Monday, January 30, 2006

Probably Unnecessary Reading Instructions

Just a friendly reminder for those readers that haven’t visited in a while – the older posts are down the page, the latest ones are up top. I have a three part series on the word “Incarnation.” If you want to follow the argument (if that’s possible), scroll down to last Thursday’s post and read up from there. Thanks!

Word of the Week (Still!) – Incarnation III

I have been reflecting on the word ‘Incarnation’ in recent posts. The Incarnation describes what happened when the eternal Son of God took on human flesh. It has become common in church circles to speak of the ‘incarnational’ nature of Christian ministry – that Christ is displayed to a watching world in the individual and corporate ministry of believers.

What is most disconcerting to me about this trendy language of ‘incarnational’ Christians and churches is that it competes with the true theological significance of the one Incarnation. It is because of a fact of history – in time and space – that we have peace with God, have passed from death to life, and are adopted into God’s family by grace through faith. That fact is the Incarnation. We must proclaim from the rooftops that being a Christian is more about what Christ did through the Incarnation 2000 years ago rather than what Christ means to me today or what we do for God today.

Another thing that bothers me is that this new language strikes me as presumptuous. Yes, Jesus intends that we reflect Him in the way we love and serve one another and reach out to our unbelieving neighbor, but can’t we just do this without saying that we are “incarnating Jesus to them?” Is this the language of Scripture? Would the greatest servants of Christ throughout history have used this language? Are we better than them? Are we the first to discover what the Bible says about demonstrating Christ’s love to people by what we do?

Methinks the closer a person is to Christ, the less likely he or she will be to use grandiose words to describe their service. Should we not rather serve Christ in humility and fear and then call ourselves ‘unprofitable servants’ who have only done our duty (Luke 17:7-10)?

Furthermore, this Christian ‘newspeak’ comes at a time when the church has largely capitulated to the ‘spirit of the age’ in so many ways – not least in individualized, subjective religion (of course, much of Christendom has always been in this compromised position, but we need to be particularly aware of current threats).

What the church needs is a recovery of objective, ‘outside of us’ theology regarding justification and sanctification – fruit of our Lord’s Incarnation. Yes, sanctification too – it is not something that we do, but rather something that is done to us (objective) by the power of God. ‘Incarnation speak’ can put the discipleship emphasis on the subjective – that is, what we do rather than what we receive from God.

As I said earlier, the problem with these trendy words is subtle. In many cases, there is nothing radical or aberrant going on. However, we ought to be concerned at the diminishing of the Gospel in evangelical practice, generally speaking. Not that the gospel is denied, but it is assumed and pushed to the fringes.

What does this look like? Have you heard, “Get people in the door by our demonstration of love in practical ways (by ‘being incarnational’ and ‘missional’) – we’ll teach them later.” That’s what I mean by assuming the gospel. When we reach out in Jesus’ name, in the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we must be committed to ‘begin as we intend to go on’ in our disciple-making. That means keeping the cross – offensive as it is to modern sensibilities – front and center in what we do.

I am afraid that the movement that puts forward words like ‘missional’ and ‘incarnational’ is not driven by Gospel-rooted theology, but by a desire to be relevant, practical and relational. Leap-frogging over the gospel to get to pragmatic ‘ministry’ is always a dangerous temptation for the church. We dare not assume the gospel and move on to more ‘practical matters.’

Word of (Last) Week – Incarnation, Part II

On Thursday I posted a Word of the Week on the word Incarnation. I am posting again on this word to express a concern about how the concept of incarnation is misused in modern evangelicalism.

This unease is difficult to communicate because there is a subtlety to this word usage as I have heard it; there is some good and some not-so-good involved here. I posted a while back on the word ‘missional.’ My trouble with the concept of incarnation in popular evangelical discourse is related to the whole ‘missional’ thing.

The contexts in which I’ve heard the words incarnation / incarnational used are positive in terms of intent. In other words, I don’t think that the usage is meant to denigrate Christ’s actual Incarnation in history. One real-life illustration will have to do at this time.

In November, right around the time I started this blog, my wife and I went to our association’s Pastors’ and Wives’ retreat. One of our traditions is to share in the Lord’s Table together on Sunday morning [the appropriateness of having Communion apart from a local fellowship of believers is another topic altogether]. I was asked to be one of the servers of the elements and to pray before we distributed the bread. When I prayed, I betrayed my Reformed leanings by thanking God for the physical nature of the elements because they point us to the physical, objective reality of Christ coming in the flesh for us and giving his body and blood for us in history. The next person to pray picked up on that and thanked God that Christ is incarnated in us as we serve the church and the world. I didn’t say anything afterwards, but I was uncomfortable with that.

The Communion service wasn’t the only time that ‘incarnational’ language was used during this weekend. It just doesn’t sit right with me. It has taken me a couple of months to do a blog post on this – some of my readers were at that retreat and may be offended at what I am writing in these posts. If so, I’d love to hear from you in the comments or by email.

For the rest of this post, I’m going to try to state positively what is meant by the adjective “incarnational.” Next post, I’m going to cut loose with my criticism. Although I haven’t read anything on this issue, I believe I have a handle on the motivation for ‘incarnational’ language.
  • To speak of being ‘incarnational’ is to recognize that Christ lives in and works through His people in the church. After His Ascension, Jesus no longer walks the earth, but He continues to work through the ministry of the church.

  • Though this may be a reach, I think modern incarnational language may have been influenced by Tony Campolo. Campolo was charged with heresy many years ago because he talked about looking into an orphan’s face and seeing Jesus looking back at him. He argued that his rationale for this came from Matthew 25:31-46 – if we serve others, we are serving Jesus. This is the other side of the coin from the incarnation of Christ in His people, but the two are related.

  • My suspicion in that the greatest influence that lead to ‘incarnation’ language is a reaction of the modern (so-called postmodern) church to the formal, cognitive imbalance in the Western evangelical church. It is much more relational and ‘spiritual’ to speak in ‘incarnational’ / ‘missional’ terms than it is to use more formal, theological language. A faith outside of us, as in the alien righteousness of Christ, is a foreign concept to most contemporary evangelicals, let alone those outside the church.

I don’t want to pick a fight with these posts, but if you use the word “incarnational” in terms of the ministry of the church, I urge you to reflect on what you mean. If this is a new word to you, then keep your ears open – it is all over the place in contemporary evangelicalism.

So, what is wrong with the word ‘incarnational’? Stay tuned for my next post.

Sunday Sermon Summary – January 29

Matthew is one of those books that I have read many times but as I look closer in my sermon preparation, I’m seeing new perspectives. I hope I’m careful not to impose my ‘creativity’ upon the text – there is nothing worse than a creative preacher.

Okay, I guess I should explain that last phrase. I have nothing against creativity; it is a gift from God. Creativity in sermon introductions, illustrations and structure (outline, etc.) is not only acceptable, it is essential. However, creativity with ‘new ways of understanding the text’ can be deadly. Preachers need to be faithful to what the text actually says.

Yesterday, I preached on Matthew 16:1-20 and pointed out three different responses to Jesus in those verses. The Pharisees and Sadducees were The Blind Seeking Signs (16:1-4). The disciples, confused by Jesus reference to the yeast of the Pharisees, were The Dull Seeking Understanding (16:5-12). Peter, in his famous confession of Christ, represents The Redeemed Confessing Christ.

There are important redemptive historical considerations in this passage. When preaching from the Gospels, it is important to remind the congregation that these events all occur before the cross, resurrection and outpouring of the Spirit. Given that fact, it is legitimate to point out that we still see these reactions to Jesus today.

Many unbelievers are like the Pharisees and Sadducees. They mockingly say, “just have God show me a sign that will make me believe.” This is willful ignorance, but it is also a reflection of unregenerate human nature.

We do find genuine seekers who are being drawn by God. They haven’t realized who Christ is, even though they are interacting with the evidence in Scripture. They are ‘on the way,’ but they don’t quite get it. When Jesus talks about ‘the yeast of the Pharisees,’ they think in physical categories rather than their need to be made ‘New Lumps’ supernaturally by God’s grace (I had to throw that in).

Finally, when we see people wholeheartedly confessing that Jesus is, “The Christ, the Son of the Living God,” we know that it is not because of their noble character, their intelligent seeking or their godly heritage, but because this reality was revealed to them by the Father. God gets all the glory for the conversion and the confession of the redeemed!

In know that Peter’s confession in this context in Matthew has implications for the Church. I’m going to go back to these verses, and a little farther on, next week. I have never before thought about its relationship to the context of the earlier verses in Matthew 16.

For a ‘pastoral’ message, I think this outline hit home for some people. After the message, I heard a report (from a grandmother) of a young man who really understood the three categories and, I think, properly assigned himself and his believing grandmother. He considers himself a seeker – even though he’s involved in an immoral lifestyle. I hope and pray that this is the case.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Saturday Silliness

One of my favourite books is a rather silly one. Yes, I admit it – it is silly. Good fun, though. It was written in 1889 by a fellow named Jerome K. Jerome and it is called Three Men in a Boat, To Say Nothing of the Dog. Because it is old, it is not under any copyrights. Because it is popular, it is available online. In my opinion, it is much better to read it in book form – particularly if your copy is really old, as mine is (a Christmas present from Juanita a few years back). I’ve read it aloud to my older children a couple of times, and they’ve read it themselves a few times. Fun for all ages, as they say.
I may post little snippets from time to time, just to whet your appetite. Here’s an excerpt that will introduce you to the dog, a fox terrier named Montmorency:
We were, as I have said, returning from a dip, and half-way up the High Street a cat darted out from one of the houses in front of us, and began to trot across the road. Montmorency gave a cry of joy - the cry of a stern warrior who sees his enemy given over to his hands - the sort of cry Cromwell might have uttered when the Scots came down the hill - and flew after his prey.
His victim was a large black Tom. I never saw a larger cat, nor a more disreputable-looking cat. It had lost half its tail, one of its ears, and a fairly appreciable proportion of its nose. It was a long, sinewy-looking animal. It had a calm, contented air about it.
Montmorency went for that poor cat at the rate of twenty miles an hour; but the cat did not hurry up - did not seem to have grasped the idea that its life was in danger. It trotted quietly on until its would-be assassin was within a yard of it, and then it turned round and sat down in the middle of the road, and looked at Montmorency with a gentle, inquiring expression, that said:    "Yes! You want me?"
Montmorency does not lack pluck; but there was something about the look of that cat that might have chilled the heart of the boldest dog. He stopped abruptly, and looked back at Tom.
Neither spoke; but the conversation that one could imagine was clearly as follows:-
THE CAT: "Can I do anything for you?"
MONTMORENCY: "No - no, thanks."
THE CAT: "Don't you mind speaking, if you really want anything, you know."
MONTMORENCY (backing down the high street): "Oh, no - not at all - certainly - don't you trouble. I - I am afraid I've made a mistake. I thought I knew you. Sorry I disturbed you."
THE CAT: "Not at all - quite a pleasure. Sure you don't want anything, now?"
MONTMORENCY (still backing): "Not at all, thanks - not at all - very kind of you. Good morning."
THE CAT: "Good-morning."
Then the cat rose, and continued his trot; and Montmorency, fitting what he calls his tail carefully into its groove, came back to us, and took up an unimportant position in the rear.
To this day, if you say the word "Cats!" to Montmorency, he will visibly shrink and look up piteously at you, as if to say:    "Please don't."

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Word of the Week: Incarnation, Part I

Incarnation means to ‘become flesh.’ In Christian doctrine, it relates to the fact that the eternal Son of God, God the Son, took on flesh and lived among men as a man. On the one hand it is a simple concept – one that a child can understand. To know anything about Christianity is to know that God incarnated as man in the person of Jesus Christ.  On the other hand, the Incarnation is arguably the deepest, most profound mystery in the universe – harder to understand than the doctrine of the Trinity.

Like the word Trinity, Incarnation does not appear in the pages of Scripture. Also like the Trinity, there is abundant biblical evidence for this doctrine. For example, John 1:14 provides a biblical definition of the word incarnation And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us . . . A classic passage regarding the Incarnation is Philippians 2:6-11. Christ, eternally in the form of God was found in the form of a man for the purpose of enduring the cross for the sake of God’s people. This voluntary humiliation – the greatest step down in the history of the universe – led to Christ’s exaltation, at which He received a name that is above every name.

Have you ever wondered how Jesus could be more exalted after His time on earth than He was before? Christ is God – how can you improve upon that glorious position?
  • Christ is eternally God the Son, . . . God over all, blessed forever (Romans 9:5).

  • He is the Creator of all that exists according to the plan of the Father (John 1, Colossians 1)

  • He is the object of unceasing worship in Heaven (Isaiah 6, compare John 12; Revelation 4, 5)

No one can exalt his divine nature any higher; it just won’t go any higher! However, Christ’s glory was hidden when he came in human form. The contrast here is between His humiliation when he came in flesh and His exaltation by the Father. At His exaltation, was he more God? No. Was he more worthy, or pure or mighty or wise after His death and resurrection? No. After Christ’s Ascension into heaven, is he more highly exalted? Yes, that’s what the Philippians 2 passage tells us. What was it about Christ that was more highly exalted? Take note of Philippians 2:10, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow …. Our Lord took his earthly human name, nature and body into heaven. That is what is new about this exaltation. Jesus Christ took his complete identification with human beings into Heaven. Angels fall in adoration at the feet of a man in Heaven. This is a first!

This is also a wonder. This is the mystery of the Incarnation – God became man, and for us died on the cross, rose bodily and ascended into Heaven. Christ is the first fruits of all of those who will die in hope, trusting that He will raise us up to heaven and give us a resurrection body, fit for all eternity in the presence of God. Christ ‘led captivity captive’ (Ephesians 4:8) achieving an impossible victory in the face of an utterly hopeless situation for Adam’s offspring. We were dead, done, defeated, and running willingly away from God to Hell, until our new Champion, the Captain of our Salvation appeared in flesh to reconcile men to God through His blood. What a victory! What a Saviour!

Christ is far greater than pre-fall Adam. He is inconceivably greater than the most super superman ever imagined. The wonder of it all is that He calls us – the sheep that hear His voice and come to Him in faith – his Bride! We inherit what He has earned – eternal glory and the joy of Heaven with Him as His beloved.

Fallen, dead humanity only has hope because of Christ’s Incarnation, death, resurrection and glorious Ascension. He has poured out the Holy Spirit upon everyone who believes. The Holy Spirit is our seal, our guarantee that we receive the inheritance that Christ has bought for us (Ephesians 1:13-14).

Glory to God for His Amazing Grace in the gift of His Son!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Team Pyro

One of my regular blogs is gone. Phil Johnson has closed Pyromaniac. All is not lost, however. He has immediately launched a team blog with some friends and his son (which is cool!). I have changed my link from Pyromaniac to Pyromaniacs (the new blog). It should be interesting.

One of the contributors to this blog is Frank Turk. I like Frank’s blog (CenturiOn), but I haven’t linked to it on my site. Frank can be a little edgy. Edgy is fine, but be warned. He has sort of said that he will be good on this group blog, but we’ll see. He can also be obtuse – at least for the uninitiated. Take, for example, his organ grinder monkey parable. I think he wrote this parable in light of the fact that many Christians are up in arms at the casting of Chad Allen in the Nate Saint role in The End of the Spear. He didn’t say that, I did. I trust Frank won’t want anyone accusing him of calling people monkeys. The parable stands on its own (though I think he gave the game away with the ‘to every tribe’ line).

Then again, he simply might have been reading too much Credenda Agenda. I gave up on reading Similitudes – their ‘Stories with a Point’ – years ago. I could never get the point.

To my kind readers who look at this occasional, but aren’t reading the same blogs that I do, my apologies. I’m sure this post seemed very strange! I’ll get back to more accessible fare next time.

Arm Injury Update

I saw the Dr. this morning. I have a torn bicep muscle. It isn’t ruptured, so I can just wait for it to get better. The side of my upper arm has turned a really nice shade of deep purple!

Monday, January 23, 2006

Many Happy Returns?

Big Election Day in Canada today. Juanita and I are going to watch the returns with some friends around 8:00 because we don’t have TV. It should be interesting – it’s going to be a close race.

I enjoy following politics, but sometimes I feel ‘fenced-in’ by my self-imposed non-partisan stand as a pastor. I think anyone who knows me (and my region) could guess my private affiliations pretty easily, but I don’t want to let my choice of political party get in the way of anyone’s interest in our church – or more importantly, the Gospel.

I know other pastors have other convictions on this issue, and I respect them. I was asked to join a political party by another Fellowship pastor last spring. I declined, and explained why. He was surprised, but respected my position.

When we were in Barriere, B.C., we had people associated with the church from a wide spectrum of political convictions. One man, a staunch NPD supporter, was the husband of one of our members (oops, I may have narrowed down my preferences with the way I put that last sentence). Anyway, I didn’t want this man to be turned off by my political posturing, nor do I want anyone in Edson to feel like I’m partial to any one party. Some may think this is weak. If that’s the case, I’d be happy to give them an earful, politically speaking. Privately.

40 Going on 15

My apologies to sensible 15 year olds out there for my title. Explanation? I went skating with my kids today and joined in a small, simple pick-up game of hockey. On one of the first ‘plays,’ I charged after a puck for a ‘breakaway’ (big deal) like a man possessed (must be the Starbucks coffee). The young goalie came out of the net at me, but my evasive maneuvers are not exactly NHL caliber. I missed the young fellow (thankfully!), but took a flying leap, sending both of our sticks flying as well. I landed on my front side with my arm outstretched and felt some nasty pops in the front of my right shoulder. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I can still type, read and think (questionable), so I should be fine in pastoral duties. It’s a good thing I don’t work with my hands.

My eldest daughter began her paper route today. She encountered a broken step at one of the houses, slipped and hurt the back of her heel – more the lower Achilles tendon area. It’s only a flesh wound, thankfully, but a painful one.

If I was superstitious, I would be waiting for the third thing today.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Sunday Sermon Summary – January 22

I preached on Matthew 15:21-28 today – that curious incident where our Lord appears to be quite rude to a needy woman.
And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon." But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, "Send her away, for she is crying out after us." He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me." And he answered, "It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." Then Jesus answered her, "O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire." And her daughter was healed instantly. (ESV)

I took the opportunity to jump on a hobby horse today (yes, I admit it). I’m sure I was guilty of not sticking to the text, but I took the opportunity of the sheep (Israel) and dogs (Gentiles) context to speak to the current evangelical fascination with the modern state of Israel. I am indeed out of step with current fashions in eschatology (like the Left Behind Series). An over emphasis on modern Israel and end times teaching that has ‘a newspaper in one hand and a Bible in the other’ (ala Jack Van Impe) leads to an unbalanced theology and can be detrimental to our evangelism.

For the introduction, I used Pat Robertson’s infamous pronouncement that God struck Ariel Sharon with a massive stroke because the Israeli Prime Minister dared to divide God’s land (the withdrawal from Gaza). Though he later apologized, we know where he stands!

After a brief synopsis – setting the location and historical context – I considered the biblical evidence for the separation of God’s people from the nations and the prophetic hope of the redemption of the nations through the Promised Deliverer.

What about the apparent rudeness of Jesus and the disciples? The text doesn’t give us the whys and wherefores, but biblical context makes reasonable inference (speculation?) possible.
  • Jesus wasn’t playing games – salvation is to the Jews first. There is an order of biblical revelation that is followed in the New Testament. From Jesus instructions before and after the resurrection to the pattern of the Apostle Paul in preaching in synagogues first, Jews were the first to hear the good news.  

  • Jesus’ two responses to this Gentile woman represented a teaching moment for the disciples. They had bought into the doctrine of extreme separation of the times (and we can’t blame them, given the first century context and the miserable history of compromise in Israel). When the door was opened to the Gentiles later on (Acts 10), I imagine the disciples remembered this incident (together with the healing of the centurion’s servant in Matthew 8).

  • Perhaps most significantly, Jesus words open the door to underline this woman’s testimony to Himself. This is worth thinking about: A Gentile woman provides a powerful testimony to the Jewish Messiah! The winds of change are blowing! This woman displayed true humility. She addressed Jesus as ‘Lord’ and ‘Son of David.’ She came and bowed before Him. She was not offended at Jesus’ initial rejection of her appeals, nor at his characterization of her as a ‘dog.’ However, the significance of this account is not the woman’s faith, but her confession of Jesus. She recognized that even ‘the crumbs from the table’ would be enough to deliver her daughter from demon possession (compare ‘the finger of God’). Who does that make Jesus?

Jesus is not only the King of the Jews, He is the King of the Nations – the Lord of all creation. Certainly, God’s choice of Israel serves His purposes (Romans 9-11), but God’s salvation through the Promised Deliverer is universal.

Serendipitous Luther Quote

I spent some time yesterday afternoon pondering the direction of our church (I even took notes). I feel we really need to ‘get going’ on some critical issues this year. If the church is going to be more effective, I’m going to need to get going first!

As I was ruminating on our challenges, opportunities and weaknesses, an old Luther quote came to mind. The problem was, I couldn’t remember exactly how it went – probably not even enough to Google it.

Imagine my surprise when I fired up my computer this morning and there it was (well, actually, I started my internet browser, saw via my Bloglines feed that Redeeming the Time had a new post, clicked on Kirk's site and then, ‘there it was’). Go read Kirk’s post, but if you don’t get there, here’s the quote:

If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the Word of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Him. Where the battle rages there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle front besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.Luther's Works. Weimar Edition. Briefwechsel [Correspondence], vol. 3, pp. 81f.

(Thanks, Kirk)

This would be more remarkable if this quote wasn’t one of the most popular quotes in all Christendom (well, Protestant Christendom anyway). Still, it was pretty cool.

To be effective in pastoral ministry, I and my leadership need to prioritize the important things for our church and our time. More on this later. Well…sometime. Maybe.

An Instructive Book Review

Tim Challies latest book review is about an old book, John MacArthur’s Ashamed of the Gospel. I’ve read that book, but the funny thing is, I didn’t recognize the book in the review. This is not negative reflection of Tim’s review - quite the contrary. I’m sure it’s a great review. No, the reason I didn’t recognize the book is that I read it many years ago (it was first published in 1993) and don’t remember much about it. I probably made appropriate noises and nodded knowingly in a several places even though I really didn’t know what Dr. MacArthur was writing about. I didn’t have the context ‘back in the day’ to really follow the argument.

I recently finished reading Iain Murray’s The Forgotten Spurgeon, so the connection between MacArthur’s book and the Downgrade Controversy in Spurgeon’s latter years is fresh in my mind. I’ve read a lot of history and theology in the past thirteen years, so I’m going to have to find a copy of Ashamed of the Gospel and give it another try.

You might be thinking, “Who cares?” Fair enough. I am writing this post because it dawned on me this afternoon that as a young pastor thirteen years ago, I didn’t have a wealth of background in history in theology. I didn’t know the cultural threats to the faith, nor did I appreciate the threats to evangelicalism in the West. I still have a long, long way to go in terms of my reading and understanding, but I’m a lot farther along now than when I started out after Bible College.

Reading Tim’s review, I thought, “What do people in my church hear when I’m talking about things that grip me in theology, history and cultural issues?” Do they smile and nod and walk away thinking, “What was he on about?” Perhaps I need to ask a few people in my church if I’m talking over their heads. They might be like I was back in ‘93.  If so, the problem is not with them, it’s with me. Food for thought.

Friday, January 20, 2006


A post by Ian over at Ruminations by the Lake recently has me reflecting on coffee. Sudafed and a head cold have me keeping it really shallow. Perhaps someday I’ll post on the “coffee house mentality” in current evangelical thinking, but for now I’m just going to write about coffee.

Tim Horton’s coffee isn’t that great (further evidence for central and eastern Canadians to suspect that we Albertans aren’t patriotic). Maybe for the double-double crowd the coffee’s wonderful, but I drink it black. Tim’s is better than the typical restaurant dishwater, but not terrific coffee. I’m a Starbucks guy – just plain, black dark roast (Gold Coast is dandy, as is Christmas Blend, usually, but it’s seasonal only). It’s a good thing that we don’t have a Starbucks within two hours of Edson.

Apparently, I’m not only anti-patriotic by preferring Starbucks, but also pro-pagan. The evidence is in the paper cups. First, a friend in our church pointed out that one of the Christmas cups featured a couple of guys putting up Christmas lights and one of them is making a satanic sign with his hand (I later got one of those cups full of Christmas Blend – it’s rinsed and flattened in my garage). The other one may be found here. You’d never find this at Tims.

We have a new, independent coffee shop attached to the gym that my wife and I frequent (Juanita more frequently than I). It has a nice atmosphere and better coffee than Tims – not as good as Satanbucks, but still good. I’m going to have to start meeting people there instead of ol’ Timmies.

I don’t go out for coffee that much. I usually make it at home – fresh ground, dark roast beans and a French Press (Bodum). I try to tone it down when we have company, but I like it quite strong.

When my wife and I went to Virginia in 2002 for my nephew’s wedding, I noticed that everywhere we went had good coffee. Houses, restaurants, even the church urn! I mentioned this after a few days and got an immediate response from the bride’s father, “Yes, I know. We’ve traveled in Canada.” I haven’t traveled that much in the States, but I know that our coffee is usually pretty grim.

For my American friends who wonder what this Tim Horton’s place is, don’t worry. When we were in Michigan in ’04 I saw a sign for Tim’s. They are coming your way!

It’s funny that I would post about coffee right now. With my cold, I’m drinking tea with honey instead. My daughter and I just enjoyed a cup (she has a cold too – her nice dad gave it to her).

My wonderful daughter Emily, who is 11 and a fine artist and violinist, just told me that this is the first time I mentioned her. Too true, that’s why I’m laying it on thick (although she is a fine daughter and very talented).


I’ve taken the plunge and committed myself to Together for the Gospel in April (Ligon Duncan, one of the four speakers, used T4G at their new blog, so I take it that’s the cool way to abbreviate the conference). Louisville is a long way away, but I trust this conference will be worth it. My church board has been very encouraging – I wish I could take them with me!

For any readers that are thinking about attending, you’d better book your room soon. When I booked my hotel this morning, the receptionist told me that the bigger suites in the West Tower were all full. I think T4G is going to fill up pronto. I don’t mind a smaller room, but there is NO HIGH SPEED in the East Tower. What’ll I do? I guess I’ll have to bring my Bible and some books!

I’ve been a bit under the weather this week (where did that phrase come from?), so my posts have been lacking. I’m feeling somewhat better today, propped up by sinus medication. I have nothing to complain about, though. I’ve got it better than a particular (temporarily urban) cowboy. I hope you’re back to normal and blogging regularly soon, Clint.

Thanks to my cold, I have some catching up to do for Sunday, so I must get on with my studies.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Davey & Goliath Are Back

I had no idea. I can’t vouch for the movie, I haven’t seen it. I haven’t seen one of the TV episodes since I was 10 (the copy for the movie says that the show ran from 1960-1975. That sounds about right, I was born in ‘65). It’s produced by the Evangelical Lutheran Church, apparently. I guess that’s why it ran on Sunday mornings when I was a kid.

The funny thing is that I found out about this new movie (November 2005) from the back of our local Movie Gallery catalogue that came in the mail today. Odd, considering that I just posted a link to this old childhood memory a few days ago.

In the middle of writing this, I thought I’d Google for ‘Davey and Goliath’ to see what’s out there. I found a website that even has video clips for all you youngsters that don’t know what I’m talking about. They’re awful – in a down-home, sentimental kind of way. The tag-line for the show is, ‘Davey and Goliath brings moral and faith-based valuesto a new generation of children in lively and engaging ways.’ This is what we had 20 years before Veggie Tales.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Sunday Sermon Summary

Matthew 15:1-20 presents critical challenges to the merely religious:
  • Jesus criticizes the formally religious Pharisees because they hid behind the traditions of men while they disobeyed the commandment of God. They challenged Jesus’ with the fact that His disciples ate bread with unwashed hands, but they were cheating and dishonoring their own parents. If God’s law is made void by its proponents who care more for human tradition than actually keeping God’s commandments, then there goes much of the religion of the world. This revelation doesn’t cramp the style of the popular religions of the West. From followers of Oprah spirituality to those who listen to the Dali Lama, the uselessness of external religion is no loss (for what I mean by Oprah spirituality, see this). After all, it’s what’s on the inside that counts, right? What fun it is to beat up on “the doctrines and commandments of men”! But what about our actual responsibilities before the law of God?

  • Jesus’ point that we are not made unclean by what comes in from the outside is good news to our ears too – we can do, see eat, etc. whatever we want. If we are not defiled by outside things, anything goes. But is this what Jesus means?

  • Far from justifying “what’s on the inside,” the Lord’s exposure of the source of human defilement leaves us with no place to hide. It is from the inside that all the evil comes – murder, sexual immorality, false witness, slander and other vices. Far from leaving people with the impression that they are basically good, Jesus pinpoints the real source of our trouble – our own wicked hearts.

  • Imagine the shock that Jesus’ line of reasoning would have had on a typical Jewish listener.First, this miracle worker from Nazareth (it really is amazing what he does!) charges the established religious authorities (the most righteous people in our land!) with being evil hypocrites – he even gives an example! Inconceivable!

  • Then Jesus says that the external food rules that have helped to define the Jewish people for centuries are really not that important. Food will not make a person clean or unclean. What radical new teaching! If hand washing and food laws are not what sets us apart as clean or unclean, what are we left with?

  • To top it off, He says that it is what comes from inside is the source of defilement. If anyone sins, it is because he is unclean from the inside out. Who, then, has any hope of being righteous before God?
That is just the point, isn’t it? Jesus came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). If disobedience to the greater commandments of God is the best we can muster (like the Pharisees) and our defilement is from the inside out, then we really are lost and in need of a Saviour. Without the context of the death and resurrection of Christ, Matthew 15:1-20 would leave the honest seeker in total despair. If the best and brightest religious leaders were hypocritical failures and our human hearts are sewers of lawlessness, we are hopeless and damned before God. We ought to be very thankful that we live at this time in redemptive history (Hebrews 11:39-40). Jesus death and resurrection explains His teaching. It would have been wonderful to have seen Christ’s miracles and heard His voice, but it is a tremendous thing to live in the light of the Word of God after the cross, the empty tomb and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It is because of these historical realities, these gifts of God’s mercy and grace, that we who believe will see Christ in all of His glory one day.
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. Ezekiel 36:25-27    

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Link Fest

I posted a while back on “An Embarrassment of Riches” because I was feeling overwhelmed with the amount of good stuff available for the Reformed Christian. I can’t keep up with it all, as I do have other responsibilities, but I’m glad it’s all there.

In the world of the printed page, I’m currently working on Questioning Evangelism by Randy Newman, Above All Earthly Pow’rs by David Wells and The Old Evangelicalism by Iain Murray. I finished The Deliberate Church about a month ago, and Murray’s The Forgotten Spurgeon last week. Each of these books is worth a blog post, but I’m not going to make any promises.

I received two of Well’s books for Christmas from my thoughtful wife, No Place for Truth (to replace a copy I had but lost) and Above All Earthly Pow’rs, Wells new book on postmodernism and the church. While enjoying the early pages in Pow’rs, I was pleased to see a feature on Well’s four books on theology and culture featured on Reformation 21, the website of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. Good show, gentlemen.

On the web, there is always an avalanche of good stuff to read and to hear. I have mentioned Together for the Gospel on this blog a few times. Mark Dever, CJ Mahaney, Albert Mohler and Ligon Duncan got together for an interview that is posted at the 9 Marks site. It is on cooperation within and beyond denominational boundaries. It is well done and thought-provoking.

I have been working on a post on judging for several days. Tim Challies, bless him, has got me thinking again. I wish I had his writing ability. Two posts, one on a judgmental reader’s letter and another on decisional regeneration, have prompted me to write an article on the issue. They are related. A big part of the confusion regarding biblical discernment, judging and church discipline is related to a faulty understanding of conversion. I appreciate what Tim has written so far.

It’s worth thinking through these issues on judging. It’s not easy, but there are some clear biblical principles to guide us. As for my posting on this subject, I might have to break my too-long, draft article into pieces. Even if I never post, I do need to work through some things on this matter for personal and church reasons.

Not enough links for you in this post? Try these: Monergism, CCEL and Phil’s Bookmarks. That ought to keep you busy.

Remember Davey?

A link for oldsters like me who remember this show – on regular, pre-cable, pagan TV!

The Sacred Sandwich has some amusing pictures and captions, for those that are into such frivolity.

A Critic Who Knows His Subject

Reformation 21 has posted an insightful critique of the David Wells books featured earlier in the magazine (the current cover article). Guess who the reviewer is?

This insightful critic offers some excellent comments regarding the privatization of worship and speaks up for the community of believers, heretofore known as the church. He also manages to do this without mentioning Barna’s new book, Revolution (see below).

Even if you’ve never heard of Dr. Well’s books, go and read this critique. It is a good, concise commentary on the Western evangelical church.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

It occurs to Rev. Billings in the middle of point #2 that point #3 misses the point entirely.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Blog Bog

I feel like I should have words dribbling out of my mouth because I have bitten off more than I can chew, blogwise. I have several unfinished drafts in my blog folder. I’ll never finish them all. I had such grand intentions.

Does this mean I’m going to chuck it all? No such luck. I’ll continue to plug away, little by little. However, I’m not going to use church time to blog, and I need to get up and do my disciplines in the morning. To do that, I need to get to bed at a reasonable time (11:00 is too late – don’t look at the time I posted this). I don’t want to steal family time. That is important, too.

I’m afraid my posts might be more like this unless I can pull some more time out of a hat:

Today was my day off. I slept in, had extra coffee, and did more than usual with the family. I helped my little girls make a castle out of a cardboard box and took the kids skating this afternoon. I made a fire and we watched My Fair Lady downstairs. Recommended. It was fun.

I have to transfer some MP3s to my Chiba now so it’s ready for the gym tomorrow. Have a nice day!


I’m rather slow here, but I wanted to comment on George Barna’s new book. I saw the news at the Reformation 21 blog. Barna’s research has some value, but I have felt uncomfortable with his conclusions since I read his The Frog in the Kettle more than a decade ago. This new book, Revolution, goes way beyond uncomfortable. He is effectively celebrating a new churchless Christianity, an oxymoron if I ever heard one. A good review by Sam Storms may be found here, in two parts: Part 1, Part 2 (HT, Reformation 21, again).

I haven’t read the book, so I will let others review, but Barna’s voice is not alone. When evangelical ‘gurus’ advocate capitulating to trends because ‘that’s the way things are,’ they betray unbelief in the power of the gospel (I’m not commenting here on the authenticity of their Christianity, but upon their misplaced faith in worldly methodology). A desire to be parallel to the spirit of the age is exactly what the church does not need. We are a peculiar people – and that usually means being perpendicular, not parallel to the culture. Where the world celebrates success is precisely the point where we must be most cautious.

For years, many evangelical churches have been seeking to minimize the ‘churchiness’ of going to church. There is much that needs reformation in the church. I would wholeheartedly agree that the ideal is not to be found in the typical Baptist service of 1955 or 1975. However, if we leave church on Sunday thinking, “I really felt like I was at Church today,” we should say that with joy and a sense of thankful celebration.

I feel another blog post coming on. I’m going to go lie down until the feeling goes away.

The Pessimist’s Surprise

I prefer to think of myself as a ‘realist,’ but I must admit that I am sometimes pessimistic about things. On Thursday, our son’s new Nike skates were stolen from our van – in broad daylight from behind our house, as far as we can figure.

We put up signs in an effort to stir up some information, but I didn’t hold out much hope. A friend from the church saw one of the signs and phoned us to let us know that she’d seen some large Nike skates at a local used stuff store. The store was closed on Saturday, but I went back today (3 times, until it finally opened). I searched the store in vain, but then asked the proprietor if he had seen them. He said, “They’re sold.” My heart sank, but when I told them they were my son’s skates and that they were stolen, he said that the buyer hadn’t picked them up and that I could take them. Wow. I guess he didn’t want any hassles about fencing stolen goods, so I took the skates and went home. Amazing.

I was just playing along with the poster, uh, posting, I really didn’t believe that it would produce any results. Just goes to show that it pays to “give ‘er the ol’ college try” sometimes. Perhaps I should re-evaluate my pessimistic thinking. We are thankful. I prayed that I’d be wise and self-controlled at the used stuff store, and I prayed to thank God for the rescued skates on the way home.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Open House

We had our annual church family open house today from about 4-9 pm. It was a good time. My wife did her usual excellent spread – a variety of sweet and savory goodies. We had about 45 people through, judging by the scrapbook page that we used as our guest register. That’s not a bad turn out, but we invite everyone in the church, so there could have been many more.

We sure appreciate our church family. We hope we can stay here forever.

I haven’t blogged much lately – it has been really busy. Tomorrow is my day off, so I hope I can finish a few posts that I’ve started and saved in My Documents. We’ll see what the day holds.

Friday, January 06, 2006


Ian from Ruminations by the Lake has invited me to participate in a meme (don’t ask me how to pronounce meme or expound its origins, I’m new to this blogging thing). At least it’s not complicated: Name 5 weird things about myself (my kind son said this should be easy for me). Thanks, Ian, for the opportunity to make a fool of myself!
Here they are, in no order of priority:
1). I’m particular (my wife would say obsessive) about how I do dishes. I have to have everything rinsed and organized ‘just so’ before I begin. It used to drive Juanita nuts, but for years now she’s just laughed at me.
2). I’ve lived most of my life in Alberta in evangelical churches and I’ve never been to Three Hills and that evangelical Mecca, Prairie Bible Institute.
3). I know frighteningly useless car trivia from my misspent youth. For instance, the Chevrolet Chevette underwent a substantial updating for the 1979 model year, including a ‘flush mount windshield’ (which was simply a thicker rubber windshield gasket), bigger taillights and rectangular headlights. I’ve never liked Chevettes, but I remember that fact among countless others. I’m still good at ‘name that car’ contests on the highway, tho’ it’s much easier with older cars. Why couldn’t I have gotten into Scripture memory back then?
4). I have long toes with pretty good dexterity. I can pick up things like pencils with my toes and I can move my little toe independently of the others (size 12 feet, if you’re curious – mostly toes).
5). One of my college pranks was moving cars by lifting their back wheels off the ground and swinging them up on a curb or sideways in a parking spot. Honda Civics were easy, but VW Rabbits were better because the inside edge of their bumper was rounded and it was easier on my hands. This trick is easier than it looks, but it does require some strength. The last time I did it was about 10 years ago on the ferry from Maple Ridge to Langley, B.C. A Rabbit Convertible pulled on and didn’t leave enough room for me to squeeze on, so I jumped out and moved the back end of the car over so I could fit on. I was going to Trinity Western University at the time, and I saw a TWU bumper sticker on the car, so I thought it was safe. What a jerk, eh? Now that I’m over 40, I won’t try that again (hernia, brain aneurysm, slipped disk . . .).

Okay, there it is. I’m supposed to tag five people now, but I don’t know five fresh bloggers (victims) and I don’t want to tag people that I’ve never contacted. I would have tagged my new Canadian blogging friends that I’ve exchanged comments with, but Ian has already tagged most of them. Am I a wimp? Yep.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Aught Six

It’s time to get back to routine. The break has been nice, but I’m looking forward to the regular schedule. It has been really hard to blog lately. I haven’t done as much reading as I had anticipated either. Same with the gym – I haven’t been there for a while either. Oh well, that’s the holidays. There’s always something to do – even if that something is loafing around. We’ve done a lot of family activities, and that’s worthwhile.

Sunday night we went out to spend the afternoon and evening with some friends at their home in the country. They have a lovely winter wonderland setup on a pond – rink, skating loop, fire pit, picnic bench, lights, etc. On seeing this setup, a friend of these friends remarked, “It’s better than a beer commercial.” We played some hockey, I did a wild, legs out flop on my back and slightly winded myself, then we went inside and ate again – what fun! It’s been years since I’ve played any hockey (and my legs are sore), but it was grand.

I’m going to post on more serious subjects tomorrow (a link-fest, methinks, as I have lots to report), but my kids have been bugging me to post something. There it is.