Category Archives: Update

Happy New Year!

I begin this new year officiating next to Al Stout, the wedding of his daughter, Alice. What a delightful way to see the Gospel manifested!

This is the eighth day of Christmas, the beginning of my eighth year of the pastorate, and so appropriately, it is a day of new beginnings. New beginnings function as a kind of liturgical reset button. Of course, there are habits, desires, dreams involved in new beginnings, but all these need to be placed in the hands of One who can shape and reshape these. God establishes the times and the seasons as the great Liturgical leader of the assembly.

Apart from the God of new beginnings, life is not worth living. Our attempts at productivity, our forceful efforts to liturgize our lives in our likeness will come to a pitiful end. And so once more, I trust, by the goodness of God, to place my cares on Him. For, in the end, our hopes lie in the One, who unites us to himself as a faithful Bridegroom. Happy new year, dear friends! May the smile of the Holy Trinity be upon you and may your joy be found in him in 2016!

“I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.”-Martin Luther

General Council of the CREC in Lake Tahoe, 2014: Brief Comments

I am finally back to my lovely city and to my delightfully welcoming family. What a tremendous joy to gather with brothers who share a mutual passion for the glory of God over all things, especially over the Church.  Chesterton’s powerful hymn, sung a few times at Council, describes the general sentiment among my fellow co-laborers:

Tie in a living tether, the prince and priest and thrall;
Bind all our lives together, smite us and save us all;
In ire and exultation aflame with faith and free,
Lift up a living nation, a single sword to Thee.

We are grateful for the efforts of the host church who provided a spectacle of hospitality and abundant life. Not a day went by when I did not stop to reflect and meditate on the artistic beauty of our God. Lake Tahoe was simply magnificent.

As we concluded our Council with a Covenant Renewal Worship on Wednesday night, the thought that came to mind again and again was, “What a joy to be included in the proclamation of this glorious Gospel of reconciliation.” The spirit of unity was seen and demonstrated as brothers ate and drank together at the lamb’s high feast.

I can say that it was a tremendous honor to represent the Athanasius Presbytery as one of the fourteen delegates to the CREC General Council. I was intimidated, while at the same time grateful to be a part of such an illustrious group of men, many of whom have shaped and continue to shape my thinking and have affected my ecclesiology in profoundly positive ways.

I wish to express my thanks and admiration to our former Presiding Minister, Jack Phelps, who served our Communion of Churches for these past six years with grace and humility.

My deepest respect and prayers for the newly elected Presiding Minister of the CREC, Rev. Douglas Wilson. May God richly bless his labors as he guides the CREC into this new phase of its history. Thanks be to God.

(You may wish to read Doug’s comments on his election here)

Weekly Summary, Auburn Avenue Presbyterian

It was a long, but profitable past week. On the 6th of January, I made my annual pilgrimage to Auburn Avenue Presbyterian in Monroe, LA for their pastor’s conference. The conference was terrific. It was great to see old friends and meet new ones at the conference. The conference, known in some circles for its controversial topics and speakers, really has become a bunch of friends who enjoy getting together to talk theology.

My little book, The Trinitarian Father, made its public debut at the conference. I think it sold quite well as my smile indicates.

To me, as I have mentioned to many, the best part of the conference is truly the singing and the profound community life you experience when you join those brothers and sisters. It is hard to stress how gracious and hospitable these folks are. The beer flows, the conversations abound, and the joy is full.

You can download the conference talks here.

I flew from there to Tampa Bay, Fl where I had the opportunity to visit my friends at Clearwater Christian College. I graduated from CCC in 2003, but still have maintained some good contacts with the school. I met with their new president, Jack Klem. Jack is a terrifically bright fellow with a robust vision of the Christian faith. CCC is in good hands.

Photo: Wonderful to see these brothers and minister to the saints in word and sacrament at Christ Church, LakelandI then went to Lakeland where I ministered to the saints of Christ Church. Christ Church is a mission church of the CREC and under the care of Providence Church in Pensacola, FL. It is a joyful little church. I encourage you to stop by if you are in the Orlando/Lakeland area. I spoke on the subject of biblical hospitality and answered some questions after the service on how more specifically to implement this Christian duty. We then feasted, drank wine, and sang together.

I lost my wallet the first day I arrived. My luggage was one day delayed. Two of my flights were delayed, which incidentally led me to miss the following flight. But overall, a fruitful trip. Shalom.


Vision Forum Closes Its Doors

The most well-known producer and distributor of home-school material has closed its doors. Here is the official statement from the Vision Forum Board:

In light of the serious sins which have resulted in Doug Phillips’s resignation from Vision Forum Ministries, the Board of Directors has determined that it is in the best interests of all involved to discontinue operations. We have stopped receiving donations, and are working through the logistical matters associated with the closing of the ministry. While we believe as strongly as ever in the message of the ministry to the Christian family, we are grieved to find it necessary to make this decision. We believe this to be the best option for the healing of all involved and the only course of action under the circumstances.

Many of us have friends who have worked for VF and now will soon be without a job. We pray that they will quickly find a place to minister and use their gifts. We grieve for the sins that have affected that ministry, and while many may take the opportunity to offer a rhetorical blow against Phillips and the VF worldview, I grieve. My prayer is once again for fidelity to the Scriptures in this process, for Phillips’ elders as they guide him to continual repentance, also for continual repentance as Phillips seeks restoration with his family, and also the unknown woman a and her family whom he has also sinned against.

  1. Though her name is not known and though she is guilty for engaging Phillips in a romantic relationship, she and her family also need prayer through this time. As someone pointed out to me recently, sometimes the unknown figure never receives any prayer from the world becoming another unknown figure in the trail of pain and guilt  (back)

The Trinitarian Father UPDATE

Many of you had a chance to download The Trinitarian Father in kindle format. My small booklet has been updated and will soon be published by Covenant Media Foundation. It will provide a greater platform for the book. The kindle edition will be removed from Amazon as soon as CMF publishes it. Currently, it is still on sale at Amazon for $1.99.

The new edition will have two additional chapters and a nice cover with it. It will be more readable since it has gone through multiple editing processes. Stay tuned for updates, including a new FACEBOOK page.

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New Posts

The Christian Post was kind to publish my article “10 Reasons to Sing the Psalms.” I have since received several e-mail from folks around the country inquiring about how to go about singing the psalms. I am pleased to see a major evangelical on-line presence publishing such a piece.

Over at the Kuyperian Commentary’s beautiful new website, I have a new article entitled “Is the Christian Divorce Rate Really 50%?” Go ahead and take a look. And if you have not already done so, please subscribe to receive updates daily.

How I Have Changed

Photo: Circa 2002, Senior Year at CCC...good times. Now: Ministers, missionary, pharmacist, military chaplain, financial advisor. God has been faithful! Kenneth James Conklin, Timothy J Russell, Matthew Fisher, Tom YuI spent a couple of hours today chatting with an old friend of mine. He is now a pastor of a Lutheran congregation. He is a fine fellow whom I long to re-acquaint face to face with a pipe and a fine beer. After all these years we have kept a relatively lively relationship over the phone. We have even joined forces to write a lengthy piece combating an evangelical prohibitionist advocate of our day.

Interestingly what brought us together even more so in these last few years have been our theological journeys. We both attended a fundamentalist college, but even back then we were already pursuing dangerous literature. One time he brought a book back from home that had a warning sign on its first page written by his mother. The first page stated that we were to be careful as we read this book for it was written by a Calvinist. Lions, and tigers, and Calvinists, oh my!

How far we have come! It has been over 10 years since we parted those glory college days, and now we both are pastoring healthy congregations. We are in different theological traditions, but very rooted in our Protestant commitments. Beyond that, we are rooted in a vastly historic tradition.

As I pondered that conversation I wondered just how much I have changed over this last decade. I went from a revival preacher to a liturgical minister. Now don’t get me wrong, I long for revival, I just don’t long for the same type my brothers long for. This revival I long for is filled with beautiful images, a pattern-filled story, tasty bread, and delightful wine; church colors, rituals– in the best sense of the term—and lots of feasting. While my fundamentalist brothers longed for the sweet by and by, and times they would gather at the river to sing of that ol’ time religion. Those romantic days no longer appeal to me.

How have I changed? In so many ways! But my changes were not just theological. I have held the same convictions I have today on a host of issues for over 10 years. My changes were more situational and existential (and normative for the tri-perspectivalists out there). My reality has changed. I now treasure different things that I did not treasure a decade ago. You may say marriage does that, but the reality is I have taken my sola scriptura to the next level. I have begun to see its applicability beyond the sphere of the mind. The arm-chair theologian no longer seems admirable. Even marriage carries a symbolic significance to me. This is not just a privatized institution; it is, to quote Schmemann, “for the sake of the world.” Yes, I have changed.

I have also changed existentially. I have learned to delve deeply into personal piety and have found it refreshing. In the past my piety led me into the valley of pietism. It was discouraging; pessimistic. Now my piety keeps me in green pastures. My existential struggle with doubt is no longer a reality. I have found objectivity in the most unlikely places. They have kept me secure and alert to my own tendencies; to the idols that I have failed to crush. Jesus has become more than an intellectual pursuit, but the heart of the issues, because he is the heart of history.

Yes, I have changed since my college days. I would like even to affirm that this is the new me; a “me” broken by idolatry and restored and renewed by word, water, and wine. Thanks be to God!

Imitative Theology

We are imitators by nature. God made us this way. We are, after all, image-bearers. To copy is human. We know this in a very profound way when we become parents. Children very early on begin to reflect our temperament and repeat our most cherished lines ( a frightening idea at times).

My daughter recently put diapers on her set of Curious George monkeys. She saw my wife changing our little one time and again, and of course, she did what she thought was normal: imitate. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Well, not always. Sometimes it is the sincerest form of idolatry.

Many have made fine contributions to the nature of idolatry in our day. Beale’s labors on a theology of idolatry is the most sophisticated demonstration of this. Professor Beale argues that idolatry is theological imitation. People become what they worship, and in this becoming, they are transformed into lifeless idols. They cease to hear and to see. They become imitators of death (Ps. 115:4-8). They transfer trust from Yahweh (life) to idols (death). And in this transfer, they become theologically de-humanized.

Imitation of the Triune God is the sincerest form of honor to that God. Other imitations are just cheap expressions of idolatry. You can only serve one master. Choose you this day.

Why Most Christians Should Use Facebook!

It is likely that you are a Facebook user. In fact, over one billion people are on Facebook. And of course, it is likely that you are reading this article because a friend linked to it on their Facebook page. So the majority of you do not need to be persuaded. The small and insistent bunch that will not succumb to the technological and peer pressure may do well to continue on a perpetual Facebook fast. But there is another group of Christians out there that simply haven’t joined for lack of knowledge of the benefits Facebook can offer. As a friend, you may have to print them a copy of this piece, or send them a link via e-mail.

The reason I did not state “all Christians” in the title of this article is because there are legitimate reasons for some Bible-believing Christians to stay away from this tool. And that is precisely what Facebook is: a tool. I agree with Dr. Al Mohler that “Social networking is like any new technology.  It must be evaluated on the basis of its moral impact as well as its technological utility.” We are all called to be stewards of God’s gifts. Money is a tool for good, but the love of money is the root of all sorts of evil. In like manner, Facebook can be a tool for good, and I am arguing that if used wisely it will be.

I am in the redeeming business. I usually prefer to begin with how something can be redeemed before I talk about its dangers. Dr. Mohler suggests ten ways for safeguarding the social networking experience. You can read them. They are helpful and can keep us and our children from abusing something that is so ubiquitous. Before you read those, however, consider how Facebook may actually be a constructive tool in the Kingdom of God, one that can benefit you, your Church and community:

First, Facebook offers invaluable information about loved ones. A couple of days ago as I was leaving the office I scanned briefly through the updates and discovered that the son of a dear friend was about to enter into surgery. She asked for prayer. As I drove home I petitioned to our gracious God on behalf of this little child. Without Facebook I don’t think I would have known about this surgery in time. I could multiply these experiences. Facebook has brought closeness with not only loved ones, but dear friends and their families.

Second, Facebook has provided me tremendous counseling opportunities. I already have a distinct call as a pastor to counsel my flock, but if someone outside my community desires 5-10 minutes of my time seeking wisdom on a personal issue I have the luxury to offer it through this tool. We are all called to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. I have done both regularly because of Facebook.

Third, Facebook offers exposure to new ideas. This may not seem appealing, but I have always believed that Christians need to frequently visit C.S. Lewis’ wardrobe. They need to be exposed to ideas that confront their theological paradigms. Of course, sometimes these FB discussions can lead to unfortunate and uncharitable debates that consume a lot of our time, but again I want to redeem Facebook (see Mohler’s list for safeguarding).

Fourth, FB provides a venue to encourage others with words of comfort (see #1). Many have been encouraged by biblical passages and quotes that speak directly to a unique circumstance in their lives. At the same time, the same venue can provide a proper rebuke to our unpleasant and ungodly attitudes. There are pastors and godly parishioners whose FB status I read daily for comfort and rebuke.

Fifth, FB can be a source of intellectual stimulation. I can’t tell you how many books I have purchased or downloaded on Kindle (another useful tool for the kingdom) due to the sample quotes posted on FB. For those with a book budget this can be a temptation, but again I am in the redeeming business.

Finally, FB is inevitable. “Hey, everybody’s doing it!” Seriously, everybody! Is this a good reason to do it? In this case I believe it is! Many Churches, Ministries, Charitable Organizations, Event Planners, all have their own FB page. Of course, you don’t have to be on top of everything, just be a lurker! But at least have a FB presence. FB serves a multitude of purposes, and can in fact facilitate communication, fellowship, and much more.

Facebook has been a tremendous tool for good. And as tool, it fulfills Dr. Mohler’s requirements, since it is morally impactful and technologically useful. So go ahead, start an account and join us!