Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Organ Concerto in G

Ah, Bach!

If I knew I were to die tonight, I may only wish for four things: my copy of God's Word, my wife to be near, my journal, and access to the music of J.S. Bach.

Was there every such a steward of his talents as Bach? Was there ever one who could take the natural revelation of music that the Father has woven into the very created order and unveil it in such a way, transporting us to realms of cosmic delight?

Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli said it well:

"There is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.
Therefore there must be a God.

You either see this one or you don't.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Carpenter and the Physician

"I have been saved!" you loudly exult.

Saved from what demise, pray tell? And unto what end? This "saving" is no mere rescue in the abstract, the way a man might be rescued from a late appointment by the timely arrival of a taxicab. Of the severity of it, you cannot begin to imagine.

No, dear friends, when you ponder from whence and to what you have been saved, you have no recourse but to fall on your knees, yea, even prostrate upon your face, clenching the dust, weeping in tears of ecstatic joy and gratitude and remorse.

Can you not still feel the heat of the flames licking your feet? Have you no recollection? How quickly the thought has escaped your mind that you were dead in the crematorium of the universe, being devoured by the flames of wrath that you had earned and warranted and requested. Can you not still smell the stench of your own burning flesh, as the full recompense of all the endless years of your selfish recklessness and indulgence and rebellion now come back to greet you?

And what a greeting it was. Death, in his grim cloak and veil and his gruesome scythe, would have been a more welcome doorman than him whom you had met.

But O, what grace! Can you not still recall how the Great Physician Himself barged in while your lifeless corpse lay there and, even while you still despised Him, snatched up your body from the furnace and hoisted you out? Do not you remember? Has no one told you the tale?

Yes and indeed! Brother! Sister! Hear me! Do you not remember how that same Physician bore you across seemingly endless miles of treacherous journey outside your wanted grave, and awaiting on the far side was his home and yours? Do you not recall how your lifeless body was miraculously taken from the ashes, even while you could still feel the heat radiating from the furnace, as the skin on your arms was still terrifyingly warm? And that ugly, vile corpse that you were was miraculously remade, from a worthless heap of death and dust, to a body of glory suddenly robed in splendor? Do you remember how that Physician brought you into His home, and there you saw a multitude of seats indwelt, and there at the center that Physician sat enthroned as a King, and you were seated there at His very side? Do you recollect the suddenness of confusion and perplexity and ill-comprehension?

Oh, remember, remember, remember! Remember what you were! Remember the extremity of hopelessness from which you were rescued. Remember the utter horror of being separated from Christ, without hope and without God, on the brink of hell. May it move you to weep! May it move you pray earnestly unto the Lord of harvest for more of same stories! May it move you to exultation and thanksgiving for those saints who for countless years prayed and cried with tears of agony on your behalf, that what was was said of them might be said of you!

Remember our dear brother Piper who writes, "When the heart no longer feels the truth of hell, the gospel passes from good news to simply news. The intensity of joy is blunted and the heart-spring of love is dried up. But if I remember these horrible things and do believe them in my heart; if I let every remaining sin and every moment of indifference to spiritual things remind me of the smell of hell lingering in the remnants of my corruption; if I let my knees become weak as on the day when I tottered on the cliff of my doom; if I recall that apart from absolutely free grace I would be the most hardened sinner and now in the torments of hell; if all this I remember, and believe in my heart, then, oh, what a contrition, what a lowliness, what a meekness will be effected in my heart.

"To whom can I return evil for evil?...Where is the lowest sinner over whom I could feel a millimeter of superiority? Instead I become a brokenhearted leaper for joy. Tears for all my wickedness (yes, clean, middle-class, nice-boy wickedness of pride and unbelief and indifference and ingratitude and impurity of mind and worldliness of goals). Yet leaping with joy for the free and inexhaustible mercy of God."

And to what? Oh, dear friend, that you might glorify God and enjoy Him forever. May you never stop being satisfied in your Great King and Savior. May you never grow weary of ascribing unto Him the glory due his name. May you never tire of hearing the old, old story over and over again. May it never grow mundane for you to sing:

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

Yes and, for the sake of God Himself, take part in that glorious feast! He is yours to enjoy forever. Feast and be satisfied in Him! Feast and be satisfied in his gift to you "so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."

The Great Physician and Great Carpenter has crafted you from all eternity. And He has bid you come.

While all our hearts and all our songs
Join to admire the feast,
Each of us cry, with thankful tongues,
“Lord, why was I a guest?

“Why was I made to hear Thy voice,
And enter while there’s room,
When thousands make a wretched choice,
And rather starve than come?”

’Twas the same love that spread the feast
That sweetly drew us in;
Else we had still refused to taste,
And perished in our sin.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Thoughtful Orchestration

Not trying to be coy or deceptive here: this issue is one my favorite hobby horses.

I found this article posted here at Kevin DeYoung's blog.

I believe Harold Best is spot-on in his evaluation: neither the band nor the organ is to be demonized, but rather poor orchestration of any musical accompaniment is to be scorned. The point of instruments is to bolster congregational singing, not drown it out or be showy. Leave that to the concert hall on Saturday night. Performances have no right to intrude on congregational singing on Sunday morning.

Here's the article snippet:

Speaking of wise words from Harold Best, here are some good thoughts on thinking carefully about how to use (and, just as critically, not to use) instruments in corporate worship:
I want to be respectful and thoughtful in these next words, and I realize that I might be wandering into the territories and preferences of other contributors to this book. But as valuable as the instruments and sounds of the typical praise band might be, they often do little to bolster and enhance congregational song in the pure sense of physics and acoustics. They can easily overwhelm to the point where congregations no longer hear themselves sing and end up accompanying the worship band, when the reverse should be true. This does not mean praying for good riddance. That would be evil. Rather, it means that musicians who truly understand the laws of sound, the acoustical congregational voice, and the rigors of instrumental collaboration must make use of their instruments in radically different ways. I attend a church in which the worship band—especially the drummer—understands how delicate and understated their work can be. As a result, there is better singing and less watching than I have observed in so many other churches and colleges around the country. By the same token, organists must be more insightfully trained as to how the instrument is to be played beyond the often boringly slow and tedious sound masses that are enough to put a thunderstorm to sleep.
I long for the time when all instruments together comprise a worship band, where insightful musicians will come to understand the orchestrational aspect of instrumental music. I mean this: A skillful orchestrater understands that all the instruments at his or her disposal do not play all the time—no, not even the drum set. Rather, through sensitivity to the rich variety of musical contexts and, in our case, to the wide-ranging contexts of congregational song, instruments and instrumental combinations are chosen that remain in perpetual ebb and flow, showing sensitive shifts of color and texture based both on the art of musical cation and the nuances of text and context. This is not impossible; it is simply difficult. But what isn’t when it comes to doing things well? (Exploring the Worship Spectrum6 Views, 74)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Dude, Where's Your Bride?

I like almost anything Kevin DeYoung writes. He is engaging and very diagnostic. I think I resonate with this particular post because I have observed many of the same nagging trends among men my age.

By Kevin DeYoung

As I speak at different venues across the country, one of the recurring questions I get comes from women, young women in particular. Their question usually goes something like this: “What is up with men?”

These aren’t angry women. Their question is more plaintive than petulant. I’m not quite sure why they ask me. Maybe because they’ve read Just Do Somethingand figure I’ll be a sympathetic ear. Or maybe they think I can help. They often follow up their initial question by exhorting me, “Please speak to the men in our generation and tell them to be men.”

They’re talking about marriage. I have met scores of godly young women nearby and far away who wonder “Where have all the marriageable men gone?” More and more commentators–Christian or otherwise–are noticing a trend in young men; namely, that they don’t seem to be growing up. Recently, William Bennett’s CNN article “Why Men Are in Trouble” has garnered widespread attention. The point of the post is summarized in the final line: “It’s time for men to man up.” Sounds almost biblical (1 Corinthians 16:13).

Virtually every single single person I know wants to be married. And yet, it is taking couples longer and longer to get around to marriage. Education patterns have something to do with it. A bad economy doesn’t help either. But there is something even more befuddling going on. Go to almost any church and you’ll meet mature, intelligent, attractive Christian women who want to get married and virtually no men to pursue them. These women are often in graduate programs and may have started a career already. But they aren’t feminists. They are eager to embrace the roles of wife and mother. Most of the women I’ve met don’t object to the being a helpmate. There just doesn’t seem to be a lot of mates to go around.

What’s going on here? Why are there so many unmarried, college graduated, serious-about-Christ, committed-to-the-church, put-together young women who haven’t found a groom, and don’t see any possibilities on the horizon?

Maybe women have impossible standards. That is a distinct possibility in some circumstances. I’m sure there are guys reading this thinking to themselves, “I’ve pursued these young women, Kevin! And they pushed me over the edge of the horizon.” Some women may be expecting too much from Mr. Right. But in my experience this is not the main problem. Impossible standards? Not usually. Some standards? Absolutely.

On the other end of the spectrum, some women may be so over-eager to be married they make guys nervous about showing any signs of interest. There is a fine line between anticipation and desperation. Men don’t want to spot the girl they like inside David’s Bridal after their first date. The guy will panic–and be a little creeped out.

This path of prolonged singleness is a two way street. But I think the problem largely resides with men. Or at least as a guy I can identify the problems of men more quickly. I see two issues.

First, the Christian men that are “good guys” could use a little–what’s the word I’m looking for–ambition. Every pastor has railed on video games at some point. But the problem is not really video games, it’s what gaming can (but doesn’t always) represent. It’s the picture of a 20something or 30something guy who doesn’t seem to want anything out of life. He may or may not have a job. He may or may not live with his parents. Those things are sometimes out of our control. There’s a difference between a down-on-his-luck fella charging hard to make something out of himself and a guy who seems content to watch movies, make enough to eat frozen pizzas in a one room apartment, play Madden, watch football 12 hours on Saturday, show up at church for an hour on Sunday and then go home to watch more football.

I don’t think young women are expecting Mr. Right to be a corporate executive with two houses, three cars, and a personality like Dale Carnegie. They just want a guy with some substance. A guy with plans. A guy with some intellectual depth. A guy who can winsomely take initiative and lead a conversation. A guy with consistency. A guy who no longer works at his play and plays with his faith. A guy with a little desire to succeed in life. A guy they can imagine providing for a family, praying with the kids at bedtime, mowing the lawn on Saturday, and being eager to take everyone to church on Sunday. Where are the dudes that will grow into men?

The second issue is that we may simply not have enough men in the church. Maybe the biggest problem isn’t with nice Christian guys who lack ambition, maturity, and commitment. Maybe we have lots of these men in the church, but they’re all married and there aren’t enough of their brethren to go around. I don’t know which is the bigger problem, the lack of good men or the lack of men in general. It’s probably a combination of both. The church needs to train up the guys it has. And by “training” I don’t mean “clean ‘em up, plug ‘em in the singles ministry and start matching them up with a spouse.” I don’t believe most unmarried Christians are looking for a church community full of Yentas. But a church full of godly, involved, respectable, respected, grown up men? That’s a project worth undertaking.

So, what can be done about the growing tribe of unmarried women? Four things come to mind.

Everyone, pray. Pray for a joyful accepting of God’s providential care, believing that godliness with contentment is great gain. If you are single, pray more for the sort of spouse you should be than for the sort of spouse you want. Pray also for the married couples and families in your church. If you are married, pray for the single people in your church, for those never married and those divorced or widowed. All people everywhere, pray for ways to start serving the Lord now, no matter what stage of life you are in or wish you were in.

Women, don’t settle and don’t ever compromise on requiring solid Christian commitment in a husband, but make sure your list of non-negotiables doesn’t effectively exclude everyone outside of Mr. Darcy.

Churches, don’t make church one giant man cave or machismo, but think about whether your church has been unnecessarily emasculated. Do you challenge and exhort? Do you sing songs to Jesus that men can sing with a straight face? Does “fellowship” at your church always focus on activities men don’t typically excel at, like sitting around and talking about how you feel? Does your church specifically target the discipling of men–particularly young men in high school and college? Grab them young and get them growing up in their teens instead of their twenties.

Men, you don’t have to be rich and you don’t have to climb corporate ladders. You don’t have to fix cars and grow a beard. But it’s time to take a little initiative–in the church, with your career, and with women. Stop circling around and start going somewhere. It’s probably a good idea to be more like your grandpa and less like Captain Jack Sparrow. Even less like Peter Pan. Show some godly ambition. Take some risks. Stop looking for play dates and–unless God is calling you to greater service through singleness–start looking for a wife.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Ryle: Do We Really Use and Know the Bible Like We Should?

by Justin Taylor

Bishop J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) exhorts us on the importance of “Bible Reading“:

You live in a world where your soul is in constant danger. Enemies are round you on every side. Your own heart is deceitful. Bad examples are numerous. Satan is always laboring to lead you astray. Above all false doctrine and false teachers of every kind abound. This is your great danger.

To be safe you must be well armed. You must provide yourself with the weapons which God has given you for your help. You must store your mind with Holy Scripture. This is to be well armed.

Arm yourself with a thorough knowledge of the written word of God. Read your Bible regularly. Become familiar with your Bible. . . . Neglect your Bible and nothing that I know of can prevent you from error if a plausible advocate of false teaching shall happen to meet you. Make it a rule to believe nothing except it can be proved from Scripture. The Bible alone is infallible. . . . Do you really use your Bible as much as you ought?

There are many today, who believe the Bible, yet read it very little. Does your conscience tell you that you are one of these persons?

If so, you are the man that is likely to get little help from the Bible in time of need. Trial is a sifting experience. . . . Your store of Bible consolations may one day run very low.

If so, you are the man that is unlikely to become established in the truth. I shall not be surprised to hear that you are troubled with doubts and questions about assurance, grace, faith, perseverance, etc. The devil is an old and cunning enemy. He can quote Scripture readily enough when he pleases. Now you are not sufficiently ready with your weapons to fight a good fight with him. . . . Your sword is held loosely in your hand.

If so, you are the man that is likely to make mistakes in life. I shall not wonder if I am told that you have problems in your marriage, problems with your children, problems about the conduct of your family and about the company you keep. The world you steer through is full of rocks, shoals and sandbanks. You are not sufficiently familiar either with lighthouses or charts.

If so, you are the man who is likely to be carried away by some false teacher for a time. It will not surprise me if I hear that one of these clever eloquent men who can make a convincing presentation is leading you into error. You are in need of ballast (truth); no wonder if you are tossed to and fro like a cork on the waves.

All these are uncomfortable situations. I want you to escape them all. Take the advice I offer you today. Do not merely read your Bible a little—but read it a great deal. . . . Remember your many enemies. Be armed!

HT: J. I. Packer, 18 Words: The Most Important Words You Will Ever Know, pp. 40-41.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Addicted to Diversion


Addicted to Diversion and Afraid of Silence

Some people write out of their strengths; others out of their weaknesses, because they care most about what they struggle with most. I’m aware of my own temptations toward distraction and busyness, so I care about calls away from our cultural addiction to diversion.
Blasie Pascal (1623-1662) has been a good mentor on these issues. I’d recommend getting Peter Kreeft’s edition, Christianity for Modern Pagans, Pascal’s Pensees Edited, Outlined, and Explained, where his thoughts on God, man, and diversion are all gathered in one section (pp. 167-187). Kreeft writes that when he teaches this material, his “students are always stunned and shamed to silence as Pascal shows them in these pensees their own lives in all their shallowness, cowardice and dishonesty.”
Here is one line from Pascal (from #136) that it worthy of a lot of meditation::
I have often said that the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.
Kreeft’s restatements and commentary are also worth reading. For example, here is an excerpt from pp. 167-169:
We ought to have much more time, more leisure, than our ancestors did, because technology, which is the most obvious and radical difference between their lives and ours, is essentially a series of time-saving devices.
In ancient societies, if you were rich you had slaves to do the menial work so that you could be freed to enjoy your leisure time. Life was like a vacation for the rich because the poor slaves were their machines. . . .
[But] now that everyone has slave-substitutes (machines), why doesn’t everyone enjoy the leisurely, vacationy lifestyle of the ancient rich? Why have we killed time instead of saving it? . . .
We want to complexify our lives. We don’t have to, we want to. We wanted to be harried and hassled and busy. Unconsciously, we want the very things we complain about. For if we had leisure, we would look at ourselves and listen to our hearts and see the great gaping hold in our hearts and be terrified, because that hole is so big that nothing but God can fill it.
So we run around like conscientious little bugs, scared rabbits, dancing attendance on our machines, our slaves, and making them our masters. We think we want peace and silence and freedom and leisure, but deep down we know that this would be unendurable to us, like a dark and empty room without distractions where we would be forced to confront ourselves. . .
If you are typically modern, your life is like a mansion with a terrifying hole right in the middle of the living-room floor. So you paper over the hole with a very busy wallpaper pattern to distract yourself. You find a rhinoceros in the middle of your house. The rhinoceros is wretchedness and death. How in the world can you hide a rhinoceros? Easy: cover it with a million mice. Multiple diversions.
Douglas Groothuis (Professor of Philosophy at Denver Seminary) has written wisely on these issues. In his essay “Why Truth Matters Most: An Apologetic for Truth-Seeking in Postmodern Times” (JETS, September 2004) he takes his cues from Pascal:
In the middle of the seventeenth century in France, Blaise Pascal went to great lengths to expose those diversions that kept people from seeking truth in matters of ultimate significance. His words still ring true. In his day, diversion consisted of things like hunting, games, gambling, and other amusements. The repertoire of diversion was minute compared with what is available in our fully-wired and over-stimulated postmodern world of cell phones, radios, laptops, video games, omnipresent television (in cars, restaurants, airports, etc.), extreme sports, and much else. Nevertheless, the human psychology of diversion remains unchanged. Diversion consoles us—in trivial ways—in the face of our miseries or perplexities; yet, paradoxically, it becomes the worst of our miseries because it hinders us from ruminating on and understanding our true condition. Thus, Pascal warns, it “leads us imperceptibly to destruction.” Why? If not for diversion, we would “be bored, and boredom would drive us to seek some more solid means of escape, but diversion passes our time and brings us imperceptibly to our death.” Through the course of protracted stupefaction, we learn to become oblivious to our eventual oblivion. In so doing, we choke off the possibility of seeking real freedom.
Diversion serves to distract humans from a plight too terrible to encounter directly—namely, our mortality, finitude, and failures. There is an ineluctable tension between our aspirations and our anticipations and the reality of our lives. As Pascal wrote,
Despite [his] afflictions man wants to be happy, only wants to be happy, and cannot help wanting to be happy. But how shall he go about it? The best thing would be to make himself immortal, but as he cannot do that, he has decided to stop thinking about it.
Pascal unmasks diversion as an attempt to escape reality, and an indication of something unstable and exceedingly out-of-kilter in the human condition. An obsession with entertainment is more than silly or frivolous. It is, for Pascal, revelatory of a moral and spiritual malaise begging for an adequate explanation. Our condition is “inconstancy, boredom, anxiety.” We humans face an incorrigible mortality that drives us to distractions designed to overcome our worries:
Man is obviously made for thinking. Therein lies all his dignity and his merit; and his whole duty is to think as he ought. Now the order of thought is to begin with ourselves, and with our author and our end. Now what does the world think about? Never about that, but about dancing, playing the lute, singing, writing verse, tilting at the ring, etc., and fighting, becoming king, without thinking what it means to be a king or to be a man.
Pascal notes that “if man were [naturally] happy, the less he were diverted the happier he would be, like the saints and God.” Diversion cannot bring sustained happiness, since it locates the source of happiness outside of us; thus, our happiness is dependent on factors often beyond our control, so that we are “liable to be disturbed by a thousand and one accidents, which inevitably cause distress.” The power may go off, the screen freeze, or the cell phone connection may break up. Worse yet, our own sensoriam may break down as sight dwindles, hearing ebbs, olfactory awareness fades, and all manner of bodily pleasures become harder to find and easier to lose. As the Preacher of Ecclesiastes intones, “Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come, and the years draw near when you will say, ‘I have no pleasure in them’ ” (Eccl 12:1).
Diversions would not be blameworthy if they were recognized as such: trivial or otherwise distracting activities performed in order to temporarily avoid the harsh and unhappy realities of human life. However, self-deception often comes into play. In the end “we run heedlessly into the abyss after putting something in front of us to stop us seeing it.” According to Pascal, this condition illustrates the corruption of human nature. Humans are strangely not at home in their universe. They cannot even sit quietly in their own rooms. “If our condition were truly happy we should feel no need to divert ourselves from thinking about it.” Woody Allen highlights this in a scene from the movie “Manhattan.” A man speaks into a tape recorder about the idea for a story about “people in Manhattan who are constantly creating these real unnecessary neurotic problems for themselves because it keeps them from dealing with more unsolvable, terrifying problems about the universe.”
The compulsive search for diversion is often an attempt to escape the wretchedness of life. We have great difficulty being quiet in our rooms, when the television or computer screen offers a riot of possible stimulation. Postmodern people are perpetually restless; they frequently seek solace in diversion instead of satisfaction in truth. As Pascal said, “Our nature consists in movement; absolute rest is death.” The postmodern condition is one of oversaturation and over-stimulation, and this caters to our propensity to divert ourselves from pursuing higher realities.