to eliminate things that hurt: get rid of pain by numbing the nerve ends, get rid of insecurity by eliminating risks, get rid of disappointments by depersonalizing your relationships. And then try to lighten the boredom of such a life by buying joy in the form of vacations and entertainment." (Eugene Peterson)

Cadre of Christian Crescent Wrenches

Last night at our Reformation Day Feast we heard from Russ and Sherrie Cole who will be travelling to Haiti next week to spend several months working at the Ebenezer Glenn Orphanage in the town of Dessaline. In his presentation, Russ very humbly referred to himself as a "crescent wrench - not the perfect tool for any job, but usually helpful."

Having spent some time in third world countries I know full well the value of the "crescent wrenches" of this world; men who can repair, rebuild or replace motors, transmissions, plumbing, generators, water-purifiers and water pumps with journeyman-skill and craftsman-like patience. Although these multi-talented saints are not usually gifted teachers and preachers. They are most often the ones that earn the trust of the locals and over time gain a hearing for the good news of our Savior.

So let's hear it for the Cadre of Christian Crescent Wrenches! May the Lord add to their number and continue to bless the nations, pave the way for Gospel preaching and glorify Jesus with their "get'er done" skills and humble service.