Taking thoughts captive

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Favorite smells: mown hay, turned earth, summer rain, line-dried laundry

02 April 2011


I've done it! I've moved my blog over to Wordpress!

I simply didn't have the time or patience to deal with the formatting glitches I was experiencing here on Blogger. Please click the link above to visit the new and (I hope) improved Ascribelog!

Giving God Glory in Public Pain, Psalm 115

It's no secret that our church is going through an extremely difficult time right now. No one has tried to cover up anything or sweep anything under a rug, but the media hoopla is painful for all of us.

It would be inappropriate and unwise for me to comment more specifically on the situation in this public forum, but I mention it now only to share how remarkable God's providence has been throughout these last few months.

God has provided just the right sermons for us at just the right steps in this painful journey. And he has provided a faithful interim shepherd who preaches and speaks the truth in love.

And as I blog my way through the Psalms, it amazes me how appropriate each one seems to be to the changing situation.

As the media coverage and public criticism intensifies, it is good to read Psalm 115, which begins with this wonderful verse:

Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory,

for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!

As our collective name is dragged through media muck, we grieve not only for the damaged personal relationships and reputations and the damaged congregational reputation, but also—and especially—for the damage to Christ's church. We trust God's steadfast love and faithfulness while continuing to pray that no one individual will receive personal glory, but that in all this mess God will receive all the glory.

The next section of Psalm 115 seems particularly apt to recent media exposure and public scorn:

Why should the nations say, "Where is their God?"

Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases
(2-3, ESV).

Perhaps some members of the media delight in exposing sin within a small Dutch Reformed enclave like Pella. Perhaps some people gloat in what they view as our church's religious hypocrisy. Perhaps some unbeliever asks, "Where is their God?" Even believers can think, "Why did God allow this to happen?"

Our only response can be, "Our God reigns on high, he is sovereign over even this painful situation."

Verse three says that God does all he pleases. How can this pain please God? We don't know. But we do know that he will use it for good. Perhaps it will unify and strengthen marriages; perhaps it will unify and strengthen our church; perhaps it will unify and strengthen our federation; perhaps it will unify and strengthen Christ's church in our community; perhaps it will even help unify and strengthen Christ's church in our nation and throughout the world. We just don't know. But we can be sure it will somehow, in some way, be for good.

The next section of Psalm 115 (verses 4-8) talks about the ineffectiveness of idols and how those who put their trust in them become like them. Those who trust in anything except God are as dumb, blind, deaf, lame, and mute as an inanimate idol.

Verses 9-11 encourage believers to trust in the Lord, who is our "help and shield." Following this encouragement, the psalmist give believers these beautiful promises and prayers (excerpts from verses 12-15, ESV):

The LORD has remembered us; he will bless us;

he will bless those who fear the LORD,

both the small and the great.

May the Lord give you increase,

you and your children!

May you be blessed by the LORD,

who made heaven and earth!

God not only promises to remember us, but he also promises to bless us! And he will bless the lowly believer as well as the exalted believer. The psalmist asks God to bless us and our children, a prayer that will be fulfilled because God is the Creator God who made all things and can do all things.

Psalm 115 concludes with a reminder of God's sovereignty and a call to live with victorious praise (16-18, ESV):

The heavens are the LORD's heavens,

but the earth he has given to the children of man.

The dead do not praise the LORD, n

or do any who go down into silence.

But we will bless the LORD

from this time forth and forevermore.

Praise the LORD!

God reigns over the cosmos and over all the events of our lives! He has put us on earth and given us authority over our little areas of creation. I don't know about you, but I've had plenty of times in the last year—particularly in the last few months—when I just wanted to say, "Beam me up, Scotty!"

It isn't wrong to long for glory. Christians are called to long for our translation to glory as well as the renewal of all things. But while we're here, we are also called to live to God's glory. Our dead bodies can't witness to other people about God's glorious salvation. While we live, we can't be silent! We must praise God as long as he gives us breath, no matter what our circumstances.

That's why we're making the commitment in all of this to bless the Lord now and forever!

Praise the Lord!

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01 April 2011

Blog foes, Facebook friends

For the last three days, I've spent hours trying to format blog posts, but Blogger won't recognize line breaks, even when I type them entirely in html and insert the proper formatting. As soon as I publish, the breaks disappear. I've posted a note on my Facebook account that meditates on Psalm 115, particularly as it relates to the current situation in our church. If you want to read it, please create a Facebook account and add me as your friend.

31 March 2011

The Tub in the Living Room

There's a bathtub in my living room.

After raising four children and putting them all through private Christian school, we are finally getting to the point of being able to afford some desperately needed home repair. Our bathroom requires serious renovation; we need to replace the vinyl flooring, sub-flooring, sheetrock, sink, and...tub.

Because I struggle with chronic pain from arthritis and brachial neuritis, we've had our eyes on a moderately-priced whirlpool tub at Menard's for about the last three years. When it recently went on sale, we bought it; even though we haven't started the bathroom renovation yet and are not anywhere close to being ready to install the tub.

So it sits inside its huge cardboard box in our living room. It takes a lot of space, although it came in handy for sorting paperwork while I was working on income tax preparation. It was a little awkward when our elders came for their annual home visit. It fascinated our grandsons. It has been difficult to ignore when we've had visitors.

It reminds me of the idiom about an elephant in the living room. Writers or speakers often use the phrase to refer to a pressing issue that people choose to ignore, even though it is as obvious as an elephant in a living room.

People may say, "Nice warm day." Or they'll ask, "How 'bout them Hawks?" But they don't ask about the elephant in the living room. Meanwhile the elephant stands there, slowly swinging his trunk above the creaking boards and sagging floor joists.

It would be more helpful to discuss the elephant and help the owner remove it before it compromises the structure of the entire house with its weight (not to mention its droppings!).

As long as the tub sits in my living room, it reminds me that we all have issues that need to be faced and addressed. Although it may be painful, it is better to deal with the elephant in the living room than to ignore it.


30 March 2011

It causes me to tremble, Psalm 114

What causes the earth to tremble, firm ground to ripple, and buildings to sway?

We can talk all day about plate tectonics and continental drift, but the short answer is: God.

In beautifully poetic language and form, Psalm 114 depicts an animated earth and its elements when God delivered Israel from Egypt. Read it aloud to enjoy the fullness of its beauty!

When Israel went out from Egypt,
the house of Jacob from a people of strange language,
Judah became his sanctuary,
Israel his dominion.

The sea looked and fled;
Jordan turned back.
The mountains skipped like rams,
the hills like lambs.

What ails you, O sea, that you flee?
O Jordan, that you turn back?
O mountains, that you skip like rams?
O hills, like lambs?

Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord,
at the presence of the God of Jacob,
who turns the rock into a pool of water,
the flint into a spring of water
(Psalm 114, ESV).

The parallelism is obvious. (Parallelism is the repetition of a similar concept with different words in two subsequent lines.) The ESV Literary Study Bible says, "There is no better example in the entire Psalter of how Hebrew parallelism works and of the beauty that attends it" (p. 878).

Parallelism and other poetic devices enliven and energize this psalm. We visualize the water of the Red Sea cresting up into two giant waves that part and expose a quickly drying sea bed. We see the face of a hard gray rock melt into a rippling pool of shimmering water reflecting the sun's beams and the blue sky. We feel the excitement and wonder.

But perhaps we think: "Well, it would have been great to be the Israelites and see those miraculous events, to finally be free from slavery; but we're stuck here in this broken world with all its pain."

The reality is that we've been delivered from slavery in even more miraculous ways than the Israelites. We were dead. Now we live.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind
(Ephesians 1:1-3, ESV).

We were dead, not sick or comatose, in our sins. Is resurrecting a corpse any less marvelous than parting a sea? Ephesians 3 continues by describing God's ultimate crisis intervention:

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus
(4-7, ESV).

We do not simply exist, feebly grasping life with our fingernails while we wait for Christ to reappear and rescue us; we are alive with Christ. We have been saved and raised with him. In ways we can't fully understand, we are already seated with him in the heavenly places. When we die, our souls will go to heaven, and one day Christ will resurrect and glorify our bodies; but we don't have to wait for his grace. He is already demonstrating the immeasurable riches of his grace in his kindness toward us.

Tremble in amazement at your deliverance from the slavery of sin, which was no less remarkable than the marvelous deliverance of Israel so poetically described in Psalm 114.

Pray for grace. Pray for God to open your eyes to the immeasurable riches of Christ's grace that already exist in your life!

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24 March 2011

Ministerio Cristiano "El Pacto de Gracia"

I recently interviewed Mid-America Reformed Seminary graduate, Valentin Alpuche, regarding his urban church planting work among the Hispanic population of Chicago Heights: Ministerio Cristiano "El Pacto de Gracia" (Ministry of Christ "The Covenant of Grace"). His work is based in a storefront shared with an art gallery.
Valentin is second from the left in the front row of this group of men.
Valentin's wife, Betty, and their daughter, Jade, are in the middle chair of the front row in the above photo.
This is what Valentin said about his ministry's challenges and joys:

"There are many different challenges. The first is that a lot of second and third generation Hispanics don’t speak Spanish or they prefer to speak English. Another challenge is that once Hispanics come to America, they become even more materialistic in their worldview since having a job and a salary is what really matters, and they feel no need to have a saving relationship with God. Another factor is that because of their Catholic background Hispanics don’t see faith as a serious matter, requiring a commitment to serve the Lord in all areas of their lives. Unfortunately this same understanding is being infiltrated into many non-Reformed Spanish churches. Another aspect is that many of the immigrants are illegal. A final challenge is that we don’t have our own location in a visible area. We are praying for the Lord to provide a more strategic location."

"The main joy is to see people being saved from eternal condemnation—to see people opening their hearts to the gospel of Jesus Christ! I rejoice as much as the angels do in heaven!"

The entire interview has been posted on the website of the Seminary, and you can read it here.

23 March 2011

Already blessings, Psalm 113

Reformed Christians are fond of talking about "already" and the "not yet."

By this they mean that we already enjoy the blessings of the Christian life, but that we have not yet experienced its fullness. When we die, we leave the ravages of physical life and enter into fellowship with Christ in heaven, but we will not experience the fullness of Christ's kingdom until his return. Then the first heaven and earth will pass away and the sea will be no more; there will be a new heaven and earth and God will dwell directly with us; He will wipe every tear from our eyes and there will be no more death, mourning, crying, or pain; for the former things will pass away and he will make all things new (Revelation 21:1-5, ESV).

Many events in this world and struggles in our lives make us long for that day. Much of scripture, including many of the psalms we've looked at on this blog, point us toward that great day. But the thing that strikes me about Psalm 113 is that it isn't simply pointing to the "not yet" of future glory; it's talking about the "already" of our lives now.

Psalm 113 is a simple psalm bracketed with exclamatory praise. Its opening verses pulse with joyous praise:

Praise the LORD! Praise, O servants of the LORD,
praise the name of the LORD!
Blessed be the name of the LORD
from this time forth and forevermore!
From the rising of the sun to its setting,
the name of the LORD is to be praised!
(1-3, ESV).

Certainly these verses convey the everlasting nature of God and his praise; his name is to blessed "from this time forth and forevermore" (the "already" and the "not yet"). But this opening reinforces the "already" aspect by mentioning the rising and setting of the sun.

In addition to the beautiful promises reflected in the second paragraph above, the penultimate chapter of the Bible tells us that the New Jerusalem "has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb" (Revelation 21:23, ESV).

If there will be no sun or moon in the new creation, then Psalm 113:3's reference to the rising and setting of the sun clearly conveys the concept of praising God's name in the here and now.

After this jubilant opening, Psalm 113 turns our gaze upward to focus on our exalted and sovereign God.

The LORD is high above all nations,
and his glory above the heavens!
Who is like the LORD our God,
who is seated on high,
who looks far down
on the heavens and the earth?
(4-6, ESV).

From the highest heaven, our glorious God reigns over all the nations. He does not ignore current events; he "looks far down" on the obedient hosts of angels in heaven as well as the rebellious nations of people on earth. This means God is firmly in control, even over all the countries being torn apart by internal conflict.

God sees the suffering of his people, many of whom need not wait until their translation to glory for relief and blessing.

He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes,
with the princes of his people.
He gives the barren woman a home,
making her the joyous mother of children.
Praise the LORD!
(7-9, ESV).

In his great mercy, God raises the poor from the dust of poverty and lifts the needy from the ash heap of mourning. He seats them with the princes of his people! In his marvelous compassion, God grants the barren woman a joyful home filled with the sweet sounds of children.

These are not "pie in the sky, wait until you die" promises. These are blessings that God gives to believers here and now in the "already" of his kingdom.

No wonder the psalmist concludes as he began: "Praise the LORD!"

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22 March 2011

South Orange County Church planting effort changes frequency and venue

After nearly two years of monthly mid-week home studies, South Orange County Reformed Fellowship is stepping forward in faith with weekly Sunday evening public meetings.

Beginning March 13, 2011, the group will meet each Sunday at 5:00 PM for a time of prayer, fellowship and Bible study at the San Felipe de Jesus Chapel, located at 26010 Domingo Ave. in Capistrano Beach, CA.

Under the supervision of the Oceanside URC consistory, Rev. Jon Moersch carries out the church planting work in a tent-making capacity. Rev. Moersch explains that the change in frequency and venue has been under consideration for some time.

“For the past several months, we have been thinking that a midweek home Bible study, held once a month, made it difficult for visitors to come,” he says. “Our thoughts were that if we could get a public facility and meet every Sunday evening, we could potentially draw a larger number of people.”

Obstacles to making the changes were finding a suitable location and the financial burden of renting a facility. But the Lord overcame those obstacles in an amazing way.

“Thankfully, I was able to find a small chapel near the beach that was available on Sunday evenings,” Rev. Moersch relates. “The building is owned by a large Roman Catholic church up the road and they use it largely for Spanish language mass. The priest was extremely gracious and is allowing us to use the facility for six months at absolutely no cost!”

The group’s initial goal is to spread the word concerning the work. A closely related goal is to gain as many core members as possible.

“Currently there are three families (not including my own) that are seriously committed to planting this church,” says Rev. Moersch. “Please pray for us that the Lord would see fit to bless our labors and add to our numbers.”

Oceanside’s pastor, Rev. Danny Hyde, reports that the Oceanside consistory approved South Orange County Fellowship’s changed venue and frequency for six months.

“If we grow to 6-10 families (singles, couples, entire families), we will proceed with public worship.” Rev. Hyde writes. “If not we will bring this labor to an end after nearly three years.”

The consistory of Oceanside URC adopted a church planting plan for the area in October of 2008. In February of 2009, Jon Moersch (member of the core group and previous Oceanside intern) was ordained to the work. The monthly home meetings began in San Clemente in May of 2009.

“For the past year and nine months,” writes Rev. Hyde, “Pastor Jon has labored with minimal success in terms of numerical growth, although we know his labors are not in vain eternally.”

The consistory of the Oceanside URC remains convinced of the desperate need for a confessionally Reformed congregation in South Orange County, CA.

“While we remain convinced of the need, only the Lord can grant success,” writes Rev. Hyde. “Will you boldly pray with and for us: ‘Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success!’ (Ps. 118:25)?”

Rev. Hyde requests not only the prayers of God’s people, but also the transmission of information: “We need your help propagating this info to anyone you may know in South Orange County who is not a member of a Reformed congregation.”

Readers are encouraged to point area family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers to the South Orange County Fellowship’s blog.

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on page 17 of the March 16, 2011 issue of Christian Renewal.