Hymnus Deo

Name:
Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Sunday, November 30, 2008

WMAG

I was listening to one of our local radio stations, WMAG, during lunch today, because they have been playing all Christmas music. (Those of you familiar with the station, fear not - I don't normally listen to it.) I was surprised to hear the announcer, in between songs, read the passage in Luke 2 that describes the appearance of the angels to the shepherds. It may be Christmas, but I wouldn't have expected a secular station to openly read Scripture on air.

Throughout the year, when this station isn't playing Christmas music, they're playing what they call "pop-rock" - though there's nothing "rock" about it. The contrast in style is itself noticeable. For instance, when I was a teenager and listened to the station (way back in the 80's), it wasn't uncommon to hear Johnny Mathis's song "Chances Are". Now I hear them playing Johnny Mathis's Christmas songs, but they wouldn't play him the rest of the year. Why the change, I wonder? It certainly isn't because there has been lots of better music made since then. Something about Christmas makes the difference in the popular imagination.

I like the fact that I can listen to Christmas music at work and hear styles that are normally ignored by secular radio the rest of the year. Not only does this include jazz styles, but also classical choral and hymn styles. It's because our Christmas practice is rooted in history, and therefore carries with it the musical styles that gave shape to our celebration. And our Christmas practice is rooted in history because Christianity isn't a religion comprised mainly of abstract concepts, but it is an historical religion. History is key to understanding God's working in the world. Of course, I doubt the average nominal Christian or pagan running a radio station could articulate that. Nonetheless, the change in music is a welcome change, and it sure beats the garbage that secular radio plays most of the time.

Perhaps the biggest contrast, however, is in the lyrics. I like Christmas time, in part, because secular stations by default find themselves proclaiming the Gospel. The rest of the year, however, they proclaim a delight in those things that stand opposed to the Law of God, most specifically in their promotion of adultery and sexual immorality. They don't seem to notice the contradiction, no doubt because they are holding to an American religion that contains elements of Christianity, but believes that God doesn't really take His own Law that seriously. Whatever way the Church goes, so goes the broader culture, and that includes the cheesiest of radio stations. So long as the churches in our community preach a watered down "gospel", so long will the Gospel be misinterpreted by those outside the Church.

And so we continue to have reason for concern. Nonetheless, the Gospel is being preached, however imperfectly. So often we complain, and rightly so, about the state of our nation or communities. But at this time of year, I find myself encouraged. We are in a bad way. But we still live in a place and time when the Gospel can be proclaimed publicly. In fact, we still have a national celebration in honor of the Saviour of the world taking on flesh and blood, no matter how many people celebrate for the wrong reason. With Paul, we can rejoice that, no matter the motivation, Christ is still proclaimed (Philippians 1:18).

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Isaac Watts

It is the end of the day. But as of right now, it is still November 25, 2008, which means it is still the 260th anniversary of the death of English minister and hymn writer Isaac Watts. Here is one of my favourite hymns by him.

HOW SWEET AND AWEFUL IS THIS PLACE

How sweet and aweful is this place
With Christ within the doors,
While everlasting love displays
The choicest of her stores!

Here every bowel of our God
With soft compassion rolls;
Here peace and pardon bought with blood
Is food for dying souls.

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.

Pity the nations, O our God!
Constrain the earth to come;
Send Thy victorious Word abroad,
And bring the strangers home.

We long to see Thy churches full,
That all the chosen race
May with one voice, and heart and soul,
Sing Thy redeeming grace.

http://www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/h/s/hsweetaw.htm

Sunday, November 23, 2008

More Church Crime

I mentioned on here a couple of weeks ago about attending a Lutheran church with my friends, and their van being broken into while at the church that day. Sadly, it appears that the crime at the church hasn't stopped with that. In the two weeks since, an individual has gone into the men's bathroom on a couple of occasions and scribbled profanity all over the walls of the stall, some of which was political in nature. Then, this morning someone snuck into the church and stole some items. That person was followed and subsequently arrested. The person who committed the vandalism is still on the loose.

I can't figure out why this church would be the target of so much crime. It isn't a church that takes a public political stand. In fact, traditional Lutherans are known to make a very strong distinction between church and state. I've attended this particular congregation on and off for many years. In fact, I consider it sort of a second church home. The pastors there have always made very explicit, especially in their sermons, that they believe the church is completely separate from the civil government. I know the head pastor personally, and consider him a good friend. But he is so good at keeping his political views to himself that I couldn't tell you who he voted for. I couldn't tell you what political party he's registered with, or where he stands on any issue. There are members of the congregation from various political parties, and one could find both Obama supporters and McCain supporters there.

So, while I don't know the nature of the political graffiti in the bathroom, the fact that there was any is bizarre to me. And whatever the reason for all of this, this church needs our prayers. In fact, all of Greensboro needs prayer. As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, these things are just reminders of the sad spiritual condition of our city.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Reformed Have a Strange Sense of Brevity

In the great tradition of Reformed theology, P & R Publishing has released a new work by J. van Genderen and W. H. Velema called Concise Reformed Dogmatics. How concise is it? Just over 900 pages.

Did I mention it's supposed to be concise?

http://www.wtsbooks.com/product-exec/product_id/6004/nm/Concise_Reformed_Dogmatics_Hardcover_

Andrew Peterson, etc.

I just learned this past weekend that Andrew Peterson will be doing a Christmas concert at Westover Church on December 16. Lord willing, I'll be attending. I've seen him twice before, but it's been a few years, so I'm looking forward to it. That said, thinking of Andrew Peterson reminds me of a story.

A few years back we had a couple of Contemporary Christian radio stations in the area. I was riding in my car one day and listening to one of them when Andrew's song "Nothing To Say" came on. Here are the lyrics:

Hey, Jamie would you mind driving down this road awhile
Arizona's waiting on these eyes
Rich is on the radio, and I think we ought to take it slow
Arizona's caught me by surprise

Hey, Jamie, have you heard, 'A picture paints a thousand words'
But the photographs don't tell it all
I see the eagle swim the canyon sea, creation yawns in front of me
Oh Lord, I never felt so small

And I don't believe that I believed in You as deeply as today
I reckon what I'm saying is there's nothing more, nothing more to say

And the mountains sing Your glory, hallelujah
The canyons echo sweet amazing grace
My spirit sails, the mighty gales are bellowing Your name
And I've gotten nothing to say
No, I've got nothing to say

Hey, Jamie, do you see I'm broken by this majesty
So much glory in so little time
So turn off the radio, let's listen to the songs we know
All praise to Him who reigns on high

And I don't believe that I believed in You as deeply as today
I reckon what I'm saying is there's nothing more, nothing more to say

And the mountains sing Your glory, hallelujah
The canyons echo sweet amazing grace
My spirit sails, the mighty gales are bellowingYour name
And I've gotten nothing to say
No, I've got nothing to say

Glory, glory hallelujah
Glory, glory hallelujah
Glory, glory hallelujah
hallelujah

And the mountains sing Your glory, hallelujah
The canyons echo sweet amazing grace
My spirit sails, the mighty gales are bellowing Your name
And I've gotten nothing to say
No, I've got nothing to say

Hey Jamie would you mind driving down this road awhile
Arizona's caught me by surprise

It's a beautiful song of rejoicing in God's creation. But the lyrics weren't there in the radio version in full. Someone, in process of preparing the track for play on air, had edited out a couple of lines:

So turn off the radio, let's listen to the songs we know
All praise to Him who reigns on high

Having the CD, and having listened to the song many times, I recognized the change immediately. Could it have been a one time thing? No, I heard this station play the song many times after this, and it was the same version each time. The two lines had been cut from the original version of the song.

And why? It was obvious. They didn't want anyone to get the idea to "turn off the radio". Not if it was to glory in God's creation, or for any other reason. CCM radio stations are businesses. And if you aren't listening, they can't sell commercial time slots. Worship, shmorship. Time is money.

Socialism is unbiblical. And yet there are places where certain approaches to Capitalism clash with Christianity, and this is one of those places. If Christ is not the center, then Capitalism just descends into another form of idolatry. And Christian marketing has, in many ways, become a haven of idolatry.

I am reminded of the choice, made about five years ago, on the part of the higher ups of Family Christian Stores, to start opening their stores on Sundays. Now, the days of Sabbath observance are long gone in our country, and so it was only natural that if Christians weren't going to observe the Lord's Day, then the businesses that cater to them would soon follow suit. But what got to me the most was the sale flyer I received from Family Christian around that time. In the place where the hours of the stores were listed, there was a bold announcement: "Now open in between services!"

"Who do they think they are fooling," I thought to myself. But it was soon clear to me. They were fooling darn near everyone. We worship Christian celebrities - they are above blemish in our eyes. Our worship music sounds, not like rock (if it did it would be better), but like the music made for TV commercials. And our church buildings look like office buildings.

We worship the Culture of Commerce. It should be no surprise to us that God has allowed us to get into such an economic mess.

But, in this mess, maybe it is the best time to take Andrew Peterson's advice. Maybe we should turn our eyes back to the wonders of creation and, through it, to the God of Creation. Maybe God has slowed us down in order that we may return to Him, the Author of all blessings. Maybe, just as Israel was sent into captivity due to their violation of the Sabbath, and in order that their hearts may return to Yahweh, He has done the same to us that we may return from our captivity.

We may call it a crisis, and it is, in some sense. But God calls it an opportunity, and so we should treat it as such.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Yahweh is Above the State

In his commentary on the Book of Judges, James Jordan discusses the accusations made by many modern commentators against Jael for her actions in deceiving and killing Sisera. Her behaviour, apparently, offends modern sensibilities, and therefore must have been wrong. Alas, Scripture usually cares little for modern sensibilities, and often seems to go out of its way to offend us.

Jael's actions, in fact, were fully justified. But shouldn't she have submitted to the ruling authorities, no matter who they were or what they had done? Some Christians seem to think this is the way we should relate to the government today. But Scripture nowhere teaches this, and in fact teaches the contrary. Knowing exactly when to resist the governing authorities is a difficult thing. But based on cases such as Jael, Ehud, and Daniel, it is clear that we are not only allowed to disobey the government at times. Scripture requires it.

Jordan, writing his commentary twenty years ago, makes some comments that are as relevant today as then:

“As the war of humanistic Satanism against Christianity grows more and more severe in our day, especially in the attacks on Christian schools, serious Christians need to consider ways to deceive the enemy. Vigilante-style lynchings, assassinations, and murders are not permitted in the Bible; killing, such as Ehud’s and Jael’s, is permissible in time of war, but not in vigilante form. On the other hand, deception and lying are authorized in Scripture any time God’s kingdom is under attack. The Protestant Reformers travelled throughout Europe under false names and with faked papers. They were not the first or the last Christian preachers to deceive tyrants, either. If we have to deceive and lie to bureaucrats in order to keep our churches and schools running, we must do so freely and with relish, enjoying the opportunity to fight for the Lord.”

For those who voted for he-who-shall-not-be-named, and think that this is far-fetched, an honest re-examination of the Socialistic governments throughout the world, both past and present, should clear up any confusion. Or maybe a re-watching of The Sound of Music will suffice. Nonetheless, we have been heading this way for some time - in fact, both major political parties have been - and we are stuck for another four years. Hopefully we will learn our lesson this time, though I have my doubts. Meanwhile, those who recognize the totalitarian agenda of the State will have to consider what to do as the Nanny State claims more of their lives and the lives of their children.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Dangers of Meteorology

I have posted the following on here a couple of times before, but here it is again, if you haven't read it.

We have come once again to that time of year when all wise weathermen hide in their TV stations and decline to show their faces in public until the first breath of Spring. It is their part in a local annual tradition known as Meteorologist Bashing. Here in Guilford County, North Carolina, it is the primary way in which we release our frustration over not living in a place that has more snow. It works like this. At some point when the weather begins to get colder, local meteorologists uniformly announce the possibility of something resembling what people in more northern parts of the country call "snow". Subsequent to this announcement, when it does not snow, the general populace, both in public and in private, begin pronouncing curses upon the heads of these metorologists, in disappointment over the reality that they are not, in fact, either deities or fortune tellers, and therefore unable to perfectly predict the weather. Ritual stonings to appease the snow gods, no doubt, would be a regular part of this celebration, were the locals able to lay their hands upon the meteorologists. I am pretty certain, however, that the meteorologists actually move to Florida for the winter, from which they broadcast until about March, when they move back to Guilford County until the following November, when the whole cycle begins again. It’s an unusual sort of tradition, but there it is.

Insofar as the meteorologists dared to utter the word “flurries” tonight with regard to tomorrow’s forecast, and in honor of this tradition, I felt this would be a good time to post the following fake newspaper report, which I wrote a couple of years ago.

*********************************************

LOCAL WEATHERMAN MENTIONS “SNOW” IN FORECAST, NEARLY BEATEN TO DEATH WITH FISHING POLE

GREENSBORO, NC (AR NEWSWIRE) Skip Schlopfenheimer, weatherman for local news affiliate WUSS, nearly died after being beaten hundreds of times with a fishing pole, police reported Sunday evening. The suspect, Joe Bob Wilson of Randleman, allegedly attacked Schlopfenheimer in the parking lot of WUSS Sunday afternoon. Wilson, who was caught in the act, has pled “no contest” to the charge.

“I was just crossing the parking lot, when he pulled in front of me in his pickup. He pulled his fishing rod off of the gun rack, jumped out of the truck, and started cursing at me and flogging me,” said Schlopfenheimer.

“Damn weatherman had it coming,” said Wilson. “I speak for all the people ‘round here. We’re sick of these people making promises. Skippy’s a pansy anyhows. He needed a good whipping.”

“I only mentioned “snow” once,” said Schlopfenheimer. “It was a slip. I swear it was.”

Police report that Schlopfenheimer would be dead, if his co-worker Sandy Hoffman hadn’t pulled into the parking lot a few minutes later. “Sandy’s a strong woman. She held Wilson down on the icy asphalt until we could get there.”

“All I heard when I got out of my SUV was, ‘Snow, huh, WUSS boy? Does this feel like snow to you?’”, reported Hoffman. “I knew immediately what was happening. I’ve been expecting something like this to happen for years now. Other weathermen have been smart enough to move away, to Phoenix or Chicago or something. Somewhere where the weather’s more predictable. Not Skip, though.”

Police say they have impounded Wilson’s truck, which had a snow shovel and a brand new sled in the back. The receipt was found in the glove box. “We think we know now why he was so upset,” said police.

“I would have spent that money on ice melt if I knew we were going to get this crap,” said Wilson.

After recovering, Schlopfenheimer is planning on taking a vacation, he says. “I’ll probably go to Hawaii. Volcanos are much safer than a Piedmont native’s temper.”

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Ecclesiastical Latin Term of the Week

Baptisticus terror versuum tertiorum

-- the Baptistic fear of third verses

Douglas Wilson and Christopher Hitchens

It began as a debate on the Christianity Today website. The debate has been compiled into a book, which has led to a book tour featuring both men. And lastly, there will be a movie about the book tour released next March. Here is a link to a page on the Christianity Today website featuring the trailer to the movie, along with some other things. Apparently there are more videos over on Youtube with Wilson and Hitchens as well:

http://blog.christianitytoday.com/ctliveblog/archives/2008/11/a_collision_of.html

Doug Wilson is a more patient man than me. But it's amazing how kind Hitchens is. As an Englishman, he has a large measure of social grace. However, he still doesn't seem to understand that he is that way because he came from a Christian culture. By being kind, he is borrowing from Christianity. His atheism offers no reason for him to be kind to anyone.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Some Brief Thoughts About Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Day is a couple of weeks away, so this seems like a good time to write a brief thought about it.

I think the thing that grates on me most about the current treatment of Thanksgiving is the way many have come to calling it "Turkey Day". It's true that the Pilgrims and the American Indians ate turkey. But when the day was first instituted as a yearly national holiday by Abraham Lincoln, the point was to take a day of expressing gratitude toward God for His goodness towards us as a nation. (For those of you who know your political history, let me say that I recognize that this last statement raises all sorts of questions, particularly regarding Lincoln himself, the idea of nationhood, and the idea of nationally sanctioned holidays. Suffice it to say I feel your pain, but I won't take the time to address those things now.) Despite what we may think of the current status of our nation, God has been good to us, and He deserves nothing less than our sincere gratitude. While turkey is an important part of the day, the point of the day is to feast and celebrate before God with thanksgiving. To call the day “Turkey Day” strikes me as a bit dismissive toward God, whether or not intentionally so, and the person who is uncomfortable with calling it “Thanksgiving Day”, I would suspect, has some deeper issues causing this behavior that it would be wise for them to consider. Nobility is one issue, and those who would conduct their lives in a noble way won’t make a habit of reducing everything to a common and ignoble level, whether in speech or conduct. The other issue, it seems, would simply be one of ingratitude toward God.

Secondly, it is in vogue these days to place the blame of the ills of the whole world upon the shoulders white Europeans, particularly males, and this by extension includes the United States. One way this has manifested itself has been in the demonization of those who came to “the New World”, as they called it. Much untruth has been spread in this way, and those who have bought into whatever their Leftist university professors have taught them without question need to understand that those professors often are far more concerned with towing the party line and appearing cool to their students than they are with conveying the truth about a particular matter. No one is sinless, and that includes those who came to the New World from Europe. But many interpretations of the history conveyed these days are simply false. And while the American Indians have been sinned against on many occasions (such as in the Trail of Tears), this shouldn’t lead us to villianize the Pilgrims. So far as my reference to the American Indians as such, rather than as Native Americans, goes, I’m allowed. I’m part Cherokee. Plus, scholars all agree that there was a time when the American Indians weren’t here, and so the first generation wasn‘t native. Those who have been born here since are native, but so are those of European or other descent who have been born here. So the name “Native American” strikes me as a bit of a misnomer. This, I know, isn’t politically correct, but that isn’t my concern.

The Pilgrims were a godly people, seeking to find refuge from the religious persecution of the English monarchy. While we might not agree with all they believed, or even all they did, we have much to learn from them, and we owe them immense gratitude for fighting against tyranny, and for opening up the way to freedom of worship for us, their children.

Lastly, a quite appropriate thing to do on Thanksgiving Day, I think, is to join with one’s local church in worship before God. This should include, in particular, partaking of the Holy Eucharist, or what we call the Lord’s Supper. The word “eucharist”, in fact, means “thanksgiving”. And so even as we feast with family and friends that day, it makes sense to me that we should also feast with God in partaking of His Sacrament. Few churches have worship that day, unfortunately, but there will be a couple in our area, so I hope to attend one. Seek one out, if you can. It is a good way to set apart the day to God’s glory.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

We Once Were Free; God Has Judged Us; We Have Returned to Egypt

"O LORD, I have heard thy speech, and was afraid: O LORD, revive thy work in the midst of the years, in the midst of the years make known; in wrath, remember mercy."

--Habakkuk 3:2

Election Rhyming

A few interesting election rhymes over at Doug Wilson's blog:

http://www.dougwils.com/index.asp?Action=Anchor&CategoryID=1&BlogID=6016

Saturday, November 01, 2008

The Necessity of the Church

I won't be baptized, and I will be a Christian. I'll be a Christian in my own way.

-- Clarence Day, Life With Father

Last Saturday, a very friendly couple in our neighborhood had a Halloween party, which I dutifully attended. I hadn't met the couple, and I don't know my neighbors very well, so it was an opportunity to become acquainted with some and reacquainted with others. They did a fantastic job, decorating their house and yard about as creatively and scarily as they could. Their generosity was something to be imitated, as they provided hamburgers and hot dogs from the grill, numerous sides, desserts, and drinks, without asking a penny of compensation for it all.

One couple from the neighborhood who was there I find particularly interesting, in that they attend a local Greek Orthodox church. While recent years have shown an increase of Orthodox believers in the area, with a couple of new parishes from different dioceses starting up, Eastern Orthodoxy is still a strange bird in North Carolina.

I'm a convinced Protestant, and so there are definite areas in which I disagree with the Orthodox. Nonetheless, I find they often have insights, normally due to their strong understanding of tradition, that Protestants would do well to hear and, in some cases, recover from their Catholic roots. So I'm interested in what Orthodox people have to say, especially about the church.

In talking with the wife of this couple, we discussed what her kids were up to, and whether they had followed in her Orthodox footsteps. One of her sons, she told me, claims that he is Eastern Orthodox, though he never attends the worship services of the church. He says that he and his family pray at home, and that, he thinks, is good enough. But she responded as good Orthodox would, telling him, "If you don't go to church, you're not Orthodox." Her son, it seems, wasn't especially appreciative of her response, but I was. The statement reflected what it seems to me to be the Biblical view of what a Christian is.

I think one of the most devastating notions that pervades the American church today is the idea that one can be a Christian without ever attending church. It has often been called "Lone Ranger Christianity" (though some have wisely commented that even the Lone Ranger had Tonto). There have been those since the inception of the church that believe that the organized church is an unnecessary institution. But nothing could be farther from the truth. From its beginning in the Book of Acts, the church has been an organized group, with defined leadership, and regular corporate worship.

But then the question is raised as to whether one outside the church can be saved. The most famous statement in church history about this came from Cyprian of Carthage, who said, "Nullus salus extra ecclasiam", or, "There is no salvation outside of the church." This has been debated inside and out since, and various responses have been given to the question. One can even detect some differences within Reformed circles, between the Belgic Confession and the Westminster Confession of Faith.

As a Calvinist, I assert that God's hands are never tied in this matter. If He wants to save someone outside of the church, He can. But to think that one can live in defiance of God's requirement to join with the visible body of Christ and still be a Christian is a foolish presumption. The matter is simple: Christians go to church. Those who don't have reason to doubt their salvation.