Category Archive: Updates
Last weekend, I lectured on Philippians, taught Sunday School (on the Nazirite vow in Numbers 6), and preached twice (Psalms 6 and 7) at Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church in Monroe, Louisiana. The lectures, given for the Bucer Institute, should soon be online here or here. I had a great time in Louisiana. My last visit was six years ago, and I hope my next visit isn’t that far in the future.
In the Portland airport, on my way back home, I read a new book on eschatology by Auburn Avenue’s associate pastor, Duane Garner. Here are a few paragraphs to whet your appetite. In the context, Garner has been talking about Hal Lindsey’s recommendation that Christians retreat from society because things are going to get worse and worse until Jesus returns:
What is most disturbing about Lindsey’s writing here is that he talks about retreating from a culture that he helped create. When he wrote his first book, the abortion issue had not yet gone to the Supreme Court, homosexuality was still taboo, drugs and pornography were nowhere near as prevalent or as accessible as they are today, marriage was still viewed as a sacred union, and outside of a few areas of this country, it was still expected that nearly everyone worshipped in a Christian church on the Lord’s Day. Then Lindsey came onto the scene proclaiming that we are living on what will soon be the late great planet Earth. Christians accepted the hype and retreated into their homes and their splintered churches while the world went to hell.
After thirty years of this end-times hysteria, the church has fallen from her former influential position in society. Without any plan for the future, and hardly a plan for the present, the church has lost every single significant cultural battle that has faced our generation. The church keeps thinking that if she can just hold out a little longer, Jesus will come back and everything will be all better. After all, any effort to make this a better world will only delay the second coming.
What they miss in the midst of all this madness is that Jesus placed his church in a position to succeed at her mission. He fully expected her to complete her work and we should not expect him to return until she is finished. The failure of dispensationalists to see that the world is already under the Kingship of Jesus Christ has led them to accept defeat at the hands of a powerless enemy. Like the Israelite spies who viewed the land of Canaan and shook in fear at the giants they saw there, dispensationalists do not believe their God is mightier than the giants and they do not believe him when he promises to crush the head of the serpent through the means of his triumphant church. — Duane Garner, Why The End Is Not Near: A Refutation of End-Times Hysteria (Monroe: Athanasius Press, 2008), pp. 37-38.
Would you say that the series has an overarching spiritual message?
Not in the way that most people would think of a “spiritual message.” But also yes. Sure it does — in the same way that life has an overarching spiritual message. Only my stories are distilled and stylized. There are a lot of themes that run through the books, but one of the most important things I’ve tried to communicate is a sense of wonder. I want kids to close the book and step back into their own world with wide eyes, marveling at the grass and the wind and the sun and the trees. In some ways, this is anti-escapism. Don’t grow bored with this world and lose yourself in books. Lose yourself in books to wake up in this world. Nothing I can paint with words could ever surpass the artistry in any child’s backyard — the earth beneath, the sky above, the many narratives between.
Happy third anniversary, Moriah!
You are more precious than rubies, the Lady Wisdom who beautifies my house (Prov. 3:15; 8:11; 31:10).Â “Houses and riches are an inheritance from fathers, but a prudent wife is from Yahweh” (Prov. 19:14).
I’ve been meaning to get to it for some time, but today I finally took down our Christmas lights.Â To get the ones on the highest peak in the front of our house, I climbed out an upstairs window and unhooked them, only to discover that the roof was extremely hot.Â (Note to self: Wear gloves next time.)
But most of theÂ taskÂ was easy: several of the lights just flicked right off the gutters to which they had been attached.Â But some were more persistent, and that’s where the trouble struck.Â I found that I could flick the cord and some would jump off their hooks.Â But others didn’t.Â So I flicked the cord again … and two bulbs shattered against the side of the house.
I’ve managed to pick up the larger pieces (at least, the ones I saw).Â I swept the porch, the front steps, and the sidewalk.Â I’ve looked through the grass for more.Â But how in the world do you get small pieces of glass out of the lawn?Â I don’t want Moriah or Aletheia to get cut as they walk on the lawn with bare feet.Â But if I take the vacuum cleaner out, I think the neighbors might stare.
The speaker this year was Peter Leithart, who gave a series of lectures on prayer.Â In the first, he told us that he had only two things to say all week: (1) Pray, and (2) Pray according to the Scriptures.Â But of course that last exhortation was the one that we often need unpacked more, which he proceeded to do, showing us someÂ things in the Scriptures that ought not only to encourage us to pray but also to shape our prayers.
For instance, he spent part of one lecture dealing with whether we are righteous.Â James says that the effective fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much, but, some say, we aren’t righteous.Â We’re miserable sinners.Â Leithart strongly emphasized that in Christ we are righteous and, more than that, that God is changing us to be faithful and righteous.Â This promise in James isn’t only for specially holy people; it’s meant to comfort all of us and move us to pray fervently.
A couple of the lectures dealt with the imprecatory prayers in Scripture and with the authority of believers and of the church to pass the sorts of judgments contained in the imprecatory psalms.Â Other lectures covered such matters as unanswered prayers and the relationship between personal prayer and corporate liturgical prayer.Â The lectures are available from Reformation Covenant Church.
I very much like the camp’s schedule.Â There was a lecture in chapel in the morning and one in the evening, both begun with some very enthusiastic and beautiful singing led by Mark Reagan from Moscow, Idaho, who taught us several songs, some of which he himself composed.Â But the rest of the day was basically free.Â There were games and competitions.Â Some people went to the beach.Â Some sat and read.Â Almost every evening there was a campfire, one evening there was a ball, and the final evening was the talent night.Â I’d highly recommend this camp to you.
We greatly enjoyed spending time with some old friends and meeting some new ones.
During the camp, I finished up Gene Wolfe’s magnificent The Wizard, which is the second volume of his two-volume novel The Wizard Knight.Â The ending, as if often the case with Wolfe’s books, made me want to start reading the novel from the beginning all over again, looking for clues I’d missed and trying to figure out some of the stuff that I didn’t catch the first time.
IÂ also read a good chunk of Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran, which I highly recommend, not only for the main story, which is about a literature prof in Iran during the Islamic revolution, but also for its discussion of several novels, including Lolita, The Great Gatsby, and Pride and Prejudice.Â She made me want to read the books she was discussing.Â I especially appreciated her approach to Pride and Prejudice, treating it as a sort of dance, where the characters draw together and then apart in various combinations.
I also started read Brendan O’Donnell’s Rain from a Rainless Sky: A Work of Theological Botany.Â Brendan is a friend of mine and this book was his dissertation at New St. Andrews College.
I had heard some time ago that Brendan was doing his dissertation on sagebrush, and sagebrush is indeed what this book is about.Â But it’s also about the symbolism of the world God has created and why God, who spoke the world into existence, has created “words” like sagebrush and places such as the desert of western Washington.Â It’s about apostasy, and how thorns and thistles can grow in the church and choke out life.Â It’s about the history of Israel and the coming of Jesus.Â It’s about Gene Robinson, the homosexual bishop of New Hampshire, and about Peter Akinola, the bishop of Nigeria.Â
Brendan writes well.Â He makes you smell and feel and perhaps even taste the sagebrush, nor does he rush to give you answers or the finished results of his meditations on why there is such a thing as sagebrush.Â He makes you share his quest and his questions.Â Would that there were more such books.
And now that I’m home, by the way, I’m reading N. D. Wilson’sÂ Leepike Ridge, which is a very fun young adults adventure story.Â C’mon: Buy a copy and let’s cataput Nate into teenage stardom (albeit a bit late).
This past weekend was very difficult.
On Saturday afternoon, we had our church picnic. Sometime after 4:00, Moriah and I arrived at Saskatoon Island Provincial Park, where several of the other members of the congregation were. We ate around 5:00, and then Moriah and I took a walk over to the nearby playground. Moriah and I took turns on the swing and then returned to the main camp area to get ready for a car rally and a scavenger hunt, which took up the rest of the evening.
Late that night, when we returned home, I was going to take a shower. I usually take off my wedding ring before showering (to keep it from getting soap scum on it). But on Saturday night, I reached for the ring and found nothing there.
I didn’t sleep much that night. The ring, we thought, must have fallen off at the park or at one of the stops we made on the car rally and the scavenger hunt or even at the place where we had the bonfire at the end of the evening. For that matter, it may have fallen off somewhere in the house, too. And I’m so used to having it on that I didn’t even notice when it fell off. In fact, even when I’m not wearing it, it feels as if it’s still there!
We got up early on Sunday morning, drove back to the park, and spent almost an hour combing the grounds in the cold rain, but to no avail. God gave me the strength and clarity of mind to lead two services and preach. And then, that Sunday afternoon, Moriah and I drove to Edmonton for her immigration doctor’s appointment on Monday.
The trip to Edmonton and back was enjoyable. We stayed with friends, Rob Betty and Arlette Zinck, who blessed us with their hospitality and with a beautiful wedding gift. On Tuesday, Arlette flew off to England to make a presentation on John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress while her husband Rob headed out for a golf tournament. Moriah and I did some shopping, went to her doctor’s appointment, and then roamed West Edmonton Mall, before driving home. We arrived home a little before midnight.
As I said, it was a very enjoyable trip. Except that the ring was missing. In the midst of our enjoyment, we’d feel the ache of the loss.
This morning, I woke up, intending to drive back to the park and search again. Perhaps it could have fallen into the sink. If so, it would be in the trap under the sink and we might be able to retrieve it. Or perhaps it fell in the trash. Even then, we might still be able to search through it and find it.
Juanita Joosse, a member of the congregation, called this morning. She and her mother, Mrs. Barendregt, who is visiting for a while, offered to go with us to the park to help us look. Juanita picked us up at about 11:00 and drove us out to Leo & Yolanda Wattel’s place to pick up her mother and to look at the photos that were taken during the picnic.
And just at that moment, Mrs. Barendregt reached over my shoulder and handed me a ring box.
She and Juanita had gone out to the park on Monday. They dug through the trash. They hunted under the clover. They wandered over the grounds. And at last, forty minutes later, they looked near the swing. And there they found it. Both of them spotted the edge of it at the same time. It appears that it must have fallen off while I was pushing Moriah on the swing.
Needless to say, we’re overjoyed. The Lord has heard our cries and has answered our prayers. We’re grateful to him and we’re grateful, too, to Juanita and Mrs. Barendregt for searching and for all the others here who prayed and looked for it for us.
At long last, Moriah and I are home in Grande Prairie!
We arrived back in Moscow after our week in Coeur D’Alene on Friday, July 2. On Saturday, we visited the Farmer’s Market and Goodwill and did some preparation for moving before spending the evening at Chip and Janet Lind’s place. Both Saturday and Sunday, we house- and dog-sat for the Greenfields.
On Sunday, we attended Trinity Reformed Church in Moscow, where Peter Leithart preached a very good sermon on Hebrews 9:1-10. That afternoon, we napped and opened wedding presents. We spent Sunday evening with Chris and Nery Morris. (Thanks to Chris for reading Scripture at our wedding.).
On Monday, my mother dropped my father off in Moscow and then continued on her way back home to Red Deer. My parents had been on vacation in Arizona and Utah and were returning home, but my dad stopped to drive our moving truck as far as Red Deer. That afternoon, Chip, my father, and I loaded up the truck. (I apologize for the confusion in the last post, which I wrote late in the day and which made it sound as if we loaded up on Tuesday and were travelling on Wednesday.)
We had breakfast with Roy and Bev Atwood on Tuesday, picked up something to drink at Bucer’s, and then headed out. A few miles south of Sandpoint, we joined a several-mile-long line of cars. As it turned out, a motor home had caught fire and traffic was blocked on both lanes for a couple of hours.
At 4:00 in the afternoon, we caught up to my father, who was waiting for us in Bonner’s Ferry, and then we drove on together to the border. We stopped first at the American side to export Moriah’s car, and then we arrived at the Canadian border.
To our great joy, the border crossing went extremely smoothly. We first talked to the Immigration officer, who was very friendly and who gave us some good information. Then a man from Border Services went through the process for importing Moriah’s car and goods. Within about an hour, we were on our way again with all of Moriah’s things, rejoicing in God’s grace. Thanks to all of you who prayed for us !
We crossed the border a little after 6:00 in the evening (BC/Idaho time), which meant that we arrived in Red Deer around 3:00 AM (Alberta time). We were all very tired and so Moriah and I didn’t get up until around noon on Wednesday. We then drove the rest of the way to Grande Prairie, arriving here around 11:00 PM. And today, with the help of Leo Wattel and Jamie Soles, we unloaded the truck. Now, we’re unpacking and sorting through things. With Moriah and her things here, my house is starting to look like our home.
Again, thanks to everyone who prayed for us and who helped with the move. It’s good to be home!
Today, Chip Lind, my father, and I loaded up a moving van full of Moriah‘s possessions. Tomorrow, my father will be driving that truck as far as my parents’ home in Red Deer, while Moriah and I will be travelling the same way in her car.
Please pray for our safety as we travel, and especially pray that God would be gracious to us when we come to the border and that we will be able to bring all of Moriah’s things across.
Last night, after a relaxing day, Moriah and I drove out to Post Falls, where we ate at The White House.
The meal was fantastic. It began with French bread to dip in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and garlic. It continued with salads, a very delicious Caesar salad for Moriah and a Greek salad for me. And then came the main course: Moriah had the sea bass with the prawn and chicken kebabs, while I had the Turkish plate with roast lamb. Afterwards, we had baklava for dessert with Au Chocolat port. The port blended perfectly with the baklava. It was wonderful, easily the best meal Moriah and I have yet had on our honeymoon in this area full of good restaurants.
Here I sit, in the Coeur D’Alene Public Library, checking my e-mail, catching up on blog entries, blogging myself, and occasionally whispering to my wife, who is at the terminal across from mine. A lot has happened in the last couple of weeks.
As you may have noticed in my last entry, I survived the URCNA’s Synod Calgary 2004. I drove one of my elders’ trucks from Grande Prairie to Calgary for the synod, and then on the Saturday after the synod I rented a car and drove to Spokane, where Chip and Janet Lind picked me up and took me to Moscow.
On Sunday, I attended Trinity Reformed Church, where Blake Purcell (from the Reformed Seminary in St. Petersburg, Russia) preached. The service was very moving, not least because it involved the commissioning of Niki Valchev, the Bulgarian Calvin. I got to know Niki in May. He had been in Moscow for a couple of months and was now returning to Bulgaria to continue working toward planting a Bulgarian Reformed church. I wasn’t the only one who got a little misty as Peter Leithart commissioned Niki that Sunday morning.
Moriah arrived in Moscow late that Sunday night (= early Monday morning). We spent most of the next few days together, getting the last things ready for the wedding. (Thanks to the Greenfields for opening their home to us, and to Mrs. Unger and Bethany and others who ran countless errands for us.)
On Wednesday night, I had my bachelor party at Roy and Bev Atwood’s place. Roy provided various smoked meats, Janet Lind made a great potato salad (as well as a bathrobe with a clerical collar), and I had a good time sitting around and talking with Steve and Nathan Phillips, Randy Churchill, Charles Chambers, Alex and Calvin Barendregt, Tim Gallant, Steve Hofstede, Roy Atwood, Dave Nieuwsma, and Chip Lind.
On Thursday evening, we rehearsed. The rehearsal was a bit chaotic (in spite of Moriah’s clear instructions about the order of service). Afterwards, my parents hosted a rehearsal dinner at La Casa Lopez, in downtown Moscow. It was a greatly enjoyable evening, enhanced by an aria sung by one of the servers, the soon-to-be-blogging-again Rijel Glasebrook. (Thanks, Rijel! It was beautiful!)
On Friday, Keith and Jenn Griffioen, who had arrived Thursday night, took me out to wander the mall and relax a bit. In the afternoon, we had our wedding pictures. Mark Lamoreaux did a fantastic job with our engagement photos, and we’re eagerly looking forward to seeing the wedding pictures.
A little after 7:00, I followed Peter Leithart down the aisle, with Tim Gallant, Bill DeJong, Chip Lind, and Keith Griffioen following me. A few minutes later, to the sounds of Handel’s “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba,” played by Matthew Pelcher on the organ and Keith Griffioen and Randy Churchill on trumpet, the bridesmaids (Bethany Unger, Heather Stewart, Sarah Prentice, and Lindsey Leithart) came down the left aisle. Payton Comis (flower girl) and Smith Leithart (ring bearer) came down the centre aisle. And then, “fair as the morn, clear as the sun, terrible as an army with banners” and glorious in candlelight white, came Moriah with her father.
I descended from the platform to receive her from her father, and brought her up to stand with me in front of Peter Leithart. Dan Dillard prayed, Chris Morris read Scripture, and Peter Leithart preached a beautiful sermon.
After the wedding, we headed to the reception at the Logos Gym. Natalie Greenfield and her jazz band, which we called JazzNRG, performed for the first hour. Chip Lind was the MC, and did an excellent job. Moriah and I danced to “The Lover’s Waltz,” performed live by Katie Saunders and Nathan Phillips and eventually some of the members of JazzNRG. I have rarely danced before, but the quick Thursday dance lesson by Mathdaniel Johnson at the Greenfield’s payed off! Matt Dau was the DJ and Moriah and I had a lot of fun dancing.
Shortly before 11:00, we took our leave, to the sound of our guests singing Psalm 128. We drove to Spokane, and now we’re spending our honeymoon in beautiful Coeur D’Alene, which brings me to where I started this entry (and to near the end of my allotted time online). You can read more about our honeymoon on Moriah’s blog. We’re having a wonderful time!
Last week, I took part in the URCNA‘s Synod 2004 in Calgary. Bethel United Reformed Church hosted the synod and did an excellent job of organizing the various aspects of the meeting and providing us with meals. Ron Scheuers, the pastor of the First United Reformed Church in Chino, California, chaired the meeting with wisdom, humour, grace, and appropriate firmness. Bishop Bill, the stated clerk of the federation, is currently working on the minutes. The concept minutes of the synod are available here.
You can read those minutes for yourself, if you’re interested. But here are some items worth noting:
(1) Tacoma, Part I
According to our Church Order, a congregation that wishes to join the federation can be received provisionally by a classis, pending ratification by the next synod. Classis Western Canada 2002 received the Evangelical Reformed Church of Tacoma (pastored by Rich Hamlin) into the URCNA.
Even at that point, however, several people had concerns about this congregation, since it has only one service on a Sunday (our Church Order requires two) and since the congregation has allowed children as young as six to profess their faith in Christ and come to the Table.
Those concerns came up at the synod when it was asked to ratify the decision to admit Tacoma into the federation. Some delegates pointed out that Tacoma was working toward having two services a Sunday, but hadn’t been able to rent their building for a regular second service. The ratification motion was tabled until after the synod dealt with Overture 7, which concerned paedocommunion (and which, therefore, had nothing to do with Tacoma’s situation).
(2) Pre-Advice Committees
In order to facilitate working through all the overtures and appeals and reports, our synods usually divide the body up into several pre-advice committees, each focusing on a particular agenda item (or a particular group of related items). The committees then make recommendations to the general body.
I was supposed to be on the pre-advice committee dealing with Grande Prairie’s appeals, no doubt because whoever made up the list of committee members thought that this committee might want to discuss our appeals with me, but someone protested
and the synod voted to remove me from that committee. In the end, I worked on the committee dealing with ecumenical contact with churches abroad.
The synod decided not to adopt the overtures asking it to state that abortion and homosexuality are contrary to the Scriptures and the Confessions. The synod also did not adopt the overtures regarding creation and animal death before the Fall.
(4) Overture 7: The Three Forms of Unity and Paedocommunion
Overture 7 asked the synod to adopt a statement asserting that the Three Forms of Unity exclude non-professing members from partaking of the Lord’s Supper. The synod adopted a much-amended version of that statement. The final version reads:
The confessions to which the URCNA subscribe (the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dort) accurately summarize the teaching of Scripture, for example, 1 Cor. 11:24-25, 28. Thus, our confessions, in harmony with the Scripture, require that the Lord’s Supper be administered only to those who have publicly professed their faith, in the presence of God and His holy church.
The synod also adopted some grounds. You’ll find all this stuff on pages 22-23 of the PDF concept minutes. This decision will doubtless have ramifications for confessional subscription: Given this statement, is someone who believes the confessions don’t require profession of faith for access to the Table still eligible for office in the URCNA?
(5) Tacoma, Part II
As I mentioned above, for some reason, the synod had tabled Tacoma until after it dealt with Overture 7. Again, Tacoma doesn’t practice paedocommunion and so Overture 7 had nothing to do with Tacoma’s situation. Nevertheless, the synod did take up Tacoma at this point, spent some time discussing ratifying the admittance of the congregation to the federation, and finally tabled the matter again until after Appeal # 1 had been dealt with.
(6) Appeal 1: Younger Profession Of Faith
Last year, a member of Covenant Reformed Church in Grande Prairie (the congregation I pastor) appealed against the consistory’s decision to interview a member who was ten years old for public
profession of faith and admittance to the Table. That appeal was sustained by Classis Western Canada Spring 2003. Grande Prairie then appealed to Synod Calgary 2004.
The pre-advice committee recommended sustaining the appeal on procedural grounds (the Church Order doesn’t specify a minimum age for profession of faith), but the synod didn’t sustain the appeal, which means that it told the Grande Prairie elders that we can’t interview anyone ten or younger for profession of faith. This decision conflicts with the Church Order, which doesn’t specify a minimum age for profession of faith and which leaves such decisions in the jurisdiction of the local church’s consistory.
(7) Appeal 2: The Three Forms of Unity and Paedocommunion
Tim Gallant was examined for candidacy in the URCNA at Classis Western Canada 2000 (Lynden). During the exam, he indicated that he didn’t have a position (at the time) one way or the other on paedocommunion and asked whether paedocommunion was within confessional bounds. (He has since concluded that it is.) The classis responded by adopting a statement that the confessions exclude non-professing members from partaking of the Supper.
Grande Prairie (and other congregations) regarded that statement as ad hoc advice given to Tim to help him make a decision about whether he could subscribe to the confessions. Grande Prairie didn’t regard that statement as binding on all officebearers.
Classis Western Canada Spring 2003, however, adopted a statement “clarifying” the status of that 2000 statement and indicating that it was binding on all officebearers, such that in order to be eligible for office (at least in this classical region) one must not only be opposed to paedocommunion but one must also believe that the Three Forms of Unity exclude non-professing members from partaking of the Lord’s Table. In other words, if you believe that the Three Forms of Unity leave room for paedocommunion â€” or if you believe that a man who holds to paedocommunion is eligible for office â€” then you cannot subscribe to the Three Forms and you are not eligible for office.
Grande Prairie appealed this decision. Synod 2004 denied our appeal. The similar Appeal # 3 from Leduc was also denied. On all of these decisions, my elder delegate and I registered our negative votes. Our consistory will therefore have to consider the implications of the synod’s decision and decide how best to respond to it.
(8) Tacoma, Part III
At this point, the Tacoma matter was reopened. After some discussion, someone moved that the synod not make a decision on the matter but table it indefinitely so that it might be dealt with at the next synod, by which time (some thought) Tacoma might be able to have two services on a Sunday and might have changed its practice of admitting such young children to the Table. That motion carried.
I am deeply ashamed of the way this synod dealt with Tacoma. The Tacoma delegates were very gracious, more gracious than many of us would have been, I suspect. In the end, the synod did agree to pay the Tacoma delegates’ lodging and travel expenses.
While several (not all) of the decisions I’ve reported above were discouraging, I was happy with many of the other decisions that the synod made. Again, the chairman did a wonderful job of regulating the tone of the discussions. As one delegate said to me, this may have been the best-chaired synod we’ve had. It was also good to be able to visit with a number of friends, some of whom I haven’t seen for years, and to make new friends, including some on different sides of these debates.
And now I’m in Moscow, Idaho, as is Moriah, getting ready for Friday evening and beyond. Thanks for your prayers!