Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Eve Potpourri

The last week of the year:

  • It's New Year's Eve at about 10:30, and I haven't heard a single M-80 go off in our new neighborhood, much less a firecracker.  In our old neighborhood it would be about a 12-block square DIY pyrotechnics show.  Practice for midnight would start in mid-October.  Literally.  And go until about February.
  • Ryan Seacrest tonight, in Times Square in New York City on Dick Clark's New Year's Eve prior to the dropping of the ball proclaimed that it was the biggest party of the year with one million people.  No, it's no bigger than the Giants world series victory parade of one million people.
  • A lot of people are looking forward to tomorrow when it will be 1/1/11.  That's cool, but Mrs. Scott and I are looking forward to 11/11/11, which will be our 11th anniversary.
  • Aside from the usual Lakers/Celtics NBA final, major pro sports had quite a year of champions.  The New Orleans Saints won their first SuperBowl ever.  The Chicago Blackhawks won their first Stanley Cup in 61 years and the San Francisco Giants won their first World Series in 56 years.
  • It was a wild ride of a year at From the Pew as well.  I had some serious hindrances in my blogging time and level of material for several reasons.  Several people commented to me that I lost a bit of fire and energy.  I hope to recapture that in 2011. 
  • Michael Spencer, aka the Internet Monk, died in April.  I was going to read his soon to be released book and blog about it here.  I still hope to do that in the upcoming year on From the Pew.
  • It's time to celebrate.  In fact this song was played for years after each Oakland A's baseball game victory.  It applies tonight.  Happy New Year.

Reformedville's Career Student Program

I once knew a girl who was a career college student. She attended a junior college and changed her major at least once a year. She had been a student for years, and had racked up enough units for several degrees, yet the diversity of her courses never added up to a degree in any one field. She had odd part time or babysitting jobs to bring in some pizza and beer money, but beyond that she never concentrated her efforts into doing one thing for a living, other than attending college and having a party lifestyle. She never made the most of her potential, stacking up an education that was never put to use.

In some ways, I think the approach to teaching God's people in Reformed circles has a tendency to resemble the life of the girl I knew, although not intentionally. People in Reformed circles put a great emphasis on doctrine and the teaching of doctrine, with the expectation that the education will pay off someday. But often, so much time is put into teaching that there's no time left over to put that education to work. Then, when it is noticed that nobody is putting their education to work as a result of being over educated (because they have no time), the solution to people doing nothing becomes more education or re-education, resulting in more of nothing being done. A vicious cycle can develop, and a complacency in being educated. We can become mere hearers of the word, and not doers.

I had already started the draft for this post when I came across a short, timely post by Alan Knox titled Learning Before Serving? that illustrates my point. He links to aBowden blog that tells of a men's ministry that dies because the men felt they need more teaching before they can do anything. Please read Alan's short post here.  But, as it goes on to say:

I’ll serve when... I’ve had more teaching... The problem is that there is no perfect time to serve, and if we wait until we have “had enough teaching” we will never serve. After all, when does one know all there is to know about God, and who ever finishes being taught?

I think the solution is quite different. I think the best lessons are learned, not in the classroom, but in the trenches, with sleeves rolled up, hands dirty, and back sore.
I don't have a problem with teaching or doctrine, but when it seems to be an end in itself, or it there is no practical application, just how valuable is it? How many of us are career students?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Problem Behind Julian Assange

Julian Assange is an interesting person and Wikileaks is an interesting organization.  I haven't read too much about the controversy, but what I have read covers a wide spectrum of beliefs.  To some, Assange is a hero.  To others he is the greatest threat to national and world security there is.  I don't know what Assange's motives are nor do I know all of what Wikileaks has published.  It isn't my point.

There is something else going on, and it is going on behind him.  I've read some quite typical, predictable knee-jerk reactions from the usual conservative types that he's a spy and a traitor and whatever else and should be locked up or worse.  But the problem is that Assange isn't the one who witnessed the things that have been published.  You can say what you want about passing on various types of information, and I think each piece of information and how it was handled needs to be judged on its individual merits.  The greater problem is that somebody else is leaking these items to Wikileaks.

There's a difference between a whistle-blower and a snitch.  A whistle-blower reveals systematized injustices and the coverups that accompany them.  A snitch reveals personal issues that are usually nobody else's business outside of the people involved.  Our culture generally sees whistle-blowers as heroes and snitches as slime.  But whether whistle-blowers or snitches, government officials and military leaders have a bigger problem than Julian Assange.  They are employing people that can't keep a secret.  They are placing trust in untrustworthy people.  They need to take better care what they say and what they do.  I'm not sure whether this reflects worse on the story-tellers or on the people who are trusting them.

I find it ironic - and maybe hypocritical as well - that governments and militaries that spy on and collect massive amounts of information about citizens cry foul when citizens and soldiers do the same in the opposite direction.  Many of these people are getting a taste of their own medicine and they don't like it.  That there are the Julian Assanges of the world might mean that enough technology can be used by common people to keep the powerful in check.  This seems like a growing phenomenon.  Even though there might be some bad individual results here and there, I think overall that all this may be a good thing.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Incarnation and Life

I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. John 10:9-10

Jesus was born into this world, much like everybody else.  He had an earthly mother and people to raise him.  Yes, Jesus came to die for us.  Yes, he came to pay the penalty for our sins.  But he also came that the sheep may have life, and have it abundantly.  The sheep will go in and out and find pasture.  They will forsake many things in this world, but they will follow him and receive many times more good things in this life.  Some of those things are tangible, many are not.  What is this life other than what flows out of the heart to overflowing?  Life is not only what we receive, but it flows out of us to others.  It affects others.  By God's mercy, my life will do the same.  Are you one of his sheep?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve Potpourri

A week of Christmas anticipation:

  • I wasn't sure if I had the ability to post tonight, so I decided to write this a day ahead (yesterday) and schedule it for tonight.  But that didn't work, so I'm writing this tonight after all.
  • My kids put out a row of candy cane lights at the edge of the driveway.  They're about 30" high and put out some good light.
  • We went to Sacramento for Christmas Eve with Mrs. Scott's family.  Her family always celebrates on the eve, while my family always does Christmas day.  We never have to choose between families.
  • We stay late in Sacramento, and I get a Starbucks drink for the ride home.  Everybody falls asleep and I drive home with Christmas music on the radio.
  • This Christmas Eve was foggy, just like the song says.  This morning there was fog in the Sacramento Valley in places, but not too thick as to prevent driving.  The same with the way home.  Visibility was maybe a half mile.  That's foggy enough to make it feel like winter.
  • I received a job offer this week for a short intern position, but if that goes well it could result in full time work.  Wahoo!
  • I simply can't think of a better piece to play than this.  Merry Christmas from the Pew.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

When Does The Church Sing TO One Another?

...but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,... Ephesians 5:18b-19a

Okay, I know that this verse continues with, "singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord;" but I wanted to concentrate on the snip above, as it appears grammatically distinct from the rest of the verse. Paul tells the church at Ephesus to speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. Does this mean sing to one another? What does it mean to speak to one another using music?

I have contemplated this for a while now, and I came up with a few interesting thoughts about singing to others. Small children love for their parents to sing to them, especially at bedtime. Women want their beau to serenade them. Crooners have gained success because their female audience believes the crooner is singing to them. The elderly love to hear children sing to them. People often enjoy opening their doors to Christmas carolers as they sing to them. Some people love to have "Happy Birthday" sung to them. Rock concert audiences love the group singing to them. Life seems full of examples where people gain emotionally or spiritually from being the target of singing.

Yet, when do we do this in the church? We seem content to sing to God, and seem content that God enjoys when his people sing to him. Yet, the idea of singing to the congregation or to individuals in the congregation or even to one another gets immediately branded as "entertainment," and has no place in the church. Why is this, especially in light of the above passage?

So, I'm asking these questions. Does the verse above teach singing to one another? If so, why don't we do it? And if so, when are we supposed to do it? If not, what does it mean? Anybody have anything they've encountered on this?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Name That You Are Alive - But You Are Dead

I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.  - Jesus Christ to the Church at Sardis, Revelation 3:1

These are - or should be - chilling words from the Lord to one of his churches.  Imagine having a name that you are alive.  Everybody knows it.  You are alive.  Your reputation for being alive is widespread and everybody can relay this testimony further on down the line.  But in reality you are dead.  And only Jesus knows you are dead.  And only Jesus tells you so.

His next advice to the church at Sardis is to wake up.  It seems as if they are asleep and are content to live off of their reputation.  They are asleep and their deeds are not complete.  They are unaware of this.

Here's something to think about.  The church at Sardis was greatly fortunate to have Christ himself explain their situation to them.  He wrote them a letter from heaven.  What can we say about churches today?  Churches today don't have Jesus writing them new letters.  We all have his letters to churches that existed in the past.  Are these letters enough?  Most of us would probably say that these letters in the bible are enough for churches today to learn their own situations.  We can use them to examine ourselves.  But what if nobody does?  What if nobody is allowed to?  What if there are no eyes in the body, or those eyes don't function?  What if those who do examine the church come to realize a problem, but those people are silenced for saying so?  What then?

The letters to the churches in the book of Revelation have always scared me for just these reasons.  How do we know what Christ thinks of us?  How do we know when Christ is about to remove a lampstand or come in judgment?  How do we know when he is going to bless?  We won't.  And that's scary.

More Abundant Honor?

But now there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you"; or again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.  1 Corinthians 12:20-25

Paul here is talking to the Corinthians about the members in Christ's body.  Notice how he places the weakest and least presentable members in a place of honor.  We, the other members of the body, bestow more abundant honor upon these weaker ones.  That is if we are the ones that are more presentable.  This way, the less presentable become much more presentable.

It is little wonder why the poor throughout history have been attracted to Christianity more so than the rich.  But is this description by Paul really the way we operate in our American churches?  I have to wonder.  The weak, the hurting, the despised, the poor, the outcast, the common, the talentless, the awkward, the shy, the unclean, the visibly scarred.  Are these the ones front and center?  Or are the beautiful people who have everything together the ones lofted up?  What does Jesus think of how we view his own body?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Experiencing Bad Doctrine

I'm a firm believer that doctrines and teachings have fruits.  Good or bad.  What I mean by this is that people putting doctrines into practice has far reaching affects on both themselves and other people.  Others can be greatly blessed or greatly harmed as teaching reaches its logical conclusion.  Sometimes doctrines are not known to be bad until these fruits are experienced by others.

We have all experienced the result of doctrines and teachings.  I've experienced some bad results of bad doctrine, and one of the problems with this can be that those who hold to bad doctrine most affectionately simply refuse to believe that bad results are the result of their doctrines.  They place the blame on those who experience the bad things rather than on themselves who cause them.  Or, they place heavy loads on those who will ultimately be affected, without helping them deal with the results.  I'm spurred to write this post after reading this from PlainJane, a guest poster at Lewis Wells' Commandments of Men.  She writes about the doctrine of submission within the Patriarchy movement and how it ended up biting her after getting tossed out of her home by her husband who wanted another woman.  The lack of compassion from her church - and even their placing blame on her - toward somebody obviously wounded shows just how destructive certain ideas can be.

The lessons learned from bad doctrine can be hard, and sometimes the only way to know this is to experience the bad.  I wish it weren't so, and I wish Christians were more open to looking at how their ideas affect people.  But when you're right, those bad things don't happen, do they?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday Night Potpourri

A week of diverted attention from it being a week:

  • Last week of school means finals, special days for the kids and Christmas prep.
  • You know it's Christmas because at Trader Joe's the only blank space in the juice aisle is the spiced cider.
  • In the mornings, my car windows of late have been either fogged, wet, frosted or iced.  The kids love to write and draw on them with their fingers until I get the squeegee out of the trunk.
  • We haven't seen any turtles in the duck pond lately.  I wonder if turtles have a special seasonal routine like hibernation or crawling south for the winter.
  • I think for the first time since living in our current house the street cleaner came by when my car was gone.  All the leaves pasted to the curb and gutter were gone and there's no slightly muddy swerving pattern on the pavement around my parking spot.  This is definitely a feeling of fulfillment.
  • Tonight I bumped into my landlord in the cooking oil aisle of the grocery store.  We had an interesting discussion about things catching on fire and exploding.  We both have connections to large industrial accidents that were in the news lately, so it made for good grocery store conversation.  I wonder what other people thought.  Maybe it was as interesting as my cell phone conversation with Mrs. Scott about vegetable shortening in the same aisle just prior.  Among other things I also bought mild southwest flavored salsa and broccoli crowns.
  • 'Tis the season, so here's a Christmas classic.

Monday, December 13, 2010

If Iron Sharpens Iron, Then Why Is The Reformed Drawer So Full Of Dull, Rusty Knives?

Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17

A good surgeon will use only the sharpest of knives. Why? It's because the sharper the knife, the cleaner the cut it makes. And the cleaner the cut, the closer the two sides match each other. The closer the two sides match each other, the easier it is for them to come together again in the healing process. Dull knives and chain saws make for hack jobs; the ripping up of flesh so that the two sides don't match each other. Healing is made much more difficult if not impossible. The word of God is spoken of as sharper than any two edged sword.

The irony of many Christians who hold to "doctrinal purity," and require the strictest adherence to doctrinal minutiae for fellowship, church membership, ministry leadership or pastoral candidacy is that they don't seem to understand how iron sharpens iron. I can't tell you how many times I've heard Ephesians 4:3, "being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace", interpreted as, "you must agree with every doctrinal position of the elders/church/by-laws, etc." Disagreement in any form can be shunned.

But iron sharpens iron precisely because each piece is rough. They grate against each other and the friction caused by the imperfections is what eliminates the imperfections, resulting in a sharp knife or sword. When surgery is needed, success results. When roughness in beliefs is disallowed, and everybody in a particular group is required to believe the same exact thing, no sharpening can occur. The result is, ironically, the exact thing that is not allowed. What the doctrinal purists who distance themselves from others who disagree are in effect saying, is, "I will not be sharpened by another piece of iron." And so they exist as drawers full of dull, rusty knives. When surgery is needed, a hack job results, and the one in need of surgery is not healed, but rather wounded even more.

Re-posted from 09-19-06

Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday Night Potpourri

Another week, another FNP:

  • Christmas decorations are up.  The kids really like the candy cane lights up the driveway.
  • Went downtown tonight, window shopping.  Mrs. Scott and I dropped into a number of shops, and several of them were playing the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack.  Now I know it's Christmas season.
  • Two jokers were driving side by side on a road that went over a large hill between two cities I frequent.  They kept pace with each other at about 10-15 miles under the speed limit for about 5-6 miles, with occasional spurts of drag racing.  It was wet from raining, too.  Traffic was backed up for a half mile behind these clowns.  As I passed them much later on, they were both talking on cell phones.  Maybe to each other.  Hmmm.  What to make of such people, and would driving up behind them and tapping their bumpers cause any problems?  Machine gun under the hood like Batman?
  • The next city over put up a giant Christmas tree in the middle of the fountain in the usual plaza.  It's never been there before.
  • I was in the CD section of a book store trying to listen to CD's with those sampler stations - head phones that allow you to listen to clips of each song simply scanning the bar code under the laser.  I couldn't get the thing to work, then I noticed that every CD I tried was a Beatles CD.  They got something against listening stations?
  • I went out this morning to find my five year old sweeping the driveway before school.  Now that's cool!
  • I was only a few years old when this was recorded.  I didn't remember it until much later in life.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Protestant Traditions Not Found In The Bible

I'm revisiting this from a while ago, so I'm posting the following again.  This should include comments as well.

Here is a list of Protestant traditions that I don't remember finding in the bible. I may be mistaken about some of these, and these are off the top of my head, in no particular order other than the order that I thought them in, so if I have goofed up this list, please let me know! I'm not suggesting any of these things are wrong in and of themselves. It's simply a list. [Update: Please add, subtract, comment or correct. I'd love to hear your input. I'd like to keep this running as long as anybody is interested. Any additions of my own or from your comments I'll add in red type.]

  • Sunday School
  • The pulpit
  • Preaching of the gospel in church - isn't every example in the NT of preaching the gospel outside of the church and to unbelievers?
  • Bringing people to church to hear the gospel
  • Grape juice used for Lord's Supper instead of wine
  • Christmas
  • Church buildings
  • Stained glass
  • The Sunday meeting being called a "worship service"
  • Choir
  • Tithing to the church instead of in ministry to others
  • Sunday meeting of the church without a meal
  • Sunday meeting of the church without Lord's supper being part of that meal
  • "Personal quiet time"
  • A Sunday church meeting without considering how to stimulate one another to love, or how to stimulate one another to good deeds, or the encouraging of one another.
  • Bringing your own bible to church
  • Pews
  • Giving a personal testimony at a baptism
  • Church bulletins
  • Ushers in the church meeting
  • Dressing up for church
  • Congregational voting

Sunday, December 05, 2010

On-Line Communion and Cyber Church Just A Small Step Away

My friend John Armstrong wrote a blog post yesterday about a cyber church doing worship services via Facebook.  He also asks, quite seriously, about communion and baptism:

I also wonder how the church does communion and baptism? Do you serve wine and bread to yourself and do you baptize yourself?
Well, actually, I read an article a few months ago posted by a conservative Christian on his blog - one of the most widely read Christian sites on the net - about just such a church.  It did the Lord's Supper on-line.  People in that church were on-line at the same time and connected to the church's streaming video service, and served communion to themselves.  The blogger and his commenting readers were aghast at the idea.  What is this world coming to?  What an utter lack of regard for the Lord Jesus and his ordinance of communion!  What kind of blasphemous wackos could be attending such a church?

It's not surprising to me at all.  In fact, I think it is only a small step away from how most of us are used to doing church already.  It's a relatively small stride from the giant leap we've already made from how the New Testament describes the Lord's Table.  The NT describes the Lord's Supper as a meal, not something smaller than a snack.  It was in the context of a feast.  There was enough food to fill people and enough wine to make some drunk.  It was eaten right after this feast meal.  Bread was broken amongst them, as people together.  Most of us today are used to a time of somber introspection, as opposed to a feast.  We have fingernail sized stale wafers, often getting stuck in the molars, and a half thimble of grape juice, not real wine.  Not enough for a meal, and not even with a meal.  Bread for many of us is already broken in some factory somewhere, and the cup is also pre-divided into small portions.  We sit in silence and have no interaction with the others around us, contrary to what is done in a feast.  Each of us partakes alone, even though we might be in the presence of those we are not interacting with.  There is little, if any, celebration in "celebrating" the Lord's Supper.

I think the problem with the idea of having communion on-line is not that we've suddenly radically changed the way we view the Lord's Supper.  There was something wrong all along, so that in going cyber with it, no ill affects have been recognized.  The same would be true of doing cyber church itself.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Friday Night Potpourri

A week before a weekend:

  • Today I saw a Google Street camera car.  My five year old said, "Dad, what car is that?"  It was a small car with a large red ball on top of a pole attached to the roof.  The red ball had maybe a dozen or so camera lenses sticking out all over.  It looked really sci-fi.  I'll have to look up my location sometime to see if I can see myself on Google Street.  I wonder how long it will take for them to upload?
  • What a beautiful day to work in the yard last weekend.  It was a really cool, crisp autumn day.  Working up a bit of a sweat isn't bad because it isn't totally hot like in summer, and it's not cold enough to freeze like in the winter.  Mowing and raking in the long shadows, I just love it.
  • Well, I guess it's time to put up some Christmas decorations, huh?
  • With the cold weather, I suddenly find myself short on socks, and those long sleeve shirts hadn't been worn in over six months.
  • December is the one month of the year that is really hard to believe when it gets here.  There's so much seasonal stuff that goes with it, it catches me by surprise every year.
  • Our three year old loves to have my look up cars on Google Images.  Sometimes it's red Mustangs, sometimes big trucks, sometimes it's Camaros.  "Daddy, can we look at some cars on the computer?"  How about vans?  Only if there are spoilers on the back.
  • I can't believe how many cover versions this (original) song has.  The original might be the best in this case.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

What, Me - a Pastor - Worry?

In a recent blog post, Alan Knox at The Assembling of the Church notes some worries that other pastors have written about.  He discusses these worries and describes why these aren't worries for him (he's a pastor).  It has to do with how his church is structured.  Here are some highlights:

  • I don’t worry about getting fired...because I was never hired.
  • I also don’t worry about what I’m going to “preach” each week.
  • I don’t worry about getting someone to “fill in” for me when I’m sick or when I’m out of town.
  • I don’t worry about money and budget issues.
  • I don’t have to worry about recruiting people to fill ministry program slots.
  • I don’t have to worry about how much money people give.
These are some interesting concepts.  With this list, there's a lot not to worry about.  His post is fairly short, so give it a read.