Thursday, September 29, 2011

Scenes from the DPC BLOCK PARTY, Part I

The Westbound Rangers were on the stage at the DPC Block Party on Sunday, September 25. It was great fun! Thanks to all the folks who willing gave of themselves to pull this off!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Glory of the Gospel, Part IV: Confucianism?

This is part of a series of posts exploring how the different systems of religious belief we have in this world measure up to the gospel of Christ.

You may want to read Part I... Part II... & Part III first.

Now let's bring a representative of a third major belief system up to the edge of the pit: Confucianism.

The great Chinese thinker and philosopher Confucius was born in the year 551 BC (in the same generation that Buddhism was being founded in India/Nepal). Oddly enough, the traditional birthdate for Confucius is today, September 28.

During his career Confucius began to write down a series of wise, humanistic counsels that promised to produce virtue in our lives if they were obeyed.

His goal was to teach people how to live in jen (pronounced "ren" or "wren"), which is defined as "the harmony of an actualized human potential that comes from a process of self-realization and self-actualization." The idea is basically to grow in "humaneness" and to feel good and virtuous because you've behaved rightly.

The "good news" of this belief system is that if you study all the writings of Confucius and all the commentaries that have been written on those writings, you can learn a correct way to live which should protect you from falling into these pits!

So, the Confucian comes up to the edge of the pit. He sees you down there. And he says: "My friend, if you would follow this teaching, you would avoid future pits. These pits are terrible. And it is the virtuous, careful person who can avoid ever falling in one."

That's it.

So... now we've seen three religions come to the edge of the pit and offer us their version of salvation. One spoke to us of illusion. One spoke to us of our desires. The third has offered us good counsel.

... to be continued ...

Monday, September 26, 2011

Happy Birthday to my wife!

"He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD." -- Proverbs 18.22

Thank you, Lord, for your favor!

And Happy Birthday (yesterday, actually) to my wonderful wife, who never ceases to amaze me. She is indeed a gift from God!

The book of Proverbs ends with a poem. It seems to be modeled after (and even uses some of the vocabulary of) lots of poems in the ancient world that would celebrate the noble, valiant hero and all of his mighty victories on the field of battle as a soldier.

But the twist in Proverbs is that it's not the hero/soldier that's praised in the concluding poem.

Rather, it's the noble, valiant woman. It is her strength and her skill and her wisdom and her qualities and her abilities that is the subject of this song.

Yes, I know it's ultimately pointing to Lady Wisdom -- as opposed to Lady Folly. The whole book is written from the perspective of a father teaching his son to pursue the one and not the other. See chapters 5-7, and especially 8 & 9. In the end (chapter 31), the young man has chosen well. He's chosen to "marry himself" to Lady Wisdom.

But still.

This picture of an unbelievably energetic and incredibly competent woman who makes her husband and her children so happy reminds me very strongly of someone.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Do you love community? Or do you love people?

"A person who loves community tends to destroy it. But a person who loves people creates community wherever he goes."

~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

How very true.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

9 years of heroic joy.

This Asgardian hero turned 9 today. And he is a champion of joy and happiness in our family. Ever since he was a baby, he's just woken up happy and has made it his mission to make everyone around him happy all day long.

His name, Jaden, is Hebrew for "Yahweh has heard." And indeed, the Lord did hear our prayers for another child and gave generously to us out of his bountiful goodness! There's a Jaden in the Bible as well -- Jaden the Meronithite. He helped rebuild the walls of Jerusalem in Nehemiah 3.

And my prayer for you, Jaden, is that you too will be used mightily of the Lord to build up his kingdom and his church, serving your Savior and serving your neighbor in the mighty name of Christ, the true Hero.

"So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
... Philippians 2

Couple of good Jaden stories:

Yesterday morning during our time of family Bible reading, the Scripture passage we read spoke about marriage. I always take an opportunity like that to speak to my children about the importance of who they marry. After making a comment or two along those lines, I asked a question. Something along the lines of, "So, what are you looking for in marriage?". Jaden -- who's recently had The Princess Bride read to him, and watched the movie as well, immediately spoke up - "Twoo Woooove" - in perfect imitation of the archbishop in the movie.

Yesterday afternoon Jaden was commenting on his birthday breakfast. His older brother -- who knew something about the breakfast that Jaden did not know -- simply smiled & said, "But I know something about that that you don't know." Jaden -- in perfect imitation of The Man in Black (from The Princess Bride) -- then says, "I am not left-handed!"

These two pictures are close to a year old. Last year for his birthday Jaden got an old, used trumpet. He's fascinated by the trumpet. He's always watching the trumpet players in church. With awe. One Sunday he brought his trumpet to church, and waited patiently for the service to end. Then, he very deliberately took his trumpet out of its case & went up to join the other trumpet players as they played the postlude. He was thrilled. It was a beautiful thing to see.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Glory of the Gospel, Part III: Buddhism?

To fully understand this post, you'll need to read...

Part I &

The second major religion we'll examine was founded in the year 563 BC by a young prince in northern India (modern day Nepal). One day this young prince left the life of luxury he knew in his palace... only to encounter incredible suffering out in the world.

In the terms of our metaphor (read Part I), he beheld the pit. He beheld the viper.

And it troubled him so greatly that he left his wife and his children behind while he went out into the world to seek a solution.

And near the end of a six-year period of family abandonment -- during which time he was making extreme demands upon himself (severe fasting, etc.) -- he found himself sitting underneath a Bodhi tree, sometimes also known as a Bo tree. He was sitting there, eating very little food, and waiting for enlightenment.

Hence, his nickname -- which means "Enlightened One" or "Awakened One." The Buddha.

This is the term from which "Buddhism" gets its name. Here's his conclusion: The pit and the viper are real (contra Hinduism -- see Part II), but our problem is that we want to get out of the pit! It is our desire to get out of the pit. But if can just rid ourselves of our desire to be out of the pit and to be free of the viper, then we can be at peace!

So, the representative from Buddhism comes over to the pit and looks down upon us. What's he going to say? What good news of rescue will he offer us?

He says, "My friend! Your problem is that you want to get out of the pit. You want to get away from the snake. This is wrong. Repeat after me in intense meditation: 'I love you, pit. I love you, snake. I don't need to be out.'"

And then he would counsel you to use the Four Noble Truths, which -- when fully understood -- would lead on you the Eightfold Path.

Essentially, they are these:

1. All life knows suffering. Nobody gets what they want out of life.
2. The cause of suffering is ignorance and clinging. Wanting it (wanting what you want out of life) is the problem.
3. There is a way to end suffering. By learning not to want what you want.
4. This is the way to end suffering: The Eightfold Path.
  1. Right Understanding Learning the nature of reality and the truth about life.
  2. Right Aspiration Making the commitment to living in such a way that our suffering can end.
  3. Right Effort Just Do It. No Excuses.
  4. Right Speech Speaking the truth in a helpful and compassionate way.
  5. Right Conduct Living a life consistent with our values.
  6. Right Livelihood Earning a living in a way that doesn’t hurt others.
  7. Right Mindfulness Recognizing the value of the moment; living where we are.
  8. Right Concentration Expanding our consciousness through meditation.
Have you seen the pictures of Buddhist monks who would douse themselves with gasoline and then set themselves on fire, all the while just sitting there in the lotus position? This was done as a strong act of protest against the wrongful persecution of Buddhists. But it at least demonstrates that this Buddhist in particular had obviously found some success in removing the desire to avoid pain.

So... so far two religions have come to the edge of the pit and offered us their version of salvation. One spoke to us of illusion. The other has spoken to us of our desire.

... to be continued ...

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Glory of the Gospel, Part II: Hinduism?

Click here to read Part I of this series of posts.

The first person we escort to the edge of the pit represents one of the oldest religions on the planet... Hinduism.

Hinduism began as early as 1,500 BC. The goal of Hinduism is to seek something called "moksha." Moksha is understood as a kind of release or freedom from being wrong about life. Ultimately it's freedom from illusion.

In Hinduism, whether you're from the highest caste for from the lowest caste, everyone is seeking moksha - freedom from foolish illusion.

Hinduism teaches that everything that the cobra in our pit represents (see the previous post) is simply an illusion. Pain, injustice, suffering, war, disease, evil, wrong-doing -- it's all just an illusion. What's real is Brahman. And we must learn to distinguish what is real from what is illusion.

So... we bring the representative from Hinduism up to the pit. And he/she says this: "My friend in the pit! Here is what you must do: You must so study Vishnu, and you must so meditate, and you must also undergo reincarnations until you reach moksha! You must tell yourself, 'There is no pit! There is no snake! They are only illusion. Only Brahman is real.' And then, my friend, you will find peace."

And, listen, there are Hindus who take this kind of meditation so seriously that they are able to do things like push nails into their skin without wincing. It's pretty impressive. On one level.

But, this is their solution to the one in the pit. Pain and injustice and suffering and crime and evil... it's all just illusion.

... to be continued ...

Friday, September 16, 2011

I love my dog more now.

Just finished reading this book to my two little guys. Yes, we cried. No, I don't care what you think.

When we talked about the crucial scene in the second-to-last chapter, my 6-year old made a connection to the sacrifice of Christ for us. "Dad, if something were going to kill me, God would just jump in the way and die for me."

That's the wild, unexpected beauty of the gospel exactly. Sin is killing us. God Himself jumps in the way.

Oddly, I love my dog more and my God more and my childhood more and my parents more and my grandparents more and my boys more for having read this book with them.

Now... we're going to watch the movie. Perhaps tonight.

And I also want to go coon-hunting.

The Glory of the Gospel, Part I: Introduction

The "Liberal Gospel" in today's world claims that all religions are the same. They're all just different paths to finding the same God.

That -- while sometimes said with kind intent -- is, of course, the very worst kind of nonsense, balderdash, & moonshine. Anyone who knows something of the other religions and then reads the Bible like an honest grown-up will see that right away. In fact, you don't even have to be grown-up. An honest child can see the difference as well.

However, there is one thing upon which all religions agree. And that is that there is something terribly wrong with this world. This world is not functioning correctly. Just look around at all the pain, suffering, death, disease, crime, war, injustice, and wrong-doing. Just read the headlines of today's paper.

As Tacitus -- an ancient Roman senator & historian -- once wrote: the history of this world is "horrible even in peace." For some people, it's just painful to be alive in this world. Literally.

So, all religions are forced to address this. Even the Christian Scientist -- who formally tries to deny the very existence of evil -- finds himself/herself having to address it always and forever. It's like trying to deny the existence of yourself. Counter-evidence keeps cropping up. It's offensively ridiculous. That's why I didn't even include them in the generalized statement above that "all religions agree that there is something terribly wrong with this world." In some ways, they've forfeited the right to be included in a conversation with grown-ups. And I say that as someone who has had friends in that communion. I love them, but they need to have the courage to open their eyes.

A fellow PCA pastor (Joe Novenson) once suggested a metaphor that would help us hold this truth -- the existence of evil in this world -- in our minds in such a way that would allow us to clearly see how the religions of this world differ. It's a very helpful metaphor, and I'm just going to reproduce it here.

Please imagine that life is like a 16-foot deep, 16-foot across, round, slimy-walled PIT. You are in it, and you can't get out of it.

You're in way over your head, in a situation in which you can get little help, and over which you have little control.

But to make matters worse... inside that pit, there's also an 8-foot cobra. He's coiled and ready to strike.

Let's say that that cobra represents all the injustice, death, crime, suffering, poverty, pain, disease, war, & wrong-doing in this world. It represents everything that is wrong -- both in your personal life and in the world in general.

And here's what we're going to do: We're going to escort a representative from each of the world's major religions right up to the edge of that pit. That representative will see you in the pit and offer you his religion's version of "salvation."

We'll see just how different or alike the religions of this world are. Note that if you can think of a religion that we won't bring to the edge of the pit, it's really just a deviation (some would say a "heresy") of one of the religions that we will bring to the edge of the pit.

... to be continued ...

Thursday, September 15, 2011

"grace to you"

Iron Men,

As you may know, the Apostle Paul is one of a handful of men who absolutely changed the world in which we live. One way he did so was by planting Christian churches all over the Mediterranean world, within a generation of Christ's ministry.

When Paul planted a church, he planted the flag for justification (being right with God) by grace alone through faith in Christ alone.

But often, after he planted a church & moved on to continue his work, false teachers would come in and trouble the church by contradicting Paul. "NO!," they would insist, "If you're going to be saved, you're going to need more than just simple faith in Christ!" And then they would start listing what else (besides Christ) one would need for salvation.

When Paul writes back to the Galatians to address this attack on the gospel, he plunges right in. "Grace to you," he says in v.3.

"Grace to you." It was a loaded phrase in that situation. And to understand its meaning is to understand this letter that Paul wrote. And to understand this letter, is to understand the gospel. And to understand the gospel is to understand the whole Bible.

We're studying Galatians together on Tuesday mornings. 6:30 am at the church. Always out by 7:30 am.

Why don't you start re-reading Galatians now to prepare the ground of your heart & mind for a good time of group study? And don't forget to invite a friend. This is too good to keep to ourselves.

Iron Men of DPC

Forged by God; Sharpened by Brothers

Iron sharpens Iron, and one man sharpens another. ~ Proverbs 27.17

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Eagle? What eagle?

I love this picture.

And what's especially fun about it is that my family & I were only a few rows to the right! Some very generous friends gave us some great tickets to the Auburn / MSU game. If you look at the video of this event (click here), you'll see two kids in maroon just to the right of Spirit's dramatic near-entry into the covered section of the stadium. Those are my two oldest! And then if you look a few seats over from them (in the aisle, but you can't tell it), you'll see the rest of us.

The Bulldogs didn't get it together for this game -- and that was disappointing, to be sure -- but we had a wonderful day at Auburn! For the most part the famous Auburn hospitality was beautifully on display. "Welcome to Auburn!" -- we were told this again and again, by young & old... even though we were clearly Maroon & White (see photographic evidence below).

There were a couple of rude folks. Like the crusty old man who told my wife & daughter to sit down when they stood up to cheer the first MSU touchdown. I was considering whether or not to eliminate him through the measured use of utter annihilation when other Auburn fans stepped in and apologized for his behavior. Near miss on his part.

As you can see, the kingdom of God is all about reconciliation.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Let your yea be yea

A few weeks ago my family & I went to visit my parents. My parents have a pool that the kids love to play in. But sadly, at the time, one of the boys had both of his arms in casts and therefore could not play in the pool.

To cheer him up, I told him that when his casts came off, I'd bring him back to his grandparents' home & throw him in the pool.

You should always strive to be a man of your word.

Thursday, September 1, 2011