Saturday, December 19, 2009

What's scary... that I've eaten most of these burgers. No wonder I feel the need to go on a diet. I wonder whether these burgers are like "The Machine" from the movie, The Princess Bride: each burger sucks a year of your life away.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Who knew?

That Mississippi is the 6th happiest state in the United States? Of the top ten, it is interesting that six are in the South (Louisiana, Tennessee, Florida, Mississippi, South Carolina and Alabama). All we need is Georgia and Arkansas and you'd have the entire SEC in the list!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Good words from Tim Keller...

...on dealing with controversy. I especially appreciated this line: "The biggest danger of receiving criticism is not to your reputation, but to your heart."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

D. G. Hart on the Manhattan Declaration

Aside from the fact that Darryl Hart stole some of my best lines (I had tweeted on December 9, "I didn't sign the Manhattan Declaration because I don't like the Yankees or the Mets"), he has written perhaps the best response to the recent ecumenical statement.

Santa Claus?

Some interesting thoughts from Noel Piper on why she and John did not talk about Santa with their kids.

Friday, November 13, 2009

I like the E Street band and all, but...

...I don't know if I'd go this far. From the Big Man himself on being in the E Street Band and playing in concert: "For me, it is a church. It is my religion. It is my belief. To bring joy and light to the world is my purpose in life, so my spiritual teacher tells me. So when I go out on that stage, I'm bringing that spirit of joy to a lot of people, and it's just wonderful."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Athanasius on Praying the Psalms

Read the whole piece here. The part that struck me was this:

In the Psalter you learn about yourself. You find depicted in it all the movements of your soul, all its changes, its ups and downs, its failures and recoveries. Moreover, whatever your particular need or trouble, from this same book you can select a form of words to fit it, so that you do not merely hear and then pass on, but learn the way to remedy your ill. Prohibitions of evildoing are plentiful in Scripture, but only thePsalter tells you how to obey these orders and refrain from sin.

But the marvel with the Psalter is that, barring those prophecies about the Savior and some about the Gentiles, the reader takes all its words upon his lips as though they were his own, written for his special benefit, and takes them and recites them, not as though someone else were speaking or another person’s feelings being described, but as himself speaking of himself, offering the words to God as his own heart’s utterance, just as though he himself had made them up.

Lost twins?

This was funny. I particularly like the comparisons to Bob's Big Boy and Tim Allen.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Walking in Memphis (this weekend)

I'm looking forward to preaching and teaching at Riveroaks Reformed Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Memphis (Germantown, TN) this coming weekend. I'll be doing two sessions from On Being Presbyterian on Saturday and a third for Sunday school. Plus, I'll be preaching on grace from Ephesians 2:1-10 in the morning and evening. Should be a good weekend although I'll miss being at FPC H'burg, listening to Derek Thomas who will be filling the pulpit for me.

Post 600: Review of Counsel from the Cross

On these hundredth anniversary posts, I typically write on Wendell Berry. Instead, I offer you a review of Elyse Fitzpatrick and Dennis Johnson's book, Counsel from the Cross: Connecting Broken People to the Love of Christ.

Friday, November 06, 2009

George Robertson in the blogosphere

Our FPC folks got to know Dr. George Robertson, senior minister at FPC Augusta, Georgia, at my installation back in August when he preached a stirring message from Hebrews 13. Now it appears that George is in the blogosphere at the appropriately named "Pastor Robertson's Occasional Blog Entries." Looking forward to following my friend week by week as he posts.

Why do we use our words?

An insightful post from Tim Keller. The key part:

There are two very different motivations for adapting and accommodating our message to the sensibilities of a group of people.

The first motive is 'ambition' -- we do it for our sake, for our own glory and approval. The other reason we may accommodate people is for their sake, so that we can gradually win their trust until they become open to the truth they need so much.

The first motive will so control us that we will never offend people. The second motive will help us choose our battles and not offend people unnecessarily.

The Farels of the world cannot see any such distinction -- they believe any effort to be judicious and prudent is a cowardly 'sell-out'. But Calvin wisely recognized that his friend's constant, intemperate denunciations often stemmed not from a selfless courage, but rather from the opposite -- pride.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Counterfeit Gods

As I've grown in my knowledge of the Reformed faith, I've come increasingly to appreciate the Heidelberg Catechism. In its exposition of the Ten Commandments, the Catechism wisely notes that the first commandment requires shunning "all idolatry" (Q94). When it defines idolatry, the Catechism states that it "is having or inventing something in which one trusts in place of or alongside of the only true God, who has revealed himself in his Word" (Q95). Such an understanding has not only served to make Old Testament texts understandable, it actually reveals the basic problem in the human heart: our tendency to trust in other things alongside or in place of the God who has come near to us in Jesus.

Not only has the Heidelberg Catechism proven useful for me in this regard, but Tim Keller's new book Counterfeit Gods has also served as an excellent resource in thinking about idolatry and how it remains the basic problem of the human heart. In less than two hundred pages, Keller helpfully unpacks heart-idols, especially our fundamental trust in money, success, power, and love. He also deals with cultural idols such as racial superiority, national excellence, or religious accomplishment.

The book concludes with a discussion of how to deal with idolatry. Keller pastorally gives suggestions for how to identify heart idols; but he especially assists in recommending how to deal with this most basic human problem: by falling more in love with Jesus which, in turns, leads to deeper and more thorough repentance. "Rejoicing and repentance must go together," Keller observes. "Repentance without rejoicing will lead to despair. Rejoicing without repentance is shallow and will only provide passing inspiration instead of deep change. Indeed, it is when we rejoice over Jesus's sacrificial love for us most fully that, paradoxically, we are most truly convicted of our sin" (p. 172).

Obviously, no book is perfect. I wish that Keller had spent two or three chapters expanding the gold found in the concluding epilogue on "finding and replacing idols." I found myself longing to hear how God's grace triumphs even if the face of my persistent idolatry. (Maybe there is a future Keller book that will do this.) And yet, I found this book to be wonderful companion this past week in my morning worship. I will use this in my ministry, read and re-read it for my own benefit, and recommend it highly to others.

Above all, Keller's book helped me in keeping the first commandment in the way the Heidelberg Catechism suggests: shunning all idolatry and "sincerely acknowledge the only true God, trust him alone, look to him for every good thing, humbly and patiently, love him, fear, him, and honor him with all my heart." I'm very thankful for this book and its contribution in helping me understand my basic problem and the real solution.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Walking through the Valley

This is an amazing interview with Steven Curtis Chapman about his new album, written in the aftermath of the tragic death of his adopted daughter, Maria.

I especially appreciated this:

I'll refer again to the Psalms, specifically those where David is crying out, God, how long before you take away this pain, before you right these wrongs? And then almost in mid-despair, you get this sense of David literally making the choice, again, in saying to his own soul,Why are you so downcast within me? Remember this. Hope in God. Trust in God. This is your anchor. I've used that analogy, too, so many times—having this hope as an anchor.

We have absolutely questioned God and had our doubts and said, "Is this whole thing true? Is this real?" I sat on our tour bus last summer and called Scotty Smith
, my pastor, after spending a very difficult night of wrestling with God. We were getting ready to go do an interview with People magazine or Larry King or somebody, and I was just in tears. We've come to realize dropping that anchor has been, and will continue to be, a daily, sometimes an hourly, process. It's not a one time thing: I've dropped that anchor. It's, man, wait a minute, I'm getting blown away here by the hurricane of grief and questions and doubt. What am I going to do? Am I just going to drift out to sea? Or am I going to drop the anchor again?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

How should Christians think about Halloween?

Halloween has its roots in ancient Roman and Celtic harvest festivals that also celebrated the end of the life cycle and so produced celebrations for the dead. As Christianity moved through the west, the church sought to reorient the basic identity markers of western culture from paganism toward Christianity. As part of this, in the eighth century, the church moved its “All Saints Day” festival from May 13 to November 1.

However, the older ideals held on for Europeans and the evening before All Saints Day came to be celebrated on October 31: Hallow’s even (which has come to be shortened as Halloween). Some of the practices associated with the older Roman and Celtic festivals continued on: lighting of candles to honor the spirits of the departed; the carving of lanterns from fall season vegetables; and harvest foods that reminded of the bounty provided by God (or the gods).

While through much of the past thousand years, the church has tried to pursue a strategy of accommodation when it has come to such festivals, many Christians find Halloween incompatible with the Christian faith. Others simply view it as a secular or community holiday that has no real religious overtones or meaning. Still others seek to replace Halloween with Harvest Festivals or, for some Protestants, Reformation Day, remembering the day the German Reformer Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg Castle Church door in 1517 and so began the Reformation.

What is the right approach? It strikes me that there are two sets of biblical texts that could guide Christian thinking on how to deal with Halloween. One set of texts has to do with the freedom that first-century Christians have to eat meat offered to idols. In Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8-10, the Apostle Paul observes that Christians know that idols are nothing—there is only one true God who has come near to his people in Jesus Christ. And so, strictly speaking, nothing happens when food offerings are presented to idols. As a result, if one’s conscience does not object to eating that meat, then eat it.

And yet, there are two big “howevers” in these texts. The first has to do with an actual participation in the sacrificial system itself. 1 Corinthians 8:9-10 and 10:19-22 picture a situation in which believers were actually attending pagan sacrifices and then participating in the eating rituals. In those situations, Paul tells us that while the idols are nothing to us, the motivation of the participants is actually demonic: “I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not God. I do not want you to be participants with demons” (10:20). And so, Christians should not participate in activities in which those with whom they participate actually believe that they are engaged in acts of worship to false gods.

There is a second “however”: and that has to do with the consciences either of a weaker brother or sister or of an unbeliever who is watching you. If a Christian believer struggles with the whole notion of eating meat offered to idols, Paul instructs us not to eat so that we might not cause our brother to stumble: “Let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother…For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died” (Romans 14:13, 15). Love for fellow Christians is far more important than eating meat.

The same goes for an unbeliever. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10 that if an unbeliever invites you to dinner, eat whatever is put before you. “But if someone says to you, ‘This has been offered in sacrifice,’ then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience—I do not mean your conscience, but his” (10:27-29). At the end of the day, the Gospel and its effect in the life of an unbeliever is far more important than eating meat.

The second set of texts has to do with avoiding and reproving the works of darkness. For example, Paul says in Ephesians 5:11: “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” In Ephesians 5, the context has to do with the practices of the temples of the gods: sexuality immorality and impurity (referring to the sexual practices of idolatry) and greed (referring to the motivation of idolatry). Paul demands that those who bear the name of Christ and so walk in the light reject the practices and people associated with false worship.

Likewise, in 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1, Paul raises the question: “What accord does Christ have with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols?” Both of these texts appear to urge believers not to participate in activities that are characterized by darkness or idolatry.

In the light of these two sets of texts, then, how might contemporary Christians think about participating in Halloween? Here are some observations.

First, Halloween, as practiced in most communities today, is a largely secular and community holiday. It has very little to do with its pagan and co-opted Christian history. As a result, it does not appear to fall under Paul’s strictures regarding participation in idolatrous worship. In this regard, it would be similar to other secular and community celebrations with which Christians do not struggle.

Next, for some people and communities—for example, those with a significant Wiccan community—Halloween does continue to have connections with its older pagan roots. If one lived in such a community, then Christians would do well to avoid participating in Halloween activities in order to avoid practices that are associated in the public’s mind with paganism.

Moreover, for some people and communities, Halloween becomes an excuse to engage in the fruitless works of darkness, even without association with the false worship of ancient gods. Parties that encourage sexuality immorality, impurity, greed, or coarse talking are to be avoided and exposed by believers.

Fourth, if there are believers within the congregation that have significant objections of conscience to participation in Halloween—because of some past association with paganism, memory of past evil practice, or some other reason—Christians should be determined not to participate in Halloween activities in order to preserve our brother or sister’s conscience. The Gospel is more important than anything else.

Likewise, if there are unbelievers in the community for whom Halloween is valued as a pagan activity or who are concerned that a Christian’s participation in Halloween activities in participation in a pagan activity, then Christians should be determined not to participate. Again, the Gospel is more important than anything else.

Finally, the general principle of 1 Corinthians 10:31-32 rules all Christian behavior: “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God.” We often think of the first part of this general principle, but not the latter; and yet, they must stay together. If we can participate in Halloween activities to God’s glory and not cause offense to unbelievers or believers, then we should participate freely without concern. For we know that Halloween is nothing and that idols are nothing, but that God has triumphed over all things in Christ, granting us freedom as sons and daughters of God.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

How to identify a reliable preacher

According to Tullian Tchividjian, senior minister at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church (PCA).

The Missing History of N. T. Wright

From Mike Horton:

Reared in a pietistic evangelical environment, I recall the revolution in my own faith when the eschatology of the prophets and apostles challenged the narrow concept of salvation that I had been taught. However, Wright had not yet written his first controversial tome. In fact, as a teenager, I had read with enthusiasm the little book that he wrote with two other Oxford undergraduates, The Grace of God in the Gospel (Banner of Truth, 1972). (On our first introduction, I told Tom that this was among the books instrumental in my “inviting Calvin into my heart” and he offered an equally tongue-in-cheek reply: “Now let me help you invite Paul into your heart.”)

It was the writings of Reformed theologians and biblical scholars like John Murray, Geerhardus Vos, Herman Ridderbos, and Anthony Hoekema who introduced me to the sweeping vistas of a redemptive-historical interpretation of Scripture. Of course, my own dispensationalist upbringing was dismantled in the process. Then, as a student of M. G. Kline, Dennis Johnson, Robert Strimple, and others at Westminster Seminary California, I came more fully to see how God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 15 generated an unfolding drama that led to God’s single plan to bring salvation to the nations through Israel, concentrated on Jesus Christ....

In one conversation in Oxford, Tom Wright concurred that although he had not read the older covenant theologians closely, he too was deeply influenced by Vos and Ridderbos. Hence, my surprise when there are no footnotes to these writers [in Wright's book Justification], even when he is making their points, and most of the time Wright presents his views over against the whole Reformation (including Reformed) tradition. In my view, Wright is at his best when he elaborates and extends arguments that, however controversial in the field of New Testament studies or in popular evangelicalism, are familiar territory for Reformed exegetes.


Albert says he wants to stay a Cardinal for life. I hope so. Some day they'll put a statue of him on the side of the stadium opposite Stan the Man.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Back on Calvin Blog Again and Again

This is my week again over at Reformation21's Calvin blog. You can read the first one here.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sole Sistas

Great article on an effort by some ladies in our church.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"So how did you spend Halloween?"

"At church." "So what did you do?" "Burnt a few Bibles." Thankfully, the ESV wasn't lumped into the category of "perversions of God's Word" and "Satan's Bibles." Must have been an oversight??

Update: WLOS-TV out of Asheville interviewed the pastor of the Amazing Grace Baptist Church in Canton, NC, who is serving as host of the book burning.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

What? Darryl Hart says something nice about the Religious Right?

See it here.

"Why can't I just Preach?"

Great blog post by Tim Keller: "Preachers-only aren't good preachers"

The greatest temptation

From Samuel Rutherford (in The Loveliness of Christ [Banner of Truth, 2007], 4-5):

I find it most true, that the greatest temptation out of hell, is to live without temptations; if my waters should stand, they would rot. Faith is the better of the free air, and of the sharp winter storm in its face. Grace withereth without adversity. The devil is but God's master fencer, to teach us to handle our weapons.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I know what they are trying to communicate...

...but I'm trying to get rid of my counterfeit gods, not buy more.

Lucas and Derek Thomas video

For those who might be interested, this is a video of a conversation between Derek Thomas and me in the beautiful sanctuary at First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, MS. Among the topics we discuss are the transition from classroom to pulpit, how I set up my preaching, and the necessity of preaching grace.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

How to cope with evil speaking

From Charles Simeon (in Hugh Evan Hopkins, Charles Simeon of Cambridge [Eerdmans, 1977], 134):

The longer I live, the more I feel the importance of adhering to the rules which I have laid down for myself in relation to such matters.
1st To hear as little as possible what is to the prejudice of others.
2nd To believe nothing of the kind till I am absolutely forced to it.
3rd Never to drink into the spirit of one who circulates an ill report.
4th Always to moderate, as far as I can, the unkindness which is expressed toward others.
5th Always to believe, that if the other side were heard, a very different account would be given of the matter....

The more prominent any person's character is, the more likely he is to suffer in this way; there being in the heart of every man, unless greatly subdued by grace, a pleasure in hearing anything which may sink others to his level, or lower them in the estimation of the world. We seem to ourselves elevated in proportion as others are depressed.

Monday, October 12, 2009

A word for those who struggle with their hearts

From Charles Simeon [in Hugh Evan Hopkins, Charles Simeon of Cambridge [Eerdmans, 1977], 126):

You see yourself guilty of sins which preclude a hope of forgiveness. Your friends have endeavored to shew you that you judge yourself too hardly. In this they have erred for, if they have succeeded, they have given you a peace founded on your own worthiness, a peace that would last no longer than till the next temptation arose in your mind....if they have not succeeded, they have only confirmed you in your views.

I say to you the reverse. Your views of yourself (your own sinfulness) though they may be erroneous, are not one atom too strong. Your sinfulness far exceeds all that you have stated, or have any conception of. 'Your heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked: who can know it?'

But I have an effectual remedy for them all--'the blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin.' I grant that you are lost and utterly undone. So are all mankind--some for gross sins--some for impenitence--some for other sins. You are lost for the very sins you mention, hardness of heart, indifference, etc...

Do this then, take a book as large as any that is in the Bank of England. Put down all the sins of which either conscience or a morbid imagination can accuse you. Fear not to add to their number all that Satan himself can suggest.

And this I will do. I will put on the creditor side 'the unsearchable riches of Christ' and will leave you to draw the balance.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Imagine what he'd think of email...

From Hugh Evan Hopkins, Charles Simeon of Cambridge (Eerdmans, 1977), 123-4:

Although he wrote so many letters Simeon was very well aware how much better it was, if possible, to talk rather than write, especially when a 'delicate or much-controverted point' arose. With his usual sensitivity to the feelings of others, he said, "If I speak with a man, I can stop when I see it is doing harm; I can soften off the truth so as not to fly in the face of his cherished views...Written words convey ideas, convey sentiments, but they cannot really convey exact feelings."

Simeon was a thinker who also 'felt' a great deal. He wrote when there was no other way of communicating with a person, but realised all the time the many limitations of letters, particularly in expressing emotions: "You cannot hesitate upon paper; you cannot weep upon paper; you cannot give upon paper the tone of love; you cannot look kindness upon paper," though he tried his hardest to do so. At any rate, the difficulties and drawbacks in communication in those days do not seem to have deterred him from putting his pen to paper almost every day.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Article about installation at FPC Hattiesburg

For those who might be interested in reading about my installation as senior minister at First Presbyterian Church, Hattiesburg, MS, an article from the local paper.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

I desire mercy, not sacrifice

An example from the world of high school football.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Samuel Rutherford Quote, no. 2

"It is not our part to make a treasure here: anything under the covering of heaven we can build upon is but ill ground and a sandy foundation: every good thing, except God, wanteth a bottom, and cannot stand its alone: how then can it bear the weight of us?"--Rutherford, Loveliness of Christ, 41.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Samuel Rutherford Quote, no. 1

"Whether God come to his children with a rod or a crown, if he come himself with it, it is well. Welcome, welcome Jesus, what may soever thou come, if we can get a sight of thee: and sure I am, it is better to be sick, providing Christ come to the bedside and draw the curtains, and say, Courage, I am thy salvation, than to enjoy health, being lusty and strong and never need to be visited of God."--Samuel Rutherford, The Loveliness of Christ, 21.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Bruce Gordon's Calvin

In this five hundredth anniversary of Calvin’s birth, booksellers have flooded the marketplace with all things John Calvin. Of all the books published in this anniversary year, the one that stands head-and-shoulders above the rest is Bruce Gordon’s Calvin. In fact, it is not too much to claim that what George Marsden did for Jonathan Edwards, Gordon did for Calvin: produce a well-written biography, rich in primary and secondary source material, which actually penetrates to the man himself. This is a high achievement.

Gordon’s achievement is manifold. First, as a scholar of Reformation-era Europe, he successfully situates Calvin in the web of relationships that dominated the sixteenth century. For example, we learn that not only that William Farel and Calvin’s relationship was important in 1536, but how that relationship developed over time, how it created difficulties for both men, and how loyalties to other players (Bucer, Viret, Bullinger) complicated their long-standing friendship. Likewise, we come to understand how Calvin’s developing relationships with Bullinger and Melanchthon, driven by his own sense of a trans-European Reformation, impacted his public theology and pastoral sensibilities.

Next, not only does Gordon describe the relational Reformation, but he also shows how the political developments in France created complexities for Calvin. Like the Apostle Paul with his fellow Jews, Calvin longs for the conversion of his fellow Frenchmen. However, the progress of the Gospel, reformed according to God’s Word, was tied to the messy political situation within France. Though he attempted to woo French nobility to the Reformed faith, he also was increasingly frustrated with the leadership’s willingness to dally with Roman Catholicism and unwillingness to separate and establish a fully Reformed church. What Calvin did not reckon with, and what Gordon wonderfully pictures, were the political complexities within France itself.

Moreover, Gordon probes Calvin’s mindset in ways that are both fair to Calvin himself and realistic. When Calvin becomes angry or displays arrogance, Gordon never rationalizes it away. For example, in an exchange with Bullinger, Calvin penned “an angry reply” in which he told Bullinger that to defend Jerome Bolsec “is the extreme of absurdity” (p. 207). While most of us would skip over that comment, Gordon explores how Calvin’s passion and anger often would drive him to rhetorical excesses. The rest is a critically sympathetic portrait that is more real to life than any other Calvin biography in print.

Finally, Gordon helpfully summarizes vast tracts of Calvin’s theology. For example, Gordon devotes an entire chapter to a summary of Calvin’s commentary on Romans, which provides a pathway for probing his theological development (chapter seven, pp. 103-120). He explores the sacramental controversies with Wittenburg and Zurich as well as the compromises that led to the 1549 Consensus Tigirinus (pp. 161-180). His chapter dealing with Calvin’s controversy with Servetus was masterfully done (pp. 217-32), not only for exploring the theological dimensions, but also for outlining the political realities. And throughout, Gordon demonstrates what historian Philip Benedict also observed: namely, that the key dividing line in the Protestant Reformation was between the Swiss Reformed and the German Lutherans and centered on the Lord’s Supper. Calvin heroically tried to straddle that dividing line theologically and politically, ultimately with little success.

I hope that this book receives wide notice, not only among Reformation specialists and theological students, but especially among educated laypeople. Many of our people in Reformed and Presbyterian churches are woefully ignorant of Calvin’s contribution; the few that know something about him are as likely to idolize him as to understand him. Bruce Gordon’s Calvin is a marvelous corrective to both faults: informative, accessible, and realistic, it is the book to give to interested church members. And read with the eyes of faith, Gordon helps us move from seeing Calvin as a hero to seeing the True Hero, Jesus himself, whom Calvin loved and served.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Matt Holliday's blog

The passionate Cardinals fan in me has been very careful during this recent spate of good play; I've been known to jinx my teams (are Calvinists allowed to believe in jinxes?) and very much want my Cards to get to the playoffs. Of course, if they play the Phillies with their four lefties, against whom the Cards bat .223, they won't be in the playoffs long. But as the 2006 team demonstrates, the key is getting there: from there, anything can happen.

I ran across Matt Holliday's blog--Matt is a pretty strong Christian, although he doesn't talk about his faith here. Anyway, thought I would link it for the Cardinals fans out there who didn't know about it. I think one of the great things is how many professing believers there are on the Cards; of course, it starts with El Hombre, but there are several others. It's a lot different from the teams from late 1970s with their rampant drug abuse.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Lucas sermons at FPC Hattiesburg

Again, for those who'd be interested, my sermons are current being posted at Sermon Audio. You can find them here.

Back on Calvin Blog Again

For those who'd be interested, this is another week of Lucas on Calvin on Ref21 Calvin Blog. You can see the first two posts here and here.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

A Praying Life

One of the best books that I've read recently is Paul Miller's A Praying Life. I had quoted from it a few days ago, but that does not sum up the impact the book made on me. I've read a lot of books on prayer, but I've not read one as practical and thought-provoking, realistic and hopeful.

In 32 short chapters, Miller draws the reader into his praying life, which means drawing us into his life. In so many books on prayer, I feel like the prayer expected is formal, orderly, technique-driven (i.e. the acronym ACTS). I can pray like that--in fact, I often do each morning as part of my morning worship. But at least for me, such prayer often feels divorced from my life once I leave my study. Miller freely describes the messiness of his life, especially connected with his physically challenged daughter Kim, and helps the reader envision how praying happens in the midst of a real, messy life.

But even more, Miller shows us that praying means come to a Father who loves us, his own blood-bought children. And since we are children, we are helpless--which is why we come to our Father: we recognize that we can do nothing without him. But since we are children, we should be unrestrained--like my children, who constantly burst into my conversations with my wife expecting me to care for their immediate needs. My kids don't wait for an appointment; rather, they rush into my presence with their needs and requests. Why don't I live that way with God my Father?

There is a great deal else I took from this book--most notably, because I can't change my kids but because God can change my kids, rather than trying to change my kids through the force of my words, I'm taking my concerns to God and asking him to change my kids through the power of his Spirit. Specifically, I've begun praying Scripture for my children in the areas in which I perceive their greatest needs--"Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others (Phil 2:4)"; "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phil 4:13)"; "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger (Prov 15:1)." It is part of praying through my life and hopefully by God's grace develop a praying life.

I can't recommend this book highly enough. There are few books that are life-changing; this is one of them.

Monday, August 03, 2009

SEC Football...the lack of prestige

I know that I'm not suppose to tackle sensitive topics now that I'm in the Deep South...but I find it striking that ESPN research has developed a "prestige rating" for every major college football teams. According to the websiteESPN's Prestige Rankings are a numerical method of ranking the best FBS college football programs since the 1936 season. Point values were assigned for certain successes (win a national title, earn 25 points) and failures (get your program banned from the postseason, lose two points).

And according to the rankings based on this system, the SEC only has ONE team in the top ten (Alabama at no. 6). Now, granted, they have a stranglehold on positions 12-16 (Tennessee, LSU, Georgia, Florida). So, you could say, five teams in the top 16 positions. But the Big Ten has THREE teams in the top 11 (Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State). And the Big 12 has THREE teams in the top 7 (Oklahoma [no. 1], Nebraska, Texas). So, in terms of the best college football teams in history, those teams are not in the SEC, but in the Big Ten and Big 12.

Notice that this has nothing to say about the current best teams or best leagues (although everyone would agree, I'd think, that the SEC was down last year and that the Big 12 was the dominate league). But it does speak to the quality and prestige of certain leagues and how valuable those teams are in the areas that count the most: national championships and clean programs. And those programs historically have not been in the SEC....

Hope those ain't fightin words!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Monday, July 27, 2009

Though you do not see him now...

A few paragraphs I wish I had read prior to preaching from 1 Peter 1:8-9 yesterday morning. From Paul Miller, A Praying Life, 193-4:

"Many of us wish God were more visible. We think that if we could see him better or know what is going on, then faith would come more easily. But if Jesus dominated the space and overwhelmed our vision, we would not be able to relate to him. Everyone who had a clear-eyed vision of God in the Bible fell down as if he were dead. It's hard to relate to pure light...

"When we suffer, we long for God to speak clearly, to tell us the end of the story and, most of all, to show himself. But if he showed himself fully and immediately, if he answered all the questions, we'd never grow; we'd never emerge from our chrysalis because we'd be forever dependent....No one works like him. He is such a lover of souls."

Friday, July 24, 2009

Why There are No Perfect Pastors

From Desiring God:

In my imagination, I sometimes fancy I could [create] a perfect minister. I take the eloquence of ______, the knowledge of ______, the zeal of ______, and the pastoral meekness, tenderness, and piety of ______. Then, putting them all together into one man, I say to myself, “This would be a perfect minister.”

Now there is One, who, if he chose to, could actually do this; but he never did it. He has seen fit to do otherwise, and to divide these gifts to every man severally as he will. (Richard Cecil, Memoirs of the Rev. John Newton, p. 107.)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Till Death Do Us Part

The other day I received two books that beautifully picture the permanence and joys of marriage, even in the face of severe health difficulty. A Promise Kept was written by Robertson McQuilkin, former president of Columbia International University and accounts for McQuilkin's extraordinary care for his wife, Muriel, who suffered with Alzheimer's disease from 1978 until her death in 2003. One of the most striking moments in the book was when McQuilkin was told that the reason his story impacted so many was that in times of sickness, women are generally true to their men, but men are rarely loyal to their wives. It was a moving, brief story of faithfulness over a lifetime experienced before the darkness came.

Historian Gene Genovese wrote the little book, Miss Betsey: A Memoir of Marriage. Here is a delightful, witty, honest, and grace-filled story of the marriage of two prominent historians of the American South. As Betsey suffered and died from multiple sclerosis (among other health issues), both Genoveses experienced strength in the Christian faith, each having converted to Catholicism late in life.

In the face of so many marriages which dissolve because one of the partners no longer feels invested or loving or committed, the recounting of a long love in the same direction--recountings given by men who are far more often the ones who abandon a marriage--is stirring. Even more is the basis for their faithfulness: both Genovese and McQuilkin found the strength that sustained their love in the gracious Gospel of Jesus. The one who bore the death that we deserved enables us to sustain marriage till death do us part.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


From U2's album, All You Can't Leave Behind:

She takes the blame
She covers the shame
Removes the stain
It could be her name

It's a name for a girl
It's also a thought that changed the world
And when she walks on the street
You can hear the strings
Grace finds goodness in everything

Grace, she's got the walk
Not on a ramp or on chalk
She's got the time to talk
She travels outside of karma
She travels outside of karma
When she goes to work
You can hear her strings
Grace finds beauty in everything

Grace, she carries a world on her hips
No champagne flute for her lips
No twirls or skips between her fingertips
She carries a pearl in perfect condition

What once was hurt
What once was friction
What left a mark
No longer stings
Because grace makes beauty
Out of ugly things

Grace makes beauty out of ugly things

Spiritually dead

This morning, I'm preaching on Ephesians 2:1-6 (tonight, we'll take up 2:7-10) on the theme of grace. My first point is to talk through what it means to be "dead in the trespasses and sins": namely, as those ruined by sin, we are unable to see and savor spiritual things. Our worldview is limited to the material and sensual, to this world.

I ran across this little testimony from the New York Times Magazine that illustrates this perfectly (but to which I won't have time to refer in my sermon). Written by a novelist, Dana Tierney, it depicts the inability of an individual in their natural condition, ruined by sin, captive to the course of the world, to see beyond this world. She writes, "My friends and relatives who rely on God -- the real believers, not just the churchgoers -- have an expansiveness of spirit. When they walk along a stream, they don't just see water falling over rocks; the sight fills them with ecstasy. They see a realm of hope beyond this world. I just see a babbling brook. I don't get the message."

Ultimately, the only one who can get in people's hearts and open their eyes so that they are able to see, truly see, is God himself. That is Paul's point in 2:4-6--without God, without grace, we are unable to see the excellency of Christ or his way of salvation. But when God acts to make us alive with Christ, raise us with him, and seat us in the heavenlies, when God grants us faith as a gift, when God saves us, then we can see.

"Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now I'm found, was blind, but now I see!"

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Real humility

From Thomas Charles of Bala: "To talk much about ourselves, of our own experiences and discoveries, though under pretence of giving glory to God, is a sure proof that we are as gods to ourselves, and that we would have others filled with admiration of the distinguishing favors we enjoy, and have them know what eminent saints we are...Real humility takes nothing to itself, but sin and shame; and it gives all the glory to God, who is the Giver of every good and perfect gift" (Thomas Charles' Spiritual Counsels, 22-3).

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Tragedy of Steve McNair

In about an hour from now, the funeral service for former Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair will be taking place on the University of Southern Mississippi campus here in Hattiesburg. Because McNair grew up about 45 minutes away in Mt. Olive, MS, and because two of his sons live in Hattiesburg, our local news coverage has been dominated by the his tragic story.

And it is tragic: if you don't know, McNair was gunned down by his girlfriend while he was asleep on the couch in an apartment leased to him and used by them both. He leaves behind four kids and a wife as well as heart-broken family, friends, and communities who looked up to him. In many ways, it was a senseless act by a woman who was beginning to lose her grip on her life.

But it was tragic in a different way as well. As I was thinking about it this morning, McNair's death demonstrates the tragic consequence that comes from violating what Randy Alcorn calls "the purity principle": purity is always smart; impurity is always stupid. While most impurity does not end in a violent murder-suicide, the effects are wide-ranging, destructive, and devastating all the same.

The Book of Proverbs bears this out: "The lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol; she does not ponder the path of life; her ways wander and she does not know it" (Prov 5:3-6).

Again, "Keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house, lest you give your honor to others and your years to the merciless...and you say, 'How I hated discipline, and my heart despised reproof! I did not listen to the voice of my teachers or incline my ear to my instructors. I am at the brink of utter ruin in the assembled congregation" (Prov 5:8-9, 12-14).

Again, "Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched? So is he who goes in to his neighbor's wife; none who touches her will go unpunished" (Prov 6:27-29).

Again, "With much seductive speech she persuades him; with her smooth talk she compels him. All at once he followers her, as an ox goes to the slaughter or as a stag is caught fast till an arrow pierces its liver; as a bird rushes into a snare; he does not know that it will cost him his life" (Prov 7:21-23).

In many ways, McNair's tragic and untimely death causes these biblical wisdom texts to come to life. While sexual impurity make not bring someone to the grave in the immediate and horrifying way that it did McNair, the consequences are always devastating--Sheol, the grave, the place of the dead, lurks around sexual impurity.

Why is that the case? Because throughout the Bible and especially the OT, idolatry and sexual immorality/adultery go hand-in-hand. The case of Hosea's wife Gomer was the most graphic illustration of a basic truth: when we are not satisfied with the Triune God who has come near to us in Jesus, we inevitable turn our hearts to other idols who promise satisfaction. And frequently, those gods promise sensual pleasure and delight that can calm our aching hearts. But in the end those gods--the gods of significance and security, the gods of power and influence, the gods of self-sufficiency and Independence--cannot deliver anything but the grave.

Wisdom (a.k.a. the smart life) consists of fearing and delighting in the only God who can deliver on his promises: the Triune God of the Bible, the God who came near to us in Jesus Christ and comes near to us by the Spirit of Jesus. This God's steadfast love is better than life (Psa. 63:3); this love can satisfy the deepest longings which we have, both longings of our souls and our bodies.

The tragedy of Steve McNair is a tragedy played out on a small scale in so many of our lives, including my own: it is the tragedy of failing to be utterly satisfied in God himself, the only one who can fill the eternal longings of our being.

Six week "vacation" over

Just wanted to note that the six week vacation that I've taken from blogging is over. We've been a little busy: we moved our stuff to Hattiesburg, MS, the first week of June; drove to Brevard, NC, for a week of vacation; drove to Orlando, FL, for the PCA General Assembly; drove back to Hattiesburg to unpack; and on June 30, began a regular pastoral routine. Now that I'm settling in, I feel like I return my attention to the wider world...

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Monday, June 01, 2009


It seemed fitting to post on the fact that the moving trucks are here today. Our movers sent four guys to pack us; we are hopeful that they will be done packing tomorrow and begin shuttling stuff out of here. Lord willing, we will be heading down I-55 toward Hattiesburg, Mississippi, with the early light on Thursday, June 4.

This is my 17th move: Stratford, NJ [where I was born]; Radford VA; Manchester, England; Williamstown, NJ; Spring, TX; Westfield, NJ; Reston, VA; Taylors, SC [my first apartment and beginnings of my moves as an adult]; New Castle, IN [first apartment after Sara and I got married]; Philadelphia, PA [three moves here--Bensalem, Yardley, and Abington, PA]; Louisville, KY [two moves here--Crestwood and Bedford]; St. Louis, MO [two moves here--St. Charles and Creve Coeur]; and now Hattiesburg, MS.

It is interesting to reflect on this whole process of moving--saying goodbye, seeing bookends to your time, packing up, throwing away, loading and unloading, saying hello, settling in, hoping people like you and you find friends. It is hugely unsettling and yet it is also very exciting. Incredibly stressful and yet a bit boring. Hurrying up, yet waiting. 

There is a sense in which my Christian life has reflected this rootlessness, homelessness; one of my favorite texts is Hebrews 11:13-16: "These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city."

I think more than most people, I have had this sense of being a stranger, an exile--not quite fitting in, always being the "new kid," never sure if I'll be accepted by the host culture. I have also had this sense there is a home that will never falter or fade, a better city from which I'll never leave because I will always feel at home. 

Our prayer is that our new place will give us echoes of home, but that it will never really be home--because there remains a rest for the people of God, a place of final and full welcome, love, and joy. I want the mansions prepared for me by the Father because that is where Jesus is--everything here is an echo, a shadow, a penultimate something that points to the ultimate reality.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Why Kentucky Should Pay Attention to Indiana

Been a while since I've given an opinion on college basketball beyond my Tournament picks. After all, Hoosier fans don't have a lot to say about ethics in basketball in the post-Bob Knight era.

But really, the Sampson debacle should give Kentucky fans pause. Indiana basketball, determined to climb back to the top and recover its mojo after Mike Davis' reign, hired an ethically-challenged but nationally-known coach to lead its program back to the promised land. Sampson landed two top recruiting classes, but repeatedly was in trouble with the NCAA for violations first at his previous head coaching job and then at Indiana. In addition, he brought at-risk kids to surround his one prize recruit; it all came tumbling down toward the end of the 2007-08 season. When Tom Crean came in to fix the program, he had two scholarship players left who averaged 1.8 points between them.

The news from John Calipari today reminded me so much of the Sampson fiasco. Let's see: according to Coach Cal's bio, he took UMass to the Final Four and was the national coach of the year in 1996; what he didn't mention was that the season and Final Four appearance was vacated by the NCAA for major program violations. And according to his UK bio, he took Memphis to the Final Four and was the national coach of the year in 2008. But now we discover that his program that year also had major violations and will most likely lead to vacating the season and the championship game appearance.

Which means that at least during his two best seasons, Coach Cal (or his staff, who reports to him and for which he is responsible) cheated. Which means if I was a Kentucky fan, I'd be very nervous. UK just needs to look across the Ohio River to see what happens when an ethically-challenged coach leads your history-rich program. The aftermath is a painful thing to watch.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Back on Calvin Blog

This week is my second week on the Reformation 21 Calvin's Institutes blog. The first two posts are here and here

Thursday, May 21, 2009

True repentance rests on God's goodness

"Yet we must remember to exercise restraint, lest sorrow engulf us. For nothing more readily happens to fearful consciences than falling into despair. And also by this stratagem, whomever Satan sees overwhelmed by the fear of God he more and more submerges in that deep whirlpool of sorrow that they may never rise again. That fear cannot, indeed, be too great which ends in humility, and does not depart from the hope of pardon. Nevertheless, in accordance with the apostle's injunction the sinner ought always to beware lest, while he worries himself into dissatisfaction weighed down by excessive fear, he become faith. For in this way we flee from God, who calls us to himself through repentance.

"On this matter, Bernard's admonition is also useful: 'Sorrow for sins is necessary if it be not unremitting. I beg you to turn your steps back sometimes from troubled and anxious remembering of your ways, and to go forth to the tableland of serene remembrance of God's benefits. Let us mingle honey with wormwood that its wholesome bitterness may bring health when it is drunk tempered with sweetness. If you take thought upon yourselves in your humility, take thought likewise upon the Lord in his goodness" (Calvin, Institutes, 3.3.15).

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Grace Precedes Repentance

"We mean to show that a man cannot apply himself seriously to repentance without knowing himself to belong to God. But no one is truly persuaded that he belongs to God unless he has first recognized God's grace...No one will ever reverence God but him who trusts that God is propitious to him. No one will gird himself willingly to observe the law but him who will be persuaded that God is pleased by his obedience. This tenderness in overlooking and tolerating vices is a sign of God's fatherly favor" (Calvin, Institutes, 3.3.2).

Thoughts on Dan Brown

These were excellent thoughts on Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons. I thought the salient paragraph was this one:

In the Brownian worldview, all religions — even Roman Catholicism — have the potential to be wonderful, so long as we can get over the idea that any one of them might be particularly true. It’s a message perfectly tailored for 21st-century America, where the most important religious trend is neither swelling unbelief nor rising fundamentalism, but the emergence of a generalized “religiousness” detached from the claims of any specific faith tradition.

What is so ironic is that this view--that religion is in a separate sphere, one that is only accessible by intuition or sentiment and one that is not verifiable by typical canons of knowing that characterize the rest of the world; hence, all religions actually are useful for "spirituality" or "religiousness" and not for truth--is the fundamental worldview of modernity. This modern worldview developed from the work of Immanuel Kant, who separated Phenomena (the appearance of things verifiable by scientific testing) from the Noumena (the substance of things that are unverifiable and ultimately reside in the mind of God). 

The result of Kant's philosophical move was to create a dualistic world that separated science from faith, matter from Spirit. Theologically, this worldview was best articulated by Protestant Liberalism, which sought to distinguish "abiding truths" from "changing (theological) categories" and which ultimately tried to cordon off theology from the acids of history. In our day, this generally pervasive attitude that separates truth from religious claims is actually based on a worldview that is only about 200 years old and which finds its best proponents among mainstream Protestants who have generally set aside the historically-based truth claims of Christianity. 

What is odd to me is that the upshot of Dan Brown's work has not been to turn people back toward mainstream Protestantism, but to turn people away from the church (and Christianity) completely. It reminds me of C. S. Lewis' The Last Battle in which the cynical creation of Tashlan ultimately inoculates the Narnians against the truth of Aslan--because truth and reality itself was drawn into question on the behalf of a pluralistic, general religiosity, the Narnians would not and could not believe. 

At the end of the day, our best hope--both in answering the claims of Dan Brown and the worldview behind it--is not simply to debunk his historical claims point by point (as several excellent books did after The Da Vinci Code movie came out), but to question the essentially modern, Kantian worldview that helps Brown make sense. After all, Christianity is faith based on historical facts, none more important than Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died for sinners on Calvary and rose bodily the third day from the grave. If that is not true in a way that destroys the dualism between phenomena and noumena, then we of all people are most hopeless.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Baccalaureate Benediction

I like to post these benedictions; you can find others here, here, and here. This was from Covenant Seminary's Baccalaureate, May 14, 2009:

Men and women of God,
as those thoroughly equipped for every good work,
may God grant you
confidence in the God-breathed Word;
competence by the Spirit's empowerment; and
complete delight in the God who loved you 
all the way to Jesus' cross and empty tomb.
Go with God's peace,

Friday, May 08, 2009

Eugene Peterson on Pastoral Ministry

I love reading Eugene Peterson. I find him hugely helpful for my own self-reflection as a minister. Right now, I'm reading Under the Unpredictable Plant, which focuses on vocational holiness and which is classic Peterson. Because I'm enjoying him again, I decided to do a bit of a google search. I ran across this excellent interview and resonated with this section:

How did you become a pastor?

I think I was attracted to the intense relational and personal quality of this life. At the time I decided to become a pastor, I was assistant professor at a seminary. I loved the teaching, but when I compared it with what I was doing as an associate pastor, there was no comparison. It was the difference between being a coach in the locker room, working out plays on the chalkboard, and being one of the players on the field. I wanted to be one of the players on the field, playing my part as the life of Christ was becoming incarnate again in my community.

That’s interesting, because if there’s one life that many pastors idealize, it’s the academic life.

That’s strange, isn’t it? When people say, "I don’t want to be a pastor, I want to be a professor," I say, "Well, the best place to be a teacher is in a congregation." Everything I taught during my tenure at Regent College was first developed and taught in my congregation. At Regent, of course, I embellished it. I put in footnotes. But the motivation of the people in the classroom was different from those in the congregational setting: they were looking for a degree, whereas in the congregation, people are looking for how to live the next day.

What is Church Government? no. 2

Out June 1st. Buy it for yourself, friends, loved ones, neighbors, and church officers.