Beginning Anew

Last night we held our first prayer meeting at the church I pastor. Not Bible Study and Prayer. Not even Prayer and Bible Study. Just prayer.

But we are not exactly flying blind. Before praying we took turns reading Psalm 32 aloud. For the prayer time I would again read 1-2 verses of the Psalm and then we would pray as those verses led us to. (See Learning to Pray through the Psalms.)

We still have mid-week Bible Study. This is just for prayer.

So what will happen because of this? What will be the result? I don’t know. Maybe nothing. Which is pretty much what has been going on the past four years.

But I’m praying the Lord make me a praying pastor. And that He makes our church a praying church. If that happens, we will at least have Him: which is the most we could look forward to.


The Gospel (Coalition) and Ferguson

There is an interesting contrast of perspectives on happenings in Ferguson over at The Gospel Coalition. I am not sure “contrast” is strong enough; nor if “interesting” is clear enough; but nonetheless…

Thabiti Anyabwile has had several posts on the death of Michael Brown and its aftermath.

Voddie Baucham contributed some thoughts published on Wednesday.

These two men have radically different views on what has been happening in Ferguson, and what should be done in the aftermath. Thabiti has already put forth a rebuttal of Voddie’s arguments.

In a moment this will sound contradictory, but I am not writing to take a “side” in the debate: even though I am in pretty much full agreement with one of them. I am not writing to take a side, but I think a side has to be taken.

I realize the ethos of TGC is that we are in agreement on the gospel, while we may disagree about “lesser” matters. Even as it is pretty much recognized that one only gets cache in said Coalition if he has a Calvinistic soteriology and non-Dispensational ecclesiology/eschatology.

Agreeing on the gospel is all well and good, but the gospel demands discrimination. Given the larger subject matter here, “discrimination” risks being incendiary; that is not my intent though.

The noun “gospel” occurs more times in the little book of Philippians more than in any other New Testament book except Romans. The “big center” of the book (1:27-4:9) is really all about living a citizen worthy of the gospel-kingdom. At both the beginning and end of the book, believers are confronted with the truth that the gospel changes our minds (1:9-11; 4:8-9). The gospel changes what we think about; how we think; how we distinguish/discern/discriminate; how we live.

It is good for brothers to come together and discuss their differences. Some differences are long-lived. Justin Martyr speaks of differing eschatological viewpoints even in his day. Some differences are going to last until the Great Day. But even in these agreeable disagreements, someone is wrong. Even if we don’t yet know who it is. Other disagreements can and should be hashed out.

The opinions of Anyabwile and Baucham are opposed to one another. I think Anyabile’s reply makes that unmistakable. I think these men understand they have different viewpoints- with little middle ground. They both might be wrong, one might be right, but both are not and cannot be right.

So I am not sure what TGC is hoping to achieve by presenting both viewpoints without further comment. The gospel indeed holds Thabiti and Voddie together in a bond that can never be broken. But that same gospel demands that their opposing views by examined in all love, knowledge, and discernment so that what is excellent may be recognized.

Are we all to just pick our side?

Or can the gospel bring us together?

My Life is a Dream Come True

The Lord has blessed me with an invaluable companion. I am married to woman who loves me faithfully. My wife is faithful to me. More importantly, she is faithful to the Lord. She loves the Lord and desires to please Him. She is far more precious than jewels. My heart trusts in her.

The Lord has blessed me with 5 children. They are happy children. They are growing children: growing in the Lord. They love me with eagerness and excitement. I have no greater joy than seeing them walking in truth.

The Lord has blessed me by counting me faithful, appointing me to his service. For what thanksgiving can I return to God for you, for all the joy that I feel for your sake before our God? I am the pastor of a patient flock of the Lord. They are faithful and forgiving of my faults; though they be many.

There are many who say, “Who will show us some good? Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!” You have put more joy in my heart than they have when their grain and wine abound. In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.

Confessions of a failing pastor

For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men.

As a pastor, to a lesser extent- a much lesser extent- I share in this being “a spectacle.” One aspect of that is the public nature of my failings. Sure, like you, I can harbor my secret sins. But I do not have the luxury of coming to church, not saying anything to anyone, and leaving. When things are “going bad” at church, no one is blaming the janitor. No one is murmuring about the secretary. No one whispers about the nursery worker. For better or worse, whether you like it or not, the state of the church is a reflection of the pastor’s work. My failings are on display every week. People see my mistakes. People have been my mistakes. People know my failures.

But people have no idea of my failures. I have read the books, I have aced the classes. I know what a “good” pastor should do and be. I have read the books, I know what a “good” sermon should be and do. Have you seen my failures? You have not seen the half of them. Have you seen my failures? Be thankful you do not know their weight. I know what God expects. I know what Christ deserves. I know my failures, be glad you do not.

The Lord confronted me with some of my failures several months ago. I was leaving church and walking home. I was 8 steps out the door. I was at the edge of sidewalk ready to step onto the gravel parking lot.

“What if everyone at this church cared about it as much as you do?” (And by “as much” the Lord unmistakably intended “as little.”)

“Excuse me?”

“You heard me.”

I felt like just getting in my car and driving until there was no more road to drive: and then driving a little more for good measure.

I am the problem.

I have failed at the most important job I have: magnifying a God who is worth loving with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength. I have failed at leading people to fall in love with Christ.

I was in love with “the church.” Not so much with “this church.” I was in love with Hebrews 12:18-24. Not so much with Hebrews 12:14-17. I was in love with Revelation 4, 5, and 7. Not so much with Revelation 2 and 3. The “ideal and end” are a lot lovelier than the “here and now.”

Since that time, slowly, surely, painfully, the Lord has been pressing home a different passage.

 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.

The Lord has been taking my narrow, constrained, hard heart and healing it the only way he knows how: by smashing it to smithereens.

I have been a failure. I have decided that if I am going to fail, I am at least going to fail trying. I do not know if it is too late. I do not know if I have built a bridge too far…or burned a bridge too short. But at least I care now. I do not know if it is too late to lead other people to care too.

I am not too fond of the frequent tears. I am not comfortable with my wife and children wondering about my well-being. I am not sure about the cost of caring.

But the Lord has been pressing upon me the anxiety for “this church.” To what end? Hopefully to the end of:

 …as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything. I have spoken freely to you; my heart is wide open. I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in my heart, to die together and to live together.

I do not know what the future will bring. I do not know the end of this. Did the Lord allow me to be a pastor just to convince me that I shouldn’t be? It very well may be. Until He makes that clear, I am pledging to do all I can to keep my heart on his anvil.

There might be hope yet.


Despised Mothers of the Church

Commentators often give special attention to two women listed in the genealogy of Jesus: one a Canaanite prostitute, the other a cursed Moabite: “and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse” (Matthew 1:5).

But Rahab is far from the first despised woman in Jesus’ heritage.

 Now Laban had two daughters. The name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance. Jacob loved Rachel. And he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.”
…So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah, and served Laban for another seven years. When the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb, but Rachel was barren.
…And she conceived again and bore a son, and said, “This time I will praise the LORD.” Therefore she called his name Judah. Then she ceased bearing.
Genesis 29:16-18, 30-31, 35

Leah, Rahab, and Ruth are of the blessed despised. They are mothers of the church. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).

God chooses the foolish of the world, like Ruth. A young widow leaving her homeland to follow a mother-in-law to a foreign land where there would be no hope of finding a husband. Except the God of all hope…

God chooses what is weak in the world, like Leah. Poor weak-eyed Leah and her beautiful sister Rachel: how great the shame of knowing her husband was duped into marrying her. Her husband resents her and her sister mocks her. But God settles the solitary in a home…

God chooses the low and despised in the world, like Rahab. A cursed people, a surrounded city, a forbidden occupation. Darkness is her future. But the Lord reveals his righteousness in the sight of the nations…

Are you a child of God? Then “in the world” you will be foolish, weak, low and despised. Despair not. So was your mother.

Otto Weber on the Freedom of God’s Love

God’s love qualifies his freedom as divine, as freedom turned toward the creature, as freedom which incomprehensibly does not consist of the possibility that God could be “different” (he cannot be the devil, he cannot be wicked), but rather of the fact that purely of his own essence, unconditioned by anything else, with no regard to the quality of the object toward which he turns, God is and acts the way he is and acts.

Foundations of Dogmatics 1.408

Time and Eternity

Time is the measure of things not lasting. Its endurance distinguishes it from those things it measures. Yet time is not. It is always coming or going. As soon as time is here it is gone.

Time is the measure of things that cannot last. It is the measure of our inability to be anywhere now.

It is the measure of youth lost; age sought. It is the admission of discontentment.

When remembered it is as something no longer. Existence now is only in nonexistence.

To be timeless. To be neither coming, nor going. To be here, until there is not until.

Eternity is what we look forward to because there will be nothing to look forward to. Nothing better on the horizon. Nothing lost and mourned.

Christ is eternity.

Eternity is not the absence of time. Eternity is not because time is not: it is.

Time, my great enemy. Know that when you finally defeat me I will have already conquered you.

How Do We Talk About God: Classifying His Attributes

We can only say anything about God because we must say something. One of the most common ways of speaking about God is to discuss his attributes- those truths of God’s existence that He has reveled to us. Generally, God’s attributes are placed into one of two groupings. Some of those groupings (and the men who use them) are:

Incommunicable Communicable Grudem, Berkhof, Bavinck, Shedd
God is great God is good Erickson
Perfections of the Divine Freedom Perfections of the Divine Loving Barth, Weber
Deus absconditus (hidden God) Deus revelatus (Revealed God) Luther
Constitutional Personality Chafer
a se (in Himself) pro nobis (toward us) Photios
ousios (essence) energeia(energy, operations) Palamas
theologia economia  
Absolute/Immanent Relative/Transitive Strong
natural moral  
absolute relative  
original derived  
intransitive transitive  
Light Love 1 John
One For Us Romans

Of course, all such discussion and classifications are carried out in the knowledge of our inadequacy to the task and the very impossibility of it.

“An actual division of the attributes of God is not conceivable. Therefore every ordering has the actual intent of making indivisible (yet distinguishable) factors evident.”  (Otto Weber, Foundations of Dogmatics, vol. 1, p. 428)

“…God and his attributes are one. The attributes cannot be considered as so many parts that enter into the composition of God, for God is not, like men, composed of different parts. Neither can they be regarded as something added to the Being of God, though the name, derived from ad and tribuere, might seem to point in that direction, for no addition was ever made to the being o God, who is eternally perfect.” (Lois Berkhof, Systematic Theology New Combined Edition, pp. 44-45)

“…the attributes are so interrelated and interdependent that the exact placing of some of them is difficult if not wholly impossible. It is evident that no feature of Systematic Theology has occasioned more confusion and disagreement among theologians than has the attempt to order the category of the divine attributes.” (Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, vol. 1, p. 189)