Church and Culture

Scary Families
It’s a bit scary but take a look into the future with 5 Visions for What Families Will Look like in 2030. Instead of responding with just critique and judgment to all the new “family” arrangements that people are actively choosing (and in many cases suffering passively), Christians have to demonstrate in everyday living why the Christian family is the best way to live.

Atheism is Boring
Turns out even atheists think that Atheism is Boring and need to spice it up their new “megachurch” a bit. Atheist pastors “choose to deliver an inspirational message rather than proclaim an anti-God talk. One of their ministers denies “that the congregation is just full of religion haters.” Instead, he says, they “want to be in a community that will inspire them to love, not hate. They want to be good, to live compassionately in a challenging and often hostile world. They want their children to grow up within a community that cares for them and will help them develop a positive value system by which to live. They want to change the world and make it better.” I join Danny in utter bafflement and bewilderment at why any atheist thinks starting an atheist church is a good idea.

War on Women
There’s a “War on Women” alright. It’s just that the war is not being waged by Republicans or Calvinists, but by Liberal Evangelicals. That’s a bit overstated and the article is also on the sensational side, but still worth a read. Most Tweetable line in this report on the recent Q Focus “Women and Calling” Conference  is “Gender roles do not equate to gender discrimination.” As Dr Janice Shaw Crouse said, “There is a huge difference, however, between the Biblical principle of equality — by which God created all of us as equal — and the radical distortions of the radical feminist principles that push hatred of masculine traits and try to get rid of the differences between women and men.” Some good quotes from Kathy Keller too, although the post in general is

Undiscovered Treasure
I’d always thought the Book of Psalms was an undiscovered treasure in much of the Church. But I never thought that it would break the record for a printed book ($14.2 million) at an auction yesterday. Like the Psalmist, I still think it’s underpriced (Ps. 19:10! You can read more about the history of this particular Psalter here.

Saved Without Faith
Many of us have admired Pulitzer prize-winning columnist Dr Charles Krauthammer for his media-savvy political analysis. In What’s the Matter with Krauthammer? Nicholas Hahn gives some fascinating insight into Krauthammer’s Jewish background and his present spiritual state. His most revealing comment: “Judaism does not insist on theology. Judaism is a religion of good works, not of belief. You don’t have to have a belief to be saved,”

Funeral for TV
Boy, am I glad I never made it in TV because  TV is Dying and Here are the Stats to Prove It. The graphs and figures are really quite incredible. I wonder how long until they’ll be saying the same about the Internet?

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Seek Peace and Pursue It
Jemar Tisby writes on the quest for racial harmony. “since many of our Christian congregations remain racially homogenous, it begs the question, “Is there peace in the church between people of different races and ethnicities?” The phrase “seek peace and pursue it” may help answer those questions.”

Thanksgiving is Loud
Joe Thorn: “We had worked hard to prepare the house and the event, but I had not prepared my heart. Though I was surrounded by tremendous blessings I was, in that moment, blind to it all. The house was loud on Thanksgiving, but my heart was quiet.”

In Case It’s The Right Question
Addie Zimmerman on asking the questions that open the door to admitting we’re weak and need help.

Why I Think Non-Pastors Should Care About Pastoral Theology
Lisa Robinson gives three reasons why non-pastors should be interested in pastoral theology.

Book Review: The Masculine Mandate by Rick Phillips
I couldn’t agree more with Dan. This is THE standout book on biblical masculinity and leadership. It would make a great gift to any man (or son) in your life. As to why it hasn’t got as much traction, I blame the cover!

The Punishing Sound of Silence
Kevin DeYoung has a solution to the horrific “Knockout” game that is being fueled by social media fame. And in case that really depressed you, watch this…

Band of Brothers Rally Round Boy Age 6 To Stop Bullying

That’s Monstrous, Hideous, Mischievous, Odious, Pernicious, Venomous….

Monstrous. Hideous. Mischievous. Odious. Pernicious. Poisonous. Vicious. Villainous. Heinous. Obnoxious. Venomous. Tedious. Treacherous. Impetuous. Ruinous. Murderous. Dangerous. Lascivious. Injurious. Infectious. Vexatious. Serious.

Bet you didn’t know so many words ended with “-ous” did you?

“So, what’s the point? Is this a blog or a thesaurus?”

OK, the point is that this is a sample, yes just a sample, of words that the Puritan Ralph Venning used to describe “sin” in his book Sin, The Plague of Plagues. Although the Puritans didn’t win too many prizes for Book Title of the Year, they did speak to contemporary events, with this book being published shortly after The Great Plague of London that killed over 100,000 people.

“A book on sin? Why would anyone want to write that? And why would anyone want to read it?”

Anticipating such objections, Venning wrote in his introduction that “it cannot but be extremely useful to let men see what sin is: how prodigiously vile, how deadly mischievous, and therefore how monstrously ugly and odious a thing sin is. Thus a way may be made:

  • For admiring the free and rich grace of God.
  • For believing in our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • For vindicating the holy, just and good law of God, and his condemnation of sinners for breaking it.
  • For hating sin, and repenting for and from it, thereby taking a holy, just and good revenge on it and ourselves.
  • That we may love and serve God at a better rate than we ever did in the little and short time of innocence itself.
  • And, lastly, that this black spot may serve to set off the admirable, incomparable and transcendent beauty of holiness.

So, why not take some time to mediate on each of these ugly -ous words. And let them lead you to the beauty of three other -ous word: that God is gracious, that Christ’s blood is precious, and that we are righteous in Him.

Now that’s miraculous!

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A Plea to Prospective University Students
“Why is it that year after year, professing Christians students (and their parents) plan their intellectual, academic, professional or social development (or invest in the development of their offspring), and only subsequently ask whether or not their souls will receive faithful and loving care in the only environment on earth that Christ has ordained as the normal means for the lasting health of his people?”

Are you Chasing Happiness or Holiness?
I loved this article by Tony Reinke in which he uses the Puritans to argue that it’s wrong to contrast happiness with holiness.

Counseling and Worship
“Do counseling and what we have come to call one’s “style” of worship have anything to do with each other? Are there ways of worship that are more congenial to the aims of biblical counseling than others?”

The Cool Pastor: An Oxymoron or Just a Moron?
“If I can be completely honest, there was a time in my life when I craved to be considered a “cool pastor.” In the early years, as the morning dawned on my pastoral vocation, I honestly believed it was possible to walk in both worlds, that is to say, the world of cultural approval and the world of Biblical fidelity. More and more, however, I am not sure this is even desirable.”

Nothing More to Need
Tim Challies with a beautiful profile of Christian courage.

Exploring Biblical Theology
An Interview with Jim Hamilton about his new book, What is Biblical Theology?

A Tribute to my Dad: Faithfulness in Obscurity

I hope you’ll permit me an indulgence today as I pay tribute to my Dad who, this weekend, not only celebrated his 75th birthday but also retired from the pastorate after 25 years of ministry among the same people.

Hold on, does that mean he went into the ministry aged 50?

Yes, at age 47, after 24 years in dental practice, he answered God’s call to the ministry, plowed through three years of Seminary, and was ordained when he was about 50-years-old.

I’m pretty sure my Dad would kill me (metaphorically…probably…hopefully) if he knew that I was writing this, but the chances are that he will never read it.

Dad with my son and his grandson, Scot (May 2013)

Dad with my son and his grandson, Scot (May 2013)

Why would he “kill” me? Well, my Dad was brought up in a place and at a time when you didn’t give or expect any tributes for anything. In the poverty-stricken Scottish Highlands of the 1940’s and 1950’s, you did your work quietly, and without fanfare, and looked to God alone for approval. You didn’t praise yourself, you didn’t puff up your own family, and your didn’t let others do it either. I know that seems utterly alien in our self-promoting, image-conscious, social media age – and it definitely went too far at times – but there are many modern egos that would greatly benefit from some good old-fashioned Scottish deflation.

Why will my Dad never read this? Because he never got into blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc. I don’t know if he’s even aware that I write a blog! It’s not that he’s technophobic – he was actually quite innovative in his use of technology in dentistry. However, in the ministry, he was so focused on the flock God had given him, that everything else was a distraction, a point I’ll come back to.

So why am I writing this if he wouldn’t like it and won’t read it? I do it partly as a praise to God, as an opportunity for me to remember with worshipful thanksgiving a loving father, a godly man, and a faithful pastor.

But I could do that without publishing it. So why publish it?

I pressed publish because I believe his life and ministry have a few vital lessons that we can learn from. This isn’t a full-blown tribute about my Dad’s whole life – that would take way too long, and he’d definitely murder me for that. I just want to highlight three key points with a special emphasis on the last.

My Dad was an incredibly hard worker both in dentistry and in the ministry. He gave himself wholeheartedly to God in both callings, and very much saw the former as a preparation for the latter. He devoted disciplined hours to reading, studying Greek and Hebrew, sermon preparation, pastoral visitation, and evangelistic outreach in the community.

Sometimes people would say to him, “Oh, you went into the ministry very late! He would reply, “I often think I went in too early!” meaning, that even with all the experience he gained in running a dental practice, managing staff, dealing with anxious patients, and serving in the local church, he still felt his inadequacy for the great task of pastoral ministry!

Partly because he went into the ministry at an older age than most, he worked doubly hard to make the most of the precious years he did have in the Lord’s service.

My Dad's two congregations in Brora (A) and Scourie (B).

My Dad’s two congregations in Brora (A) and Scourie (B).

Until his mini-stroke a few years ago, my Dad pastored two congregations in the Scottish Highlands. They were 70 miles apart, one on the west coast and one on the east coast, and most of the road was single track. And I mean single track! Wide enough for only one car at a time, regular small passing places were required to let one car pass one another.  And yet in all weathers my Dad drove along (and off a few times!) that treacherous road at least once every week, preaching on Sundays, and leading the midweek prayer meetings, often with just handfuls of people gathered in the fellowship.

Most of you don’t know my Dad. He never did anything to draw attention to himself or his ministry. He’s neither famous nor infamous.

But everyone who knows him, know that he’s a man of total integrity. Converted to Christ in his early twenties, he has walked an unblemished path of Christian faithfulness for more than 50 years.

In an age when so many Christians and pastors are falling into terrible temptation and doctrinal error, bringing awful reproach upon the cause of Christ, his consistent and irreproachable moral and theological integrity is a beautiful testimony that brings great glory to God.

Friendships were important to him, but when the time came that stands had to be taken for justice and righteousness, the friendship of God mattered far more to him than any other relationship.

I’m so thankful for an unknown but godly Dad. Although his life and work have past unseen and unnoticed by most, God has seen, God has been pleased, and one day God will display the beauty of his faithfulness in obscurity before the whole world. Others have had their reward.


Single track road with passing place in Sutherlandshire

Single track road with passing place in Sutherlandshire

My Dad was called to pastor in Sutherlandshire and spent his whole ministry there. It’s the most remote area of Scotland, with mainly farmers and crofters scattered throughout a barren yet beautiful landscape. Lots of pastors might have viewed it as just a starting spot, a stepping stone to better things. Not my Dad. Although he had calls to serve elsewhere, for him his beloved Sutherlandshire was the be-all and end-all. It was the center of the universe and there was nothing he would not do for his dear flock.

It certainly wasn’t big numbers that kept him there or kept him motivated. His two congregations probably averaged 20-25 people most of the time, maybe sometimes reaching 40. But I have never seen a man with such intense laser-like focus and love for a people in my whole life. You’d think he was pastoring one of the biggest, richest, most powerful churches in the world. Far from thinking it beneath him, he would regularly say, “It’s such a privilege.”

Whenever you spoke to him, the people of Sutherland were on his heart and on his lips. I doubt few people in the world have ever been so prayed for. He preached so passionately for their conversion and spiritual growth, often weeping as he called sinners to Christ and pled for their souls. He loved them and they loved him. Yet, he would often say, “I need them far more than they need me.”

Behind every godly man…
Well, this post is already way too long; and it could go on for many more pages. But let me finish with my Mum (Scottish for “Mom”), because I know that my Dad would not have accomplished any of this without her. She’s been a model wife, mother, and pastor’s wife. Industry, integrity, intensity, and many other wonderful words have characterized her whole life of sacrificial and loving service.

I’m so, so thankful that God has brought them to this time of retirement and pray that He will give them many days of well-earned rest and quiet, to enjoy one another, and to prepare for the great eternity when I believe they will both hear, “Well done, good and faithful servants.”

And if you do ever read this Dad and Mum, I love you, I miss you, and please forgive me this blog!

Dad and Mum in the same vacation spot they've been going to for 37 years

Dad and Mum in Isle of Wight, England, the same vacation spot they’ve been going to for 37 years.

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Inventor of MOOCs has Second Thoughts
This is a must read for anyone involved in education. Looks like neither teachers nor students have found the Promised Land after all. (HT: Owen Strachan). On a similar subject here’s another article about how Seminaries are trying to use distance learning without losing their ethos.

God Glorifying Social Media
Three simple tips. And if you’re thinking of quitting social media, read why this might be a losing proposition.

10 Steps to Preach from an iPad
Tim Challies outlines his method.

Did God Punish the Philippines With Typhoon Yolanda
PRTS alumnus and native of the Philippines, Brian Najapfour, discusses the recent tragedy that devastated his homeland.

He said he was leaving. She ignored him.
This is a powerful story about one woman’s counter-cultural reaction to her husband’s request for a divorce, and in the process saved their marriage and family.

7 Signs Your Church is Making Inroads with Unchurched People
Challenging post.