Seneca on character, before Hybels - Steve

I think it was Bill Hybels who said character is who you are when no one is looking, or something like that.

Letter 43 of Seneca's Moral Epistles reminded me of this, and of the "ministerial fishbowl." It seems we shouldn't complain about this fishbowl effect, but expect transparency and accountability as fellow believers. This letter was so good, I quote it in (almost) full here:

"Do you ask how the news reached me, and who informed me, that you were entertaining this idea of which yo uhad said nothing to a single soul? It was that most knowing of perons, - gossip....

"Men are asking what you do, how you dine, and how you sleep, and they find out, too; hence there is all the more reason for your living circumspectly. Do not, however, deem yourself truly happy until you find that you can live before men's eyes, until your walls protect but do not hide you; although we are apt to believe that these walls surround us, not to enable us to live more safely, but that we may sin more secretly. I shall mention a fact by which yo umay weigh the worth of a man's character: you will scarcely find anyone who can live with his door wide open. It is our conscience, not our pride, that has put doorkeepers at our doors; we live in such a fashion that being suddenly disclosed to view is equivalent to being caught in the act. What profits it, however, to hide oursevles away, and to avoid the eyes and ears of men? A good conscience welcomes the crowd, but a bad conscience, even in solitude, is disturbed and troubled. If you r deeds are honourable, let everybody know them; if base, what matters it that no one knows them, as long as you yourself know them?... Farewell.'

Off the cuff on Acts 26 - Steve

Vs 5-6: The Way has the same hope in the same promises made to Israel.
Vs 8: The resurrection is always central in New Testament preaching.
Vs 9-18: Also central - a recounting of Paul's conversion, and taking the Gospel message to the Gentiles.
Vs 29: "All who hear"... many noble bystanders must have heard this sermon (see 25:23). What an opportunity to magnify His Name!
Vs 31: Festus and Agrippa: we may not believe this, but it's not against the law.
Vs 32: Agrippa tactfully criticizes Festus for holding Paul in order to cater to the Jews.


Deliverance from fear - Steve

Psalm 34:4
"I sought the LORD, and He heard me,
And delivered me from all my fears."

Our 2-year old was up for awhile last night, scared of the dark, his room, whatever.
Sara is a wonder-worker for getting our kids through this: "you just have to get them to think about something else." But it takes time, lots of hugs, and just the right words/stories.

Who can deliver us from fear besides God?
Fear is a part of our psychology that depends upon God for stability, just as our physical bodies (heartbeat, liver, etc.) depend upon Him.

God is the great sustainer of every part of our being. Praise Him for His mercy.

Inside a terrorist's head, during an attack - Steve

Jeff Meyers pointed me to this amazing video.

Want to know what an insurgent/terrorist thinks about when shooting at American soldiers? Click, watch, listen and learn.

(Hint: Allah akbar means "Allah is great.")

The US soldier who was shot survived, thanks to body armor, the 2 shooters were apprehended with reinforcements, but not before being wounded. The US soldier who was shot treated his attacker's wounds himself. Full story from the Army times.

Proverbs 25:21-22

Empowering Leadership - Steve

Jay Adams, "Shepherding God's Flock:" pg. 351-354.

"Acts 6 describes the origin of the New Testament diaconate, a body of men whose specific calling is to help elders and pastor-teachers by relieving them of numerous administrative details that otherwise might pull them away from the work to which God has called them.... the deacons too may learn to delegate... [their tasks] to persons within the congregation who have peculiar gifts for ministry.... [This] involves the utilization of gifts.... Sharing of work means everyone doing some of all of the whole, and everyone focusing on some parts of the whole."

Too often, when leaders hear from the leadership team, "You're responsible for x, y and z," they think that means, "You have to do x, y and z." When really, it's a golden opportunity to include someone else in the task, who wants to serve the church, but doesn't know just how. Empowering leaders must take the initiative to include others in the work of the Church. If they don't, as they say, it's like the football game where 70,000 sit watching 22 do all the work! Fine for football, but not for the Body of Christ!

Ephesians 4:11-13: "And [Jesus] Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ."

The New Geneva Study Bible comments wisely on these verses: "It is not primarily those mentioned in v. 11 who do the work of the ministry; it is the people they equip. Effective teachers help each believer to find their own way of benefiting the rest of the church."

Relevance breeds irrelevance - Steve

Some great words by Al Mohler today:

"The churches that are most insistent on being relevant are those most willing to sacrifice biblical truth and the structure of Christian doctrine in order to prove their commitment to cultural expectations. Eventually, these churches become so identified with the culture that all distinctiveness disappears.

The sacrifice of truth for a constantly changing concept of relevance leads necessarily to the relativizing of the Gospel itself, and the undermining of biblical authority. Once these are sacrificed, authentic Christianity is abandoned and all motivation for membership disappears. If beliefs do not matter, the churches themselves do not matter."


Confused about the RCA - Steve

So our General Synod this past June deposed Norm Kansfield from office for performing a gay marriage, then days later decided to decide what its policy on homosexuality will be in 2008. Norm had married his daughter to another woman. Norm's daughter has been on the ordination track in the RCA, under care of one of its classes (plural of classis, another word for presbytery) for several months, with nothing but encouragement to continue.

Meanwhile, another minister in the RCA says he has performed several gay marriages, but hasn't been confronted about it, highlighting an inconsistency in the RCA's policy, or enforcement thereof. He has speculated that he hasn't been confronted either because his church is so big, or because the weddings were not licensed by the state, as Kansfield's was, in Massachusetts. (Source: Times Union of Albany, Saturday, June 18, 2005, A1, story by Danielle Furfaro)

Neither of those reasons cut the mustard.
1. Are we waiting for the state to tell the church what is right now? How is it a bigger deal for a minister to perform a gay marriage when the state signs on, versus when they don't?
2. Are we determining who we discipline based on how big they are, because we have to survive, after all? What good is survival if you tolerate sin? You're spiritually dead, then, anyway. God worked with 300 of Gideon's men, 7,000 of Elijah's Israel, less than 100,000 of Nehemiah's returning exiles. Why the grab to retain numbers at the expense of Biblical truth?

So what's the scoop? Is this a don't ask don't tell policy? 'Cause if it is, we've got people telling, even if we don't want to know.

And another thing: was this discipline against Norm for the crime of going against church policy, or for going against the Bible? Turns out it is the former. We can't get consensus, it seems, on what the Bible says about this issue, so the only way we could get a guilty sentence from the Synod was to charge Norm with flouting the church's position. But wait, I thought we didn't have one yet; what's that about 2008?

The RCA has position papers going back to the '70s that oppose both what Norm and others did, and what his daughter is attempting to do. We need to live out our beliefs, or change them and let me go elsewhere. But this inconsistency is worse than doing nothing. Sure, some people are trying to be gracious, but it's coming across as hypocrisy and inconsistency instead. For the sake of a clear voice and consistency, we need to clarify what the RCA stands for, even if it means losing some people.

I wonder when Bible-believing RCA members are going to get over their timidity - "Maybe we went too far in what we did to Norm" - and start realizing the problem is much bigger than we first thought - that we need to start recovering a Biblical lifestyle at the denominational level somewhere, sometime, and that to be squeamish and pass on this one because it's such a hot potato only makes it harder to fight the next battle that will inevitably come.

When will we realize the RCA's problems are bigger than we care to admit - that the issue of homosexuality is just a symptom of a faulty way of reading the Bible as the changeable words of men about God, instead of as God's eternally true words about Himself and us? This faulty view of the Bible has far-reaching consequences. As one pastor told me recently, why are we straining out the gnat of homosexuality and swallowing the camel of universalism present in the RCA tent?


On and Off the Needles - Sara

A quick update on the ol' project list:

This is the finished Kiri shawl - about 6' wide and 3' from center to point. It's too warm to wear this summer, though! This might be the first time I'm hoping for an early winter! Pattern can be found here.

Also finished:

plain-jane ankle socks done up in a self-striping yarn from Kroy. I have large feet, and never owned a pair of good-fitting socks before. They are a dream to wear!

Owen's sweater - a Fiona McTague pattern knit in 2.5 skeins of Patons merino wool.

nearly finished: Isaiah's sweater. Same pattern as above, only in solid grey. Needs to be blocked and finished.

On my needles:

Flood sweater - Kim Hargreaves pattern from Rowan's book for Rowan Plaid. But I'm using a delicious variagated Manos del Uruguay yarn in a slightly smaller gauge. Back is finished, and I can't wait to do the rest! My first foray into cables....I use a double pointed pencil as a cn.

Grace sweater - I'm designing a cardigan with a fluffy boucle yarn in a springy green color. We'll see if I have enough to do the whole sweater...

In my brain:

another shawl out of a fluffly black mohair I have

any lace project - I really enjoyed lace knitting and would like to try some more patterns.

a sweater vest for hubby Steve - he's pretty boring when it comes to clothes, but maybe I could talk him into a vest with John Calvin's portrait on the front!

God Knits, Part 2 - Sara

This is the first year we've planted a garden at this home. It's modestly small, but still a point of joy for our little family. With joy we harvested the first of our zucchinis. With joy we watched as our sunflowers stretched for the sky. With joy we marveled at how the canteloupe vines were growing up our fence. Vines.... interesting little things. Especially when you find them growing from plants they're not supposed to be on.

I was quite surprised to find a huge mess of vines growing under my bean plants. We have yellow bush beans and green bush beans, but my yellow beans were good sprouts and very well behaved. They grew where I planted them, in nice little rows. The greenies, however, were angry toddlers throwing a tantrum all over the garden! These preschooler-vines were out of control. They clung to their neighboring plants, fearlessly climbed over our fence, and ran across the ground with so many little fingers eagerly seeking to grab anything.

(Apparently, the seed company I ordered from mislabelled their Kentucky Wonder Bush Beans and sent me pole beans. Pole beans need trellises, which we don't have. Or rather, didn't have. An assortment of dead elm branches poked into the soil now decorates our little garden and gives it that, um, natural look.)

Back to the vines - The time I spent unwinding the fragile curlicues and training them up the elm branches afforded me some moments to reflect on this mess. My mind instantly turned towards knitting. The care and slow progress of untangling my bean vines felt a lot like the Narrow Neckband incident I was currently with Owen's sweater (see previous post). In some ways, the pale green vines were yarn in my hands, but I was unknitting a project God had already started. It was one of those projects that needed to take a hard right turn to get to the destination. Like when you start a scarf but it ends up a purse after a friend points out that your chic furry yarn will tickle your nose and make you sneeze a lot (not chic). Strangely enough, the dying elm tree that God gave us with this house was just what was needed to complete this garden knitting. Now that the "trellises" are up, I'm excited to see what kind of project God knits up with these ambitious vines. Hopefully it tastes good.

PS - if anyone knows of a lace knitting pattern with vines & leaves, I'd love to visually work this into something that will last beyond harvest. Please email me.

Psalm 20:7

"Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the LORD our God."

This verse has appeared in several different places to me recently.
It doesn't say we can't have chariots or horses, but in the midst of trials and tension, where do we turn for help? Who do we remember for assistance? To whom do we raise our glass in gratitude for past help, and in hope for future aid?

Not military strength and might. The ineffable Name of the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and our Lord Jesus Christ, His Son.

Because of this, "we have risen and stand upright."

God Knits, beyond Psalm 139 - Sara

I've finally finished Owen's sweater - this has truly been a knitting adventure for me! This is my first sweater project. I've had enough of scarves, purses, etc. It was easy enough to knit, but when I tried it on Owen we were in for a surprise - the neck was too small! No problem, I thought. I'll just rip out the neckband and reknit it. Once again, theory proves easier than practice. I have become so good at hiding my yarn ends that I couldn't find the end to the neckband. Impatient and eager to do the quick fix job, I got out my trusty scissors and made just a few oh-so-small snips near the base of the neck band. Why bother with unraveling row by row when you can just go to the base right off the bat? After pulling off the neckband, my heart nearly fell through the floor. You guessed it, I not only snipped into the front of the sweater, there were about 12 ends laughing at me and unraveling at will. Too discouraged and afraid to even touch the sweater lest more stitches come out, the sweater laid on my kitchen cupboard for a week. By then I worked up enough courage to tackle the task of fixing this mess. After all, I had gotten myself into, so I should be able to get myself out of it. Worse case scenario would be turning the sweater into a V-neck. An hour and a half later (and some very tense shoulders!) I had it back to it's original state, ready to pick up the stitches for the neckband. And you can see the happy result (if posing in a wool sweater in the middle of July can be called happy!).

After all this, I had to think about how often we are really messed up knitting projects. But in the hands of our capable Creator, He untangles our sinful knots and turns us around into a beautiful (and functional!) piece of art. And in the process we learn patience, trust in Him, and that our problems weren't that big after all.


Gutenberg on screen


Al Mohler has a piece today on the impact of blogs in the political-news realm.
He details how several journalists and political figures, including Dan Rather, Trent Lott and John Kerry, have been dinged or ruined as blogs have brought public attention to incompetence, gaffes and lies that the mainstream media wouldn't have noticed or tried to cover. It seems the public world has become all the more transparent.

Mohler, depending on Hugh Hewitt's book, "Blog," says blogs began around 1999 (ancient history, right?), are as significant to information media as Gutenberg's printing press, and that there are more than 4 million blogs on the net, with thousands added daily.


Worship as giving or receiving? - Steve

I recently got reacquainted with the World magazine blogosphere (www.worldmagblog.com), and especially with Joel Brondos, a Lutheran pastor who blogs there. Here was his latest post, on worship as receiving, not giving.


I just finished Jeff Meyers' The Lord's Service, and noticed a Lutheran emphasis there, too, and I agree it is something we Reformed people have lost. Conservatives see worship as "giving God all the glory," pridefully not wanting to think of continuing to receive from God. Contemporary folk see worship as giving Him a sacrifice of praise and worship - music, that is - which engulfs much of the service, focusing us on our emotions. In a quasi-good way, we pietistically want to offer those emotions up to the Lord as a sweet smell to Him. The problem is it focuses on us and our emotions; God is more pleased the stronger we feel, and conveniently, so are we. In an even more corrupted form of this, we start talking about the blessing we received from worship today, gauging the service's effectiveness by how inspired we felt. But either way, conservative or contemporary, we are giving to God. Mr. Brondos and Meyers provide a healthy corrective here.

My question is, why must we choose between giving and receiving at this point? Worship is about God acting - Lutherans and Reformed are both good at emphasizing this divine initiative, and we should retain it. But worship is also His people responding to His grace in song, prayers and confession (Rev 4-5, for example).

Here is a case where we need not say either/or; we can say both/and, as long as the two elements are in proper proportion.


No neutrality in apologetics

Which school of apologetics (classical, presuppositional, etc.) do you embrace and why?

Very simply, I embrace presuppositional apologetics, because the classical school relies too heavily on the mind, or reason, as an avenue to God (convincing unbelievers of God’s existence through the use of argument). This is problematic, as our reason has also been radically depraved, and cannot comprehend the things of God without His grace (Rom 8:7-8).

Not to pooh-pooh the classical school. It is useful, especially in confirming the faith of believers, but it's limitations should be recognized, like the dwarves' goodness, one post down.

The Hobbit

Just coming to the interesting part - the dragon in chapter 12. There is some good commentary on humanity...

"Dwarves are not heroes, but caculating folk with a great idea of the value of money; some are tricky and treacherous and pretty bad lots; some are not, but are decent enough people... if you don't expect too much."

"Going on from there [alone in the tunnel] was the bravest thing [Bilbo] ever did. The tremendous things that happened afterward were as nothing compared to it. He fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lay in wait."

"[Bilbo's] heart was filled and pierced with enchantment and with the desire of dwares [as] he gazed motionless... at the gold beyond price and count."


Church, family, and state

What is the relationship between the state, the church, and the family?

God established each of these to facilitate human fellowship. Each was marred by the Fall. One could speak of a chronological order of priority in Genesis, where the family was formed first, along with a primitive form of church with 2 members, Adam and Eve. The state followed later, after the Fall (indicative references are Gen 4:16; 10:10). As our redemption is accomplished and applied we find a slight shift of emphasis to the church from the family (Mark 3:31-35 again), though the family is esteemed and regulated (Heb 13:4). The state is also honored and regulated (Deut 17:14-20; Rom 13:1-7).

The Church has the keys of the Kingdom, and the moral authority to proclaim God’s rule and hold the world, including kings, accountable to His Word. Church leaders carry out this authority over their members, including kings and magistrates. This means a government leader could (should!) come under church discipline for endorsing immoral actions or passing unbiblical laws in carrying out his office. The Church does not have temporal, political power, however. This remains with the state, to punish evildoers and to determine laws for the general welfare. As much as possible, civil laws should honor the authority of, and not interfere with the operations of, the other two institutions: church and family.

Seneca's Stoicism

The short answer is, it's a mixed bag.

Sara and I have been reading Seneca's Epistles (ok, I've been reading aloud, while Sara knits!). We recently gave that up, after working through the first 27 letters in a Loeb edition. The idea was to learn our Latin together fast enough that we could read the Latin side of the page, too. But, the best laid plans, as they say...

Why did we give it up? For my part, it came down to "empty philosophy." There is much good here. I like especially the view of contenting ourselves with our lot, as the road to happiness. Just expect less, and you'll be happy. The simple life, etc. But then, Seneca will couch it in language like resigning oneself to one's fate. Hmmm, not quite right.

Or letter 28, on travel as a cure for discontent. To those who take this road (pun intended), Seneca wisely replies: "your faults will follow you whithersoever you travel.... The person you are matters more than the place to which you go." Pretty good stuff.

And then at the end of each letter he'll quote Epicurus - an interesting practice, since he represented an opposing school of thought, generally.

So I found this whopper at the end of letter 28 from Epicurus: "The knowledge of sin is the beginning of salvation." Seneca goes on: "He who does not know that he has sinned does not desire correction; you must discover yourself in the wrong before you can reform yourself."

Aaaagghh!! It was going along so well until those last 2 words! If only Seneca's brother, Gallio, would have given Paul a chance to speak (Acts 18:12ff), and let Seneca know about it.

Seneca's desire for righteousness and virtue is noble, yet he is wholly self-reliant to get there. Empty and vain men! If only Seneca's quote above had ended with "flee to Christ," instead of "reform yourself." But thank God, He has revealed this to us already.

Romans 3:20-22: "By the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ."


The purpose of the Church - Steve

What do you see as the central mission of the church?

The Church is to worship her Lord, disciple the nations to do the same, and prepare herself to wed Him when He returns for her. Ezekiel 16, Ephesians 5 and Titus 3 all speak of the church being washed by God, to be presented to Him without spot or wrinkle, and we are washed (in Eph and Titus) by the Word. God is using the Word inspired by His Spirit to conform us to the image of His Son, our Bridegroom. Every part of our bodies must be washed – no spot left. Every part of our lives needs change, just as every part of our lives is tainted with sin (3rd canon of Dordt, Articles 1 and 3).

A Pastor's week - Steve

Describe a typical day-by-day pastor’s week.

There must be time set aside for communion with God in Scripture and prayer, and for prayerful study of His Word, in preparation for preaching. There will be “interruptions” from parishioners and the community, which should be taken as part of the pastoral work, not interruptions from the “real” work of getting ready to lead worship and to preach. And there should be times set aside to intentionally get to know the flock, too. I set weekly deadlines to have sermons roughly finished by Thursday, and also take a day off besides Sunday to rest.


Faith in head or heart? - Steve

Evangelical Christians in America today often drive cars with bad wheel alignment. They find themselves driving into the ditch on either side of the road.

One ditch leads to the ultra-conservative types who are insistent to the point of shrill-ness about orthodoxy, often getting paranoid about new teachings that "may lead to denying doctrine x." These risk putting their faith in propostitions. "I believe x about a certain topic, so I'm going to heaven." Their faith is not in a Tri-une God, but in their beliefs. I believe doctrine needs to be valued more highly in most churches than it presently is, but we do not "believe in" a confession or a creed. We may agree with it, as it faithfully reflects Scripture.

The ditch on the other side of the road is the experience-based person, who goes to church for the inspiration he receives, who judges his spiritual life based on his feelings. They are paranoid about empty ritual and boring services that don't keep them interested (using similar criteria to judge bad movies that don't entertain). "If I don't feel it, it must not be real." Talking with one young church-goer once, he said about a church he left because of its mundane worship service, "I just didn't FEEL anything there." These risk putting their faith in themselves - what's going on in their own hearts and the goosebumps on their own skin.

How do you evaluate and diagnose your spiritual life? By your brain? By your feelings?
Better to ask, "In whom/what do I trust?
What am I relying on to be right with God? My head, my heart, or my Lord?
"I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ..."

Why do you go to church? For a pick-me-up to a bad week? For a theology lesson?
Better to be fed by God's Word, in fellowship with His people.
Sometimes kids at the table don't want to eat everything on their plate, either, but God gives us what is best for us and what we most need. Hear His voice calling you to worship Him again this coming Lord's Day...

This post inspired by reading chapters 13 and 15 in Jeffrey Meyers' "The Lord's Service (Canon Press: Moscow, 2003)."


The Christian publishing world - Steve

I wrote this to a Christian publishing executive this morning, wondering...

I worked at a Christian bookstore for a while, and am very familiar with the Christian Booksellers Association (CBA) market. Frankly, I'm not real enthused about it, either. These words from Douglas Wilson's Mother Kirk (Canon Press: Moscow, ID) resonate with me: "Christian publishing is no longer driven by the truth. The Christian book industry and most Christian bookstores are market-driven. Because most bookstores simply stock that which the public is currently demanding, a sort of literary Gresham's Law takes over on their shelves - bad books drive out the good.... the literature ministry of the Church should be truthdriven. The people should be reading sound literature, which they need to be reading."

Is there any sense in which your business (a major Christian publisher) is overseen by the Church, instead of the marketplace? Who drives what is produced, and how are those decisions regulated?

I have often wondered how Christians can in good conscience profit from the sale of Bibles. I have a New Geneva Study Bible as my primary Bible, and love it. And I'm a business major, and politically conservative, too, so I know and appreciate the profit argument. Yes, writers and manufacturers and administrators should be paid for their work, but shouldn't Christians writing and selling to Christians be non-profit at least? Shouldn't the whole undertaking be overseen by the Church instead of the Dow (Acts 2:44)?