Friday, July 25, 2014

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Blogging the Institutes #1


I have been wanting to blog more often. I find writing to be beneficial. It forces me to think, I mean, really think. Normally, thinking can seem fairly simple, but to think in such a way that would be able to convey the same thought, with all of it's nuances and fluctuations of feeling, to someone else, can be quite challenging.

Words must be picked accurately and meticulously in order to capture that firing of neurons in my brain. To then translate that sequence of fired brain cells into words that are then sent as impulses down my arms to my fingers to formulate those same words onto a computer screen on And then to have this done in such a way that when all of the little 0's and 1's of the binary computer language are re-translated back into words that will show up on another's computer screen, after having traveled through the waves of the internet, as the light waves from those reconstructed letters, enter the eyes, the shapes that they create will make sense to this completely separate brain in such a way that the identical thought in the first brain will now be a new collection of fired neurons in the second brain. This is a marvelous thing.

But it has left me struggling with the blogging topics. For such a long time I simply blogged book reviews, but this blog originally had actual thoughts that I would attempt to convey through the blogging medium, though I did it quite poorly at times, that was my original intent. So... I am back at it, but needing to give myself some better direction.

I have been trying to simply blog what comes to my mind each day, when I have a chance, but have found that I have trouble picking which thought to run with. It isn't a shortage of thoughts, it is an overabundance of thoughts, but most of them are undeveloped thoughts. They simply are not specific enough to narrow it down to one blog post, and when I try to, they tend to become too burdensome to try to actually type out in a meaningful way. This post is because I am going to try something a bit different. I am going to blog through a big book... The Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin. And... this is supposed to be the first post from the book, and I have already gone overboard on non-book-related conversation. Time to move on.

Since there are only two of you remaining that are continuing to read, instead of risking your loss, I will simply share a quote from the book and allow you to consider it for yourself:
Such is pure and genuine religion, namely, confidence in God coupled with serious fear - fear, which both includes in it willing reverence, and brings along with it such legitimate worship as is prescribed by the law. And it ought to be more carefully considered that all men promiscuously do homage to God, but very few truly reverence him. On all hands, there is abundance of ostentatious ceremonies, but sincerity of heart is rare. 
When you understand the nature of worship, and then couple that with the fact that it is commanded, we suddenly become acutely aware of our own need for genuine heart-change.

I promise that the next "Blogging the Institutes" posts will be more about the Institutes and less about why I am blogging about them.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Real vs. The Imitation

It shouldn't, but it always surprises me when I taste something real after I have had the imitation for a while.

I won't lie. I have gone to McDonald's and had their coffee drinks. They aren't bad. The cold ones are sort of like a milk shake... a milk shake with coffee-flavor added. I've had a few of these, but then:

A few minutes ago I ordered a small vanilla latte from Mad Goat Coffee. The picture I have posted here is after I have had my first sip. It is sublime. (Is that a good word to describe it? I am not sure.) It is blissful. It is tasty. It is coffee... not coffee-flavor added. It is the real stuff.

I am almost done sipping through it already. I am tempted to take another picture, just simply because it is almost gone... oh... I might as well... hang on...

There it is. Mostly finished... OH, and you can see my partially finished post while you are at it.

The enjoyment of this coffee left me thinking about the clear difference between the real and the imitation. As I mentioned, I don't mind that McCoffee stuff, but there is a clear difference when you taste the real thing. I know there have been times that I have grabbed one of those fast food blended drinks and thought, "This isn't that bad." But now I am sitting here wondering how I ever thought that there was a true comparison.

I don't want to make a stretch of illustration here, but this is true of churches as well. There are some great churches out there: The music team is amazing. The preaching is inspiring. The fellowship is uplifting... and so on.  But then you walk into something real, and you suddenly think, "How did I think the other thing was the real thing?"

It the book, Love into Light, the author is talking about how churches could benefit from having people who struggle with same sex attraction as a part of the community.  He goes on to say:
I fear that many Christians view their brothers and sisters who battle with SSA (Same Sex Attraction) as a threat to the community. Therefore, many SSA strugglers are phobic about homophobia. They agonize alone, for fear of rejection. However, the community needs their transparency - and they need the community. God surprises us with unexpected insights when the unspeakable is spoken. Our serene picture of community is shattered; the reality is more earthy, disappointing, and fruitful.
I love that: "... the reality is more earthy, disappointing, and fruitful." Almost sounds like a cup of coffee, doesn't it?

I hope that Edgewood Church has the great privelege of joining in community with those who struggle with SSA. I pray that God guides them to Edgewood. What can I say, I like the real stuff better.

Preach the Lion and the Lamb

As with most of the book, Chapter 7 of Love into Light by Peter Hubbard, opens with a focus and attention on Jesus:
My favorite Jonathan Edwards sermon is "The Excellency of Christ." Edwards homes in on two words in Revelation 5:5-6, where Jesus Christ is called "Lion" and "Lamb." These two animals differ greatly from one another. One "excels in strength, and in majesty of his appearance and voice." The other "excels in meekness and patience ... suitable to be offered to God." One is a hunter; the other is hunted. This unity of disparity leads Edwards to his thesis, "There is an admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies in Jesus Christ." Characteristics that usually don't appear together merge in attractive symmetry: infinite exaltation and limitless condescension, highest glory and lowest humility, supreme sovereignty and perfect obedience. He is light and He is love. He is victor and victim in one. He is the just Judge and the merciful Savior. He confronted sin, overthrew tables, and walked out of His own tomb, yet He was born in a barn, ate with sinners and died as a criminal. This vision of Jesus is gargantuan and captivating, yet it is often concealed by the church. 
I love this big view of Jesus. To use his word, it is "captivating" my own preaching. Even though I still have applications in my messages, I am finding myself focusing more and more on the great worth and supreme  majesty of Jesus. But Peter Hubbard is saying that this view of Jesus "is often concealed by the church." Do you agree? In what way does he mean this? He goes on to say:
The body of Christ generally prefers a more manageable, monochromatic vision of Jesus. Our religious sensibilities seem to prefer either the Jesus who can "tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them," or else the Jesus who desires to care for rebels "as a hen gathers her brood under her wings." We want only one or the other, not both together.  
Whenever Jesus' followers exclusively reflect Lion-ness or Lamb-ness, the "admirable conjunction" dissolves into ugliness. 
It is so extremely important to maintain this focus on the true Jesus. Not a Jesus that we decide on, but the Jesus of the scriptures.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Photo Friday: Solitude


My Photo Friday participation photo for this week: The key word was "Solitude." Since I am sitting alone at a coffee shop, I decided to snap a shot of my solitary table, with my solitary cup of coffee, next to my solitary computer.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Foundation by Isaac Asimov - Book Review

I am fascinated by old(er) Science Fiction. I am aware that some of it can be extremely dated. There are some aspects and terminology, that we now know is simply non-sensical. But I still find these books to be quite interesting.

I am drawn to books by authors that have almost defined the genre. Names that get tossed around by the best of the new authors as one who inspired them. Isaac Asimov is one of those names and The Foundation Series belongs to those books that could be considered classics in their area.

In the front leaf of the first book of The Foundation Series, we can read:
Three great classics from the annals of science fiction - Foundation, Foundation and Empire, Second Foundation - describe the events which transpire over a period of more than a thousand years, resulting in the erection of an ideal universal ruling corporation.  
In Foundation, Isaac Asimov draws a compelling portrait of the Foundation's embryonic development and rise to peripheral power - domination of kingdoms on the outskirts of the Galaxy.
Unlike most books that I have encountered, there is no real attempt to stick with one or two main characters throughout the series. In fact, even in the first book, there are several smaller stories that deal with different "crises" in the timeline of the Foundation... the Foundation being the establishment of a small colony at the far edges of the Milky Way Galaxy, planted there by a scientist attempting to shorten the "dark ages" between Galaxy-Wide Empires.

The book is very grand in it's scale, and I can already see in it inspirations that may have impacted others in the broader scope of popular SciFi movies and television. I can also tell that Asimov has drawn from Earth's own history in the ideas of the rise and fall of empires and the ages that span between these conglomerations of people and technological advances.

Even though the book is broken into smaller stories with different characters, I didn't feel disconnected from the flow of events. Quite often when a book is broken up, if there isn't at least one main character to hold my devotion, I can tend to walk away from the book. With Asimov, he introduces you to the new characters quickly enough to draw you in. I also began to feel like the foundation itself and the "history" of this galaxy became the central characters.

If you are into SciFi and you also have an appreciation for things that were once new, then I would like to encourage you to pick up a copy of this book and give it a read. With the links provided in this blog post, you can get to an Amazon Kindle copy that is only around $4.99 with links to New and Used Foundation Paperbacks for even cheaper.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Weakness is the Way by J.I. Packer - Book Review

Weakness Is the Way: Life with Christ Our Strength by J.I. Packer is a fairly short book. I finished it in just a few settings (sittings?). The book begins with Packer defining weakness and then pointing us in a right direction for thinking about this topic from a Scriptural perspective. The rest of the book deals with the following more specific topics: Christ and the Christian's Calling, Christ and the Christian's Giving, and then Christ and the Christian's Hoping.

I absolutely enjoyed this book. I could tell that J. I. Packer was writing from his years of experience in life and in his Biblical studies. He is a thinking person. When I think of weakness in scripture, I don't automatically go to a Christian's Giving. I might head toward the topic of Calling or Hoping, but not Giving. As he explains it though, it absolutely makes sense. Listening to a thinking person, or reading a thinking author always gets me thinking.

To give you a taste of this, consider what Packer states near the beginning of the book:
For what is weakness? The idea from first to last is inadequacy. We talk about physical weakness, meaning that there is a lack of vigor and energy and perhaps bodily health so that one cannot manhandle furniture or tackle heavy yard jobs. We talk about intellectual weakness, meaning inability for some forms of brainwork, as for instance C. S. Lewis's almost total inability to do math, and my own messiness in that area. We talk about personal weakness, indicating thereby that a person lacks resolution, firmness of character, dignity, and the capacity to command. We talk about a weak position when a person lacks needed resources and cannot move situations forward or influence events as desired. We talk about relational weakness when persons who should be leading and guiding fail to do so -- weak parents, weak pastors, and so on. Every day finds us affirming the inadequacy of others at point after point.
He goes on to state:
The truth, however, is that in many respects, and certainly in spiritual matters, we are all weak and inadequate, and we need to face it. Sin, which disrupts all relationships, has disabled us all across the board. We need to be aware of our limitations and to let this awareness work in us humility and self-distrust, and a realization of our helplessness on our own. Thus we may learn our need to depend on Christ, our Savior and Lord, at every turn of the road, to practice that dependence as one of the constant habits of our heart, and hereby to discover what Paul discovered before us: "when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor. 12:10).
As I already mentioned, the remainder of the book plays out three other topics as they relate to weakness. These three focal points of weakness aren't arbitrarily chosen, they come from an expository look at 2 Corinthians to discover what this life of weakness looks like in those three areas.

coffee house

I am not sure what this says about me, but if I could, I would sit in a coffee house several hours a day. I sat at Mad Goat Coffee in Danville yesterday for about 4 hours. I didn't even realize I had been there that long until I was ready to leave. (Actually, I guess I should say, "I didn't even realize I had been here that long..." ...considering that I am currently in Mad Goat as I am typing this.)

If I could just find a job that would allow me to read, study, and write throughout most of my day... that would be bliss. I get giddy just thinking about the prospect. What jobs are there like that? ... jobs that could actually support a family? I am guessing that teacher and pastor of a small local church are not the occupations to choose from in order to have extra time to read and think...

If there is anyone out there in the world that would like to hire me to read books and drink coffee, please comment on this post.


I'm Going Free (Jailbreak) - Vertical Church Band (Lyric Video)

I first heard this song at the Act Like Men Conference, but I had forgot about it. It just popped back in my head today, and I am thinking that this would be great for Edgewood Baptist Church!

Let me know if you like this song...

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Upward I Look And See Him There

Before the throne of God above 
I have a strong, a perfect plea. 
A great high Priest whose Name is Love 
Who ever lives and pleads for me. 
My name is graven on His hands, 
My name is written on His heart. 
I know that while in heaven He stands 
No tongue can bid me thence depart. 
When Satan tempts me to despair 
And tells me of the guilt within, 
Upward I look and see Him there 
Who made an end to all my sin. 
Because the sinless Savior died 
My sinful soul is counted free. 
For God the just is satisfied 
To look on Him and pardon me...

(As quoted in Love Into Light: The Gospel, the Homosexual and the Church by Peter Hubbard) Song by Charitee Lees Bancroft and Vikki Cook, (c)1997 Sovereign Grace Worship (Admin. by EMI Christian Music Publishing).

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

But In Jesus We Are Renamed

I am currently preparing for a Wednesday Night Bible Study with my people at Edgewood, using the book Love Into Light by Peter Hubbard. (My review is here.) I have thoroughly enjoyed this book the second time through. I am only in Chapter 5, but I am remembering so many things I loved about this book.

Chapter 5 deals with labels... our names... how we are identified. After going through some fascinating discussion on the Biblical history of names and naming things, from Adam being named by God and Eve being named by Adam, to the anonymous mass attempting to make a name for themselves at Babel and God choosing an unknown man named Abram and renaming him Abraham... He states an issue involved this way: "...who we think we are tends to reinterpret what we hear." He follows this statement with this paragraph:
"In our culture, formal names do not carry the same significance as in the Bible. However, we know what it means to be named. The 'wimp,' the 'fat kid,' and 'the loser' all feel the shame of living with an undesirable identity. The kids who are labeled 'gifted' and 'brain' feel the waves of approval and pressure that can shape how they view themselves and perform. As adults, these labels do not typically disappear. They become more subtle and convoluted. Our hearts long to 'make a name' for ourselves. We gather fragments of desire, reputation, and accomplishments and glue then together into an identity: 'rebel,' 'jock,' 'supermom,' 'entrepreneur,' 'life of the party,' 'chick magnet,' 'gay guy,' etc. Most of us feel a mixture of fatalism, assent, and chagrin about our not-always-chosen but fully operative identities.  
But in Jesus, we are renamed.
He leaves that last sentence as a paragraph in itself. He goes from there to explain how we are renamed in Jesus. It is fascinating. It is remarkable. And it draws me to worship.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Old People and their Technology!

I regularly rant (in my house) against the "evils" of video games and television. I do this, not primarily against the content of these technological advances, though that can be an issue, but against the time-wasting aspect that usage of these forms of entertainment are connected to. Don't get me wrong, I can enjoy a good show as much as the next person, but I have never thought to myself, "Wow. I should have spent more time playing games." or "Boy, I wish I could go back to my youth and watch more television."

This isn't just an issue with the young. There is no denying it, we all have seen many an elderly person waste away watching television, but even that isn't the prime issue. It is those who, in their 50's and 60's, are now living entirely for themselves. They feel that they have put in their time and now it is "all about me." I am sure they would not say these words, but their lives are vacation after vacation after vacation... in one form or another. We were simply not made to exist that way, and we do not continue to live and breathe simply for ourselves and our enjoyment.

J.I. Packer, hits on the realities of this in his book, Weakness Is the Way: Life with Christ Our Strength . The side-shoot of this topic is the resulting bleakness of life as one grows older. Many are simply "waiting for the end." Consider this quote from his book:
"Hope springs eternal in the human breast," declared Alexander Pope in his usual pompous way, but that is not all the story. For the first half of people's lives, spontaneous hope does indeed spur them forward. Children hope to do this and that when they grow up; teens hope to go places and do things when they have some money; newlyweds hope for a good income, a good place to live, and good-quality children; established couples hope for the day when the children will be off their hands and they are free to cruise, tour, and see the world. But what then? There comes a point at which the elderly and those who, as we say, are getting on realize that of all the things they wanted to do, they have done all they can, and the rest are now permanently out of reach ("life's too short," we say wryly). 
Yet life goes on. Today, indeed, people live longer than once they did, but the common experience is that extended and extreme age brings only bleak boredom and a diminished sense of the good life as consisting merely of three meals a day, television to watch, and a bed at night. Whether, as bodily health fades and minds and memories run increasingly amok, any better, more enriching experience of old age is possible is a question that secular social theory has shown itself unable to answer.  
But the Bible appears to have an answer... 
He goes on from this point to begin to describe the Bible's teachings combined with his own perspectives on aging and hope.

I am enjoying reading this book by Packer. I think it was free when I purchased it. It is a bit more expensive now, but it is definitely one worth picking up.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Those who fear God, should they see me and rejoice?

"Those who fear you shall see me and rejoice,
because I have hoped in your word."
~Psalm 119:74
This is King David writing. In this passage he says that those who fear God will see him (David) and rejoice. The reason for this rejoicing is because David has hoped in God's Word. I find this to be quite interesting.  I mean, could I (and should I) be able to say this as well?

I am trying to imagine myself saying it... "Lord, the people that fear you are going to rejoice when they see me."

OK... That is poorly phrased. I am aware that saying it in that way is emphasizing the wrong way to say this. First, I have left out an entire phrase, the key phrase that is demonstrating the real source of the people's rejoicing! Second, I placed the source of the rejoicing squarely on me, which is not where it should be. This poor phrasing serves its purpose illustrate the problem that I am having though: For King David to say this, that is fine, but for me to say something like this feels prideful.

But maybe I could say something like this.

If I am hoping in God's word, that is a reason to rejoice. It is definitely a cause to rejoice in people who fear God. Maybe I should say this... Maybe I should not hold back, but cling to the Gospel of Jesus Christ! There is nothing good in me, but because of the grace of God alone, I am hoping in the Living Word! People who fear God will rejoice when they see this!

Maybe I could even go the next step... hmm... (Saying to myself right now, "Tread carefully on Grace, Matt.  Cling to the Gospel! Matt, you are a sinner, but saved by the grace of God alone. And as a preacher of this same Gospel, it must be said... not because of you, Matt, but because of the truth of God's Word.")
"Let those who fear you turn to me,
that they may know your testimonies."
~Psalm 119:79 ESV

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Occupational Hazards of Pastoring a Church

Enjoying some Mad Goat Coffee at the moment... Sharing quotes from my current study...

One of the occupational hazards of pastoring a church is the necessity of delivering bad news. If you love your people, you desire to encourage them and tell them news they want to hear. But since you don’t get to decide how God feels about things, your words are not always your own.
~Peter Hubbard (Love into Light)

So very true.