December 31, 2007

Blog Header - January 1, 2008

This week's photo is a bridge in Fredericksburg, Virginia, during one of our rare snow storms. Fredericksburg is a wonderful town. Visit it if you ever get the chance. But do it soon, the rapidly expanding creep of the big city (Washington, DC) is rapidly overtaking this once relatively rural town.

December 30, 2007

Lynchburg Christmas

Downtown Lynchburg, Christmas '07
Downtown Lynchburg, December 2007

Last week I posted a few pictures of Washington, D.C., with the Christmas decorations brightening the early morning streets [Read that post.] Today my son and I were walking the streets of our hometown, Lynchburg, Va. I thought it would be nice to post a photo of this altogether different city with one of its Christmas decorations. My family really loves Lynchburg. It is a beautiful city with true depth of character. And the city is made more beautiful by the delightful people who live there. I'd invite you to visit, but I know that you would do the same thing we did once we visited—you'd pack up your family and move there. And eventually it would be just like Washington, D.C.—overcrowded.

But seriously, if you get the chance to visit Lynchburg, do so. You'll thoroughly enjoy it.

December 29, 2007

Bible Study Blog

Dick Gelina
Dick Gelina

My father has just entered the world of blogging. He will be using web log technology to communicate with his Sunday school class and others who may be interested in their topics of study.

If you get the chance, check out the Navigators Blog and join the bible study discussions.

December 27, 2007

The ghost of Christmas past

Many of us feel a bit of letdown after Christmas has ended. The month-long excitement of the season ends suddenly with almost no decrescendo. The anticipation begins to build around Thanksgiving and increases steadily and seemingly exponentially with each day until Christmas Day arrives. The surrounding events (visits with family and friends, Christmas pageants, special church services, Christmas caroling, etc.) increase as the big day approaches.

But then the day is over. The presents have been unwrapped. The wrappings and bows have been thrown away or stored for next year's use. And although the tree remains in the living room and the lights still shine on the houses for a few more days, they seem to be simply a leftover and to not have any true reason for being there.

As with everything else, our son's version of the "Post-Christmas Blues" is extreme. It displays itself with a severity that is almost impossible to describe. And I tend to react to this each year rather than remembering that it happens each year and being prepared for it. Can this annual post-Christmas emotional meltdown provide an opportunity for teaching?

Jon Bloom of Desiring God Ministries provides some solid insight into this question with his post, "Hopeful Post-Christmas Melancholy."

December 25, 2007

I'm Dreaming of a Blue Collar Christmas

Merry Christmas

Christmas morning
Christmas morning

Following our family tradition, our son could not get to sleep on Christmas Eve until well past 2:00 am. He came into our room to get us up to open presents at 5:14am. In between those hours, we had to put out the presents "from Santa." So lack of sleep is the order of the day.

But we had a good time and our son is enjoying his presents. He's building a K'nex "Starburst Spinner" right now. K'nex are amazing. Much better than the Erector Sets we used to have as children. In fact, here it is in completed form:

Last night our church had a candlelight Christmas Eve worship service. Several people sang special music and our youth pastor read the delightful Tale of the Three Trees, which you may read more about here. The congregation sang Christmas carols, one of the men presented a message about the fact that Christ came "to save his people from their sins." We all held candles and sang "Silent Night" at the end of the service. When the song was finished, together we extinguished our candles. It was a wonderful reverential time.

Praise the Lord for the wonderful salvation he has prepared for his people. No other religion solves the problem of human sin by God dying to pay the penalty of that sin—because no other religion is the True religion. What a wonderful God we worship and love.

Merry Christmas

December 24, 2007

Hindrances to worship

And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
—Ephesians 5:18-21

I have thought a lot recently about the need to reclaim "horizontal" worship. The emphasis on "vertical" worship that has been so popular in recent years has led to a self-centered, self-absorbed music experience in our churches. The congregants are directed to worship with their God and to not care about what those around them may think (the Christian version of: "Wave your hands in the air like you just don't care," I guess). And the worship leaders have presented songs that are designed for personal communion with God at best or simply for emotional stimulation at worst. Gone is the concept of corporate worship, in which we edify the brothers and worship OUR God who gave His life to redeem US.

Bob Kauflin gives some solid guidance on this directive from Paul in his post on Addressing One Another in Psalms Hymns and Spiritual Songs. In this article Kauflin discusses practices that hinder horizontal awareness in worship:

Over the years, most of us have developed a few practices that can hinder any benefit we might receive from addressing one another as we sing.

  1. Singing songs that lack biblical substance or doctrinal depth. If the songs we’re singing are primarily subjective, and focused on how we feel, what we’re doing, or some other subjective element, we’re not going to have much to say to each other.
  2. Thinking that “worship” means closing my eyes, raising my hands, and blocking out everyone else around me. I’ve had many profound moments like that, as I’ve focused in an undistracted way on the words I’m singing and the Savior I’m singing to. But being Spirit-filled should actually make us more aware of others, not less. Many of the songs we sing aren’t even directed towards God. Crown Him with Many Crowns, Before the Throne of God Above, and Amazing Grace, are a few that come to mind. So when I lead I probably have my eyes open more than half the time. I’m looking around, addressing others, celebrating the fact that we can glory in Jesus Christ together. I do that even when I’m not leading, sometimes turning to someone beside me to rejoice in God’s grace. I want to benefit from the fact that I’m with the people of God.
  3. Singing alone. Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with praising God on my own. But in the age of iPods, earphones, and Internet downloads, it’s easy to lose our appreciation for singing with the church. The Spirit intends us to join our hearts to each other as well as to Christ when we sing.

December 21, 2007

Peace On Earth

Hush, All Ye Sounds of War

Hush, all ye sounds of war, Ye nations all be still, A voice of heav'nly joy Steals over vale and hill, O hear the angels sing The captive world's release, This day is born in Bethlehem The Prince of Peace

No more divided be, Ye families of men, Old enmity forget, Old friendship knit again, In the new year of God Let brothers' love increase, This day is born in Behtlehem The Prince of Peace

William H. Draper, 1855–1933

December 18, 2007

Christmas in the District

Deloitte & Touche office
My office in Washington, DC

Although there are many people trying to eliminate Christmas from our nation, there is still evidence that even in a jaded city like Washington, DC, people still love this holiday. The picture above is 10th Street and the building that covers the majority of the photo (on the left side of the photo) is my office building there. We are 10 blocks from the Capitol building, about 3 blocks from the White House, and 5 blocks from the Washington Monument. It's hard to see from the above picture, but there are wreaths and bows hanging on the building lights.

Christmas decorations on G Street

Around the corner from my office there are lighted snowflakes on each of the lampposts. The picture to the left is one of those snowflakes. Without a tripod, at this time of morning I would not be able to handhold a photo of a distant shot lining these up, but it really is a beautiful sight to see the repeating patterns of these snowflakes.

The lobby of my office building

But my favorite shot from this morning was the one to the right. This is the lobby of my office building, which is shared by a luxury hotel. It's a little hard to see at this size, but there are Christmas trees on each floor and evergreen garland and red bows on the railings. A gorgeous scene to look at while I wait for my 6:00 am Starbucks coffee. I took this photo while I was waiting in line at Starbucks, which is also attached to the hotel lobby.

I don't like the "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" or the use of Santa Claus and Christmas trees while eliminating manger scenes, but I still love the sense of peace and joy that accompanies the Christmas season. Rather than fighting the culture warriors opposed to all things Christmas, we should take advantage of the fact that this season still evokes a sense of "peace to men of goodwill."

December 12, 2007

The song remains the same

We all think the music we listened to when we were young was the best music ever. We remember fondly music that probably wasn't really all that good, but has such emotional ties that we still appreciate it years later. I have purchased CDs of rock bands that I loved as a teenager, only to find out that the additional years and a greater understanding of quality music has removed the enjoyment from some of these less-than-stellar bands of my childhood.

There are a few bands whose musicianship stands up to the test of time. I have collected a few CDs and DVDs of some of my childhood favorites who are still sounding good many years later. I have DVDs of Kenny Loggins, James Taylor, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Earth Wind & Fire, Yes, Peter Frampton, and the Doobie Bros. that I watch regularly. All of these musicians seem to have gotten better with time and put on quite a show in their later middle-age years. I even have a DVD of a good concert by Barry Manilow (who I couldn't stand when I was young) that is actually quite good.

But the band that I always thought was the best band in history recently reformed to do a charity fund-raising concert. As a teenager I thought there would never be a band that would be better than this band. I now have another 30 years behind me and a college education in musical performance to help me judge musical quality. This video shows the best band ever (and I still think that today) playing as 60-year-old men. They still rock. They're still awesome. They're still the best. Today's young musicians should be inspired (or embarrased).

As Led Zeppelin said, The Song Remains the Same:

December 11, 2007

Mike Huckabee for president

I am getting excited about the political campaign of Governor Mike Huckabee. I met Gov. Huckabee about a decade ago through my involvements in pro-life activism and was very impressed with him at the time. But I have been cautious regarding his current campaign for nomination by the Republican Party.

Click for Mike Huckabee's campaign site

The more I watch him in this campaign season, the more excited I get. Today I read an article from almost a decade ago that reports a speech he gave to a group of evangelical ministers in Salt Lake City. The quotes in this article reveal Gov. Huckabee to be right on the money about some very serious issues facing the United States today. Read the article. I hope it excites you as much as it excites me.

Go Mike Huckabee!

December 10, 2007

Theological depth in a Christmas carol

James White has begun a series of blog posts based on the Christmas carol "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing." Read the first post in the series

December 06, 2007

Political activism and the supremacy of Christ

A decade ago I was an employee of a pro-life political activism organization. As a strong advocate of the sanctity of life, I felt compelled to push what I thought to be right through political activism, letter- and article-writing, and even intimidation at times.

Then at a pro-life rally sponsored by my organization, I heard an outstanding sermon by the Rev. Flip Benham of Operation Rescue/Operation Save America. Pastor Benham encouraged us to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with our neighbors and those we come in contact with. His presentation gave me a completely new (and, I believe, more biblically accurate) view of pro-life activism.

Part of the problem is that we American Christians tend to cherish our nation more highly than we cherish Jesus Christ. If the U.S. is our highest treasure, we will work primarily to keep our nation safe and secure. If we treasure Christ most highly, we will work primarily to share what he has done to secure our salvation with our neighbors and friends. It is not abandoning our patriotism to proclaim Christ, and we should still be involved in the political process, but we should not consider politics our highest priority.

This post from Pulpit Magazine (John MacArthur's blog) deals with this issue. Please read this post and consider how you may properly set your political and evangelistic priorities to bring them into line with Scriptural mandates.

December 05, 2007

Another Auld Lang Syne

Just for a moment I was back at school,
And felt that old familiar pain
And as I turned to make my way back home,
The snow turned into rain

Dan Fogelberg

December 04, 2007

When we no longer notice the color purple

There's a place in most of us where the rain is pretty much constant, the shadows are always long, and the woods are full of monsters. It is good to have a voice in which the terrors of such a place can be articulated and its geography partially described, without denying the sunshine and clarity that fill so much of our ordinary lives.
—Richard Bachman

But when we are kept from being able to voice this portion of our lives, this area of life seems to overcome the sunlit and clear portions like a slow-moving, but ever-creeping fog.

December 03, 2007

Yes ... I believe in God!

I'm not in the habit of endorsing candidates. I doubt that my endorsement would provide any more votes than my own anyway. But I have to share this video. I believe that the United States is at a crossroads. Will we, as a nation, follow the path of our founding fathers and continue our coinage slogan "In God We Trust," or will we turn the direction of the European nations and stake our claim in the sovereignty of man?

I like Mike Huckaby's view:

December 01, 2007

Serious Christmas Decorating

They may not represent the true meaning of Christmas, or be particularly depictive of "Silent Night, Holy Night," but they sure are fun to watch:


November 26, 2007

Defense against slander

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.

1 Peter 3:13-17

I have always thought that 1 Peter 3:16-17 referred to non-believers speaking evil of believers. As I read this today, I realized that I may have been narrowing the field of slanderers more than the text calls for.

The context of this Scripture passage seems to indicate those of faith, not non-believers. In verse 8 we are given the directive to "be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing...." This is quite clearly speaking of the household of faith, in spite of the fact that it mentions evil against a brother and reviling against a brother.

I have at times been the recipient of such evil, reviling, and slander. And I have been the originator of such things as well. This scripture tells us how we are to handle such things when we are the victim: "be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed."

It is hard to not seek revenge against those who have slandered and misrepresented you. It is hard to maintain a humble and meek spirit when brothers in Christ commit evil against you. It is even harder to to bless them during these times—but that is exactly what we are commanded to do (v. 9).

November 19, 2007

Avoid foolish questions

From C.H. Spurgeon's Morning and Evening devotional:

Titus 3:9 But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.

Our days are few, and are far better spent in doing good, than in disputing over matters which are, at best, of minor importance. The old schoolmen did a world of mischief by their incessant discussion of subjects of no practical importance; and our Churches suffer much from petty wars over abstruse points and unimportant questions. After everything has been said that can be said, neither party is any the wiser, and therefore the discussion no more promotes knowledge than love, and it is foolish to sow in so barren a field. Questions upon points wherein Scripture is silent; upon mysteries which belong to God alone; upon prophecies of doubtful interpretation; and upon mere modes of observing human ceremonials, are all foolish, and wise men avoid them. Our business is neither to ask nor answer foolish questions, but to avoid them altogether; and if we observe the apostle’s precept (Titus 3:8 The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.) to be careful to main-tain good works, we shall find ourselves far too much occupied with profitable business to take much interest in unworthy, contentious, and needless strivings.

There are, however, some questions which are the reverse of foolish, which we must not avoid, but fairly and honestly meet, such as these: Do I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ? Am I renewed in the spirit of my mind? Am I walking not after the flesh, but after the Spirit? Am I growing in grace? Does my conversation adorn the doctrine of God my Sav-ior? Am I looking for the coming of the Lord, and watching as a servant should do who expects his master? What more can I do for Jesus? Such enquiries as these urgently de-mand our attention; and if we have been at all given to caviling, let us now turn our criti-cal abilities to a service so much more profitable. Let us be peace-makers, and endeavor to lead others both by our precept and example, to “avoid foolish questions.”

November 14, 2007

Power to the people!

Deep within man dwell those slumbering powers; powers that would astonish him, that he never dreamed of possessing; forces that would revolutionize his life if aroused and put into action.
—Orison Swett Marden

November 13, 2007

Wisdom from C.H. Spurgeon

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 36:26–27

The hard heart does not love the Redeemer, but the renewed heart burns with affection towards Him. Many are the privileges of this renewed heart: it is here the Spirit dwells, it is here that Jesus rests. It is fitted to receive every spiritual blessing, and every blessing comes to it. It is prepared to yield every heavenly fruit to the honor and praise of God, and, therefore, the Lord delights in it. A tender heart is the best defense against sin and the best preparation for heaven. A renewed heart stands on its water tower looking for the coming of the Lord Jesus. Have you this heart of flesh?

November 12, 2007

High Tech In-fighting

Church life offers many new challenges. Worldly desires and methods can creep in and the sanctuary becomes a war zone. Church fights turn high-tech: Web is new weapon of choice tells a sad story about the state of many current evangelical churches. Not knowing the inside story on this, I cannot comment directly to the situtation. But whatever the leaders of this church are doing wrong, the internet is not the place to air dirty laundry. I believe this use of the internet directly conflicts with the biblical injunction against "casting pearls before pigs" (Matthew 7:6).

I have tried to use my blog to discuss general matters of culture, philosophy, and ecclesiology. But at times I have come perilously close to casting pearls before the pigs. I would like to thank "Steve," who responded to my post "Why Hymns" and reminded me of the danger involved in taking frustrations to a public forum. Steve was concerned, and rightly so, that I was heading the direction of the article linked above.

I have removed the post entitled "Why Hymns" for this reason. I may come back to address the issue of the quality of music in churches at a future time. But now is not that time.

May we all seek to live in such a way as would draw attention to Christ and his magnificent love for fallen mankind rather than seeking to push our own agendas, whether we are sitting in the pew and feeling powerless or have some sense of authority and power because of our position in the church. No matter what our strata, we are sinners saved by grace through faith, "and it is not of ourselves, it is the gift of God.

Thank you Steve.

November 05, 2007

Why hymns?

I recently heard a new praise song that I believe demonstrates the horrendous slide past mediocrity and into absolute garbage in the realm of church music. By way of comparison, the words to this song, "Father of Lights," and the words to "Holy, Holy Holy" will be presented below, followed by a verse that directly applies to the discussion.

Father of Lights

Father of lights
you delight in your children
Father of lights
you delight in your children

Every good and perfect gift comes from you
Every good and perfect gift comes from you
Every good and perfect gift comes from you
Father of lights

In defense of this song—it is taken directly from scripture (James 1:17—Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.)But the overly repetitive presentation of the lyrics is an example of extremely bad poetry and lyricism. The presentation of this song that I recently heard included the singing of the chorus five times and the first verse twice. There was one additional verse in between the two repetitions of the first verse, which said no more than the first verse, but said it in just as repetitive a way.

By way of comparison:

Holy, Holy, Holy

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee
Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty
God in three Persons, blessed Trinity

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. —Matthew 6:7 ESV

November 04, 2007

Cell phone jammers and worship jammers

I have recently been considering the issue of so-called "vertical worship"—the concept that when we worship God in church, we are to have a one-on-one relationship and communication with God. This trendy concept completely abandons the historical "corporate worship" tradition. Yes, we are to have and cherish our personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We are to be grateful to God the Father for His providence and for preparing a way to overcome our sins and the damage our sins caused. We are to seek the personal guidance of the Holy Spirit. But when we come together for fellowship with the saints, we are to worship corporately. This means keeping in mind the worship of those around us. We should seek to help our brothers and sisters in Christ to worship God along with us.

An article about cell phone jamming technology brought this consideration to the forefront of my mind. Here is a quote from that article:

“If anything characterizes the 21st century, it’s our inability to restrain ourselves for the benefit of other people,” said James Katz, director of the Center for Mobile Communication Studies at Rutgers University.

I think Mr. Katz has hit the nail squarely on the head. And the problem is seen well within the walls of the church.

Just as the inconsiderate cell phone users chatter away in their one-on-one conversations with whomever, many well-meaning Christians chatter away with God in their one-on-One vertical worship, completely disregarding and totally disrespecting the gathered saints around them.

Cell phone chattering is quite annoying, but is not usually too much of a problem. It can be more of a problem when someone is trying to give a speech and the people in the audience continue to pursue their one-on-one conversations through their cell phones. But when the speaker decides to pursue a personal one-on-one conversation in the middle of his speech, the problem has gone way over the line. This video shows such an example:

What does this have to do with worship?

The goal of the worship leader should be to help those in the congregation worship God together in an organized manner—singing as one. When our worship leaders decide that they want to pursue their personal one-on-one vertical relationship with God by using the music that they personally find worshipful in spite of the fact that there are many people in the congregation who prefer to speak to God in a different genre, Guliani's gaffe has entered the church.

The Church, becoming more like the world

In this regard, the Church is way ahead of the world in showing disrespect to each other and in valuing ourselves more highly than anyone else. It is the duty of church leaders to provide an opportunity for everyone to be corporately involved in the music of the church. This must take into account the tastes and musical traditions of the saints. As they are led by the Holy Spirit, they will also desire the benefit of those around them—thus, they will not force their own musical desires on everyone else. But rather, everyone will be presented with something that helps them to worship God and everyone will be introduced to cross-cultural worship (different genres of music or presentation style) as well. This is the entire basis for congregational church government and for the biblical concept of freedom of conscience.

When we force our favorite musical genres on others, we set them up to be just as selfish as we are. Eventually we end up with what has been called "the Worship Wars."

It's a sad state of affairs for present-day evangelicalism. May God forgive us for our selfishness.

November 03, 2007

Sound thoughts, solid advice

You can stand tall without standing on someone. You can be a victor without having victims.
Harriet Woods

Follow an old path and you find the expected. Blaze a new trail and you have an adventure.

Be still and know that I am God
—Psalm 36:10

And we were told it was just a "tissue blob"

Which of these two would you choose to murder?

This story tells us about a fetus who refused to die when the doctors attempted multiple abortions. Those "tissue blobs" can really be survivalists at times—obviously a source of great frustration to those who refuse to admit that abortion is murder.

We cannot try to undo what God has done. It is just as important regarding the sanctity of every human life as it is regarding marriage.

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
—Psalm 139:13

October 19, 2007

The Preacher

From Steve Camp's blog.

Make him a minister of the Word. Fling him into his office. Tear the ‘Office’ sign from the door, and nail on the sign, ‘Study.’ Take him off the mailing list. Lock him up with his books and his typewriter and his Bible. Slam him down on his knees before texts and broken hearts and flick of lives of a superficial flock and a holy God.

Force him to be the one man in our surfeited communities who knows about God. Throw him into the ring to box with God until he learns how short his arms are. Engage him to wrestle with God all the night through. And let him come out only when he’s bruised and beaten into being a blessing.

Set a time clock on him that will imprison him with thought and writing about God for forty hours a week. Shut his mouth forever spouting remarks, and stop his tongue forever tripping lightly over every nonessential. Require him to have something to say before he dares break the silence. Bend his knees in the lonesome valley.

Fire him from the PTA. and cancel his country club membership. Burn his eyes with weary study. Wreck his emotional poise with worry for God. And make him exchange his pious stance for a humble walk with God and man. Make him spend and be spent for the glory of God. Rip out his telephone. Burn up his ecclesiastical success sheets. Defuse his glad hand.

Put water in his gas tank. Give him a Bible and tie him to the pulpit. And make him preach the Word of the Living God!

Test him. Quiz him. Examine him. Humiliate him for his ignorance of things divine. Shame him for his good comprehension of finances, batting averages, and political in-fighting. Laugh at his frustrated effort to play psychiatrist. Form a choir and raise a chant and haunt him with it night and day-‘Sir, we would see Jesus.’

When at long last he dares assay the pulpit, ask him if he has a word from God. If he does not, then dismiss him. Tell him you can read the morning paper, and digest the television commentaries, and think through the day’s superficial problems, and manage the community’s weary drives, and bless the sordid baked potatoes and green beans, ad infinitum, batter than he can.

Command him not to come back until he’s read and reread, written and rewritten, until he can stand up, worn and forlorn, and say, ‘Thus saith the Lord.’

Break him across the board of his ill-gotten popularity. Smack him hard with his own prestige. Corner him with questions about God. Cover him with demands for celestial wisdom. And give him no escape until he’s back against the wall of the Word.

And sit down before him and listen to the only word he has left-God’s Word. Let him be totally ignorant of the downstreet gossip, but give him a chapter and order him to walk around it, camp on it, sup with it, and come at last to speak it backward and forward, until all he says about it rings with the truth of eternity.

And when he’s burned out by the flaming Word, when he’s consumed at last by the fiery grace blazing through him, and when he’s privileged to translate the truth of God to man, finally transferred from earth to heaven, then bear him away gently and blow a muted trumpet and lay him down softly. Place a two-edged sword on his coffin, and raise the tomb triumphant. For he was a brave soldier of the Word. And ere he died, he had become a spokesman for his God.

October 18, 2007

Lack of gravitas

[9/11] shone its own light on the Church and what we came to see was not a happy sight. For what has become conspicuous by its scarcity, and not least in the evangelical corner of it, is a spiritual gravitas, one which could match the depth of horrendous evil and address issues of such seriousness. Evangelicalism, now much absorbed by the arts and tricks of marketing, is simply not very serious anymore.
David Wells, Above All Earthly Pow'rs: Christ in a Postmodern World. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2005, p. 4

When we stop twisting scripture to fit the mold that allows us to claim unscriptural things, we will be on a path toward improving the lacking gravitas that Dr. Wells is speaking of.

October 16, 2007

Maryland Renaissance Festival

Maryland Renaissance Festival
Stilt Procession

Our family has a few traditions that we try to do every year. One of our favorites is the Maryland Renaissance Festival. My wife and I have attended the Maryland Renaissance Festival almost every year since shortly after we got married (22 years since we got married; 18 years for the Festival) and our son began attending the Festival with us as soon as he was old enough to enjoy it—I believe he was about 3 months old the first time we took him.

The Festival is one of the best places for photography that I have ever seen. The dappled light coming through the leaves on the trees that surround the Festival grounds is gorgeous.

Kim & David, arm in arm
Kim & David

The costumes are deeply colored and beautiful. The people are expressive in their revelry and actually enjoy having their pictures taken. And there are things happening at the Festival that you just don't see very often: jousting, people on stilts, wandering minstrels, puppeteers, steak-on-a-stake, and loads of other visual delights.

This year we went for two days. On the first day my wife and son both dressed as pirates. The second day my wife chose a noblewoman's outfit while my son decided to go as a pirate again—not the brightest choice since the day before we had spent the entire day at the Festival in temperatures pushing 100 degrees and his costume was providing evidence of that fact.

I'm not sure what makes us like the Festival as much as we do. It may be the fact that it's a family event and we are able to spend all our time, free from distractions, with each other. It may be that we get to dress up and pretend we're someone (someones?) other than ourselves. It may be that we enjoy the occasional relief of being a few hundred miles away from the pressures of daily life.

Pirate David
My son, the pirate

Whatever the reason—we love the Maryland Renaissance Festival. We even love it when it's so hot that the wool costumes are actually uncomfortable (imagine that!). This year's 90+ degree temperatures was not the reason that we chose to go in October instead of in August.

MD RenFest Flowergirl
Flower seller

So next year, when you're planning your family outings, consider the Maryland Renaissance Festival—even if you don't live anywhere near Annapolis, Maryland.

Leave your laptop, your iPod, and your cell phone at home.

Grab the kids, jump in the car, drive to Maryland, and, as the sign over the front gate at the Maryland Renaissance Festival says, "Prepare thyself for merriment." You won't regret it.

Maryland Renaissance Festival Web Site

October 15, 2007

No sleight of hand

Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come near to me.” And all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been thrown down. — Kings 18:30

The story of the challenge given by Elijah to the prophets of Baal has fascinated me since I was a child. I've wondered at times if some people who reject the veracity of the scriptures might say that the water Elijah poured on the altar was actually some petroleum product, thereby causing the resultant fire.

But today when I read this story in 1 Kings, I noticed the verse above.

Johnny Fox
Magician Johnny Fox

Last week my family and I went to the Maryland Renaissance Festival where we saw the magician and sword swallower, Johnny Fox. He's an amazing magician. We have also seen David Copperfield perform magic on multiple occasions. The common setup for public magic shows is for the performer to be on a stage with the audience seated at a distance from the performer. The audience is typically gathered together in one group rather than surrounding the performer. This allows the magician to perform various feats of visual deception (sleight of hand, misdirection, etc.).

But in the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal, Elijah asked the people (all of Israel) to "come near to me." In order to do this, the people had to gather around him. In order to see the spectacle (which it was), they must have pressed in on him. There was no chance for Elijah to perform sleight of hand or misdirection. These people saw exactly what happened and they knew it was of God.

What an amazing story!

September 17, 2007

Christians Acting unChristlike

50 Reasons
by John Piper

In my personal devotions, I have been reading John Piper's Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die. This outstanding book will edify and convict you if you are a Christian, and if you are not a Christian it will present to you what Christianity is truly about from the perspective of Jesus and his disciples, not from the American media or from well-meaning, but wrong-acting Christians.

Here's an excerpt that convicted me:

The Death of Christ and the Camps of Death

It is a tragedy that the story of Christ's death has produced anti-Semitism against Jews and crusading violence against Muslims. We Christians are ashamed of many of our ancestors who did not act in the spirit of Christ. No doubt there are traces of this plague in our own souls. But true Christianity—which is radically different from Western culture, and may not be found in many Christian churches—renounces the advance of religion by means of violence. "My kingdom is not of this world," Jesus said. "If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting" (John 18:36). The way of the cross is the way of suffering. Christians are called to die, not kill, in order to show the world how they are loved by Christ.

True Christian love humbly and boldly commends Christ, no matter what it costs, to all peoples as the only saving way to God. Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). But let it be crystal-clear: To humiliate or scorn or despise or persecute with prideful putdowns or pogroms or crusades or concentration camps is not Christian. These were and are, very simply and horribly, disobedience to Jesus Christ. Unlike many of his so-called followers after him, he prayed from the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).

John Piper wants you to hear the good news about Jesus Christ, so this book is available free of charge online at his Desiring God website. I encourage you to purchase the book from your local Christian bookstore to help support this ministry so they can continue to offer free books to those in need of Christ (that would be every person on the planet).

August 05, 2007

Wholesome habits of photographers

As a photographer, the following quote spoke to me. I think I'll take up this practice as well:

Photographer Helmut Newton:

"I always carry chains in the trunk of my car because you never know when you'll need them. You know, you go out in the streets in Paris and you might want to chain a model to a fence."

Karen - this one's for you

July 30, 2007

How should we "do" church?

John MacArthur's Pulpit Magazine blog features an outstanding article titled The Church As It Was Meant To Be.

Many churches have become nothing more than entertainment centers, employing tactics that effectively draw people into the church, but are incapable of truly ministering to them once they come.

God never intended the church to be like that. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus says, “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it.” Notice the Lord’s one condition to that great promise: “I will build My church” (emphasis added). Christ’s guarantee is valid only when He builds the church His way. When you follow His blueprint, you can be sure that He is doing the work through you and that nothing, not even the gates of hell, can stop Him.

It's very sad what has become of evangelical churches. And the disease in our churches is no longer confined to liberal churches or churches that proclaim a man-centered theology. It has become all too prevalent in conservative circles including the Conservative Southern Baptists, Independent Fundamental Baptist churches, and conservative independent Bible churches. Internal politics, an entertainment culture, and a lack of revulsion from sin characterize even conservative Baptist churches now.

We must pray for Christ to heal his church.

July 29, 2007

Don't forget providence

Phil Johnson from the Pyromaniacs blog has some perceptive thoughts regarding God's providence—even when it seems that things are going wrong for us. Read the post and remember to remember where God has led in the past. We have all been through very trying times. We all need to remember that as God was leading through those previous stormy waters, so He will lead through our current trials.

July 28, 2007

Be the Holy Spirit for Your Congregation

Song Leader • Worship Leader • Lead Worshiper. I have heard many ways of describing the person who leads the congregation in corporate musical worship of God. The different names for this same person have morphed over the years as times have changed and as various people have tried to inject their personal viewpoint into the mix of what we call this person. But most of these titles have linguistically described a person who is directing the congregation—giving the congregation an idea of what's going on and what is expected, keeping the myriad people together on key, in tempo, and focused on the same concept.

But all things should be done decently and in order.
   —1 Corinthians 14:40

But recently a new term has surfaced that bothers me tremendously—Worship Facilitator. This title, which appears to have risen out of the Emergent Church community, seems presumptuous to the point of blasphemy. We cannot know the hearts of the folks who are using this term, but it seems to me that it springs out of false humility—a desire to try to convince people that this person is not up in front of everyone because he wants the attention or wants to be in the spotlight.

The problem with the term Worship Facilitator is found in the etymology of that term. Although facilitator has come to be known as a person who leads a meeting—who makes the meeting run smoothly (makes the meeting facile), the etymology of this term shows that a facilitator is someone who supplies the faculties to the recipient of his facilitating to allow that person to accomplish the task at hand. In the case of meetings, this is a perfectly acceptable title for the leader. But in the case of worship, the only person capable of facilitating worship in the hearts and minds of the congregants is the Holy Spirit.

We must guard ourselves as we strive to invent new terms and redefine meanings that we do not open those around us to misunderstandings that can cause serious theological trouble in the coming years. In an effort to be "relevant" and to empower those around them, I believe many people have bought into this term—thinking that it will make them seem less like a superior and more like just one of the people having a general conversation. The problem with this viewpoint is that it ignores the fact that a large group of people needs a leader to lead them—not a so-called "facilitator" trying to do something that can be done by only God Himself.

July 25, 2007

C.S. Lewis on Worship

I think our business as laymen is to take what we are given and make the best of it. And I think we should find this a great deal easier if what we are given was always and everywhere the same.

To judge from their practice, very few Anglican clergymen take this view. It looks as if they believed people can be lured to go to church by incessant brightenings, lightenings, lengthenings, abridgements, simplifications, and complications of the service. And it is probably true that a new, keen vicar will usually be able to form within his parish a minority who are in favour of his innovations. The majority, I believe, never are. Those who remain—many give up churchgoing altogether—merely endure.

Is this simply because the majority are hidebound? I think not. They have a good reason for their conservatism. Novelty, simply as such, can have only an entertainment value. And they don’t go to church to be entertained. They go to use the service, or, if you prefer, to enact it. Every service is a structure of acts and words through which we receive a sacrament, or repent, or supplicate, or adore. And it enables us to do these things best—if you like, it ‘works’ best—when, though long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing, but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don’t notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.

—From Letters to Malcolm

I fear that our new-found emphasis on making churches seeker friendly is causing us to lose a rich tradition of hymns—hymns that have been used as solid theological teaching tools as well as music education tools for generations. The introduction of low-brow music into the life of the church has not been a boon to worship, but rather appears to take our focus off of the Savior and move it to such things as C.S. Lewis laments above. We are now focused on trying to sing songs that we have not yet learned, trying to clap at the right time and in the right tempo, and determining the musicianship of the individual mini-rock stars who are rocking out behind the altar.

May God have mercy on us for changing His worship into self-entertainment.

June 24, 2007

June 16, 2007

Get the tissues - you're going to need them

"Music is the universal language" • "Music is the language of the soul"
"Music is the language of emotion"

For thousands of years we have tried to express through the spoken or written word what can be expressed only through music. And until now, I don't know that we had ever come up with a good demonstration of how music can speak in ways that mere words cannot.

But here it is. Don't click the play button until.... First - pull out a box of tissues; lower the lights; find a comfortable sofa; sit with the one you love ... then, click "play."

Paul Potts – Nessun Dorma

YouTube has removed the ability to embed this video, but if you go to YouTube you can see it there.

June 05, 2007

A Word from the Lord

Sometimes (probably always) it's best to just sit and listen to God:

Isaiah 41:10
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

May 31, 2007

Baby Got Book

I've now begun posting videos so, as good as the Zimmers' video is—this one has it beat. "I like big bibles." What a great line.


May 09, 2007

The Zimmers - My Generation

I love this video. In spite of the crude septuagenarian hand gesture at the end of the video, it just makes me smile. It can't help but bring a grin to your face when you hear a 70-year-old man sing the lyrics "hope I die before I get old."

I hope I have as much life as these seniors when I am their age. In fact, I'd like to have that much life in me right now.

If you have trouble viewing the video on this blog site, go to YouTube to see it.

April 25, 2007

Yes, Herman, Evil does exist

Virginia Tech Shooting

© Kimberly Gelina

The massacre at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, has had an incredible impact on the people I live and work with. This terrible event reminds us all that there truly is evil in this world and when God removes his finger of restraint for just a moment, we are given a snippet vision of hell. Rejection of God has unimaginably terrible results.

My wife Kim photographed the children of the Virginia Tech teachers and staff a few months prior to the shooting. Yesterday she visited the campus to see how the workers at the Child Development Center were dealing with the aftermath. While she was there she took a few pictures of the students and the tributes to the fallen.

Kim was impacted by the outworking of faith in Jesus Christ that she saw among some of the students there at the Va Tech campus.

© Kimberly Gelina

The photo to the left is of two students playing their guitars and singing praise to God out on the campus sidewalk. In this photo, the students were singing "Thank You For the Cross." It brought tears to my wife's eyes to hear these students, so impacted by the worse mass-murder shooting in American history living out their faith in Jesus Christ and proclaiming to the other students the only way to find healing.

The photo below shows a car parked in a student parking lot there at Va Tech. The slogan written on this car window makes a good point, worded in a collegiate way that may get some of the other students thinking about the importance of being prepared not only for life, but also for the afterlife.

© Kimberly Gelina

April 24, 2007

New Planet - It just might be like earth

The Daily Mail reported the news of a newly discovered planet that just might possibly be similar to earth. In the scientific community, where nothing can be promoted, accepted, or even theorized about without substantial proof, there is a clamor over a planet that "may support life."

The article begins with a flight of fancy that shows how excited the scientific community would be if they found on an planet outside our solar system what they have sought so hard to find on earth with no success—evidence of evolution.

The article begins with this fantastical description of the newly discovered planet:

It's got the same climate as Earth, plus water and gravity. A newly discovered planet is the most stunning evidence that life - just like us - might be out there.

Above a calm, dark ocean, a huge, bloated red sun rises in the sky - a full ten times the size of our Sun as seen from Earth. Small waves lap at a sandy shore and on the beach, something stirs...

This is the scene - or may be the scene - on what is possibly the most extraordinary world to have been discovered by astronomers: the first truly Earth-like planet to have been found outside our Solar System.

The article goes on to discuss what astronomers call "exoplanets" or planets outside our own solar system. In spite of a total lack of evidence that this planet is anything at all like our earth, they are claiming that it might have the same temperature variations and range of earth, it may have similar gravity to earth, "it probably has a substantial atmosphere and may be covered with large amounts of water - necessary for life to evolve" [emphases mine]. Oh yeah, it also might have an atmosphere of some sort.

The article even makes this incredible statement: "This remarkable discovery appears to confirm the suspicions of most astronomers that the universe is swarming with Earth-like worlds." They have a suspicion that the universe is swarming with these planets even though after years and years of looking for them they have now found one that might possibly be somewhat similar to earth (maybe). Obviously the decades spent trying to find the ever-elusive missing link here on earth without success has propelled these people to science fiction fantasy. It's amazing the lengths folks will go to to ignore the Creator of the universe.

April 02, 2007

Working with jerks

There is a plethora of books available addressing the issues of working for/with a "jerk." Showing the steady downward spiral of civility in our nation, a March 30, 2007 report on Fox News covered a newly published book that replaced the word "jerk" with a word they had to bleep out and remove from the book cover's title when showing the book.

While we must be sure that we, in fact, are acting as we ought to act, it's true that we often have to work for or with people who do not use common courtesy and respect in their dealings with others.

I am currently experiencing some of these dynamics in my workplace. And as He always does, God has provided a way of escape from my desire to lash out at these people or to display my personal indignation about how I am being treated.

From this morning's devotions

Psalm 4
O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame?
How long will you love vain words and seek after lies?
But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself;
the LORD hears when I call to him.

Be angry, and do not sin;
ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent
Offer right sacrifices,
and put your trust in the Lord.

An interesting progression covering some emotional responses to this type of situation. David begins with anger that men are speaking lies about him. He then turns to a veiled threat that he has been set apart by God and that God hears his prayers. He then recognizes his anger and reminds himself that it is okay to be angry, but that he must not allow the anger to turn to sin. He quiets himself: "ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent." And finally he commits to doing right by "offer[ing] right sacrifices" and turns from his anger with, "and put your trust in the LORD." This seems to parallel the concept of God saying, "vengeance is mine; I will repay."

The next verse that jumped out at me was:

Proverbs 20:11
Even a child makes himself known by his acts
by whether his conduct is pure and upright."

If I am worried about lies or misrepresentations being told about me, I can rest assured that we are "known by [our] acts." If I work as I should, I will establish a reputation that provides a solid shield against the attacks of those who would use lies and half-truths to gain the upperhand.

God grant me the grace to present a Christian (Christlike) response to the pressures of the workplace.

March 30, 2007

Why do we suffer?

We all go through seemingly unbearable times in our lives—trials at home, trials at work, trials in dealing and living with our neighbors—but we must maintain the proper attitude toward these trials for God's honor and glory.

This morning I read two different passages that applied to a trial I am currently experiencing. Comforting truths, indeed:

Proverbs 17:3
The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts.

"The Lord tests hearts." We are going to be tested. And that testing is likened here to refining fires—fires that cause the metals to melt completely. Not something any of us are likely to volunteer for.

Philippians 4:4-7
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

This is how we endure the testing of our hearts. "Do not be anxious about prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." And the result of this way of enduring these trials is that "the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard [our] hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."

We must cling to Jesus, realize that he cares for us, realize that God is the Sovereign of the universe and has all things under control. And we must rest in that knowledge and submit to his love.

Life can be hard. In fact, life is hard. But God will comfort his own. We have been bought and paid for. If we demonstrate to a watching world the "peace that surpasses all understanding," God will be glorified in us.

March 02, 2007

Comforted--so we may comfort others

2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

It is so easy for me to feel sorry for myself when I go through tough times. I often presume to ask God why He is allowing something I don't like to happen to me. This response is not consistent with what I know of God (that He didn't just allow it to happen but rather ordained that it would happen) and it ignores the clear teaching of scripture about one of the reasons why we go through tough times.

Our suffering allows us to commiserate with others who are enduring tough times. And the comfort we gain from Christ, oftentimes through the actions of fellow believers, allows us to comfort others who are enduring tough times.

So the answer to the question, "Why, God?" is "that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God."

God, please show me the opportunities to share the comfort you have provided to me with others who are in need.

Moving on

After a full year of waiting for the promised follow-up from the leadership of my previous church, I have given up hope that it is forthcoming. May God intervene in the lives of these people so they bring no further disgrace to the name of Christ.

2 Timothy 2:25-26
God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

January 23, 2007

Boisterous praise!

Yesterday I posted about a verse from my morning devotions. Today I'd like to address something else I see in that verse.

Nehemiah 12:43
And they offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and children also rejoiced. And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.

Our OFRBC worship team discussed the concept of how loud we should play. We tend to play more and more loudly as we go on when we are really enjoying ourselves. Although we need to make sure we are not allowing our music to get out of control, I argued that we should not be too concerned with the idea that we might be playing too loudly. (I'm not arguing that we should be cranking out 120 decibels as if we were presenting some sort of rock concert.) We should not play so loudly that the congregation cannot hear themselves contributing to the corporate worship experience of music. But I think we conservative Christians tend to lean more toward the quieter side than we should.

The end of the above verse is of interest to this discussion. "The joy of Jerusalem was heard far away." Even at our loudest, our worship team cannot be heard far away. In fact, I doubt that we could be heard across the street at any time. It must have been an awesome thing to hear the Israelites praising God with such gusto that their praise could "be heard far away."

January 22, 2007

God made them rejoice

Yesterday Old Forest Road Baptist Church commissioned our new pastor, Mike O'Brien. It was a wonderful day. The preaching (by Dane Emmerich) was outstanding, the fellowship was enjoyable (potluck dinner after church), and the singing was inspiring and enjoyable.

As the worship team practiced the music the week before, we all enjoyed the songs. The words were great, but the music itself was fun to play and we all had a good time. Yesterday morning we discussed the fact that the act of praising God is all about Him and not at all about us, so we need to make sure that we're not enjoying the music ONLY because it is fun, but first and foremost because it is praising and magnifying our great God.

After church, a few of the members of the worship team discussed the fact that the congregation seemed to be very involved in the music and seemed to be genuinely worshiping God. So ... was it because the music was fun (which we all agreed would not be true worship) or was it because the music led the people into a true spirit of praise?

This morning, God answered my question in my morning devotions:

Nehemiah 12:43
And they offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and children also rejoiced. And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.

Why did they rejoice? ---Because "God had made them rejoice with great joy." The spirit of praise and worship among the OFRBC congregation was not because the worship team was playing well or because the songs were fun or even because the songs were inspiring. The spirit of praise and worship was because God moved in the hearts of the congregation to praise Him. It's humbling and awesome to realize that God's sovereignty stretches even to whether or not we are able to praise Him.

So ... we must regularly ask God to grant us a spirit of praise and worship so that we will be able to do what is expected of us, even commanded in scripture.

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow.