Wednesday, February 28, 2007

God's Time

Walter Chantry writes in this month's Banner of Truth about the degradation of our society, citing "violent abortions, violent euthanasia, battering of wives and children, shootings in schools by fellow students and sexual predators, bombings, riots, and road rage" as crimes "increasing in formerly Christian nations of the West." We could easily add more evidence of our culture's deterioration, paraded as it is in the daily news media. So we pray for the only answer to these problems: revival, a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit which would sweep across our land, bringing millions to repentance and restoring the moral foundations our nation desperately needs.

And yet it seems like God is silent and inactive. Depravity and violence are increasing. Perversity and ungodliness run rampant and are even celebrated. And yet it seems God is silent, and no revival is in sight. How are we to live in such times? Why does God remain silent? "If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do? (Psalm 11:3).

It is easy to forget that God's providential wisdom is beyond our capacity to understand. Hundreds of years may go by before He acts. Thousands of years may pass before judgment falls. Remember the ancient psalmists and prophets crying out, "How long, O Lord?" While we live in depraved and violent times, it is proper to cry out to God, but is also imperative to trust in God. Our churches may be half empty, and our children falling victim to drugs, pornography, and gang warfare, but God will act. God will either bring down swift and awful justice upon our nation, or He may once again "rend the heavens and come down," carrying with him tender mercy and blessings.

Many godly men and women suffered horribly when Israel was carried away into Babylonian captivity. It may be our lot to live our entire lives oppressed and astonished at the evil around us. The antidote to despair, however, is the knowledge that God knows and rescues His own. We cannot manufacture revival, nor can we program growth. In God's time His Spirit will go forth. In God's time His Son will return. In God's time evil will be vanquished forever. We live in this blessed hope, and so we remain prayerful, devoted servants to the Triune God. The news may be bad, but the good news of the Gospel shall triumph over all evil in the end.

Monday, February 26, 2007

J.C. Ryle on the Church's Power

In his collection of diverse essays published under the title The Upper Room (Banner of Truth), J.C. Ryle, bishop of Liverpool from 1880-1900, writes that in the upper room, where the disciples gathered after the Ascension of our Lord, lies the church's true power.

"This little upper room was the starting point of a movement which shook the Roman Empire, emptied the heathen temples, stopped gladiatorial combats, raised women to their true position, checked infanticide, created a new standard of morality, confounded the old Greek and Roman philosophers, and turned the world upside down. And what was the secret of this power? The unity, the soundness in the faith, the holiness, and the prayers and intercessions of the first professing Christians. Where these things are wanting, the grandest architecture and the most ornate ceremonial will do nothing to mend the world. It is the presence of Christ and the Holy Ghost which alone gives power" (p.22).

"I challenge those who sneer at dogma to show us a more excellent way, to show us anything that does more good in the world than the old, old story of Christ dying for our sins, and rising again for our justification" (p.23).

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Prolonging the Problem

Ran across this quote today:

"Consultants: If you aren't part of the solution...there is good money to be made prolonging the problem."

I think this is applicable to my denomination. A select few of unelected leaders are spending ungodly amounts of money trying to solve our declining numbers problem by following the advice of secular consultants who are like chiropractors - they give the appearance of help, but in fact prolong the problem by not addressing the real problems of our abandonment of scriptural authority and our failure to focus on biblical evangelism and mission (i.e., saving souls). So we spend our time dealing with issues such as homosexuality and church structure, while countless people never hear the gospel, not even in their churches.

The only ones laughing are the devil and the Carver Governance consultants (to whom we pay thousands of dollars to train our leaders).

Friday, February 23, 2007

God's Glory in Creation

Psalm 19 famously affirms, "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork." Job 9:8-9 says, "He alone spreads out the heavens, and treads on the waves of the sea; He made the Bear, Orion, and the Pleiades, and the constellations of the south." And finally, Paul writes in Romans 1:20, "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so they are without excuse."

The thread that binds these verses together is the doctrine of God's glory in His creating this magnificent universe. Simple observation of the night sky should be enough to convince anyone that there is a God, and that God is in control of this universe. God is the invisible engine which sustains and continues to create and hold together the very fabric of existence. The apostle Paul goes further, saying that we can clearly learn about God's nature from observing the nature God created.

What can we learn? To start, He is eternally powerful. The sheer enormity and beauty of the universe testify to God's omnipotence. Who but God could "spread out the heavens" and fashion galaxies and constellations? The Bible teaches what is called by philosophers and theologians the "Teleological argument." God's existence is proved by creation. If one finds a watch on the ground, there must have been a watchmaker. Voltaire, no Christian he, wrote, "If a watch proves the existence of watchmaker but the universe does not prove the existence of a Great Architect, then I consent to be called a fool." In other words, only an idiot or a willful unbeliever can deny the greatness and glory of God when one looks upon the universe.

The word "teleological" comes from the Greek word telos, which means "end" or "purpose." Since God clearly created the universe, He did so for a reason ~ namely, for His own glory. Our hearts and minds are lifted up from the earth and sky to worship the majesty behind all that we see. Calvin wrote, "The world is the theater of God's glory." To recognize this leads one deeper into the mysteries of the Christian faith, and to a life devoted to worship and godliness. "The heavens declare the glory of God," but most men's heads are down, to their incalculable loss.

{photo: galaxy ic342 - a prosaic name for such wondrous beauty}

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The End of the RCA?

I have in front of me a draft document being circulated that outlines recommendations to be made at the upcoming General Synod. These come from the Missional Structures Task Force, and have as their sole aim the destruction of the Reformed Church in America as we now know it. The proposals have a two-fold emphasis. The first is the effective abolition of the classis in favor of 15 "Middle Assemblies," and the second is the further concentration of unelected power in the hands of a few. Our Reformed/Presbyterian form of representative government will be replaced by hand-picked "professional" leaders who will govern these 15 assemblies, much as a bishop would in the Evangelical Lutheran Church. The duties of the classes will now be in the hands of larger regional synods and the General Synod. For example, and most ominously, ministers of Word and Sacrament will have to go before these unelected, hand-picked bodies to be ordained, re-certified, and undergo enforced continuing education (i.e., learn how to be a Carver governanced, best practiced, NCD'd, liberal).

It is imperative for us to unite against the proposals of the Missional Task Force, and defend our representative church government, the role of classis, and the sacred office of minister of Word and sacrament. I for one was never "certified." Hands were laid on me when I was ordained, as has been done since the beginning of the church. I will not stand before an unbiblical body and plead to remain a clergyman.

This document is the culmination of a decade-long effort to concentrate power in the hands of an unelected few. Instead of destroying the classical system we currently have, I propose we rid ourselves of the office of General Secretary, and reinstitute the elected office of Clerk of General Synod. If these proposals are accepted, even in modified forms, it will mean the end of the RCA, and the beginning of a new church structured along the lines of the Evangelical Lutheran and United Methodist churches (churches which are losing members). How long will it be before these "Middle Assemblies" are called "dioceses," and their executives "bishops"? Not long, I wager. These new changes represent the most significant threat in our denomination's history, and must be resisted by every minister and elder. We shall not go quietly into oblivion. We shall not sit idle as our cherished institutions are dismantled.

Here are the proposed recommendations, with the most odious highlighted in bold print:


To endorse the proposed direction of the Missional Structures Task Force to reorganize the assemblies of the Reformed Church in America in a manner that supports the missional engagement of congregations and all of the institutions and agencies of the RCA.


To instruct the General Synod Council, by 2010, in support of the proposed direction of the Missional Structures Task Force and in ongoing dialogue with classes and regional synods, to pursue development of a specific plan by which our present 45 classes and 8 regional synods will be replaced with not fewer than 15 "middle assemblies" whose structure and ministry is focused on missional planning:

  • In consultation with the Commission on Church Order, to develop proposed changes in the church order that will support and enable the formation of not fewer than fifteen middle assemblies;

  • In consultation with the regional synods and classes, to develop means for equitable staffing and funding of church-wide and middle assembly mission, ministry, and support services for consideration by General Synod not later than 2010;

  • In consultation with the seminaries and TEA, to develop the means by which examination and ordination of ministers of Word and sacrament would be assumed and carried by the General Synod;

  • In consultation with regional synods, classes, and the Commission on Church Order, to assure that any proposed plan or process of realignment of classes and regions does not violate current responsibilities of the assemblies as defined in the Book of Church Order, or violate assembly bylaws, corporate charters, or state/provincial or federal laws;

  • To communicate to regional synods, classes, and congregations, clear guidelines for the transition period including instructions that a)voting delegates to higher assemblies will continue to be selected by rules and church membership statistics currently in place until such time as the reorganization is completed and the BCO has been changed; b)assessments and the formulas for calculating assessments will continue to be based on current assembly statistics until such time as the General Synod approves a final plan of reorganization, the BCO has been changed, and a new equitable funding formula has been devised and approved;


To instruct the Commission on Church Order to prepare BCO changes that will bring deacons into full voting participation in the higher assemblies of the church, in parity with elders and ministers of Word and sacrament.


To instruct the General Synod Council, by 2010, to devise a plan for General Synod consideration that will place the General Synod meeting on a biennial meeting cycle in a setting that includes a church-wide missionally focused gathering;


To instruct the Commission on Theology, in conversation with the General Synod Professors of Theology, to engage in a study of the historic “marks” of the church as articulated in the RCA Standards in light of missional understandings of the Gospel, and to consider the recommendation of the addition of a fourth “mark” of the church, for report to the General Synod by 2009.


To instruct the General Synod Council, in cooperation with appropriate commissions, RCA institutions and agencies, and ecumenical partners, to identify and/or develop resources and learning opportunities that will assist the RCA’s congregations and members to better understand and claim as their own a commitment to missional engagement as core to our life and faithfulness.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Reformation Reversed

According to the London Times, the Roman Catholic church will soon have more members in Britain than the Church of England. Anglican priests who left for Rome when women were allowed to be ordained, immigration from Catholic countries, and the current controversy over gay priests and bishops, have combined to make Catholicism the dominant Christian religion in England for the first time since bloody Mary ruled from 1553-1558.

The phenomenon of "crossing the Tiber" is not new. John Henry Newman in the 19th century led scores of men into the Church of Rome. It is, however, disturbing to those who cherish the doctrines of grace, and who disagree with Rome over the issues of justification by faith, the worship of Mary, and transubstantiation. Rome becomes an attractive haven for those who are tired to battling liberals in mainline denominations. The cost of such a haven is the surrender of Protestant doctrine, which thousands of martyrs died to defend.

There is a lesson to be learned in all of this. The Roman church has refused to compromise with modernism or liberalism, and offers certainty and continuity to its members. Mainline denominations offer only social justice and watered-down theology, a thin gruel for spiritually hungry people. If we wish to retain our members, and grow in numbers and spiritual maturity, we must, like Rome, stand strong against the forces of accommodation and liberalism. Otherwise our sheep will be stolen by Rome, by cults, and by unbelief, and the Reformation will have been in vain.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

A Bluegrass Valentine

I love bluegrass music, and have been playing it ever since I heard Doc Watson's fingers fly up and down the neck of his guitar when I was a teenager. One of the first songs I ever learned was Doc's rendition of "Railroad Bill." I realize bluegrass music is an acquired taste, but so is opera, and many other fine things in this life.

My wife gave me a Valentine's Day gift which I want to recommend to you. It is a cd entitled Quartet, and offers the talents of Tony Rice and Peter Rowan on guitar, along with two very talented ladies: bassist Bryn Davies and Sharon Gilchrist on mandolin. It's a wonderful album and a good introduction to bluegrass music. Tony Rice is one of my favorite musicians, and has surrounded himself over the years with great talent. He pushes the envelope of bluegrass, adding jazz inflections and incomparable flatpicking leads. Just listening to this master musician is worth the price, but Peter Rowan's mournful vocals in harmony with the two ladies makes this a very special experience.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Medical Update

When I was diagnosed with a relapse of acute promyelocytic leukemia on September 29th, 2006, I was told that the goal was to get me into remission, and then I would have a stem cell transplant to insure that I remain healthy. There are two types of transplants. One, which is called an autologous transplant, comes from your own cells which are harvested by a machine similar to that used in dialysis. This is the preferred transplant, because it really isn't a true transplant, and there is no risk of rejection. The other type of transplant comes from stem cells harvested from other peoples' blood. This type has an unnerving 30% mortality rate due to rejection issues.

Today I learned that I would be having an autologous stem cell transplant in May. A test was done two weeks ago that searched for leukemia cells at a level of 1 in 10,000. They could not find any! I feel an immense amount of relief, and thanksgiving. I wish to convey my heartfelt thanks to all those who have been praying for me and for this type of transplant in particular. I also thank God for His mercy. I still covet your prayers, and still lean on the everlasting arms of Christ my Savior. There are still dangers, and pain, chemotherapy, and a host of indignities to endure, but I have been given the precious gift of hope, and as Miss Dickenson wrote, "Hope is the thing with feathers."

Friday, February 09, 2007

Deadly Idolatry Redux

The wall to wall cable news coverage yesterday of the death of Anna Nicole Smith reminded me of a previous post of mine last September about the dangers of idolatry. Smith idolized Marilyn Monroe, and met a similar fate. Instead of worshipping Christ and living a wholesome life of godliness and peace, Miss Smith (like Marilyn Monroe, she took a nom de plume - her real name was Vicky Hogan) chose to be a stripper and then found fame (again like Marilyn) as a Playboy centerfold. The remainder of her time on earth was marked by drug abuse, public intoxication, and a sad deterioration of her personal life.

Two verses come to mind. "The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23) and "the way of transgressors is hard" (Proverbs 13:15). Whom or what we choose to idolize can have deadly consequences. Fame and fortune were no friends to this young woman, and yet I doubt it will stem the tide of countless others who will literally die to follow in the footsteps of Marilyn Monroe and Anna Nicole Smith. Drugs, pornography, serial marriages, and early deaths await those who idolize these women. What they need is Christ. What Anna Nicole needed was Christ. What she wanted was something else, and it killed her. Once again let us heed the Bible's warning: "Little children, keep yourselves from idols" (1 John 5:21).

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Gomorrah on a Hill

Dinesh D'Souza has written a new book, entitled The Enemy At Home, on how left-wing politics and values bear a measure of responsibility for 9/11 and Islamic anti-Americanism. The book was savaged by Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times (can she do anything but savage books?), but I think D'Souza makes an important point. The precipitous decline in American social values is deeply offensive to the Islamic (and may I add orthodox Christian communities here and especially in the southern hemisphere). Normalizing depravity has its consequences. It erodes the quality of life in our nation, and makes us hated by those who object to the global exportation of Hollywood filth.

Devout Christians in America who voice similar concerns are lampooned and labelled as fundamentalist extremists. 9/11 and its aftermath should serve as a moral wake-up call lest we become what D'Souza calls "a shining beacon of global depravity, a kind of Gomorrah on a Hill." It is the Church's duty to speak prophetically to the culture, and be prepared for the stoning of its prophets.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

What Blessing Means

A sermon from Psalm 67 on the nature of blessing.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Lessons Learned

As I begin my fifth month of dealing with relapsed acute leukemia, I have garnered some lessons which I'd like to share.
1. One by one the things which I used to depend on have been taken away. Because of the RCA's change in insurance, I had to change doctors, medications, and hospital. My house is quiet and empty since my daughters went back to college, and my wife now works full time. Loneliness is a real challange. I believe that God is weaning me away from anything that is not Him.
2. The medical/insurance changes which were so upsetting ended up being to my advantage. I am now being treated at a hospital only 20 minutes away, and is one of the foremost facilities in the country. The transplant team does over 200 stem-cell transplants a year. Lesson learned: not all change is bad.
3. Hospital time is not normal time. Each day I drive to the hospital, making sure I get there on time (or early!), and I am greeted by procedures (go here, do this, pay this person), delays, etc. While the arsenic trioxide is entering my IV, time slows to a crawl.
4. No prayer is too small. I routinely ask God for parking places, painless IV insertions, light traffic on the highway.
5. Daily Bible reading in the morning calms my nerves, illuminates my mind, and fosters prayerful communion with the Lord. I am grateful to the St. James Devotional Guide I have been using. It provides order to my reading, and in the midst of all these changes and stresses order is good. It is also inexpensive ($14 a year).
6. Not leading worship is very hard.
7. God's mercy is new every morning. It arrives in varied and unexpected ways, but it arrives.