For it is by grace you have been saved...

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Reflections on Vacation Bible School

It seemed somewhat ironic (perhaps Providential) that my brothers of the Tyndale League posted this satirical VBS poster on the Sacred Sandwich site at about the same time we were getting ready to start our own VBS.

For the last several years we’ve made the conscious effort to move away from the theme/entertainment oriented VBS material to something that is more Biblically centered. We’ve been using material from John Piper’s Desiring God Ministries, and have liked the content very much.

However, because we don’t have all the flashy theme decorations, games, snacks, etc. it seems that interest has waned. Not only among potential students, but even among some of our workers.

This year the downward trend has been especially glaring since we had the misfortune of having our VBS the same week as at least three other churches, including two of the largest in town. Of course, they have all the fun and games, and we just have some Bible teaching (there are still crafts, music, recreation time, etc. Just much more low key, with the emphasis on the Bible teaching).

Here’s my problem. I’m still convinced that we are doing the right thing. I’m still sold on the idea of placing the “Bible” part of Bible School above the entertainment. But what good is it if no one comes?

My brother-in-law recently pointed out some good articles from Focus on the Family about how entertainment has shaped our culture, including our church culture. (click here and here to read some of those) We’ve known for years that today’s culture is more media/entertainment oriented than ever before. And yet, our response so often has been to give in and try and compete on the world’s level. People are fixated on entertainment, then let’s make church entertaining. In the end, we have done nothing but “dumb down” the church, the gospel message, etc.

Yet, the people say, look at the crowds we draw. Show movie clips on Sunday morning and folks love it. Do rated R movie nights and they come by the droves. Hey, let’s even do Bible Study down at the local pub, folks will love that. Where does it end?

Maybe this is just one guy whining because we have smaller crowds, smaller VBS than the “other guys.” I don’t know. I don’t think so. I think I’m just thinking along the lines of C H Spurgeon when he addressed the First Conference of the Pastor’s College Evangelical Association in April of 1888. (Yes, the problem is that old). He said this:

Within suitable bounds, recreation is necessary and profitable; but it never was the business of the Christian church to supply the world with amusements. Did Christ found his church that it might offer to the public tableaux vivants, and living wax-works? … There is a bill extant which states that next week there is to be a “Punch and Judy” show in the same place of worship (so-called)! This is to go on side by side with the preaching of thy bleeding sacrifice, O Christ of God! No, brethren, let me correct myself: the preaching of Christ usually ceases when these frivolities come in. These things are so opposed in spirit, that one or the other will have to be dropped; and we know which it will be. What is to be next done in our chapels? To what length of tomfoolery will ministers of the gospel yet go? … Brethren, we are not here to play away our time, but to win souls for Jesus and eternal bliss. By the solemnities of death, and judgment, and eternity, I beseech you, keep yourselves clear of the follies, the inanities of the day.

I pray we would listen to that Prince of Preachers word of warning, whether we’re talking about VBS, worship services, or whatever. There is a time and place for fun. I would even suggest we can have some fun in church (shock of shocks). But our primary focus should always be on Christ and Him crucified and on the proclamation of His Word for His Glory in all things.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Re-inventing the Wheel

I’ve been reading a couple of books lately about the church, what it should be, etc. (one will be here as a review shortly). I was getting a bit frustrated by this penchant we have to make everything new and “relevant”, when our greatest need is simply to be faithful to the testimony of Scripture. To be a biblical church is more important, and I think more useful, than to be the new, hip, hap’nin place the world loves to come to.

Just as I was trying to put some of these thoughts down, I happened to read the “weekly dose of Spurgeon” over at Pyromaniacs. Lo and behold, the Prince of Preachers already said some things about this very subject.

Kind of ironic. Here I was thinking about the fact that the church shouldn’t need to “re-invent the wheel”, and now I find myself thinking the same thing about this post. Why offer my own thoughts, when they’ve already been said better. So here are Pastor Spurgeon’s words. (you can read the Pyro post and its comments here)

In these days we are rather overdone with "great thinkers." Wherever you go you hear of "advanced thinking," "modern thought," and so forth. It is true that ten bushels of the stuff are not worth half a farthing in the estimate of those who hunger for spiritual food; but chaff takes up much room, and as the wind blows it about it excites great attention.

A fourth part of a cab of doves' dung, worth nothing in ordinary times, fetched a long price during the famine in Samaria; and to-day, when there is a famine of true theological learning, a great fuss is made concerning the crude speculations of vainglorious "thinkers."

I do not believe the apostle ever tried to think upon religious matters otherwise than as the Spirit of God taught him. He was content to abide within the circle of inspiration. I pray that we may never travel beyond our orbit, and quit the divine circuit of revelation. I find enough in my Bible to think about without going beyond that sphere.

If we should ever exhaust Holy Scripture, we might then try to think something "as of ourselves"; but as we shall never do that, we may be satisfied to tarry in revelation as in a land which floweth with milk and honey.

Let us not aim at being original thinkers, but at being witnesses and heralds of what God says to men. Our Lord Jesus strove not to be an original thinker, for he said, "My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me."

The Holy Ghost does not speak as an original thinker; for the Lord Jesus said, "He shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you."

As we have reminded you before, the original thinker of the Bible is one of whom it is said, "When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own." We are not wishful to emulate him in such originality. We are not sufficient to think anything as from ourselves!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Just a Prayer

Since tomorrow marks the 500th birthday of the great Reformer John Calvin, I thought I would simply share a prayer from that devoted servant of God. I think it's in a man's prayers that we see his true heart, and this is certainly true of Calvin. He was a man with a passion for the glory of God in all things, completely overwhelmed by God's grace. To this prayer I simply say: AMEN.

Grant, Almighty God, that, since to a perverse, and in every way a rebellious people, thou didst formerly show so much grace, as to exhort them continually to repentance, and to stretch forth thy hand to them by thy Prophets, — O grant, that the same word may sound in our ears; and when we do not immediately profit by thy teaching, O cast us not away, but, by thy Spirit, so subdue all our thoughts and affections, that we, being humbled, may give glory to thy majesty, such as is due to thee, and that, being allured by thy paternal favor, we may submit ourselves to thee, and, at the same time, embrace that mercy which thou offerest and presentest to us in Christ, that we may not doubt but thou wilt be a Father to us, until we shall at length enjoy that eternal inheritance, which has been obtained for us by the, blood of thine only-begotten Son. Amen.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Going Forward By Looking Back

I've shared on this blog before about the value in looking back (read here and here). Recently, I've been reminded again of the value of that occasional backward glance.

My last post, obviously, was about our 20th Wedding Anniversary. Certainly, we've enjoyed looking back at the last 20 years, reminding ourselves of the glorious grace of God we've seen over and over.

Then, last week my folks came and spent a few days with the kids so Cheryl and I could go spend some time together. We had a wonderful time just being with each other, visiting a couple places we did on our honeymoon, reflecting on how things had changed, etc. One of the things we did while on that trip was have one of those “old fashioned” pictures taken. Aside from just being fun, the whole thing reminded me again of the value of looking back. In a day when everyone seems to be looking for the next “new” thing, trying to be contemporary and “relevant”, we occasionally need to be reminded that looking back may be more “relevant” to our walk of faith.

Trying to reach a wayward people, God says through Jeremiah: “Thus says the LORD: ‘Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls’” (Jer. 6:16, ESV). There is rest in the ancient paths; that is the ways of God and His Word.

John Gill writes of that text: “Now, in religious things, the Scriptures are the way mark to direct us which way we should take: if the inquiry is about the way of salvation, look up to these, which are able to make a man wise unto salvation; these show unto men that the way of salvation is not works of righteousness done by them, but Christ only: if the question is about any doctrine whatever, search the Scriptures, examine them, they are profitable for doctrine; they tell us what is truth, and what is error: if the doubt is about the matter or form of worship, and the ordinances of it, look into the Scriptures, they are the best directory to us what we should observe and do.”

Again, as I’ve said in those previous posts, I like some “new” stuff. I like Newsboys and Flame as well as John Newton and Fanny Crosby. I like John’s MacArthur and Piper as well as John’s Calvin and Edwards. I’m not saying that God has only worked in the past.

But when we want to check our progress and advancement in the things of God, it’s often beneficial to look back, to see where we’ve been, to see if we are in line with the ancient paths. To quote one of the “new” guys: "It’s time/ press stop and rewind/ go back roll back right now/ with creeds and church history/ lets stop and see if we missed a beat." (from Flame-Rewind)

Cheryl and I enjoyed looking back over the last 20 years, rejoicing in God’s blessings, re-examining various struggles, etc. In all, we re-affirmed that we are on the “right course” in our family. The church family needs to make the same evaluations from time to time. Let’s compare ourselves to those “old fashioned” pictures and be sure that we are remaining true to the faith, and that our forward movement is faithful to the ancient paths God has called us to walk in.