Beyond Illusion & Despair

No matter how many times it happens, I still have hope. I believe that my seven children will all love the meal I make for them. When I said that in my sermon Sunday, one man shouted out, “Then, order pizza!” Nope! That won’t work. One of my daughters doesn’t like tomato sauce! Another child complains about too much cheese! In spite of that, I hope beyond hope that everyone will like the meal.

I suspect I’m not the only one that is looking for a perfect meal. We are all looking for a perfect something. We think our marriage or vacation or job or church or children will fulfill all our hopes and dreams. The reality is generally far different. Everything disappoints.

One of the key promises of the Bible is that Jesus will come again. “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). Why is Jesus coming back? To bring to completion what He started. He will bring in perfection, the restoration of all things.

An important corollary to this truth is that there will be no completion in this life. There will always be something lacking. Every hobby will have its boring moments. Every relationship will have its hard moments. Every church will feel unwelcoming at times.

It is important to recognize this for two reasons. Continue reading “Beyond Illusion & Despair”

Realistic Expectations for Your Children

Here’s a suggestion for you who are parents or will be. Keep a journal of what your children do. If you have a bad day, write about it. If they do something that makes you particularly happy, write about that, too. I would especially suggest this if you have several children.

My wife does not journal a lot. She has written three journal entries over the past five years. However, a few nights ago, she read them, and she really enjoyed it. I’m going to publish some of my own journal entries in a few months where I describe some of the most intimate details of my private life. Just kidding.

In all seriousness, I’m really pleased how my two oldest children are growing and becoming good workers. They are almost 9 and 8 years old. My son is particular willing to work without complaining, even if he is not as thorough as I would like. Nevertheless, I’m quite pleased.

But my 5 and 4 year old daughters drive me crazy sometimes. Every time I try to get them to do even the smallest tasks, they disappear, get “sick,” or suddenly have to go to the bathroom. I was complaining about this to my wife, and she said, “Anna (our oldest) did the same thing when she was five. I just read it in my journal.” I was greatly relieved. We were not failures as parents. Our younger girls were not destined to be eternal couch potatoes, ever avoiding work. They were just being 5 and 4.

This was a good lesson for me. I’ll keep pushing my children to work, but I also want to have realistic expectations. That’s true for all who have subordinates. It’s true as a pastor, and it’s true as a father. “Be patient with all.” says the Apostle Paul (1 Thess. 5:14).

On Christian Civility

“Pursue peace with all men. . .” — Heb. 12:14a

Recently, Google has begun to put Benedict Pictet’s work, Morale Chretienne, on their collection. It looks like it will be a very valuable and helpful work. The one volume that is already available discusses various issues of the 2nd table of the law. I have put together a translation of his discussion of Christian civility. I believe that there are many valuable points in this short discussion that are both thought-provoking and convicting.

“On Christian Civility” by Benedict Pictet from his book on Christian ethics.

Since God has ordained men to live in society and since He Himself assembles them in that society, He wants them also to respect the bond that unites them according to His order. Conversely, He also wants them to avoid with extreme care every occasion that tends to break that bond and so commands that they conserve the peace amongst themselves and prefer one another in honor. Thus, God has bound us to be honest and civil towards one another.

Civility is this virtue that teaches everyone to do nothing and to say nothing that would offend the well-being of society; to give way to others as much as the order of the world can allow it; to prefer others over oneself; to greet them; to visit them; and to give them all the signs of esteem and honor that one can legitimately give to them.

The rules of civility are:

  1. To exactly observe all that custom has established as civil or as uncivil and to practice the former with care, avoid the latter, and to follow the example of those who are wisest [in these matters].
  2. To accommodate oneself to the places and the nations in which one lives and to the persons to whom one speaks.
  3. Continue reading “On Christian Civility”

The Importance of Justification by Faith Alone

In the 19th century, some historians tried to analyze the various streams of Protestantism in terms of a central dogma. Alexander Schweizer thought that it was predestination. He said that the central dogma of the Lutherans was justification. From what I can tell from the secondary literature, he also believed that this was sort of a basic principle from which all other dogmas were deduced. This sort of methodology has been rejected by most modern historians.

However, as I have read classic Reformed theology, I have found that they generally did believe in a central dogma. They believed that it was justification by faith alone. This did not mean that it was a theological axiom from which all other theology was deduced. Rather, it meant:

  1. That the purity of this doctrine was basic to purity in all other doctrines.
  2. That any error in this doctrine was extremely dangerous.
  3. That this doctrine, above all, was to be defended, explained, and meditated upon.
  4. That this doctrine was the foundation of all true religion and holiness.
  5. That the true Church could not be maintained without this doctrine.

In this post, I would like to demonstrate this from the writings of several different theologians from several different regions and eras.

Herman Witsius (1636–1708, Holland), The Economy of the Covenants, 2.8.1: “The pious Picardians, as they were called in Bohemia and Moravia [i.e., the churches of which John Huss was the most prominent example], valued this article at its true price when in their confession of faith, Art. vi. speaking of justification, they thus write: ‘this sixth article is accounted with us the most principal of all, as being the sum of all Christianity and piety. Wherefore our divines teach and handle it with all diligence and application, and endeavor to instill it into all.’” Continue reading “The Importance of Justification by Faith Alone”

My Suggestions for Successfully Moderating a Meeting

WED_01A colleague of mine is going to moderate an upcoming presbytery meeting. He has served as a chaplain, and he wanted to discuss how he could run the meeting well. I asked him if he had run any meetings while he was in the military. “Yes,” he said, “but we didn’t get as deep into Robert’s Rules as we do at presbytery.” So, there you have it. Presbyterians are more strict on Robert’s Rules than the military.

Since my colleague wanted to discuss how to run a meeting successfully, I decided to try and express the principles that I have used to moderate session and presbytery meetings. I have also tried to provide some of the broad principles for the various motions so that you do not simply have to memorize the properties of each motion. Below you will find some of my thoughts. I would be interested in reading your ideas, if you would like to share them in the comment box. Here are a few principles that may be helpful in running a successful meeting:

  1. The key to being a moderator is preparation. You need to have a clear vision of everything that may happen at the meeting. Try to envision problems that may come up and issues that may need to be resolved. Study them beforehand, and the meeting will not get bogged down. Examine everything that will come before the body. Make sure it is in order, and, if not, try to correct it before the meeting. I cannot overstate that the key to a good meeting is careful preparation. This is true for the moderator and all the participants.
  2. Continue reading “My Suggestions for Successfully Moderating a Meeting”