Monday, June 30, 2008

Foolish Expectations

We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
We wailed, and you did not weep
(Luke 7:32)

I regularly receive phone calls from other men in the pastorate, asking my advice when there is trouble in their congregations. I don’t say this to make you think that I'm some kind of ecclesiastical guru or that I have all the answers to these kinds of church problems. I'm not and I don't. Most of these appeals come from friends or former seminary students with which I have maintained friendly relations.

Many of the problems arise when people in these congregations air their grievances with letters or emails to the pastor or session.

And, just to be clear, I'm not suggesting that this is wrong or that you should never address your elders or pastors with corrections and suggestions. That process can be quite healthy. I welcome genuine criticism. My leadership, and our church, is always in need of reformation and development. And, just to be balanced, there are times when Pastors and sessions do things that are very wrong or don't do things that are quite necessary. In situations like these, people in the congregation are justified in addressing their leaders.

Even so, I have a sizable collection of examples of these complaints and written accusations as they are passed on to me. And there's a disturbing pattern. Everybody has certain expectations about what the church is supposed to be doing, especially for them. And, to be honest with you, often these complaints sound like whining from spoiled children. The church isn't doing this enough or that enough. Or it's doing too much of something and not enough of something else.

I should also confess here that I myself am not free from this problem. As I grow older I have to repent of the way that I once criticized former churches and pastors and sessions and even my own presbytery and denomination. This is just to say that I am not only pointing my finger, I am reflecting on my own sinful foolishness as well.

The reoccurring, disturbing pattern is to demand that the church meet all of your own personal expectations. Which is often simply another way of saying: God needs to give me this and do that, or serve me this way and that, or I'm not gonna be happy with his church. You know how it goes. The pastor talks about sin and judgment too much. Then in the next paragraph; there's too much feasting and joking and partying in this church. The details of these grievances are often quite petty, even when they are dressed up with spiritual, pious talk and accented with biblical proof texts.

Each of us is that proverbial child in the market place that is never satisfied, whose expectations are never met. This is at the heart of our sinful condition. We think we know what we want and need and therefore sit down with our arms folded and wait for God to meet our expectations. Like spoiled children. Adult babies. Brats, I think is the proper word.

What you have in the Gospel stories is the Lord of heaven and earth, appearing in the flesh to serve his people, to serve the world, and nobody is satisfied with what he is doing. Everybody thinks that it's not enough or it's too much. Confounded, we know what we need and want, and this is not it.

And we know how it ends. Where it ends. It ends with the cross. Humanity doesn't get what it thinks it needs, what it expects from God, and and so we crucify the Lord of heaven and earth.

You and I must read the Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—as if they were mirrors. Not just windows on the foolishness of the Jews or the arrogance of the Romans, but mirrors. If the Spirit of God is at work in your heart and mind, you will see yourself in these stories.

As I have said so often, you have to learn to identify yourself, your behavior, your motives, with the sinful foolishness of the people of God when they are face to face with their Lord. You cannot say, "I would never do that. I'm not like that. I'm better than that. If I were there, I would have followed and defended Jesus." No, you wouldn't have. No, we don't. We would have done exactly what they did.

The questions Jesus puts to the crowds in passages like Luke 7:31-35 are questions put to us. They are not merely history, but the Word of God written for us. We stand before Jesus and our expectations are challenged, and by God's grace transformed and redefined so that we are able to receive and follow Jesus as he is, to receive the ministry of Jesus as he in fact works—whether he meets with our bratty, childish expectations or not.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Image of the Day

Since I'm on a roll with little critters on flowers here's another one.
Now I need to say something about this image. I proves something. It was not taken with my best Nikon camera. It proves that you don't need an expensive, pro camera to take a good picture. What you need is the right light and good timing. The early morning light for this shot was really nice. I walked outside to take some test pictures with a new used Nikon D40 I got from eBay. It's a gift for someone. I also got a 18-55 kit lens with it. I wanted to test the camera, so I just started taking pictures around the yard to make sure everything was working well. I caught this bee on the flower at just the right time. I don't think this shot would have been any better with my big, pro camera. I believe it would have looked about the same. Then too, of course, I wouldn't have gotten this kind of image with a little point and shoot. I had the D40 set on shutter speed priority (1/800 sec) to try to catch the moving bee. So one would have needed at least a DSLR for this shot. But what I didn't need was a 12.5 megapixel FX camera body or a $1000 prime Nikkor mirco lens. The little 6.1 mp D40 with a $70 lens worked just fine. Another caveat: I wouldn't have been able to take the macro shot of the little green hopper with this lens. But I would have been able to hook up my Nikkor micro lens to the D40 and get almost the same shot. I know some of you guys with D40s and D50s out there. Get out and capture some great images! You don't need an expensive camera. You can do it!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Image of the Day

A wider view of the baby hopper. (Nikon D300 w/Nikkor 60mm, f16, 1/8 sec, ISO 200, w/tripod, and morning light [9 AM]). The camera data for the hopper in the blog banner is the same except 1/30 sec shutter speed.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Supreme Court Gets It Right!

The Supreme Court announced its decision in reference to the case in which plaintiffs challenged the constitutionality of the Washington DC's gun ban. The District of Columbia appealed a lower court’s ruling last year affirming that the Second Amendment of the Constitution protects an individual right to keep and bear arms, and that the District’s bans on handguns, carrying firearms within the home, and possession of loaded or operable firearms for self-defense violate that right.

The case marks the first time a Second Amendment challenge to a firearm law has reached the Supreme Court since 1939.

From the Supreme Court's conclusion announced today:
In sum, we hold that the District’s ban on handgun possession in the home violates the Second Amendment, as does its prohibition against rendering any lawful firearm in the home operable for the purpose of immediate self-defense. Assuming that Heller is not disqualified from the exercise of Second Amendment rights, the District must permit him to register his handgun and must issue him a license to carry it in the home.

We are aware of the problem of handgun violence in this country, and we take seriously the concerns raised by the
many amici who believe that prohibition of handgun ownership is a solution. The Constitution leaves the District of Columbia a variety of tools for combating that problem, including some measures regulating handguns, see supra, at 54–55, and n. 26. But the enshrinement of constitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy choices off the table. These include the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home. Undoubtedly some think that the Second Amendment
is outmoded in a society where our standing army is the pride of our Nation, where well-trained police forces provide personal security, and where gun violence is a serious problem. That is perhaps debatable, but what is not debatable is that it is not the role of this Court to pronounce the Second Amendment extinct. We affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.
Read the entire decision here.

Liturgy in Brazil

This is pretty cool. Eduardo Chagas, a choirmaster at a Brazilian Presbyterian Church, has translated my old essay Why Presbyterians Don't Like Liturgy into Portuguese for Brazilian Presbyterians. If you read Portuguese, you can find it here.

Image of the Morning

I captured this yesterday in my back yard.

The green baby hopper on the banner was inside this flower.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Christ's Presence at the Table

Over at Evangelical Catholicity Jonathan Bonomo has a friendly response to Will Barker's talk at the GA Colloquium on the Sacraments. I think this kind of courteous, but pointed interaction with the substance of these talks is fruitful.

I said something like this in my comments on his post, but it bears repeating—over and over and over again. The way “spiritual” and “spiritually” are understood by most in conservative presbyterian circles is not Calvinian. Heck, it’s close to subchristian. It's certainly not biblical. It always amazes and angers me that people pit “spiritual” against “physical,” “material,” and/or “body” in popular Reformed theology. The adjective "spiritual" in the Bible is a reference to the work of the Holy Spirit. Something that is "spiritual" is "of the Holy Spirit," and not necessarily anti- or supra-material or physical. It’s the Holy SPIRIT, people! We should all agree to capitalize the word "Spiritual" from now on in order to get this straight.
"How is your Spiritual life this week?"
"Fine, I have been striving to not grieve the Spirit in my behavior at work"
"That's great. I've been praying for you."
What is worse, I’ve found that even most ministers think that the “spiritual presence of Jesus” in the Supper is a shorthand way of saying that he is omnipresent as God the Son. Press them about what they mean by "spiritual presence" and they will say that Jesus is present invisibly and “spiritually” in his divine nature at the Table. But that doesn't get us anywhere. God the Son is omnipresent as God always and everywhere. So is the "spiritual presence of Jesus" at the Lord's Supper nothing more than the reality of his divine presence at Home Depot or Greenbriar Golf Club? No. The miracle of the Lord's Supper is that the Holy Spirit makes the glorified, life-giving body and blood of Jesus present to his people.

Perhaps we are so sloppy in our thinking about the Supper because we practice it so infrequently and we are so frightened to say that Baptism and the Lord's Supper actually do something. Talking about Baptism and the Lord's Supper in our circles is pretty frustrating.

Sick Puppy

Yesterday Spencer was sick. But he is such a perfect puppy that he let us know that he needed to go outside to do his runny business. Not one drop inside. Nosiree. What a dog. Then in the evening he was on the bed with Chris when he jumped in her lap and started retching. She got up and took him into the bathroom where he obediently barfed into the toilet. Did I say he's a perfect puppy? Well, he splashed a little on the seat, but besides that he's better behaved sick than most of my kids (which isn't saying much). In honor of his exemplary behavior he got to go outside at dusk and get his portrait taken.

Behold the model dog!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Workhorse Lens

I see that Scott Kelby shot with his Nikon 18-200mm VR while he was in Italy on vacation. This lens gets some bad press in some snobby photographic circles. I might have thought that Scott was inside that circle, but apparently not. I have found this lens to be a great all-purpose lens. Great color, contrast, and sharpness. It has it's limitations. But once you know what they are you can work around them. For example, the little bit of distortion you get at the wide end can easily be fixed with PS3. It's just a great "walk around" lens. It's always on my D300 as the default lens. If I take my camera in the car with me and don't have room for any other lens (=I'm not wearing cargo shorts), this is the lens I take with me.

Oh, yeah, I shot the two images of the train below with this lens yesterday on the way home from dropping my son off at a party.

Today's Image

Another one. . .

Monday, June 23, 2008

Image of the Day

From the National Transportation Museum in St. Louis. . .

The Miracles of Jesus

It's very easy to get into a rut in reading and hearing all the miracle stories of Jesus. Since we don't spend much time in the Gospels, sometimes we just go there to gather apologetic evidences that Jesus is God. Look at the miracles Jesus performed. He healed a boy of sickness and he raised a man from the dead! Powerful miracles. Look, see, Jesus is God! This is the proof!

Well, not really. Lots of prophets in Israel performed miracles, even raising people from the dead (Elijah, for example). They all weren't God, were they? Of course not.

But we've gotten into a rut when we read the Gospel stories and we're not able to do much more with the accounts of Jesus' many mircles other than say that the Gospel writers are simply piling up evidence that Jesus is really powerful. To prove he's God Jesus goes around zapping people. Zap. This man's sickness is gone. Zap. This guy's hand is restored. Zap. This person can now walk. Zap. This woman's son is raised from the dead. Zap. Zap. Zap.

We're lazy. We don’t really listen to the individual miracles stories and pay attention to the details. We think we know in advance, regardless of the details, what the story is about. It’s always only about the power of Jesus as God to heal and raise people from the dead. It’s always about proving that Jesus is God by means of these miracles.

The miracles of Jesus are not primarily to prove he was God. That’s not the point. Not simply evidential displays of his divine power. This is a modern way of reading these stories—that jesus needed to prove his divinity to people who demanded evidence. We're reading our epistemological pathologies back into the text.

After all, if Jesus really wanted to show he was God by power-miracles, then he would have marched right over the temple, called a press conference, and then proceed to levitate the temple or something showy like that. Or why not vaporize the city of Rome? Something really big and cool. Something that would be so memorable that it would never be forgotten or doubted. Hmm. Yeah, right.

That's not what he did. Jesus' miracles are signs and symbols. Jesus is enacting the climatic fulfillment of the prophecies of old—that God would come and redeem Israel and the world. Jesus miraculous acts show us that Israel’s history is coming to a climax and the kingdom promised by the prophets was being inaugurated.

This past week I preached on Luke 7:1-17. The story of the healing of the Centurion's slave is also found in Matt. 8, but narrated in a different way. Why does Luke tell the story as he does? Interestingly, the emphasis does not fall on the healing itself. That’s not very developed at all and happens off scene. What is developed is the how the centurions request is delivered, the disconnect between the Jewish elder's rationale ("his is worthy") and the Centurion's real attitude ("I am not worthy"), and his amazing understanding of Jesus' status. But I'm not going to preach all of this here. I'm just calling attention to the fact that the miracle itself is marginalized in the story.

Similarly, after this in Luke 7, the account of the resurrection of the young man in Nain has details that must be carefully considered. Even describing it as "the resurrection of the young man" like I just did, alerts you to something odd in the narrative. It's not really about the young man. It’s the woman who is highlighted in the story. The dead man is simply identified as “his mothers only son.” And all the attention is on her. She was a widow. A considerable crowd was following HER. The Lord saw HER. He had compassion on HER. He said to HER, “don’t weep." And when the young man was raised, “Jesus gave him to his mother.”

These Mircles do indeed manifest that Jesus is Yahweh in the flesh, but they do so not because they are great acts of power and control—but rather they reveal the character of God in Christ—gracious and merciful. They are signs and symbols of Yahweh’s loving intentions for his people.

By doing these miracles, Jesus is announcing in his deeds that the promised great renewal of Isreal and of all creation was beginning. The King has come and is about his business of healing and restoration.

According to Luther, we hear the stories of Jesus' miracles and conclude: “Faith is a firm and certain conviction about God or a confidence in God to the effect that through Christ He is gracious, that through Christ his thoughts about us are thoughts of peace, not of affliction and wrath.”

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Coco Chocolate Lounge

My oldest daughter has a new position. She is now the pastry chef for a new restaurant in San Antonio, TX, called Coco Chocolate Lounge & Bistro. She makes all the desserts in house. Here's the dessert menu.

I wish we could be there for the grand opening on June 28th!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Show Forth the Lord's Death

In my presentation at the GA Colloquium on the Sacraments I argued for a more joyful, communal experience at the Lord's Table. Will Barker gave a brief, gracious response to my paper suggesting that there was a place for a more solemn experience at the Table. He based this on Paul's statement in 1 Cor. 11:26, "For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes." I believe Dr. Barker's 10 minute response will be posted shortly.

Here are a couple of things to think about. First, I grant that there can be a time and a place for a more solemn, subdued administration of the Supper. Depending on what's happening in the congregation, it may be appropriate given what is happening in the life of the congregation that week. The church may have a more subdued experience at the Table immediately after the death of a prominent member, or the excommunication of a brother or sister, or perhaps anytime when the congregation as a whole needs to mourn or repent. The first time the Corinthian church came together for the Lord's Supper after Paul's letter was read to the congregation probably wasn't the most joyful experience. I don't have a problem with occasional solemn communion services. At least once a year on Maunday Thursday the Supper should probably be experienced as such.

Second, "proclaiming the Lord's death" is not the same thing as mourning his death, or worse, attempting to relive the circumstances of his death. "Proclaiming the Lord's death" could mean one of two things. On the one hand, it could be a reference to the fact that the Good News of Jesus' death is proclaimed every time we eat the bread and drink the wine. The Supper is a public enactment of the application of the death of Jesus to the people of God. The fact that the "proclaiming" happens "as you eat this bread and drink the cup," means it's not a representation or reenactment of the death of Jesus. Eating and drinking cannot possibly be considered symbolic reenactments of death. Eating and drinking are about life and living!

The death of Jesus has happened. It's in the past. We come to the Table where the bread and wine are already there. The body and blood are separated, which means that the death has occurred. In the OT sacraficial system, the blood always had to be separated from the body of the animal, and that separation signaled the death of the victim. We come to the Table that has been spread for us because Jesus has already died. We now enjoy the fruits of his death. The death of Jesus cannot be reenacted at the Table. We can only enjoy the results of the death of Jesus—his body and blood given to us as food. Once again, it's a Table, not a tomb.

Third, the other interpretation of 1 Cor. 1:26 is the one I favor. The Lord's Supper is a covenant memorial meal. By means of the Supper the church memorializes the death of Jesus to the Father. When understood against the backdrop of the Old Testament "memorials," this New Covenant memorial meal is a dramatized ritual prayer reminding God of His covenant. The Lord’s Supper is the New Covenant memorial rite. It is the fulfillment of all the older ways that the Lord instituted as the means whereby His people would call upon His Name and dramatically ask Him to remember His covenant. All the memorials of the old order are now fulfilled and completed (compacted) into one simple covenantal memorial meal. Jesus says, “Do this as my memorial.”

At the Table we memorialize the death of Jesus. This is not about our "remembering" but about the church's reminding God of his covenant promises. It's about our action toward God. This is our prayer to God to remember Jesus and keep His covenant. We "show forth the Lord's death" to the Father asking Him to keep His gracious promises to us in Christ. In the case of the Lord’s Supper this memorializing is an act of the congregation, a pleading of the promises of God. This comes to focus in the prayers of thanksgiving (Greek: eucharist) and memorial before the bread and wine are distributed and eaten, but it is not limited to this. Indeed, the entire meal shows forth the death of Christ, as Paul says in 1 Cor. 11:26: as often as we eat and drink, we show forth the death of Christ.

This “proclamation” is not limited to the prayer or the breaking of the bread, but we memorialize Christ to the Father by means of the common meal. Here is the memorial of Your Son’s atoning sacrifice for us, O Lord, remember and be gracious towards us. Traditionally these prayers always included a summary of the life and work of Jesus Christ. A eucharistic memorial prayer should sound something like this:
It is truly appropriate and right that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to You, O Lord, our heavenly Father, almighty everlasting God. But it is especially fitting that we should now, gathered around this Table, thank You for Your gracious covenant promises to us in Christ. Remember, Father, our Lord’s humble birth, His holy life, His innocent sufferings and death, and His resurrection and ascension for us. Faithfully keep Your covenant with us for Jesus’ sake and come now to nourish and equip us for service in Your kingdom. By Your Spirit make the body and blood of our Lord life-giving nourishment for Your people; in Jesus’ Name we pray. Amen.
A Eucharistic prayer like this, then, together with the doing of the Lord’s Supper “show forth the death of Jesus” (1 Cor. 11:26) to the Father. The whole meal is a dramatic prayer, a pleading of the promises to the Father by memorializing His Son’s birth, life, suffering, death, and resurrection for us.

All of this to say that our "proclaiming the Lord's Death" at the Table does not demand or imply a solemn, funereal atmosphere for the Supper. The death of Jesus should be proclaimed joyfully, whether to others (as a Gospel enactment) or to the Father (as our memorializing of Jesus work for us).


Image of the Day

Friday, June 20, 2008

5 Great Teaching Company Lectures Sets

I am selling some great CD and DVD sets from the Teaching Company on eBay. You can get a great deal on these if you are interested in these history lectures. I've listened to these lectures once. The CDs or DVDs are in prefect condition. Here are the sets that are up for auction. Click on the title to get to my eBay auction.

1. History of Russia: From Peter the Great to Gorbachev (36 lectures, 30 minutes/lecture). Look here at the Teaching Company site for full details. Retail price for the DVD set:$269.95.

2. Victorian Britain (36 lectures, 30 minutes/lecture). Look here at the Teaching Company site for full details. Retail Price for the CD set: $269.95.

3. Europe and Western Civilization in the Modern Age (48 lectures, 30 minutes/lecture). Look here at the Teaching Company site for full details. Retail Price for the CD set: $359.95.

4. European Thought & Culture in the 19th Century (48 lectures, 30 minutes/lecture). Look here at the Teaching Company site for full details. Retail Price for the CD set: $179.95.

5. The Birth of the Modern Mind: An Intellectual History of the 17th and 18th century (48 lectures, 30 minutes/lecture). Look here at the Teaching Company site for full details. Retail Price for the CD set: $179.95.

Corporate Election

An oldie, but goodie. From the beginning of Donald Macleod's chapter on "Christ's Kirk" in A Faith to Live By: Christian Teaching that Makes a Difference (Mentor, 1988), pp. 222-23:
There is a sustained emphasis in both the Old and New Testaments on this corporate dimension of Christianity. We in the Reformed churches need to listen to this particularly carefully because the Reformation brought in a marked individualism. The conversion of the individual soul, individual converse with God in prayer, and the cultivation of our own individual spirituality are all necessary emphases. But we over-reacted to the corporatism of mediaeval Christianity and now need to balance our emphasis on the individual with a due stress on the importance of the community.

One example of the way we instinctively apply individually what the Bible almost certainly intended to be applied corporately is Paul’s well-known directive to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). It is virtually certain from the context that Paul was thinking not of the individuals at Philippi but of the corporate well-being of the congregation there. Things were being done from envy and jealousy. Paul concludes his discussion of the issue by asking them to work out their own salvation. The word salvation is used here in its general sense of health or well-being, reminding us of the importance of attending not simply to our own individual spiritual needs but also to the well-being of the churches and congregations of which we are a part.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Image of the Day

Having a little fun with an old image.

Who are the Enemies of the Faithful in the NT?

Luke records Zechariah singing about being "saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us" (1:71) and "being delivered from the hand of our enemies" (1:74).

But who are these enemies? It is common to say that Zechariah speaks for the Jews and that their enemies are the Romans. But is that right? It doesn't seem correct to me.

First, even if some of the Jews thought the Romans were their enemies, they were in fact appointed by God as their guardians. The book of Daniel makes that clear. And at this point in their history Rome wasn't really oppressing Jews. And they didn't appear to "hate" the Jews. Many of the Jews may have hated being ruled by the Jews, but that's a different matter altogether.

Second, if you look at the Gospel of Luke (or any of the Gospels for that matter) the Romans are not portrayed as enemies. Neither do they act like enemies of the faithful. Even Pilate has to be manipulated into condemning Jesus by the Jews.

Third, Zechariah's prophesy is not in fact fulfilled by the Jews being set free from the Romans. As it turns out the Romans are the instrument of God's judgment on the Jews! When the judgment that Jesus continually talks about in his ministry comes, it is the Jewish leaders and Jerusalem, not Rome, that is destroyed.

I'm taking the "us" and "our" pronouns in Zechariah's song to refer to the remnant of faithful believers in Israel. Their enemies
were the Herods, the Pharisees, and the chief priests, scribes, and lawyers of their own people. At least, that's how it turns out in the story. And the faithful people of God who cling to Jesus and form a new community are indeed freed from those enemies. Later, of course, Rome becomes hostile to the Christians, but it's mainly the Jewish leadership that are the enemies until the mid-60's AD. That's how Jesus sees it, too.

Fifth, NT Wright makes a big deal about Rome being the enemy of the Jews, but I just don't see it in the story of the Gospels or even the first part of the story of the church. It was the powerful troublemakers in authority in Israel that deflected attention from their own oppressive actions in order to demonize Rome as the big enemy of Israel. The powerful wicked in Israel, the enemies of the small faithful remnant in the land, saw Rome as an enemy because they related to Rome as a mimetic rival. They loved to hate Rome. They hated to love Rome.

I think N.T. Wright needs Rome to be the enemy because his big thing is that Israel is still in exile. It doesn't work. Isreal is not in exile in the first century. They returned from exile centuries ago. After they returned to the land being under Persian, Greek, and then Roman authority was not the same thing as being in exile. According to the prophesy of Daniel, living under these world emperors was God's new way of guarding them.

I believe this is one of the problems with the "new" way of reading the Gospels that NTW and others are now advocating. All this talk about the exile never being over and whatnot ignores what Daniel, Ezekiel, and others say about Israel's new role after the exile. The simple remnant of faithful believers actually lived like Daniel and the prophets instructed - submitting to Persia, Greece, and Rome and being faithful to the calling of Israel to serve the world. The enemies of the godly remnant were themselves rebels against God's order and therefore Roman overlordship. They are the leaders of Israel at the time of Jesus ministry. They are the true enemies Zechariah prophesies against.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


I first saw this photo as a thumbnail image on Drudge, but it wasn't properly linked so I couldn't find a larger image. Turns out The New York Times ran it yesterday.
When the weather turned violent and stormy on Tuesday evening, Lori Mehmen, who lives in the small farming town of Orchard in northeastern Iowa, looked out her front door and saw a funnel cloud bearing down — and evidently had the presence of mind to grab her digital camera and capture this shot before taking cover.
If she would have had a better camera, this would have been the shot of a lifetime. As it is, she actually composed it pretty well. Man, I would have loved to have my camera in this situation. I suspect a wide angle lens would have captured more of the cloud and funnel.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Who is a Christian?

Baptized children are Christians. What's the problem? A baptized baby is a Christian. Covenant children who have been baptized are called Christians. What else would they be called?

Why is there such resistance to this? Some people act as if they have never heard of such a thing before. I guess it's because we have grown accustomed to talking about people "becoming Christians" when they are older and have conversion experiences. A baptized child then "becomes a Christian" when he gets old enough to pray a certain prayer or experience the guilt of sin and the forgiveness of Christ in a more mature way. If this is how one "becomes a Christian" how can we considered little children "Christians" before they have had such an experience? You see the problem.

But this is not really the best way to put it. I'm all for conversion experiences. Our Christian children need to experience the power and guilt of sin in order to appreciate the forgiveness of God. But when a baptized Christian child experiences in a fresh, mature way God's mercy and grace in high school or college they have not "become a Christian." They are growing and learning truths about themselves and God that they couldn't learn as little children. That's great. It's absolutely needful. But let's stop telling them that they weren't Christians before those experiences. That's just not accurate.

A baptized infant bears the name of Christ. God graciously gives him a new name. He is baptized into the name of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The child is thereby baptized into the body of Christ and becomes a member of the church. Baptized children don't "join the church" later on when they are older. Their formal admission into the membership of the church is by baptism. And if they are members of the church, they are Christians. How could it be otherwise?

But someone might ask,"But are they truly Christians? Are they really, genuinely Christians?" And by this they no doubt are asking if this particular baptized child is regenerate and one of the elect? But this same question can be asked of any member of the church, child or adult. There are all sorts of people who pray the sinners prayer, have singular conversion experiences, profess faith in Christ, etc. They don't all turn out to be "real, true Christians," do they?

You see, this way of using the designation "Christian" is really not very helpful at all. If we are talking about inward regeneration and a true change of heart, how can anyone know for certain who is a "true Christian." We can't. We don't deal directly with other people's hearts and souls. We relate to each other through words and actions and ritual signs.

And why do we deny to little children genuine spirituality? Why can't little children have a faith appropriate to their age? Why must all professions of faith by little children be regarded with such suspicion? Why is it more real for an adult to say, "I believe," than for a little child? I seem to recall Jesus making the faith of little children paradigmatic for adults! We have reversed it.

Baptized children are Christians. We ought to relate to them as such. We pray that they grow up to be faithful Christians. This is the proper qualifying adjective. There are lots of Christians who are not faithful to their calling in baptism. Some even must be cut off from the body of Christ and lose the privilege of being called "Christian." All of us are inconsistent and fail to live up to the name we were given at Baptism. Even so, at Baptism infant children receive the name "Christian."

Here's a helpful portion of the Second Helvetic (Swiss) Reformed confession (A.D 1566) on Baptism:
WHAT IT MEANS TO BE BAPTIZED. Now to be baptized in the name of Christ is to be enrolled, entered, and received into the covenant and family, and so into the inheritance of the sons of God; yes, and in this life to be called after the name of God; that is to say, to be called a son of God; to be cleansed also from the filthiness of sins, and to be granted the manifold grace of God, in order to lead a new and innocent life. Baptism, therefore, calls to mind and renews the great favor God has shown to the race of mortal men. For we are all born in the pollution of sin and are the children of wrath. But God, who is rich in mercy, freely cleanses us from our sins by the blood of his Son, and in him adopts us to be his sons, and by a holy covenant joins us to himself, and enriches us with various gifts, that we might live a new life. All these things are assured by baptism. For inwardly we are regenerated, purified, and renewed by God through the Holy Spirit and outwardly we receive the assurance of the greatest gifts in the water, by which also those great benefits are represented, and, as it were, set before our eyes to be beheld.

Image of the Day

I took this a few years ago, but reprocessed it yesterday to make it a bit better.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Inside the Ark

In lamenting the sorry state of the church in modern times, many Christians tend to idealize the church. There is this enormous temptation for conservative Christians when they survey the state of the contemporary church to put before people an idealized, utterly unrealistic vision of the church.

It is very easy to tick off a long list of problems in the churches of our time - doctrinal, moral, organization, theological, relational, whatever. It is almost just as easy to put forward a perfectionistic vision of what the church ought to be and be doing.

Consequently many people run here and there looking for the ideal church. If it's theology you want, you will never be satisfied with any of the actual churches available to you. If it's mission and mercy ministries, then you will always be severely disappointed. Maybe it's friendship and genuine, deep, real fellowship (small groups or accountability groups). But alas, what local body of believers really practices the ideal. Whatever the ecclesiasteical utopia you have idealistically constructed in your mind, you are going to be severely disappointed with the church as she actually exists in time and space, and in your neighborhood. There really is no greener grass; it's all pretty brown and weedy.

Many people, therefore, are deeply alienated from and are frustrated by the church. They bounce from one church to another or from one leader to another in search of the elusive ideal community.

When he had occasion, in his commentaries and sermons, to say something about Noah and the ark, John Calvin observed that it would have been stupefying for "Noah and his household to live for ten months in a fetid heap of animal droppings, in which humans could hardly breath." Noah and his family were shut up in the claustrophobic ark living "in filth that would suffocate the strongest man in half an hour. So the ark became a kind of grave for the living Noah.”

Given that the ark is a prophetic image of the church in the world. I have often recalled Calvin's comments and been comforted and reoriented about life in the church. It's realistic, not idealistic. It's brutally honest. The church often feels and smells like the ark must have. And yet, outside of the ark? The flood. The wrath of God. Death.

Traditionally, the architecture of the church has embodied this vision. Because it looks like the inside of a boat, the area of the church where we worship is referred to as the "nave", from whence we get our word "navy."

At any rate, I spent the week in Dallas at the 36th General Assembly of the PCA with 840 ministers and 291 ruling elders. Inside the ark, if you will.

And it would be quite natural for me to comeback and report on the stench. We could run down a list of all the disappointing aspects of the assembly, our denomination, and our fellow leaders. Some pastors will do just that.

Or, conversely, I could simply hold my nose and make a cheerful, upbeat report on how great our denomination is, how excited I am about our ministries, pretending there are no foul odors in our wonderful, beloved PCA. Many pastors will make such reports. Indeed, a few years ago one commissioner to the GA, as we debated about a new sanctioned denominational logo, suggested that an appropriate one might be that of a cleaning lady sweeping the dirt under the rug.

But both of these approaches would be wrong. And, surprisingly, both of these extremes are the result of thinking about the church is such idealistic terms that one must either keep the reality from people to make them think that the church is much better than she really is or be constantly complaining that the church fails so miserably that we need to form a new denomination so we can be pure.

Instead, the ancient wisdom of the Spirit contained in one of the church's oldest creeds ought to recaptured. "I belive in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church." I believe. Whatever I see, whatever I smell, I believe, I trust that the church is one, is holy, is catholic and apostolic. This church, my church, my regional and local church (PCA). Not some romantized church of the past or some imaginary church of the future. No. The only church there is. The one we belong to, the one that is assembled every Sunday and in countless places around the world in Jesus' name.

The creed does not say that the church is perfect. There is no hint of ecclesiastical utopianism here. It doesn't make us claim that the church is infallible. We do not confess that we will be best friends with everyone sitting next to us. Or that we will experience open and dangerously honest intimacy with every other member of the church. We are not told that the church will fix all our problems. Or that the ministry of the church will be able to solve all our troubles or heal all our maladies. Moreover, we are not promised that everyone's sanctification will progress with the same speed and upward improvement.
Rather, we believe, we trust in what God has told us about his church in his Word: that she is one, holy, catholic and apostolic.

Bottom line: we must believe that our particular branch of the church, the Presbyterian church in America, is a member of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. We believe. We trust. Faith, not sight.

Of course, we should strive to manifest the oneness, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity of our particular church. But that's on on-going project. It will never end short of the new heavens and earth.

The ancient saying is true: one cannot have God for his Father unless he has the church for his mother. The church, like Noah’s ark, may stink on the inside, but it sure beats drowning in the wrath of God on the outside.

Lord, I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church. Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

New Images

Crud. I made some really dumb mistakes with the first images I posted from my trip to Dallas. I forgot to convert the color profile from Nikon Adobe to sRGB before I posted them. As a result the colors were all washed out on the web. The other problem I had was using my laptop's screen to edit the images. I really can't get good results with my MacBook. It's just not made for photo editing. Now that I've re-edited all my images they are all up on my SmugMug page. Take a look here if you want.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Doing the Rite of Communion Right

The Colloquium on the Sacraments went well this morning. A good time was had by all. You can find a copy of all the papers here. The title of my lecture was "Efficacy and Ritual Performance: How the Administration of the Sacraments Affects What They Actually Accomplish." Have at it. I'll try to post an audio version sometime soon.


Here are all four presentations in the order they were presented. The first one has the opening comments of the moderator and then Will Barker's presentation. Enjoy!

Will Barker's Presentation on the Reformation and puritan background (7.1mb mp3 file)

Rob Rayburn's presentation (6.7mb mp3 file).

Ligon Duncan's presentation (6.1mb mp3 file)

Jeff Meyers's presenation (7.9mb mp3 file).

Responses from each speaker and Q & A session.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


This is the John F. Kennedy memorial in Downtown Dallas, Texas.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Dallas, Texas

I'm in Dallas for a few days. The sky and clouds were great for this picture this evening. This is Reunion Tower and the Hyatt Regency Hotel (where I'm staying). I expect to get some better images over the next few days. I'm not quite sure if I can trust my laptop display when I'm processing these images in Photoshop and Capture NX.

Old Picture

I came across this 4-year-old image while I was checking out Nikon's new Capture NX 2.0 software. I love Capture NX for processing my D300 NEF files. The user interface is clumsy, but it does such a nice job with Nikon camera images. Jeffrey must have shot this image of me practicing with my bow. Pretty good form, ahem.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Gemstone Anniversary Sale

Check out my wife's 3 year anniversary sale on rings and pendants at A Cut Above. Take 10% off and take two months to pay when you purchase anything from that page during the month of June. Don't miss this sale. She has some pieces that retail for more than twice as much as her listed price.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Back from the Retreat

I've been away for a couple of days with the seminary interns at our church. Here we are at the cabin. Feel free to print off this picture and use it as a dart board.