Archive for the ‘From the Heart’ Category

Losing Old Church Buildings

Posted: December 8, 2010 by joelmartin in Christ & Culture, From the Heart, History, Worship

I’m hearing that the court case against the Virginia CANA churches may not go well. Truro, Falls Church and others may be forced to leave their historic buildings. I’ve never been a fan of the “defend the property” strategy, but this is still very sad news. Turning these buildings over to heretics is akin to the North African Church falling to Islam a long time ago.

With that said, it occurred to me today that one reason that it is such a blow to lose these venerable buildings is because there is so little chance of replacing them in our lifetime. Our theology of architecture is so impoverished, and the buildings that we typically build as Protestant churches are generally so awful, that losing these old buildings is a great tragedy.

Most new church buildings are ephemeral, not durable. They are ugly, functional, “multi-purpose” facilities where people worship in the gym. There is generally no art, no stained glass windows and nothing that would really differentiate these buildings from the prison-like school buildings that we build today. On the other hand, places like Truro have a simple elegance and exude a sense of tranquility and “churchiness” that is lacking in most modern Protestant facilities. It seems that Catholics have kept their senses and are producing some great buildings even today. I live down the street from one and I’ve seen many others, such as the gorgeous Holy Apostles in Meridian, Idaho.

So if we are going to continue to think that buildings don’t matter or that we need to build the cheapest, ugliest thing we can get away with and call it good, then losing the old places like Truro (and the many, many United Methodist parishes in Virginia that are gorgeous and given over to heresy) is a very sad event indeed.

I think Horne should have heeded his suspicions in his first words, “Perhaps I’m over-reacting”. Read Piper’s brief post:

And then compare with Horne’s reaction. You woulda thunk Piper gave an apologetic for WWI from Horne’s response. He honestly sounds like he is ranting and raving and it is way out of bounds for him to take it out on Piper. Piper was merely giving a brief historical background of how we got Veterans Day, something that we can all benefit from in a historically illiterate society. Piper’s last words show proper empathy with the soldier,

“There have been agonizing choices the veterans have had to make. May they (and we all) turn to the cross of Christ for the final resolution of what we have done. I am thankful they embraced the risk”

This simple empathy– acknowledging complexities, horrors, and sacrifice, without seeking to pretend to know such plight firsthand, nor qualify thanks according to one’s notions of just war contrasts Horne’s tone:

“There may be a time and situation in which to thank veterans for defending our freedoms. When someone from Mexico or Canada tries to invade and we have to rise to the defense of the homeland, it would be totally appropriate.  But rather than thanking them, we usually need to tell them how glad we are that they survived the attack on freedom that regularly comes from our overlords and their volunteer cheerleaders in the Church of King Jesus.”

These qualifications on when to either thank veterans or inform them of the corrupt system that placed them there makes Horne sound like an arrogant, ungrateful elitist. BTW, the only scenario he provides as meeting his litmus test for thanksgiving would deny gratitude to just about everyone who has died in battle.  Mr. Horne simply needs to say, “Thank You”, and instead reserve his vitriol for the corrupt government if he is so convinced. Don’t deny thanks to our vets because you disagree with Wilson’s foreign policy or that they happened to lay their life down in a battle that didn’t involve Canada or Mexico.

Piper wrote a very brief piece expressing his personal thanks. Piper is well aware of the complexities, as is most of the readership, and the veterans themselves. Our vets don’t need a lecture on just war theory or be enlightened by the profound news that the poweres that be may have missed the mark in foreign policy. Horne’s expose of failed foreign policy and pointers on when to give thanks to vets fails my litmus test for the decency that is required on this day for our vets. Horne intends to be prophetic, but the weary soldier simply needs our quiet empathy.

Honoring John Piper

Posted: October 6, 2010 by Rick Hogaboam in Biography, Calvinism, From the Heart, Theology

Justin Taylor and Sam Storms served as editors of a book that was released at the 2010 Desiring God “Think” Conference. The book is titled, “For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper”. Check out the lineup of contributors and the video of John Piper being presented with the book here.

I add myself to a great multitude of grateful saints for the ministry of John Piper. I was gifted on Christmas 2001 with the book, “Pleasures of God” from Pastor Ty Van Horn of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Manhattan Beach, where I served as a Pastoral Assistant/Intern. I have forever been changed by that and subsequent books and sermons by John Piper.

Here is a list of things I most admire about Pastor John Piper:

  1. His Godliness. Some fault Evangelicals for being overly pietistic, and John Piper confirmed in me that we are not pietistic enough in a Godward sense of emoting. Whenever folks accuse me of just being a pietistic Evangelical, I gladly bear the criticism. John Piper taught me, through the voice of C.S. Lewis, that our emotions are not too strong, but rather too weak. Piper’s words are forever branded in my heart and mind, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him”.
  2. His Exegesis. Piper wants everyone to see his preaching as the result of careful exegesis. Piper is committed to Holy Scripture and is captivated by it. Piper said that the best advice for a preacher is to be incredibly excited about the Bible. I may not agree with everything Piper says, but I don’t doubt for one minute that his convictions flow from hours of burning the candlelight before Holy Writ.
  3. Preaching as Exultation.  “The Supremacy of God in Preaching” is the greatest book I have ever read on preaching. Piper taught me that preaching is worship. Piper models this. He is known for often looking upward in a heavenly gaze when he preaches and I can’t help but think he is preaching to God’s glory above all else, before an audience of one. I have learned that the most important person to please when I preach is God Himself.
  4. Arcing. For more on arcing, visit
  5. Love for the Unborn. Piper is a champion for the dignity of human life as reflecting the image of God. He has been arrested for protesting for life and has been bold enough to call out President Obama on the abortion issue. See this clip. I have taken up Piper’s tradition of preaching on Life every year during Sanctity of Life Sunday. I also walk in the annual Boise Walk for Life along with my family.
  6. Love for the Afflicted and Suffering. My theology of suffering was non-existent before I devoured Piper’s resources. While I affirm that Satan and his minions are at work in much suffering, I know that it is all sifted through God’s loving hands. I had the opportunity to attend The Bethlehem Institute and had some preliminary correspondence with Piper about starting a ministry for the disabled at Bethlehem Baptist. He was excited about such prospects. God closed that door and I never did go, but Piper’s love for the disabled, afflicted, and suffering is a healthy antidote to the “Health and Wealth” crap that passes itself off as Christian. Our family walks in the annual Boise Buddy Walk for Downs Syndrome and my pastoral care to the afflicted and suffering is much indebted to John Piper.
  7. Love for Global Missions. “Missions exists because worship doesn’t” says Piper. It is no secret that Piper loves the lost, was a friend of Ralph Winter, wrote a book on missions,  and has featured missionaries to his annual conferences.
  8. Racial Harmony. Piper has retained his residence in the “dangerous” urban area of Minneapolis. He has adopted Talitha, a black girl, and has reached out to the African immigrant community in the Twin Cities. Rather than “white flight”, Piper has embraced ministry to all who surround him.
  9. A Kinder Glorious Calvinism. Piper could care less if the “Truly Reformed” label him “Essentially Reformed”. I couldn’t care less as well. When Piper labels himself a 7 point Calvinist, he does so to see God’s glorious creation before, and God’s glorious consummation at the end. The glory of God bookends the doctrines of grace. Like Piper, I am an unashamed “Calvinist”, but I wear such a label as a humble  sinner who seeks God’s doxology above all else. Calvinism must be stirred within the broader framework of Scripture and the Glory of God.
  10. Theological Honesty. Love him or hate him, Piper is an eclectic dude theologically. His thoughts on Law and Gospel have evolved, he believes in the continuation of Spiritual Gifts, and his eschatology always seems to be intentionally ambiguous. He has fought against Open Theism in his own denomination, is complementarian, and supported an amendment to the bylaws of his church that would allow those baptized as infants join the membership of the church. He has caused a stir by inviting the likes of Doug Wilson, Mark Driscoll, and Rick Warren to his annual conferences. Don’t confuse this charity with theological indifference, but a canny discernment to be inclusive of those who keep the main thing the main thing. He even moderated an eschatological roundtable not to long ago between Sam Storms, Doug Wilson, and Jim Hamilton. Piper models charity to those within the broader Evangelical church, seeing the strengths among those he might disagree with on other issues. I try to model this healthy ecumenical Spirit. I am also an eclectic Evangelical, holding convictions on a host of theological issues that wouldn’t place me perfectly into any one circle. It’s better to be Theologically honest than a cross-fingered Evangelical who affirms doctrinal elaborations on paper that they really don’t believe. Theological credibility is important and I hope to be bold enough to state what I believe the Bible to be teaching and also humble enough to admit that certain things are a work in progress. This discernment that Piper has modeled teaches me to keep the Gospel front and center and to be gracious on secondary issues. My friends in the current pastorate consist of colleagues from the Foursquare Church, Nazarene Church, United Reformed Church, CREC, PCA, and OPC.

Well, I was teary-eyed seeing Piper accept the book on stage. I am grateful for him and am convinced that he will go down as one of the greatest Pastor-Theologians our country has ever seen.

Books on Death

Posted: September 27, 2010 by joelmartin in Book Reviews, Devotional, From the Heart, Suffering, Theology

Since my Mom died, the subject of death interests me in more than an academic fashion. I have pulled out some books on death, grief and the afterlife that I plan to read or skim in order to solidify in my mind what is going on. One thing that is key to remember in this situation is that my Mom is now experiencing life after death but that it isn’t the goal or the end of the story. The final act is what N.T. Wright calls life after life after death – the resurrection of the dead. That can get lost in all our talk about heaven. Our future isn’t a disembodied state in the clouds. It’s in our body, perfected and raised, in a new heavens and new earth. Mom was buried (as I believe all bodies still are) with her feet facing east. Why? Because Jesus comes from the east and when we are raised, the presumption is that we will face his glorious appearance.

So, the books I am looking at so far are:

1. C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

2. N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God

3. Philippe Aries, The Hour of Our Death

If I can, I’ll share some things I find interesting out of reading these texts. Hopefully they will help me deal with my Mom’s death. As great as the Christian hope is during the death of a loved one, the inability to communicate with that person over the gulf of death is (I think) one of the cruelest parts about death. I am thankful for the example of Jesus, who wept at the death of Lazarus, and for the fact that the Bible calls death an enemy, although a defeated one. We don’t have to be pie in the sky, happy at the time of death. I’m not in favor of trying to “celebrate” at death. I want a grim funeral with the 1928 Book of Common Prayer liturgy when I die. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Yes, we have hope. Yes, the future will be glorious. But yes, the pain is real and the loneliness in the midst of a world that keeps turning and doesn’t care that you are here today and gone tomorrow is real. It all has to be worked through somehow.

Thoughts on Death

Posted: September 18, 2010 by joelmartin in From the Heart

One thing that strikes me in thinking about death is that when someone dies, their way of ordering the world is gone. There is something about the things that they touched, wrote, painted and so on that we are inclined to preserve. I was looking at some cards from my Mom that were fairly insignificant, but now they mean a lot to me because that’s her writing on the paper. Her thoughts are expressed and they are now inaccessible to me going forward.

What I mean by ordering the world is the way that we keep our things. Mom placed articles and books in certain places in her house. Everything in the house was a certain way. Clothes were here, pictures there. Boxes were put in this closet, the old high chair in that one, etc. You might cut your grass and trim your hedge a certain way. These are very tedious and in some sense, minor details, but as soon as you die or are struck ill, they begin to evaporate and vanish from the world as if you had never been. This is probably one reason behind why some people keep rooms exactly as the deceased left them and refuse to alter them. Altering the room would break apart some of the last remaining traces of the dead person’s affect on the world. Taking this further, it is easy to see some of the motivations behind preserving the relics of saints in the form of pieces of clothing, bone, teeth, hair and so on. I’m certainly not agreeing with that practice, just seeing a possible origin for it.

As soon as you die, the way you kept your house and trimmed your hedge begins to fade. Someone else may be left living in it and decide to change things to the way they want it. Or it might be sold to someone entirely different and all traces of you living there will be gone. For those in nursing homes this uncaring process starts earlier. The world does not care about you or I and it will keep right on turning without us.

But traces of us (and our ancestors) linger on if our own children do things the way we did them. Perhaps they organize their things in similar ways to us, make the same recipes or like the same authors. A hundred little things pass from generation to generation, most of them unconscious and hidden in plain sight.

The urge to preserve something of who we were is a primary motivation for writers of history and seekers of glory who want to emblazon their memory onto the wax of history. Unfortunately for many of them, the vast bulk of people couldn’t care less for what happened five days ago, much less five centuries or millenia ago. Anna Comnena admirably summarizes the urge of the historian to preserve:

The stream of Time, irresistible, ever moving, carries off and bears away all things that come to birth and plunges them into utter darkness, both deeds of no account and deeds which are mighty and worthy of commemoration; as the playwright says, it ‘brings to light that which was unseen and shrouds from us that which was manifest’. Nevertheless, the science of History is a great bulwark against this stream of Time; in a way it checks this irresistible flood, it holds in a tight grasp whatever it can seize floating on the surface and will not allow it to slip away into the depths of Oblivion.

I think this is also the motivation of the family historian, researching genealogy. It is often a lonely task and you wonder why you are doing it. But that is why: to try to preserve some slim reed of what was against the overwhelming tide of time which sweeps on ahead.

The ultimate hope for the Christian is that these small things which make up the essence of who we are will be continued in the future age. Perhaps when we are resurrected our way of doing things, perfected and renewed, will be carried on in the new heavens and new earth. When I walk into wherever my resurrected Mom “lives” – if such a concept makes sense then [and I think it will] – it will be recognizably her space as her way of doing things will be obvious to me. At least, that’s my theory.

Ken Jones has been a pastor at Greater Union Baptist Church in Compton, CA. He has accepted a call to Glendale Missionary Baptist Church in Miami, FL. Ken has also served as a panel guest on The White Horse Inn.

I have had the chance to attend some of Ken Jones’ noon Bible studies in Compton when I lived in Torrance, CA and chat with him. I rejoice that his labors at Greater Union have not been in vain, but that the Church has grown by the grace of God. I pray the same in his new call.

Since my surgery, not being able to lay down flat on my back or side, I found myself  living out of one of our recliner chairs in the living room corner for the last of almost 4 weeks.  It hasn’t been too bad actually.  I’ve got pillows stuffed all around me, my feet up, a little table next to me with the bare essentials: a water bottle, pain meds, chapstick, vicks rub, tissue, and handy laptop.  My pace has been really slow, and recovery, well, slow.  But I’m thankful for my family’s support and many helpful ways they have made this time a blessing.

So, without further adieu, on to the list (in no particular order)…

  1. pray
  2. sleep
  3. read, read, read
  4. eat/ have snack (kind of nice to be served, but for a wife and mom who’s not used to it, uncomfortable)
  5. give lots of hugs
  6. give kisses
  7. leg lifts
  8. arm raises
  9. sing
  10. blog
  11. facebook
  12. catch up on emails
  13. make those phone calls you’ve been procrastinating and catch up with some ol’ friends
  14. make a list of what you need to do when you’re better
  15. delegate chores, nicely 🙂
  16. daydream
  17. appreciate the help and love you’re getting
  18. count your blessings
  19. write a letter
  20. write out thank you cards (or ecards even)
  21. take a nap (does that count as sleep?) 😉
  22. order take out (but not too much)  😉
  23. text
  24. knitt
  25. crochet
  26. play games online (not condoning gambling though)
  27. expand your vocabulary and explore
  28. watch tv (i didn’t do much of this b/c it gave me a headache after a little while but still an option)
  29. listen to radio, news
  30. renew your mind
  31. homeschool (it’s possible! you likely won’t get everything done, but still could get some. This, I did do.)
  32. play cards with someone (in my case, war w/my 5 yr. old. one of her new fav card games)
  33. shake someone’s hand
  34. chat w/someone
  35. have a heart to heart

I also want to add, these are things to be thankful that you can still do, even though you may feel like a bum and useless during a time or healing.  because after being in a sense, crippled for so long, one may get the feeling of forgetting what it was like to be “normal” again, whatever that may be for each person.  I’m pretty sure there’s more one can do in a recliner chair but these were the spontaneous ones off the top of my head.

I may add to this again, one day.  Stay tuned…

thanks for reading.  =)