Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Theology Is No Parlor Game

This quote from Calvin's Institutes reminds me why we should earnestly strive to know more of God. Hint: it's not to win at Bible-baseball.

The knowledge of God which we are invited to cultivate is not that which, resting satisfied with empty speculation, only flutters in the brain, but a knowledge which will prove substantial and fruitful wherever it is rooted in the heart. (1:5.9)

"The righteous...still bear fruit in old age, they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him." (Ps 92:12-15)

He is to be known so that He may be adored, not just minutely discussed.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Destroying Arguments, Slowly and Gently

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God (2 Cor 10:4-5)

And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone...correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth (2 Tim 2:24-25)

I had a fourth meeting today with a Mormon co-worker to discuss the historic Christian faith. I'll need help before we meet again.

I've pointed out theological problems, logical fallacies, archeological discrepancies, historical absurdities, and even DNA evidence that all show that Mormonism cannot be true. But his faith continues to rest in the Mormon prophets' claim that they receive direct, authoritative revelation from God even to this day. So at our next meeting I will present the case for why the canon is closed, and he is to present the rationale for the continuation of direct revelation to Mormon prophets. This will be a new research area for me, so any help is appreciated.

Most of all we need the Helper to strip the blind-fold from my friend's eyes. And I need to be patient and remember that the goal is not to win an argument, but a soul.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Claiming God's Covenant Promises on Faith's Behalf

Looking in faith to the Lord Jesus Christ for Faith's salvation, today we unreservedly dedicated Faith to God and promised, in humble reliance upon divine grace, that we will endeavor to set before her a godly example, that we will pray with and for her, that we will teach her the doctrines of our holy religion, and that we will strive, by all the means of God's appointment, to bring her up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

A Desirable Partner

Kristin and I watched the BBC’s production of Pride and Prejudice recently. Think what you will, but I enjoy Austen’s work immensely. And it turns out I like the movie, too. There are a couple of events from the movie that I want to comment on.

First, we are given a manly example of repentance by Mr. Darcy after his marriage proposal to Elizabeth is flatly rejected. His repentance is lasting, costly, selfless, motivated by love, and transformational. Men who struggle with taking initiative and bearing responsibility would do well to study and emulate his example.

But the part of the movie I enjoy the most is the series of vignettes during the wedding sermon near the end. The snapshots of poorly matched marriages powerfully illustrate – with non-examples--the real purposes for matrimony.

We’re at a season in life where most our peer group has married, and many are well into the child-bearing years. Thankfully, only one marriage that we know of has ended in divorce. Yet, I doubt that few of us at the time of our betrothal were mature enough to make such a momentous decision in view of biblical purposes for matrimony.

God’s grace is very evident in the match between Kristin and me. I was certainly not mature enough to comprehend the magnitude of the decision I was making when I proposed to her that night along the Riverwalk in San Antonio. But God has given me a wife that, even to this day, is better than I deserve. “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine,” I give my heartfelt thanks.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Surprised By Scripture

I've been surprised by what I find in Scripture several times recently.

Psalm 73 Here prosperity is called a "slippery place" vs 18 where God intentionally sets the wicked until the moment when He suddenly sweeps them away. Riches among the ungodly are a cause for pity rather than envy.

Jeremiah 3:14 What's frightening about this verse is that God says "I will take one from a city and two from a family." The context is a call to repentance to the faithless among God's covenant people. I wonder if verses like this explain why some Calvinists think that God will save very few and condemn the majority?

2 Corinthians 4:7-18 This beautiful passage on bodily suffering is surprising because so little of its sentiments are expressed by Christians today whose "outer nature is wasting away". How hard it is for us to believe that "we have this treasure in jars of clay" for a reason.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Good Advice for Church-goers

"Keep your head down, and try to be faithful. Don't analyze too much."

This is the tactic of a man I admire who has faithfully served the same church for 15 years here in the hard-to-grow Southwest. The remark about 'don't analyze too much' means don't do things like fret over why the liberal churches continue to grow at a faster rate than the biblical ones, etc. Just try to be faithful, trusting God's sovereignty over all things.

This is more than good advice for pastors--I ought to heed it, too. What is called for in the local church is a servant and not an analyst who stands aloof while pointing out the problems he sees.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Lunch at Model's Pharmacy

Roadfood hasn't let me down yet. This book (now a website, too) finds the best backstreet mom and pop restaurants across our country and shares the news so we can enjoy them, too. Today we had a great lunch at Model's Pharmacy.

They serve breakfast and lunch with a refreshing side of local culture. How delightful to get away from the same chains and enjoy some simply delicious fare. Located near the base, if you're in the area, Kristin and I highly recommend stopping in for a bite!

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Sunday Morning Climbs

I need help climbing Mt Zion on the Lord's Day. My help has to be patient and strong; I'm a slow climber and the trek to corporate worship can put me in the foulest mood.

What I have found to be a great help in that climb is the lectionary readings for Sunday mornings. Week after week it provides surprisingly strong aid for the ascent. For instance, this morning's readings comprised short selections from the Psalms, Joshua, Ezekiel, Deuteronomy, Proverbs, 2 Timothy, Matthew, Luke, and Mark. Each passage lent a strong hand in getting me properly up to Mount Zion.

My other faithful trail guide is the Valley of Vision. This morning I was prayerfully reminded,

this is thy day,
the open door of worship,
the seal of the sabbath to come,
the day when saints militant and triumphant unite in endless song.

The veil is torn aside and I find thee ready to hear,
waiting to be gracious,
inviting me to pour out my needs,
promising to give more than I ask or think.

I'm not going to miss that. Let's get up that mountain.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

When Peace Yields to Faith

Many Christians hope for a nice, quiet life. It's a biblical hope (see 1 Tim 2:2), but interestingly, the "hall of faith" (Heb 11) contains not a single account of a peaceful and quiet life.

To reconcile these two -- a desire for peace with the violent reality of a life lived by faith -- there seems to be a point where to be peaceful is to be unfaithful. At some point peace yields to faith.

The faith chronicled in Hebrews 11 is both passive and active. It's passive faith to suffer mockings and floggings, to be killed with the sword, to be tortured. But faith is to be aggressively active too; it puts foreign armies to flight, conquers kingdoms, receives back the dead, enforces justice, obtains promises.

I desire a quiet, peaceful life. But there will be situations where I must choose: peace or faith. At that point, peace is cowardly and treasonous. And not becoming of those whom the world was not worthy.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

If it Sounds like a Duck, then...

I had another meeting this week with my co-worker who is a Mormon. He is interested in knowing why I will not consider Mormonism part of the Christian faith. I identified the essential doctrines of the Christian faith and used examples from Mormon doctrine that show that they reject the correct understanding of the Trinity--in other words they deny the true God.

To obfuscate their position the LDS plays word games, very similar to how modernists have treated the Christian faith since the 19th century. For instance, the LDS uses the term Trinity but gives it a very different meaning. Instead of "one God existing in three eternal persons", they define it as "an office held by three distinct Beings who are one in purpose and intent, perfectly united to comprise one Godhead."

My friend could see the difference but considered it only semantics. I argued that it was not semantic since this is an essential doctrine of the faith, and that to reject a correct understanding of Trinity could make one guilty of idolatry and blasphemy.

The question I left him with is whether the Mormon faith is polytheistic, even though it claims not to be. I don't believe the LDS would ever admit to being polytheistic, but it sure sounds to me like they are.

Thankfully, this was a civil discussion and we are to continue talking.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Still True?

It ought to be more carefully considered, that all men promiscuously do homage to God, but very few truly reverence him. On all hands there is abundance of ostentatious ceremonies, but sincerity of heart is rare.

That's a quote from Calvin's Institutes (Book 1, Chap 2). Is it still true that all men do homage to God?

My answer: our age is one of radical informality, so there is no longer "an abundance of ostentatious ceremonies"--although the church-growth movement still attacks formality as if it is the problem. What has changed is that even the "sincere in heart" see little need for ceremony, so that neither God-rejecters nor God-lovers truly reverence him.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Disappointment in Virginia

I've been reading tonight (while in Seattle on business) of the sad affair -- and ugly mess -- that has occurred at St Peter Presbyterian Church where R.C. Sproul, Jr pastors.

I suspect this is not the most objective account of the defrocking and dismissal of Sproul Jr (and the session) from the denomination to which they belonged, so I will avoid commenting on the pastoral practices of the session and limit comments to an area that hopefully avoids potential for slander.

Why did so many families move across the country to rural Virginia to join a church? Many of them went to such great expense in order to be part of a vision that offered a simple, separate, and deliberate lifestyle, focusing heavily on family and community.

I believe this is a good vision based on biblically-important principles. For a brief time, I considered moving my family there. I have a stack of Basement Tapes. But a couple of conditions make the St Peter community ripe for strife. First, expectations of the movers are bound to be high, dangerously high. People who give up much in order to gain a certain lifestyle will be tempted to feel cheated by empty promises if reality doesn't match what they imagined from listening to tapes and reading articles.

But the bigger problem may be doctrinal. This could prove to be a classic case of majoring on minors. While lifestyle and community are important, they don't rise to the level of the essentials of the Christian faith. If they are exalted to that place, one tends to become opinionated and unloving. Reading the complaints of several members, there were significant theological disagreements with the church's leadership, but the families chose to move there anyway, ostensibly for the lifestyle. This shows the importance of doctrinal agreement and the destructive power of doctrinal differences.

Disappointing to say the least.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Once Deceived, Twice Shy

A recent friendship, that I'm afraid has come to an end, has taught me to be more considerate of the difficulties that come with leaving a cult. My friend grew up in the RLDS (associated with Mormonism) but came to realize this was a false church many years ago and left it. Painfully aware of how thoroughly he had been deceived, he is very sensitive about being deceived again, and for years this has kept him from becoming part of any church.

He recently made attempts to become part of the church I attend, but a host of issues has led him away from any assembly. His path is a lonely one; separated from a community of redeemed sinners, alienated from the visible church, and her means of grace.

I believe my friend is sincere when he says his desire "is to bring honor to the Word of God and the purity of the gospel of Christ." But his desire is unachievable apart from the visible church since Christ came to join us to himself and to one another as his body, the people of God. We are not to be individual points of light in the world, but a city set on a hill. We are not to give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing (Heb 10:25).

In a fallen world we shouldn't expect purity, and this includes in the church. But for my friend, it appears that some of Joseph Smith's lies have yet to be rejected: the witness of the Christian church is so impaired that we must separate from it.

I do have pity for my friend and those in his situation. To be deceived by a cult is painful enough. Doing your best to avoid being tricked again makes sense. But I fear that going alone is just as dangerous a solution.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Causing Offense

I've written before about a Mormon I work with that has initiated a discussion with me about whether Mormons are Christians. As I was leaving work for the day yesterday, he came to me again and we spent an hour going over what defines a Christian and if the Mormon faith is a reasonable faith.

It was a civil discussion until near the end. Once he realized that I did not accept his attempts to refute my arguments and would not consider him a Christian, he with a flushed, angry face told me he was offended and off-loaded on me for a few minutes. At one point I had the suspicision he was thinking of striking me.

It will be awkward to continue working with him every day.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Giving Up the Love of God to Become the Sin of Men

Last Sunday's sermon pointed out to me
that the Son loves most His Father's charity.
In this he has delighted, ere the worlds began to be.

But from all eternity, there came a time in Galilee
when the Son willingly ended His Father's love to become iniquity.

"Son of God, come down from the cross," mocked the Pharisee.
O how close did this agree with the prayer at Gethsemane,
"My Father, if it possibly be, let this cup pass from me!"

To give up what you love most, to become what you most hate;
the love of God for the sin of men; the Son's sacrifice so great!

It was not only the Son who was tempted to bend,
one appeal to the Father--twelve legions of angels He would send.
Rescue my only Son, damn the world of sin!
O how close did the plan come to an end.

To give up what you love most, to redeem what you most hate,
the love of God for the sin of men; the Father's sacrifice so great!