Archive for March, 2010

That's one big gator.

When CavWife and I were first married we bought annual passes to Busch Gardens.  It only cost us the price of one admission, so that was a no-brainer.  We enjoyed going, and I particularly enjoyed the roller coasters (one time I enjoyed them too much due to the absence of a line).  But we haven’t been in nearly 8 years.  With our immanent move to AZ on the horizon, we decided to take the kids to build some memories.  We thought they’d love the animals.

A friend connected us with free passes for pre-school kids.  I was able to get discounted tickets for CavWife and I through my job at the hospital.  We picked a day and decided to go.  The night before we went I was on line looking at rides for pre-schoolers.  They have a new Sesame Street Pre-School area with rides and a water area.  Looked way cool.

They just wanted to touch the duck

We got a late start on our trip, leaving 50 minutes later than I had wanted to leave.  The clouds were quasi-ominous, but started to clear as we drew near to Busch Gardens.  Since we recently went to Disney, I was comparing them as we went.  In terms of parking, Busch Gardens was cheaper than Disney.  We had a spot right by the tram, but we walked (why, oh why- oh, because it is a pain to fold the strollers when they have water bottles and lunch in them).

We entered the park and began to get oriented and develop a plan of action.  There they had a countdown to the opening of the new Sesame Street area- we were 1 day early.  Ooops.  Maybe we’ll head back since the passes are good for 2 weeks.  So we checked out the gators- the really old, fat and sleepy gators.  But the kids loved it, and that is what matters.


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I have  a review copy of volume 1 of A History of Christianity by Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch on DVD.  I need to watch and review it soon.  I’ll have more time in the next week or so.

But here is an interview courtesy of the B&B Media Group with Dr. MacCulloch that may prove helpful.

Q: A History of Christianity corrects several misconceptions regarding Christianity’s past and traditions, beginning with the earliest days of the fledgling religion. How does the true history of Christianity’s origins differ from the version most of us know?

A:  Today, Christianity is seen as a Western faith. Indeed, many in the Muslim world would see Western lifestyles as Christian lifestyles. But Christianity is not by origin a Western religion. Its beginnings are in the Middle East, where there still exist churches which have been Eastern since the earliest Christian era. For centuries, Christianity flourished in the East, and indeed, at one point, it was poised to triumph in Asia, maybe even in China. The headquarters of Christianity might well have been Baghdad rather than Rome, and if that had happened, Western Christianity would have been very different. The story of the first Christianity tells us the Christian faith is, in fact, hugely diverse with many identities. The history of Christianity has been the never-ending rebirth of a meeting with Jesus Christ, the resurrected son of God. For some, like the Oriental and Orthodox churches, the meeting has been through ritual and tradition, or the inner life of the mystic. For Western Catholics, through obedience to the Church. In Protestant churches, through the Bible. And it’s the variety that is so remarkable in Christianity’s journey. It’s reached into every continent and adapted to new cultures. That’s the hallmark of a world religion.


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Don't let this good thing become ultimate!

I am re-reading Tim Keller’s Counterfeit Gods.  There are so many great thoughts to ponder there.  I’ve been very busy, so I haven’t had the time to blog on as many as I would like.  Today is semi-quiet and I have time to put some words to one of the things I read this morning while waiting for CavWife’s car to be repaired.

Keller was talking about religious idols.  Not graven images that people bow down toward.  Rather, the types of idols that religious communities are prone to worship instead of the One True God.  To some people that may sound strange, but it really isn’t.

“Making an idol out of doctrinal accuracy, ministry success, or moral rectitude leads to constant internal conflict, arrogance and self-righteousness, and oppression of those whose views differ.”

Being a part of the Reformed community, I have seen my share of all three.  At times I’ve been guilty of worshiping them in some way, shape or form.

Keller is not saying it is wrong to pursue truth, seek to be effective in ministry or live an upright and godly life.  The problem is when any of these takes the place of Christ as the basis of our standing before God.

Presbyteries are funny things.  They are to hold ministers and churches to the doctrinal standards of the denomination.  But we can easily focus on the minor points and exclude brothers unjustly for not signing every jot and tittle of our doctrinal standards.  This is merely the opposite extreme of not holding people to established standards.

But it is not just Presbyteries or denominations.  Christians can go at it rather heatedly over fine points.  People can leave churches over fine points of theology.  It is not the discussing of them that is the problem, but the lack of love in which we pursue it because we worship our theology more than we love our brother made in God’s image.

Central to the debate between Van Til and Clark

In one of the books I’ve got stashed in a box until I get to Tucson, there is a quote by Dutch theologian Herman Bavink from his deathbed.  It basically reads, “My systematic theology cannot save me.”  He was counting on Christ, not his theology, to save him from God’s wrath.  We can worship truth instead of the Truth.

When we do this we condemn those who disagree with us.  We are unable to graciously disagree with others on lesser points.  This ought to be a sign to us that we have gone off track and have put our theology (or moral rectitude) above God.

We can do this, as mentioned, with moral rectitude as well.  When we put one sin above others- common ones include homosexuality, abortion, and drunkenness- we condemn those who commit those sins while ignoring other sins which we tend to commit- like gluttony, gossip, covetousness, and deceit.  We assume a position of moral superiority instead of humbly offering the gospel as one sinner to another.

When we worship success, we can quickly sacrifice doctrine and morality to achieve it.  Having a big ministry (or business) becomes the standard by which we measure people.  The book Outliers (which Keller mentions in another chapter) points out that most of what makes a person successful (or a failure) is beyond our control.  So we are exalting or ignoring people based on God’s providential working in their lives.  Their worth, or future effectiveness are not based on past performance.  We are not justified by success (nor condemned for it).

It is so difficult for “religious” people to see their idols because they seem such a part of our religious communities.  But we become toxic, harming others based on our standards instead of treating them with love, humility and grace.  We live out of step with the gospel, and keep people from the gospel.  May we let go of such worthless idols that we might grasp the grace that is ours through Christ.

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Since I was preparing to fly out to Tucson to be examined for transfer to the Southwest Presbytery of the PCA, I was not at the called Synod meeting regarding Erskine.  I still have many close friends in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.  I still want the ARP to prosper.  But, I am not up on all the “in”s and “out”s of this matter.  (Dr. William Vandoodewaard -how’s that for a good Dutch name- has a short summary of the actions and responses to date.)

I have sat in many a Synod meeting prior to this discussing matters pertaining to Erskine.  I know many have a great desire to see Erskine reflect the commitments of the ARP as a Reformed and Evangelical denomination.

Perhaps a bit of history is in order.  In the 50’s and 60’s many in the ARP had fallen under the spell of neo-orthodoxy.  The seminary had been compromised.  But men from seminaries like Reformed, Westminster and Covenant were entering the denomination.  In the 70’s the problem came to a head in the battle over Scripture.  The historical Reformed view of Scripture was affirmed, and the neo-orthodox view was rejected.

But a denominational statement does not instantly change the minds of men.  Some held to their views, and some of those men remain in the denomination today.  There were no witch hunts.  Most of those who held a more neo-orthodox view of Scripture and theology have retired or are close to retiring.  It would appear that Erskine seems to represent this fading minority more than the traditional majority.  Like most evangelical colleges, they use “academic freedom” to embrace ideas unbiblical ideas.  Institutions tend to drift left over time.  That is, unless they have a group of people who call them back to orthodoxy.  (Erskine professor Bill Evans has a great article on how misrepresentations of inerrancy have run rampant to stir up fear.)

This is a rare thing.  The ARP and the SBC are the only two groups I know of who have moved left and then moved back to the right.  It is never done without kicking and screaming.  I visited Southern Baptist Theological Seminary shortly after Al Mohler became the President.  I was considering a Ph.D.  at the time.  The students were angry, fearing that SBTS would be destroyed.  The old, established faculty seemed to resent him.

Erskine is going through the same fear, the same concern.  The status quo is being challenged.  People feel alienated, as though their understanding of the faith is being questioned.  In some cases that is true.  But Erskine is not an independent institution.  It is part of the ARP and under its authority.  It continues to receive funds from the ARP.  It is being loved by the ARP, and they are trying to love it well.  But since kinder, gentler means have gone unsuccessful, these more drastic measures are a kind of tough love.  In this day and age such love is not welcomed but resisted.  After all, isn’t this part of our fallen human nature?

If you have time, pray for Erskine and the ARP.  They need a new President (and Philip Ryken would have been a great choice if he hadn’t already gone to Wheaton).  It will take a strong man, a principled yet gracious man to make the changes that are necessary to make Erskine representative of the views of the ARP.  Sadly this problem distracts the ARP from considering the cause of the gospel and the health of its congregations.  But, by the grace of God, Erskine may once again strengthen the ARP and help them fulfill the great commission.

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One of the hot books among Reformed pastors these days is The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne.  If you haven’t heard of them, it may be because they are Australian.  The fact that these brothers are from “down under” shows up in some of the words and spellings utilized in the book.  But that does not mean the material is irrelevant to churches here in the States, or elsewhere.

My friend Morgan had an extra copy and passed it along to me.  I’m glad, I’m reading it as I prepare for my new call in Arizona.  The subtitle is The Ministry Mind Shift that Changes Everything.  That is a mighty bold claim, but how we think about ministry determines how we go about ministry.  Marshall and Payne are noticing some wrong ways of thinking and going about ministry.  Their goal is to reorient the church to a more biblical understanding and therefore practice.  In other words, orthodoxy leading to orthopraxy.

What did they notice?  One of them spent some time pondering their landscaping.  There they noticed a beautiful trellis and a meager trellis.  What was more important than the relative beauty of the trellises was that one had a thriving vine on it, and the other didn’t.  One trellis was beautiful, but it’s purpose was not to be beautiful, but to support a thriving vine.

Ministry has become, for many, more about having a beautiful trellis than a thriving vine.  This is the opposite of what ministry is about in Scripture.  This is there thesis.  Just as the vine needs the trellis, churches need the proper structure and support for the church to grow.  But a good vine dresser spends most of his time on the vine, not the trellis.  Most pastors spend most of their time on the structure instead of the Body.


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With the call approved by Presbytery, CavWife and I needed to find a new home.  Thankfully, there is a contract on our home and we have a rough idea of what we can afford for a down payment.  When I purchased our home, it was just me.  This is the first time we have gone house hunting together.

The realtor had about 10 properties for us to look at that fell within our criteria.  Here is some of what we were thinking:

  • Being far from family, we wanted to have enough bedrooms for the kids and some visitors.  That room could also double as a home office.
  • Being a pastor & his family, we want to practice hospitality.  There must be room to entertain.  This includes a bigger kitchen than the one we currently have.  We often feed families in our garage as a result.
  • We’d like a back yard big enough for the kids to play in.
  • We wanted a street wide enough for visitors to park comfortably, and quiet enough for the kids to play in without the constant fear of being hit by a car.
  • It had to be in good shape since I am not the handiest guy on the face of the planet.
  • It had to be able to close in mid-April, which ruled out the numerous short sales that were flooding the market.
  • We wanted to be relatively close to the church facility, preferably to the south to be more accessible to those south of facility.

Off we went, starting with a distressed home on a quiet cul de sac.  I mean distressed… it would require lots of work including new tile.  Then off to an estate sale.  They had painted it and put in new carpet, but it still looked dated, needed new linoleum and lots of work in the back yard.  The common areas were not well laid out (we saw that often).  But since it was a big improvement over the first home, it was clearly #1.

Much bigger than our current kitchen

Next was the home previously owned by an handicapped individual.  Apparently a caretaker lived there too, explaining the 2nd door from the garage and a side door to the furthest room.  They offered to restore the kitchen to proper heights, and the back yard was beautiful.  But the shower had no door, and you had to go through the 2nd bedroom to get to the 3rd, and both to get to the 4th.  I was not wild about a door that CavSon could sneak out of at any age, or that any boy could sneak in when CavGirl gets to be a teenager.  Not an option.

Finally a kitchen she can love

One it went with things like half completed upgrades, missing doors, a missing tank on a toilet, horrendous carpets, lousy paint jobs (where they drunk at the time), funky colors, narrow roads and more.  One cheery neighbor informed us the cul de sac had a Disney theme for Christmas.  As if the distressed state of the foreclosed home wasn’t enough…


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“No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!”  I was expecting this Inquisition, but week has been “different.”  While I was trying to prepare, my father-in-law became ill.  The day before we were set to leave to Tucson, he was admitted to the hospital with severe renal failure.  We drove down to Bradenton just in case.  Thankfully, he was brought to the hospital in the nick of time.  They put him on dialysis, and he should recover soon.   But it was scary, and we did not expect to spend 3-4 hours in the car getting there and back.  While we were gone the home inspection took place.  The inspector said that our home was “well taken care of” so we passed.  The sale process continues.

Thursday was a long travel day.  After a short night’s sleep we left for the airport at 5:30 am.  I broke from my pattern of using the satellite parking to try one of these park & ride services.  We tried Park Fast and Relax.  I am so glad we did.  I didn’t realize the offered paper was free.  But the parking was covered and the very clean shuttle van pulled up to our parking space.  We saved money and were at our terminal more quickly.  I can’t believe I waited this long to try it out.

Since we did not have a long layover in Chicago, we picked up sandwiches while waiting for our flight to board in Orlando.  Some nice sandwiches from Au Bon Pain, the Roast Beef Caesar Sandwich.  My tea was so hot I nearly needed asbestos gloves to handle the cup.  We were both wiped out from the past few days, so I did not get any studying done on the first leg of our trip.  I worked on a crossword puzzle.


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I’m currently working on a sermon on idolatry.  Since I was addressing the topic in my recent sermon on Jonah 2, I thought that would be an ‘easy’ sermon to put together as I prepare for my trip to Arizona for my examination before Presbytery.

David Powlison has some good material on the subject.  His article Idols of the Heart and “Vanity Fair” seeks to connect counseling with this biblical pre-occupation.  He touches on my sermon text, the seemingly odd 1 John 5:21.  Idols are sinful substitutes for fellowship with the living God, which takes up most of John’s letter.

There is also Tim Keller’s excellent new book, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters.  He is like a gentle physician seeking to make you well.  He’s kind to you as he tried to cut out your spiritual cancer.

Hidden in my boxes of books (one of my idols at times) I’ve got some good resources.  One is Elyse Fitzpatrick’s Idols of the Heart: Learning to Long for God Alone.  She relies on the Puritans as she navigates the dark places of our hearts, and shed light on them.  It is a discomforting book precisely because our hearts are “factories of idols” (Calvin).

Also locked away is an older book by Dan Allender and Tremper Longman III which has been re-released as Breaking the Idols of Your Heart: How to Navigate the Temptations of Your Heart.  They work their way through Ecclesiastes to show how idols operate in our lives.

At some point I’d like to pick up G.K. Beale’s We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry.  Perhaps a bit more academic, but a thorough treatment of idolatry in Scripture.

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