Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Message and Messenger

What is the connection between the message and the messenger? This question invariably arises in the context of music and worship styles. It came up yesterday in my Christian Worship class. Specifically, the discussion centered on types of music appropriate in worship. It was not the usual traditional vs. contemporary argument, rather it concerned types of contemporary music appropriate in church services. On the one hand, the argument was that the message is the primary issue. Music is neutral and is only a carrier for the message. On the other hand, the argument was that music is not always neutral and the wrong message could be conveyed, even if the theology of the song was solid. Therefore, care must be given to the medium as well as to the message. Now if I had the answer that would satisfy both sides of the issue, I would offer you autographed copies of my book at an outrageous price.

This discussion stimulated our thinking about the connection between the message and the messenger, or the container or carrier of the message. My conclusion was profound and one of the students suggested I post in on my blog for both of my readers to see. Indeed, the response was so profound that I forgot what I said. But I think it was something like this: the medium (the carrier or container) of the message must be appropriate to the message. It should not be more than the message so that the medium is the main thing. I’m sure I said it better yesterday.

I wish I could give chapter and verse for my stated opinion, but all I can provide are insinuations. For example, the book of Jonah could have ended at chapter 3, but it continued another chapter showing the Lord working with His messenger who was out of sync with God’s plans. In Acts 16:17-18, Paul rebuked a demon-possessed girl who was actually speaking the truth. Apparently, it mattered who spoke the truth. Twice in the New Testament, Paul told two different audiences to “Take heed to yourself” (Acts 20:28; 1 Tim. 4:16).

I think we would all agree that the messenger does matter, although perhaps not to the same degree. Some detract from the message because of their manner of life. One needs only to think of recent and not-so-recent scandals involving prominent media ministries to see how one’s life reflects upon the message.

Spurgeon spoke to this issue quite forcefully: “Whatever ‘call’ a man may pretend to have, if he has not been called to holiness, he certainly has not been called to ministry” (Lectures to My Students, p.9). And concerning those who are ministers of the gospel, he cautioned them to be careful to guard their hearts and to be diligent in personal soul care. To them he wrote: “Having to carry the living water to others, we must go oftener to the well, and we must go with more capacious vessels than the general run of Christians” (An All-Round Ministry, p.75).

It is true that God uses flawed instruments. Were that not the case, I know of no one who would be in ministry. Yet, we must strive to be the best tool, the sharpest knife, the cleanest instrument, the most useful messenger that we can be. The medium reflects upon the message. In both, may God be glorified.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Memorial Day

This is a post published last year on Memorial Day.

Since 1999, my view of Memorial Day has been profoundly different. That year, my wife and I spent the first 2 weeks of May in France visiting missionaries from our church who had returned for a station relief assignment. The highlight for my wife was the Louvre, Versailles, and Giverny, the home and studio of Claude Monet, her favorite artist. Of course, being the dutiful husband, I tried to feign interest, but after 25 years of marriage (at that time), her expectation level was low. I will admit to being impressed with Giverny. We could have spent more time there. The house and gardens were beautiful.

The highlight of the trip for me, however, was more personal. I was anxious to visit the American Cemetery at Normandy to see the place where an uncle I never knew is buried.

As I a child, I remember seeing his photo on the wall at my grandparent’s house. There were 4 pictures: my mother as a teenager, her youngest brother’s high school graduation picture, and her 2 older brothers in their army dress uniforms. Of course I knew 3 of them, but I remember asking about the 4th one who bore an uncanny resemblance to a younger version of my grandfather. The only answer I ever remember receiving was this: “That’s your uncle James. He died in the war.” When I asked why grandma was riding in the Gold Star Mothers car with several other older ladies during the “Decoration Day” parade, it was: “Uncle James died in the war.”

I confess that I was not very curious about the affair, maybe because around the kids it was not a topic of discussion. It was only as we planned the trip to France that I was determined to find out as much as I could. My aunt had learned that he was buried at St. Mere d’ Eglise, in a temporary cemetery. All else that they knew was that he died on June 10, 1944 – 4 days after the D Day invasion. In Caen, we were told by a missionary (Dan Lacy, a great guy, now with Lord) that the remains at all the temporary cemeteries were reburied at Normandy.

In the final analysis, we have learned no more about the circumstances of his death. I have questions that, 64 years later, will likely never be answered. How did he die? We heard a rumor that he was last seen driving a jeep (I wonder if this is borrowed from the Patton story. My grandparents loved George Patton). Did he survive the initial landing on Omaha Beach or did he come later after the beach was secured?

I can only imagine the pain that my grandparents felt when the black sedan pulled up in front of their house in tiny Mogadore, Ohio. This was not an uncommon occurrence during that time, and the whole town knew when those official-looking men showed up with the horrible news.

Today, there is only one member of that immediate family left, my uncle Ken, the youngest. Grandma & Grandpa, uncle Harold, and my mom are all gone. So far, I have been the only family member to visit the grave at Normandy. That visit was one of the most moving experiences of my life. It was made all the more poignant by a remark spoken by our friends; “Ron, your uncle gave his life so I could preach the gospel in France for 33 years.”

Uncle James was weeks shy of his 19th birthday. He lies besides hundreds of those who made the ultimate sacrifice for for a cause greater than himself.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Head Knowlege?

For most of my Christian life I have heard from pulpits that “people miss heaven by 18 inches. That’s the difference between the head and the heart.” The idea is that people fail to become Christians because they have only “head knowledge, but not heart knowledge.” Now, I think I know what people mean by this, but I’m not sure that the concept is accurate. If the idea implies a failure to come to the point of submission to Christ and remain an informed pagan, then I agree. But if the intent is to downgrade propositional truth in favor of subjective impression, then that is a serious problem.

Granted, we are not to be merely repositories of theological knowledge. A purely academic knowledge of Biblical themes and facts that has no bearing on life is not particularly advantageous. However, neither is the opposite extreme of subjective impressions with no basis in fact.

A seminary professor of mine described faith as “sufficient reason to believe.” Faith is founded on truth, not fancy or fiction. There must be content to faith. It is not enough to only believe – Oprah claims to believe; she is purposely ambiguous about what she believes.

Faith must be fixed upon the facts and truths of Scripture, namely the propositional truths about the Person and work of Jesus Christ. These truths are intended to influence and form our actions.

If this is true, then it is the responsibility of the preacher to heed Paul’s words to Timothy to “Preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2). Sinners are not won to Christ and believers are not edified by the rejection of propositional truth – regardless what the leaders of the emergent church claim.

Albert Mohler speaks to this:

Churches must recover the centrality and urgency of biblical teaching and preaching, and refuse to sideline the teaching ministry of the preacher. Pastors and churches too busy--or too distracted--to make biblical knowledge a central aim of ministry will produce believers who simply do not know enough to be faithful disciples.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Latest Reads

I have recently finished 2 books (yes, I can read, and yes, I did stay within the lines). The 1st is one I have been plodding through for some time. It is Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: the Protestant Revolution from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First by Alister McGrath. At 560 pages, it took me longer to read (being a slow reader is a burden). Church history is McGrath’s forte and he does a masterful job in telling a story that needs to be told again. With the push toward “non-denominationalism” there is a tendency to lose sight of the historic roots of evangelicalism.

McGrath is a prolific author. He has written a response to Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion called The Dawkins Delusion. He is featured in Ben Stein’s movie “Expelled – No Intelligence Allowed.” If you haven’t seen that movie, you need to see it. As others have said, the interview with Richard Dawkins at the end is worth the price of the movie.

The 2nd book is a quick read that augments the former. It is The Expository Genius of John Calvin by Steven Lawson. Many people tear their garments and throw ashes in the air when Calvin’s name is mentioned. This book, however, shows Calvin as an expositor; a preacher steeped in Scripture and theology. You will learn some interesting things about Calvin’s ministry. For example, he preached without notes and his sermons were recorded live in some kind of shorthand.

Thanks to those who posted comments and to all those who read this blog. Feel free to share in the conversation.

Monday, May 19, 2008


Greetings to all. Yes, I have entered the blogosphere! Why me and why this title? Good question:

1. I have always wanted to write, but I cannot imagine anyone actually paying me to do it. Therefore, I will impose my ideas on anyone desperate enough to read them.

2. The title reflects the eclectic nature of this blog. My interests are: theology, history, contemporary culture, preaching, WWII (particularly Nazi Germany), and science fiction.

3. I am also a coffee hound. I love a good cup of coffee, yet many will think that I am a heretic because I do not favor Starbucks.

I want this to be a forum for my friends to discuss any of the matters above, as well as books and articles of interest. Prov. 27:17 says, "Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another." I hope to be sharpened by these discussions.

Thanks for taking the time.