Thursday, December 31, 2009

If You Want God's Guidance, Be Prepared to Follow It

Johanan was the hero of the hour.

It was only recently that Babylonians had come, saw, and conquered the nation of Judah. Babylon had removed Judah’s king and placed their own appointee in charge, Gedaliah. But the Ammonites had come, killed Gedaliah, and captured the remnant of the Jewish population.

They were taking them into captivity when Johanan and his contingent struck, rescuing their fellow Jews and sending the Ammonites packing.

Now Johanan and all the Jews approach Jeremiah. They ask him to ask God what they should do. Jeremiah agrees and tells them he will report to them everything God says, not withholding one single syllable. For their part, Johanan and the people assure Jeremiah that they will obey God’s direction, whatever it is.

Ten days pass and Jeremiah returns to the people. God’s answer comes in essentially three parts. First, they are to remain in the conquered land under the authority of the Babylonians. They are to settle down, and God will protect them and nurture them. Second, they are not to flee to Egypt, thinking they will escape both war and famine, for if they do, war and famine and plague will hunt every last one of them down.

Now why does God warn them about going to Egypt? They already told Jeremiah they would do whatever God says. The third part of God’s answer is this: he knows that they are determined to go to Egypt no matter what.

Guess what happens? Johanan and co. accuse Jeremiah of lying to them about what God said. They pack up and go to Egypt, even taking Jeremiah with them!

When they arrive in Tahpanhes in Egypt, God directs Jeremiah to place some large stones on the pavement in front of Pharaoh’s palace, and Jeremiah relays to the people that God will call Babylon down to Egypt, and the Babylonian king will pitch his royal pavilion where? Right over these stones. You cannot hide from God.

Obedience is healthier than disobedience.

If you ask God for directions, don’t take a different route.

(Account found in Jer 39-43.)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

9 Enjoyable Settings

  1. Sipping a bowl of warm broccoli cheddar soup at Panera on a wintry night, sitting across from Sara
  2. Starbucks with Sara and Ben and Jess, jazz playing
  3. Sunday afternoon nap in the La-Z-Boy, no one else around
  4. Watching a good movie at the Rave with Sara or a friend
  5. Sitting on a park bench in Headwaters Park early on a summer morning, reading my Bible or a book
  6. A road trip with Sara
  7. Browsing at Hyde Brothers Books with some money or credit and lots of time to spend
  8. Worshiping at church of high liturgy or at an old-fashioned country-like church
  9. Time Corners KFC or the one at Dupont & Coldwater, alone, eating a mashed potato bowl, drinking a Diet Pepsi, and leisurely reading a book

    PS Another setting I think I would enjoy is the Skinners’ living room, alone for a length of time, reading. I love their living room--the arrangement of the furniture around the fireplace.

Monday, December 28, 2009

30 Great Books

In a recent post I picked my favorite book I read this year. I’ve been keeping track of my reading since 1996. So I decided to go back and pick a one or a few favorites from each year (30 in all). It’s just another way for me to talk about my hobby--reading.

1996 -- The first time I read Tolkien’s The Two Towers, book 2 in The Lord of the Rings trilogy

1997 -- Cornelius Plantinga, Jr.s’ Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin is an enlightening and engaging look at sin, its various forms and effects.

1998 -- I have to mention 4, two by Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew and What’s So Amazing about Grace? D. James Kennedy’s What If the Bible Had Never Been Written? is an inspiring look at the Bible’s impact on every aspect of culture and society. My first exposure to Randy Alcorn was through his novel Dominion, and it’s still my favorite Alcorn book. A mystery that taught me a great deal about Heaven.

1999 -- Often asking myself, “What does it mean to be a pastor?” The Contemplative Pastor, by Eugene Peterson, helped me see pastoral ministry from completely new angles. I hesitate to mention Dave Barry Does Japan, but it is our (Sara and me) favorite Dave Barry book thus far. Oh how we laughed!

2000 -- Three stick out: The Case for Christ (Lee Strobel), An American Life (President Reagan’s autobiography), and The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas). Dumas tells a great story.

2001 -- I don’t think anyone does worldview like Chuck Colson, and his How Now Shall We Live? is helpful in seeing the implications of various worldviews.

2002 -- Bruce Catton’s Grant Takes Command was the first to cause me to become a big fan of Gen. U. S. Grant. John Piper’s mini-biographies of John Bunyan, William Cowper, and David Brainerd, highlighting especially their suffering, make The Hidden Smile of God a great read, helping one to think through suffering in the Christian life, and in its various forms (Bunyan--prison, Cowper--severe depression, Brainerd--poor health).

2003 -- James Dobson’s excellent Bringing Up Boys was an education for me in so many ways and helpful to me with regards to Andrew. Brennan Manning’s portrait of God’s amazing love in The Ragamuffin Gospel continues to impact my view of God. John Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life helped me see how I use a lot of my resources and energies to protect and serve myself instead of spending myself out for God.

2004 -- Several to mention from this year: Jesus in Beijing by David Aikman, Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret by Dr. & Mrs. Howard Taylor, and The Art of Pastoring by David Hansen. The latter helped me to see Peterson’s view of pastoring fleshed out.

2005 -- Wesley Duewel’s Heroes of the Holy Life highlights several saints (one per chapter) who were filled with the Spirit and powerful prayer warriors.

2006 -- I mention 3: Sara and I found Alexander McCall Smith’s The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs to be hysterical. Also very good are A Patriot’s History of the United States, by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen, and The Divine Conquest, by A. W. Tozer.

2007 -- Doris Kearns Goodwin pictures Abraham Lincoln as a political genius in Team of Rivals. George MacDonald’s fantasy, Lilith, is an amazing portrayal of spiritual struggle and transformation, I think, but don’t ask me to describe it. The book is more experienced, I think, than completely understood. Ruth Tucker’s Left Behind in a Megachurch World affirms small churches, which I appreciated. (I even corresponded with her briefly about it.) Stephen Ambrose’s To America: Personal Reflections of an Historian is a fascinating look at a dozen or so specific events and individuals in American history.

2008 -- Steven W. Mosher helped me see more clearly the evil of China’s communism in A Mother’s Ordeal. Hats off to Roger E. Olson’s clear and able defense of Arminianism in Arminian Theology. Gladys Aylward’s autobiography (Gladys Aylward: The Little Woman) is brief, powerful, and convicting. And Gladys, a 20th-century missionary to China, is an able storyteller.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Welcoming Christ the Newborn King

It has become a personal tradition to go to the 11pm Christmas Eve service at Immanuel Lutheran (downtown on Jefferson). I don’t make it every year, but I go this year.

I fight sleep. I was tired even before I decided at the last minute to go. After I doze through a hymn verse, I pray to be awake.

Lutheran church liturgy differs significantly from my own church’s; perhaps that makes this Christmas Eve service more meaningful. It may also be meaningful because of my desire to humble myself before the Lord who humbled himself for me. What does he, the Master of the Universe, the Divine Warrior, think of all the sentimentality over his birth? Does he regret stooping so low as to become a baby, a baby that is “ooh”ed and “aah”ed over?

I want to get something out of the service, something that will move me closer to Christ. The prayers we read are meaningful; so is the Introit, where we sing/chant parts of Psalm 2, a wonderful psalm about the kings of the earth not being able to overthrow God’s anointed.

Also helpful to me are the Christmas hymns. Some I’m not very familiar with, like “Once in Royal David’s City.” Others are new to me, like “Now Sing We, Now Rejoice.” Others are re-presented to me with alternative tunes, like “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

Something else that moves me toward Christ is the reverence paid him throughout the service. The service is clearly Christ-centered, plus we are gathering at an inconvenient time in order to worship him, plus the atmosphere is reverent--the candles, the dress, etc. To be sure, there are some who are not reverent. They are talking with one another during the message or clearly going through the motions. But overall …

At some point in the service I remember that while it may be good to seek a meaningful experience in the service, ultimately I should be most concerned about what I am giving to the Lord. Is my worship heartfelt and pleasing to him?

I forgot they collect an offering at this service. Had I remembered I probably would have prepared before I came--you know, stuck a smaller bill in my wallet. After all, most of my tithes and offerings belong to my local congregation. As the ushers begin to pass the plates, I decide not to give. I give to my church, I reason, and funds are really tight right now, and I was going to put that particular bill toward another obligation. But then the Lord’s Spirit reminds me that he has given and given to me. “What are you celebrating right now?” he prompts. And he reminds me that he provides for me, and he reminds me that he blesses the generous. So I pull the bill out of my wallet and place it in the plate. At this moment I think, “How can I not give to my Lord who has given so much for me?”

I don’t go forward to take communion. The first year I attended I wasn’t allowed. This year I’m allowed, but I don’t go because I’m not exactly sure of the procedure. I remain in my pew.

The lights are turned off. The candles shine. The organ plays. We begin to sing “Silent Night” in German. “Stille nacht, heilige nacht …” Then we sing it in English.

I walk out into the bright crisp air. It’s 12:30, and the Lord has come. God’s wondrous gift has been given. O Lord, I hope my worship has pleased you.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Presents

Here's a hodgepodge of "Christmas presents."

I was lamenting a few weeks ago to Sara that we way overshot our Nov gasoline budget, and so we dipped significantly into Dec's budget to cover all of Nov's expenses. The only 3 that knew about our "gas crisis" were the Lord, Sara, and myself. I guess that was enough. In the last couple weeks we have received from others $75 in Speedway gift cards.

Joyce, a woman here at church battling cancer and enduring chemotherapy, called me yesterday. The brain tumors have remained shrunken; the tumor in the lymph nodes is gone; the bone cancer is practically gone. She's officially in remission. What a Christmas present!

Wilhelmina Holle, a Christian elementary school teacher imprisoned in Indonesia for allegedly blaspheming Islam last December, is supposed to be released today. Let's hope it happens.

In November Marzieh and Maryam were released without bail after 259 days in prison as "anti-government activists" (read: "Christians"). Praise God that he opens prison doors. The charges against them have not been dropped, so there's still need for prayer.

Just this month Gulsher Masih and his 21-year-old daughter Sandul Bibi were released from prison in Pakistan after a court found them innocent of blasphemy charges. They had been in for one year on trumped-up charges of ripping a Koran. (The real reason they were in prison was because of their vibrant faith in Christ.)

The vote is in. The government is giving us health care reform, and it wasn't even on our Christmas list. In fact, it's the one thing we told the government we didn't want for Christmas. This is one Christmas present I would love to return and get the money from.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Blessings of Prison

In One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Alyosha, a Bible-reading Christian, is one of the minor characters. Toward the end of the book, Alyosha and the main character, Shukhov, converse about God and religion. When Shukhov raises as an objection the excessively wealthy priest with whom he is familiar, Alyosha decries that Orthodox brand of Christianity.

“Why are you talking to me about priests? The Orthodox Church has departed from Scripture. It’s because their faith is unstable that they’re not in prison.”

Later, when Shukhov wryly observes to Alyosha that all his prayers have not shortened his term one bit, Alyosha points out:

“Oh, you mustn’t pray for that either … Why do you want freedom? In freedom your last grain of faith will be choked with weeds. You should rejoice that you’re in prison. Here you have time to think about your soul.”

He goes on to note, “As the Apostle Paul wrote: ‘Why all these tears? Why are you trying to weaken my resolution? For my part I am ready not merely to be bound but ever to die for the name of the Lord Jesus.’”

Postscript: Solzhenitsyn said of his own prison experience, "Bless you prison, bless you, for being in my life, for there, lying on the rotting prison floor, I came to realize that the object of life is not prosperity, as we are made to believe, but the maturing of the human soul."

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Theology Matters

A 31-year-old father in Scotland committed suicide in October to be with his 9-year-old son, so that "he would not be alone."

When their son died as a result of a car crash, the parents decided that one of them should take their own life in order to be with him, the other parent remaining behind to care for their 13-year-old daughter.

I suggest that their faulty theology led to this unnecessary compounding of their tragedy. If the kid is in Heaven, he is not alone and not uncared for. If in Hell, there's nothing an earthly father can do for him; there's not even a guarantee of reunion.

Just another example of how practical theology is.

(Read the news story.)

9 Simple Pleasures

1. Watching a movie at a theater
2. Napping by the lit Christmas tree, Christmas music playing
3. Sitting in a park on a sunny day
4. Re-reading an enjoyable novel
5. Heart-to-heart conversation with Sara
6. Knowing I don’t have to get up early in the morning
7. Lunch with a friend
8. Cookies and milk
9. The first good snow

Snow Sculptures

Found in my neighborhood

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas Charm

Upon the snow
see the snowman grow,
the reindeer play,
Baby Jesus in the hay.
Watch little Ted
clinging to his sled.
Holding mittened fingers
young couple lingers
on ice-covered pond,
other skaters gone
the tree to light.
How it joys the night!
Cold are the toes
and red is each nose,
but hearts are warm
for familiar Christmas charm
again brings joy,
even to
40-year-old boy.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Good Day in a Siberian Prison Camp

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich details a single day in January in a Siberian prison camp in Stalin’s Soviet Union. The day begins with reveille at 5am in the morning and ends with the prisoners dropping into bed late at night. In between are the actions of the day largely dictated by those in charge of the camp.

Shukhov (the protagonist) and the men in his prison squad attempt to exert their freedom within the system in small ways throughout the day: a few stolen moments by the stove to warm up, working the social system among the prisoners to gain an extra 6 oz. of bread, concealing a nice trowel for future days when masonry work will be called for.

And constantly on their minds is food. Receiving very little a day (and the kind of food at which we would turn up our noses), they are constantly thinking about how to get the best part and the most of the food they can.

Shukhov was a soldier in the army, got caught behind enemy lines, and was able to escape back to the Soviet Union. But he “confessed” to being a German spy. (It was that or be killed, he realized.) Now he’s 8 years into a 10-year term, but his hope of being released is compromised by the Soviet whim of renewing terms for another 10 years.

At the end of this one day, we are surprised at Shukhov’s assessment: it was a good day.

"He’d had many strokes of luck that day: they hadn’t put him in the cells; they hadn’t sent his squad to the settlement; he’s swiped a bowl of kasha at dinner; the squad leader had fixed the rates well; he’d built a wall and enjoyed doing it; he’s smuggled that bit of hacksaw blade through; he’d earned a favor from Tsezar that evening; he’d bought that tobacco. And he hadn’t fallen ill. He’d got over it.

A day without a dark cloud. Almost a happy day.

There were three thousand six hundred and fifty-three days like that in his stretch. From the first clang of the rail to the last clang of the rail.

Three thousand six hundred and fifty-three days.

The extra days were for leap years.”

Thursday, December 17, 2009

New Christmas Tunes

Here are some of my favorite new Christmas tunes this year. (At least they're new to me.) Warning: All these links take you to youtube to hear the songs.

Mandisa's rendition of "Children, Go Where I Send Thee." I've not really heard her before; she's powerful, and this arrangement is fantastic. (Caution: This link takes you to youtube.)

Casting Crowns' new arrangement of "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." Wow! How this new tune and chords improve this familiar song!

The lyrics of Downhere's "How Many Kings" are fantastic. Lyrics like:

Cause how many kings, stepped down from their thrones?
How many lords have abandoned their homes?
How many greats have become the least for me?
How many Gods have poured out their hearts
To romance a world that has torn all apart?
How many fathers gave up their sons for me?

Another good one is Sarah McLachlan's haunting "O Little Town of Bethlehem."

And here's a fun one that's not new to me, but it may be to you: "I Yust Go Nuts at Christmas," by Yogi Yorgesson.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Recollections of My 2009 Reading (Part 2)

In conjunction with our Bible Study focus on 1 & 2 Samuel this year, I read through a few commentaries. Dale Ralph Davis’s were my favorite. 1 Samuel: Looking on the Heart and 2 Samuel: Out of Every Adversity are scholarly, theological, practical, and readable. In just about every chapter of Leap Over a Wall, Eugene Peterson brings a different, helpful and reverent perspective to David's story.

Sara and I found Night Light: A Devotional for Couples by the Dobsons to be great some nights and okay other nights. But marriages vary greatly; the fact that some topics weren’t issues for us wasn’t surprising.

Because I liked it so much when I read it the first time, I read Chaim Potok’s The Chosen to Sara. She liked it, too. (See my previous comments.)

As with Master and Commander and Post Captain, Book 3 of Patrick O’Brian’s series on the British navy at the beginning of the 1800s, H. M. S. Surprise, is great literature. Though the storyline continues to follow Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, book 1 is still my favorite and book 2 my least favorite. But in truth, all 3 are great. (I recently acquired book 4, and my dad gave me book 10 some time ago; he found it for a buck.)

Richard Wurmbrand’s chapter in The Triumphant Church on intentionally preparing for persecution is eye-opening in the most shocking sense of that phrase. He doesn’t mince words about preparing for imprisonment and torture; very heartening. And John Piper’s chapter on suffering is also good.

I think Walter Wangerin’s way of telling a story in The Book of the Dun Cow of a barnyard’s struggle against supernatural evil is fantastic and thought-provoking. (See my post on the book.)

Tuesday the Rabbi Saw Red, a mystery novel by Harry Kemelman about Rabbi David Small, whose Rabbinically-trained mind helps him reason out a murder case, entertained me enough to want to read another one in the series. Tony Hillerman’s Dance Hall of the Dead, my second adventure with Navajo Detective Joe Leaphorn, was equally entertaining.

Always interested in biographies of pastors, Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word by Douglas A. Sweeney didn’t disappoint. Neither did A Passion for God: The Spiritual Journey of A. W. Tozer by Lyle Dorsett. (I blogged a few times about this bio.)

Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is not sensational. It doesn’t have to be. It’s straight-forward portrayal of one day at a prison camp in Siberia makes one wonder at man’s cruelty toward his fellow man.

My best read of the year was another preacher biography: David Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The First Forty Years 1899-1939, by Iain H. Murray. This book has “stayed with me,” in a sense. It moved me then; it moves me now. If I become ½ the man Lloyd-Jones was, it will be a miracle. (I posted about this book, too.)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Recollections of My 2009 Reading (Part 1)

Phillips Brooks, pastor, author of “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” and contemporary of President Lincoln was known for his preaching. But I found his sermons in Addresses to be ponderous.

Considering myself woefully undereducated when it comes to Shakespeare, I have a goal of reading one of his plays a year. Macbeth demonstrates his genius with plot intricacies.

Sara, Andrew, and I all discovered P. G. Wodehouse this year. Jeeves and the Song of Songs is brilliant comedy. And the way Wodehouse shows the complete idiocy of Wooster even as he is narrating the story in his own self-assured way is genius.

I believe it was The Spy Who Came in from the Cold that put John LeCarre on the map, so to speak, but I found it just okay.

The Resurrection File, Craig Parshall’s legal thriller surrounding an ancient document disproving Jesus’ resurrection is entertaining, but a little too long for its quality and isn’t as good as Paul Maier’s, A Skeleton in God’s Closet.

I was challenged and inspired by both The Best of E. M. Bounds on Prayer and Andrew Murray’s With Christ in the School of Prayer. They challenged my prayer habits, which I expected, and they challenged my perspective on prayer, which I didn’t expect. At this time they have yet to win me over on a couple points. (But I fully admit that I am probably the one with the wrong thinking.)

The Cross of Christ by John Stott is an all-encompassing and well thought-out work. Stott’s outlines are logical and memorable, his arguments both comprehensive and concise. And the subject matter is inspiring.

The final book in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Return of the King, did not disappoint me on my third read-through. (See the post this read-through inspired.)

On Being a Pastor by Derek Prime and Alistair Begg both sharpened my perspective and gave me some good ideas.

J. I. Packer’s Keep in Step with the Spirit is an excellent theology on the Holy Spirit. I found his explanations of Romans 7:14-25 and of our relationship to sin to be helpful.

Richard Preston’s The Wild Trees draws up a very readable picture of some biologists in love with Redwoods. I learned a lot of fascinating things about trees and about people who love them. (See my post about this book.)

I found Perspectives on the Doctrine of God: Four Views alternately enlightening and dizzying. I still find Calvinism ultimately unconvincing and open theism disturbing if not heretical (though John Sanders argues his case well).

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ collection of sermons on Psalm 73, Faith on Trial, are a wealth of theology and practical insight.

Throughout Original Sin: A Cultural History, Alan Jacobs shares story after story of how individuals and cultures have embraced, rejected, or modified the idea of inherited sin. Interesting, but not a can’t-put-it-down.

More recollections to come ...

Friday, December 11, 2009

Why President Obama Deserves the Nobel Peace Prize

Watching Jay Leno last night while doing Christmas cards, I laughed out loud when he said this:

"A lot of people don't understand why President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize. Look around you. Our factories, peaceful. I went to the mall this week. Peaceful. They had an open house near my house. Not one person came in. It's a peaceful economy here."

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Christmas Tradition I Enjoy/Despise

Christmas letters.

For the past several years, at least since 1994, I've sent out a Christmas letter with many of our Christmas cards.

I know the Christmas letter is mocked and belittled as a tradition, kind of like fruitcake; but, like fruitcake, it remains popular, and I suspect that it's because many people actually enjoy it. If I didn't think people enjoyed reading about our family's--and mainly my kids'--doings, I wouldn't go to the trouble of researching, writing, editing, copying, folding, stuffing, and mailing it.

Well, I'm a bit ahead of my traditional game this year. The letter's already written, copied, and mostly stuffed. Many of the cards are already addressed. So that's a good feeling.

I generally go with a traditional Christmas color for the paper; green, red. But not always. I did hot pink one year and blue another year. This year I told Sara I wanted to do a bright yellow so it would be like a ray of sunshine bursting from each Christmas card in the midst of December's gray. I went to Staples, and they had just what I wanted. And the price was right, too. (Okay, maybe free would be right; but the price wasn't outrageous.)

Last year I put the Christmas letter on my other blog and simply included the web address for the letter in Christmas cards. This year I decided that was actually kind of cheesy. I wish I could recognize cheesy before I do it instead of afterwards. I do have a cheesy detector. It's called "Sara." But it doesn't quite catch everything.

This year's letter is a bit longer than my average; it's because my kids are over-achievers, and hence there's so much to write about. Or it's because brevity isn't my strength. Maybe both.

Well, that's enough about Christmas letters. Oh, except one other thing. I enjoy reading other people's Christmas letters. So send me yours. If I'm not on your list this year, put me on it.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Heavenly Minded, Earthly Good

In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis debunks the idea that to be heavenly minded is to be of no earthly good.

"If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in”: aim at earth and you will get neither."

Monday, December 7, 2009

In-Step with Christ Means Out-of-Step with the World

The Beatitudes are beautiful, but they are radical. They are hard to live out; no wonder we can’t do it apart from becoming a new creation.

They are beautiful because they shine brightly against the world’s values.

Blessed are the proud, the positive, the self-made, the self-assured, the prosperous, the powerful, the respectable. These are ugly, are they not? Yet are they? Isn’t it true we wouldn’t mind being these? We don’t mind being these?

The world finds the Beatitudes weak, pitiful. Anti-theist Christopher Hitchens believes Pastor Douglas Wilson has saddled himself with a heavy burden of misery in believing in his sinfulness from his conception. What is so appealing about being poor in spirit? Isn’t rich in spirit far more blessed?

Why are the mourners blessed? Because they will be comforted. But isn’t it better not to have had to mourn in the first place?

The path of the Beatitudes is the path of Christ. The devil’s temptations of Jesus in the wilderness were the temptations of the world. The world sees no problem with satisfying your hunger right then and there, no problem with self-promotion in order to gain a following, no problem with compromising with the enemy in order to gain power.

If you’re in-step with Christ, you will be out-of-step with the world. You cannot have it both ways. Do you grasp that? Do I grasp that?

If I’m spending some of my resources--time, energy, money--on being in-step with Christ and some on being in-step with the world, what will I get in the end? A big fat zero. Negatives and positives cancel each other out. I’ll be out-of-step with both. Christ won’t recognize me, and the world won’t have any use for me.

Don’t stay on the fence. Throw in, heart, with Christ. Recognize the heat you’ll take from the world and accept it.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Thankful for Body Blessings

Ears that hear and eyes that see—
the LORD has made them both. (Prov 20:12 NIV)

I think of that verse often. I am thankful to God for both gifts.

Pulling into a parking place at Target last night, Sara and I noticed a woman walking gingerly into the store. "That was me a few years ago," Sara said, "when my neuropathy was bad." She said she notices people struggling to walk.

Oddly enough, it's something I've noticed quite a bit lately, too.
  • Like the man at the restaurant last night struggling to stand himself over his walker, stooped.
  • Like the woman next to him trying to help him, though she herself was quite unsteady even with her cane.
  • Like the man at Scott's who was practically bent to a 90-degree angle at the waist.
  • Like the woman barely moving with her walker in the cold breezy air, her speed condemning her to chilled bones despite her winter coat.

Thank you, Lord, for legs that work right now. Thank you, Lord, for bringing significant healing to Sara.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Ever Insightful Thomas Sowell

Since this is an era when many people are concerned about "fairness" and "social justice," what is your "fair share" of what someone else has worked for?

Here is a math problem for you: Assume that the legislation establishing government control of medical care is passed and that it "brings down the cost of medical care." You pay $500 a year less for your medical care, but the new costs put on employers is passed on to consumers, so that you pay $300 a year more for groceries and $200 a year more for gasoline, while the new mandates put on insurance companies raise your premiums by $300 a year, how much money have you saved?

No one likes to admit having been played for a fool. So it will probably take a mushroom cloud over some American city before some Obama supporters wake up. Even so, the true believers among the survivors will probably say that this was all George Bush's fault.

--Excerpts from his recent column, "Random Thoughts." You might want to read the whole thing.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Stay or Run?

If it comes to the point where we experience severer forms of persecution in the good ol' US of A, will you stay or run?

I've heard talk of moving to Australia if persecution gets intense here.

But is not persecution typically the lot of believers? Certainly many verses can be marshalled for that belief (like 1 Thess 3:3-4; 2 Tim 3:12; Php 1:29; Mk 13:13, etc.).

And is not persecution sometimes the means by which the preaching of the gospel is especially effective? John Piper argues that as the meaning of Col 1:24. Consider also the close connection between Matt 5:10-12 and 5:13-16.

What touched off this thinking in my mind is the latest issue of Voice of the Martyrs magazine. The cover story reports on Christians who stay in a heavily persecuted (Muslim-inflicted) area of the Philippines, on the island of Mindanao.

Writes Patrice Johnson:

"[A] small band of evangelical pastors and their flock are determined to stay in this war zone. They say the only way to stop the violence is to show the love of Christ to Muslims--even as they face the relentless persecution ...

"'It is hard to win Muslims to Christ,' says [one pastor].... 'But I love Muslims, because behind [that violence] they are longing for love. And I can share the love of Christ with them.'"
("Lambs among Wolves," Oct 2009 issue, p. 4)

What a perspective, and what a heart! May the Lord help me love my friends as much as that pastor loves his enemies.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Ever Prayed Backwards?

Have you ever prayed backwards?

Since God is eternal and knows the future precisely (unless you’re an open theist), and since “your Father knows what you need before you ask him,” then isn’t it reasonable to pray that a certain situation would turn out one way after the situation is resolved?

Here’s an example. Wednesday I checked at the library for a book Andrew had put on hold. He really wanted it Wednesday so he could read it some on Thanksgiving Day. As I was walking into the library, I prayed something like, “Lord, if it be your will, please have Andrew’s book in.”

Now in truth, the situation had already been resolved; I just didn't know the resolution. Before I prayed, the librarian had already performed the action that would either make or not make the book accessible.

But, before the librarian had performed the action with regards to the book, the Heavenly Father knew my prayer, though it was uttered after the librarian's action.

This isn’t the first time I’ve prayed backwards.

Another key ingredient is my own ignorance of the situation’s outcome. If I already know the outcome of a situation, I don’t pray backwards that God would make it a different outcome.

Incidentally, God answered my prayer. He said No. The book wasn’t there.

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Eternity of God

A. W. Tozer writes about God's eternity:

"From everlasting to everlasting, thou art God," said Moses in the Spirit. "From the vanishing point to the vanishing point" would be another way to say it quite in keeping with the words as Moses used them. The mind looks backward in time till the dim past vanishes, then turns and looks into the future till thought and imagination collapses from exhaustion: and God is at both points, unaffected by either.

Time marks the beginning of created existence, and because God never began to exist it can have no application to Him. "Began" is a time-word, and it can have no personal meaning for the high and lofty One that inhabited eternity....

God dwells in eternity but time dwells in God. He has already lived all our tomorrows as He has lived all our yesterdays. An illustration offered by C. S. Lewis may help us here. He suggests that we think of a sheet of paper infinitely extended. That would be eternity. Then on that paper draw a short line to represent time. As the line begins and ends on that infinite expanse, so time began in God and will end in Him.

That God appears at time’s beginning is not too difficult to comprehend, but that He appears at the beginning and end of time simultaneously is not so easy to grasp; yet it is true.

--A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, ch. 7 "The Eternity of God"

Friday, November 27, 2009

9 Recent Things for Which I’m Thankful

  1. Central District prayer meetings Wednesdays at 6:30am
  2. Fresh signs of spiritual growth in my son
  3. My son’s job at Chick-fil-A: he really enjoys the job
  4. Opportunities to encourage a few guys
  5. Two preaching opportunities while Pat was on vacation
  6. My oldest daughter’s ability to save up her money instead of spend it
  7. My son’s generosity
  8. My youngest daughter’s ever-expanding vocabulary (things like, “You’re crazy, Dad,” and, addressing her sister in the morning, "Good morning, Crunchy Cereal" )
  9. My middle daughter’s growing theological understanding (see below)

Yesterday as we went around the table ticking off things we're thankful for, Anna mentioned among other things God’s sovereignty, omnipotence, and omnipresence. When my mom asked her what each of those meant, she explained without stuttering or trying to recall. She knew what each meant. So I guess a 10th thing I’m thankful is a good Sunday School education for my kids.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

No Pulpit for Old Men

I listened to a discussion of pastors talking about how hard it is to be hired by a church when one is upper-middle age. Their consensus was that churches are looking for younger pastors with young families.

"You're the perfect demographic, Kent. In your 30s (at the time), 3 kids (at the time), dashing and handsome (they didn't actually say that, but I'm sure they were thinking it)."

I found the discussion frustrating at the time, because there seemed to be little trust in God's ability to place an older pastor in a new pulpit.

I realize that what these guys were talking about is probably generally true; search committees probably do look for younger guys. But I think that's a mistake.

I think, in fact, that all things being equal, older pastors probably make better pastors. This I glean from my own experience as a Christian and as a student of the Bible.
  • Is it not true that as I study passages now I understand them a lot better than when I studied the same passages several years ago?
  • Is it not true that in the intervening years since I began at Northside, the Lord has taught me a great deal? (And I am still ignorant of many things ... the Lord knows I am a slow student.)
  • Do not older pastors in general bring a great deal of wisdom into the pulpit?
I remember attending a church in Indy and listening to a septuagenarian deliver a stirring message on the last 8 verses of Galatians. The fire in his belly! The wisdom of his years with Christ!

Churches should consider all candidates apart from the age question (unless perhaps a 15-year-old is applying). What is God's will?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Book of the Dun Cow

I just finished reading Walter Wangerin, Jr.'s The Book of the Dun Cow, and what a great read it is!

It's along the lines of a beast epic (like Animal Farm). Wonderfully portrayed is the struggle between good and evil as Chauntecleer the rooster leads his domain, which includes many more animals than hens, in both peacetime, and then when an other-worldly evil breaks out, in war.

There are many biblical themes that underlie the story, particularly in the various ways the evil Wyrm and his minion Cockatrice are dealt with.

The characters are delightful or hideous, depending on which. (I thoroughly enjoyed the various names, like Pertalote the hen, Lord Russell the fox, Mundo Cani the dog, and John Wesley weasel.) And God is a part of the story. Many times does Chauntecleer talk to or refer to God, acknowleding his placement of the rooster over this segment of Earth.

For me, the best thing about this story is the way it highlights Christ and the gospel as well as the truths regarding evil and our necessary response to it. Stories like this, by coming at the eternal truths of the gospel from a different angle, have a way of shining new light on these ancient truths that make one fall in love with them afresh. Other books that have also impacted me this way include The Lord of the Rings trilogy, George MacDonald's Lilith, and Charles Williams' All Hallow's Eve.

Strictly speaking, The Book of the Dun Cow is not an allegory (anymore than Lord of the Rings). But there are actions and characterizations that highlight biblical themes, like the humiliation of Christ, and the victory of Christ over evil.

It's not a long read. My copy is 241 pages with decent-sized print.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Suffering, not Comfort, Yields Great Treasure

I have never heard anyone say, “The really deep lessons of life have come through times of ease and comfort.” But I have heard strong saints say, “Every significant advance I have ever made in grasping the depths of God’s love and growing deep with him has come through suffering.” Samuel Rutherford said that when he was cast into the cellars of affliction, he remembered that the great King always kept his wine there. Charles Spurgeon said that those who dive in the sea of affliction bring up rare pearls.

--John Piper

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Pulling "My Blog List" Down

I have wanted to advertise my friends' blogs, but blogspot's mechanism that allows me to do that has something wrong with it, and I cannot figure out how to rectify it.

Currently, most of the blogs listed on "My Blog List" are not showing the most recent activity on those blogs, thus giving the impression that those blogs are not active. Therefore, I'm pulling it off my blog.

Maybe we'll try it again later.

Friday, November 6, 2009

What Caused Me to Fall in Love with the Bible

I prayed today that my children would fall in love with the Word of God. As I was doing so, I was reflecting back on my own journey into that particular love. While there were probably many proddings along the way, I identify 3 primary ones:

1. My dad's example
He got up early every morning (like 3:30 a.m.) to study the Bible. Anything else he read was in order to help him understand the Bible better.

2. My youth pastor's preaching
The first time I was exposed to (or perhaps the first time I had paid attention to) expository preaching (as opposed to topical preaching) was sitting under the Sunday night preaching ministry of Gary Aupperle at Avalon Missionary Church. Sunday night after Sunday night he would hold up a particular text of Scripture for us to see, and what we saw was that Scripture is beautiful and wonderful.

3. My Bible college education
I took many Bible courses at Fort Wayne Bible College (like The Pentateuch, The Historical Books, The Poetical Books, Isaiah, The Life of Christ, Acts, and Romans) as well as related courses (like Hermeneutics, Homiletics, etc.). And in all of them I sat under professors who loved the Word and lived by it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Religion the Biggest Cause of Wars and Deaths? I Don't Think So

It is taken as common knowledge by some that religion has been the cause of most wars and their consequent deaths. But this is far from true.

The three men who have murdered the most were pagans/atheists.

Hitler was responsible for the deaths of 21,000,000 people (6 million Jews).
Stalin was responsible for the deaths of 43,000,000.
Chairman Mao Zedong? 77,000,000.

"But Hitler was a Christian" is an argument amazingly propagated. Well, he's not like any Christian I know. I don't know how his actions could be considered biblical. Hitler was raised Roman Catholic, but he abandoned his religion and described himself as "a total pagan."

Stalin was raised Russian Orthodox and studied for the priesthood, but "he utterly apostatized, hating Christianity and God and closing 90 percent of the churches in the Soviet Union" (D. James Kennedy, Skeptics Answered 118).

And Mao was just plain wacky ... and evil.

What about the Inquisition? 12,000 people in Spain and 30,000 altogether (according to Kennedy). Not a good thing, but at the same time, it's not quite as big as the 141,000,000 killed under "the big 3" mentioned above. In fact it's only .02% of their tally.

Don't be deceived. Communism (Stalin and Mao) has killed far more people than religion.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Watching the World Series

I enjoy watching the World Series.

I watch very little sports on TV--very little. But when the World Series rolls around, I usually make an effort to watch a few games.


It's not because I have a dog in the fight (to borrow a Michael Vick metaphor). I'm not a Phillies fan or a Yankees fan (though this year I'm rooting for the Phillies). In fact, I don't really have a favorite team (though for many years the White Sox was "my team").

Baseball's probably my favorite sport (though volleyball and tennis hover around that spot, too). There's the physical side, the athletic acumen required of the various positions. But over the last many years I've come to appreciate and understand more and more the mental side of baseball as well.

"Baseball's boring," many say. "It's too slow." Those are comments of people who don't understand baseball's intricacies. It's more than just hitting a ball and running (though there's a great deal of expertise and practice required just to execute those two elements well).

[Note: If you want to gain appreciation for baseball, read George Will's Men at Work.]

If I played baseball today, I'd be a much better player mentally (but far worse physically). Alas that the physical and mental did not traverse the same path together.

I think another reason I enjoy the World Series is there's something nostalgic about it. I loved watching TV baseball games as a kid and a teen. It was no effort for me to watch a couple regular season games a week. (That's how I fell in love with the White Sox, because I saw a lot of their games.) I didn't necessarily watch with anyone. My dad and brother weren't sports fans. But I watched and enjoyed.

There's something relaxing about watching the World Series as well. I've always got something to do around the house--this task, and then this task, and then this needs to be done. But then I sit down and for a few moments forget the pressures and watch men in uniform colors desperately trying to control the geography of a small white ball.

Watching the World Series brings back many warm memories and infuses them into the present, and I come away from a game refreshed, ready for bed, and ready to tackle a new day tomorrow.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Being a Taxi Driver Isn't Conducive to Blogging

I've hit a blogging slump. Can you tell?

It primarily has to do with the time factor. I believe Sara and I have officially hit the taxi phase of parenting. Caty's volleyball has ended, but Andrew's basketball is now picking up, plus he's working about 3 days a week. That adds up to a lot of drive time.

I hope to pick up blogging again soon.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Leave a Comment about Your Favorite Classic Novel

What's your favorite "high brow" book and why?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

THE CHOSEN Is a Good Book

Sara and I just finished reading The Chosen by Chaim Potok. I had read it a few years ago and decided I wanted to read it to Sara.

Set in New York City in the 1940s, it's the story of Jewish boys, one "liberal" and one "conservative" (Hasidic) and their fathers. The boys form an unlikely friendship when Danny (the Hasid) bats a ball into Reuven's eye, sending him to the hospital for a long stint. The friendship, though unlikely given the backgrounds and the circumstances of their first meeting, appears to be destined by God.

The story focuses on their friendship as well as on each boy's relationship with his father. Both fathers love their sons, but their approaches to raising their boys are very different. The setting includes the conclusion of WWII, revelations of the Holocaust as they come to be known in the US, and the horror that it produces in New York's Jews, as well as the Zionist movement to establish a political state for the Jews (which happens in 1948).

The story is told through Reuven. Danny is "the chosen," chosen by his father for a role and profession that he does not want to follow.

There are books that scratch the itch for entertainment. There are others that scratch a deeper itch for substance and depth. The Chosen falls into the latter category.

Dealing with friendship and the father-son relationship, Sara and I both felt enriched through this read.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Evolutionists: "Our Bad"

Some guy over at Submitted Though Fort Wayne has a pretty good article on the fact that we're not looking for missing links anymore.

Friday, October 2, 2009

High IQ Doesn't Alway Equal Wisdom, Especially in Government

Thomas Sowell's latest column asserts that having brainiacs in power isn't always the smart way to go.

Highlighting this truth with FDR's "brain trust" (whose policies prolonged the Great Depression), Lyndon Johnson/Robert McNamara's "whiz kids" (the geniuses behind the mismanagement of Vietnam) and Adolf Hitler (whose intelligence advanced the evil machinations of his heart), Sowell suggests the alleged brain power of the current administration may not get us where we want to go.

"There is usually only a limited amount of damage that can be done by dull or stupid people. For creating a truly monumental disaster, you need people with high IQs."

The whole article is worth reading.

Friday, September 18, 2009

New Apologetics Blog

I am excited about a new apologetics blog that my brother has taken on. You should check it out--regularly! To date he is posting regularly. I don't know how long he will do so, but so far the posts are worth the read (and Yes, I know I'm his brother, so such evaluations may not be worth as much--that's why you should check it out for yourself).

The blog is called Submitted Thought Fort Wayne, and it an intentional counter to FreeThought Fort Wayne, a website promoting atheism.

(Some back story, for you who are interested:

Jeff recently told me about some of the things he had been observing on FreeThought Fort Wayne. He summarized some of their arguments and proceeded to highlight for me the holes in their thinking. He was very interested in this and told me he wished he could be on one of their programs some time just to debate.

I emailed him later, recommending he get back into blogging and that he blog specifically about apologetics. He started one up that day.

Jeff has always been interested in issues relating to apologetics, like the relationship between faith and science, and also the arguments of atheism and agnosticism. Add to that his sharp mind and his gift for writing, and I think he's got a winner with this blog.)

Nothing for Myself?

Today as I pray one of Andrew Murray's prayers, I pray, "Blessed Lord! Now and through all my spiritual life, let me want everything for You, and nothing for myself."

And as I pray that, I mentally stumble over it, and the Lord knows it. So I have to pray through that.

Here's what I affirm in with my mouth and my mind, but I'm not sure I truly, truly believe it in my gut:
  • When I live 100% for God's glory, life will never be better for me. When I deny myself and pour myself out for the Lord Jesus Christ, I will never have more joy or more peace or more satisfaction or more contentment.
  • The joy and satisfaction I garner now from the times I pursue my own agenda are paltry and moldy and stale compared to the joy and satisfaction I receive when I pursue the Lord's.
  • My little kingdom is comfortable, but flies are attracted to it, the walls are broken down in places, and if you can picture in your mind's eye the visible stench that surrounds Peanuts' Pigpen, the same is attached to my kingdom. By contrast God's kingdom is brilliant and beautiful and glorious. It's strong. It's prosperous. It's citizens where the genuine smiles of true happiness and security. That's the kingdom I should expend myself for, not mine.
So what's the problem? My lack of faith. I know this; I must believe it and live it.

I pray I will. I trust the Lord will answer and continue to move me from unbelief to faith.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

On Changing Light Bulbs

How many Baptists does it take to change a light bulb?
At least 15. One to change the light bulb, and 3 committees to approve the change and decide who brings the potato salad.

How many Lutherans? None. Lutherans don’t believe in change.

How many Methodists?
Undetermined. Whether your light is bright, dull, or completely out, you are loved. You can be a light bulb, turnip bulb, or tulip bulb. Church wide lighting service is planned for Sunday. Bring bulb of your choice and a covered dish.

How many Episcopalians?
Three. One to call the electrician, one to mix the drinks, and one to talk about how much better the old one was.

How many Calvinists? Every Calvinist knows only God can change a light bulb.

How many Arminians? Only one, but first the bulb must want to be changed.

How many TV evangelists? One. But for the message of light to continue, send in your donation...

How many Independent Baptists? Only one, anymore than that would be considered ecumenical.

How many Evolutionists? None - it will change itself - it will just take billions and billions of years.

How many Pentecostals? Ten. One to change the bulb and nine to pray against the spirit of darkness.

How many Charismatics does it take to change a light bulb? One, and his hands are already in the air!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Fans & Fanatics

Ever notice how sports enthusiasts are called “fans,” but Christ enthusiasts are called “fanatics”?

"Fan" is a neutral term; it doesn't have a negative connotation.

"Fanatic" is a negative term; it indicates excess, or improper investment.

Sports enthusiasts invest hours and hours in sports—watching, playing, thinking about; but somehow that’s respectable, and following Christ isn’t.

But that's the world's view. God's take is typically different:

... train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.
--1 Timothy 4:7-8 (NIV)

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Preaching & Teaching

I'm in the midst of a week-and-a-half marathon of preaching and teaching. Along with my regular teaching responsibilities, three preaching opportunities were added. So much of my time has been invested in studying and thinking. I am enjoying it, though there are things piling up at home I need to get to ...

  • Adult Bible Study last week -- 2 Sam 18:1-19:8
  • Sunday School last Sunday -- Zech 2
  • Sermon last Sunday -- 1 Pt 2:4-5
  • Nursing home sermon yesterday -- Ps 73
  • Adult Bible Study tonight -- 2 Sam 19:9-43
  • Sunday School this Sunday -- Zech 3
  • Sermon this Sunday -- 1 Pt 2:6-8

God is good! Praise the Lord for his word and the opportunity to proclaim it!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

On Prayer Again

From Andrew Murray, With Christ in the School of Prayer (ch. 25):

Once again, we learn this lesson: What our prayer achieves depends on what we are and what our lives are.

Living in the Name of Christ is the secret of praying in the Name of Christ; living in the Spirit is necessary for praying in the Spirit. Abiding in Christ gives the right and power to ask for what we desire. The extent of our abiding is equivalent to our power in prayer.

The Spirit dwelling within us prays, not always in words and thoughts, but in a breathing and a being that is deeper than utterance. There is as much real prayer in us as there is of Christ's Spirit.

Let our lives be full of Christ and full of His Spirit, so that the wonderfully unlimited promises to our prayers will no longer appear strange. "Hitherto ye have asked nothing in my Name. Ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full. At that day ye shall ask in my Name. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my Name, He will give it you."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Asking in the Lord's Name Should Be Accompanied by Doing All in the Lord's Name

I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. (John 16:23-24 NIV)

Andrew Murray explains a bit more about asking in the name of Jesus:

"Everything depends on my own relationship to the Name. The power it has on my life is the power it will have in my prayers. There is more than one expression in Scripture which can make this clear. "Do all in the Name of the Lord Jesus" is the counterpart of "Ask all. " To do all and ask all in His Name go together. "We shall walk in the Name of our God" means the power of the Name must rule in the whole life. Only then will it have power in prayer. God looks not to our lips, but to our lives to see what the Name is to us. When Scripture speaks of "men who have given their lives for the Name of the Lord Jesus," or of one "ready to die for the Name of the Lord Jesus," we see what our relationship to the Name must be. When it is everything to me, it will obtain everything for me. If I let it have all I have, it will let me have all it has."

--With Christ in the School of Prayer

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Elmhurst Wins a Football Game, and That's a Big Deal

Elmhurst High School, my alma mater, won its opening football game this past Friday night, Aug 21, 2009, against Northrop High School.

I marked the date, because that's a big deal.

Elmhurst High School is known for its football. But that's not a good thing, because Elmhurst is known for its losing football.

Prior to this Friday night's game, Elmhurst's last win was in 2004 when they beat Wayne. In between their last win in 2004 and their opening win in 2009, the Elmhurst Trojans racked up 45 defeats.

That's the stuff jokes and fun-poking are made of.

By the way, their win in 2004 was their only win in 2004.

Now let's talk about 2003. Their season opener was against Bishop Dwenger, a perennial Fort Wayne powerhouse. Elmhurst was the talk of the town when they upset Dwenger, 27-23. They went on to win two more games that season.

(I just found out Sunday that one of the guys in my Sunday School class played on that Dwenger-upsetting team.)

Is the 45-game losing streak a fluke? Well, during the eight seasons of 1995-2002, they won one game. When they beat Bishop Dwenger in 2003, the Elmhurst Trojans snapped a 64-game losing streak.

In 1990, Elmhurst went 0-9, scoring one touchdown the entire year!

1976 seems to be the year of the Trojan. They went 9-1 that year. Let's bring that coach back!

When I was the youth pastor here at Northside, the kids used to make fun of the fact that I went to Elmhurst, especially during football season. "Yeah, well we focused on academics," I told them.

But who knows? Elmhurst is 1-0 so far this year. Maybe the times, they are a'changin'.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Past Blast

CDYC, maybe 1986? My brother's the one on the left. I'm the tall one.

Words of Wisdom

It is honorable for a man to resolve a dispute,
but any fool can get himself into a quarrel.
--Proverbs 20:3 (HCSB)
Wine is a mocker, beer is a brawler,
and whoever staggers because of them is not wise.
--Proverbs 20:1 (HCSB)
There is gold and a multitude of jewels,
but knowledgeable lips are a rare treasure.
--Proverbs 20:15 (HCSB)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's ... Shebna?

The image of God's judgment is often very picturesque, as in the case of Shebna, who incurred divine wrath.

Look, young man! The LORD is about to shake you violently. He will take hold of you, wind you up into a ball, and sling you into a wide land. (Is 22:17-18 HCSB)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Growing in Holiness

How should we view a believer's growth in holiness (sanctification)? Is it automatic or is it a result of intentional work? Is it natural or the result of blood, sweat, and tears? Is it instantaneous or gradual? Is perfection achievable here in this life or does it only come in the next?

I submit two propositions of my understanding:

Sanctification is struggle. Christ gives us the ability to overcome sin. But the overcoming isn't always easy. As we grow closer to Christ, the more aware of sin in our lives we become.
Our lives are like a well and the Scriptures like a lamp. As the Scriptures begin to go deeper and deeper into our lives, they reveal increasingly grotesque things far below the surface, things we weren't even aware of.

The Christian is often very conscious of sin, and that consciousness often increases as he draws closer to Christ. Think of the reaction of Isaiah, Job, Peter, and John when they encountered God in the fullness of his glory. Job confessed he didn't know what he had been talking about and then shut his mouth. Isaiah cried, "Woe is me!" Peter asked the Lord to go away from him because he was a sinful man. John fell at the Lord's feet as though dead. All were overcome by the glory of the Lord and their unworthiness by comparison.

So what's the struggle exactly? In overcoming sin. It seems like I no more start to get a handle on one sin than two more sins pop up out of nowhere. I work on them by God's grace and something else pops up, sometimes a new sin, sometimes an old sin that I'm only now discovering to be a sin in me.

Someone asks, "But doesn't this make you negative and morbid? Where's the victory? And what's the incentive for people to come to Christ if he doesn't help us conquer sin?" Good questions.

Romans 12:3 says that we are to regard ourselves soberly. I take that mean that we are to view ourselves realistically, as truthfully as possible.

That means that we will recognize the sin in our lives, that we fall short of God's glory, that yes, our sins are forgiven, but that nonetheless sins crop up (attitudes, thoughts, words, actions) that need to be confessed and repented of.

But we should also recognize the positive things in our lives, the growth in holiness, the talents and abilities we have, growth in various aspects of the fruit of the Spirit. But in all honesty, where do these things come from? They are all from God; so even in these there is no cause for boasting (see 1 Cor 4:7). But seeing that we are growing in holiness should be a cause for thanksgiving and joy. If I see that I don't struggle with my temper now like I did before, I should rejoice in the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in my life.

So there is, I think, often this mixture of sorrow and joy in a believer's life when he examines himself--sorrow at current sin struggles and joy in progress. "Blessed are those who are poor in spirit ... Blessed are those who mourn." I think being poor in spirit has something to do with awareness of personal spiritual bankruptcy; mourning is in many cases mourning for personal sin.

Paul expresses this reality of both sorrow and joy in the believers life: "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Rom 7:24-25 NIV)

My second proposition is this: sanctification is progress. While growing in holiness is struggle, it is, overall, successful struggle. There is progress, or at least there should be progress, all throughout our Christian lives on this planet. (In fact, if there weren't progress, it wouldn't be called sanctification, for sanctification means growth in holiness. If you're not growing holiness, you are not being sanctified.)

So, what's the incentive for people to come to Christ? He gives you the resources to struggle successfully against sin, not to mention all the other blessings attendant upon salvation--reconciliation with God, joy, peace, eternal life, Heaven.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Distinction Fuzzy

... Calvinist doctrine ... makes it difficult to distinguish between God and the devil. God wants some to go to hell, and the devil wants everyone to go to hell.

--Roger E. Olson, arguing against Paul Helm's traditional Calvinist perspective in Perspectives on the Doctrine of God: 4 Views, Ed. Bruce Ware, 57

Monday, August 17, 2009

9 Book Recommendations

The computer I'm on as I compose this post is right next to my bookcase at home. We have 9 bookcases in our basement. One is specifically mine (though my books occupy space in others as well). Here are 9 titles currently sitting on my bookcase I think would be worthy of your reading.

Shelf 1: Jesus in Beijing (David Aikman). Fascinating story of Christianity in China, with an emphasis, if memory serves, on the last few decades.

Shelf 2: Amusing Ourselves to Death (Neil Postman). Shows how TV as a medium has dumbing down effects on society and culture, even if the message is positive, educational, and encouraging (and it usually isn't).

Shelf 3: To America: Personal Reflections of An Historian (Stephen Ambrose). Ambrose has written on different subjects of American history, and each chapter in this book is a sort of summary of his thoughts on each of the subjects he's written about. It's a fascinating tapestry of American history, from the Revolution to the modern age, and Ambrose offers interesting insight. Topics include Eisenhower, Nixon, the transcontinental railroad, Lewis and Clark, D-Day, and Vietnam, etc.

Shelf 4: The Living (Annie Dillard). A novel that sprawls over 40 years and is populated by interesting characters. Set in Washington State in the late 1800s, the book reflects the harshness of settling that area, a harshness brought on both by the wilderness itself and the defective natures of the characters.

Shelf 5: A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories (Flannery O'Connor). Talk about your defective characters! Not light-hearted reading, but who wants fluff anyway? O'Connor's short stories invite re-reading.

Shelf 6: The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas). A vivid story of revenge. The only story I've read by Dumas, he seems like a master storyteller. (God's judgment is/will be meticulous. Ours, however, should not be. "Vengeance is mine," says the Lord.)

Back to shelf 3: An American Life (Ronald Reagan). Reagan's autobiography gives great insight into the optimism, common sense, and moral stubbornness of a great man.

Back to shelf 5: The Piano Tuner (Daniel Mason). A novel. In 1886 a quiet piano tuner is sent by the British military to Burma to tune a piano belonging to an eccentric army surgeon. Suffice it to say, tuning the piano is not the whole story.
Back to shelf 2: If Only He Knew (Gary Smalley). A great aid to husbands in becoming better husbands--at least it was to me (and I always need help in that department). Subtitle is "What No Woman Can Resist."

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Quick to Pick on Vick

Why are Americans so quick to villify Michael Vick for his dog fighting business? Because truly what he did was sinful thing, and we recognize it. People think him to be wretched individual.

How come we don't think the same about those who kill their own children?

This is the gist of a blog post I came across. Here's part of it:

I have yet to hear anyone come out and say that the brutal business of dog fighting is anything but objectionable. The most sympathetic statements that are heard relate to giving Vick a second chance after he has ‘paid his debt to society.’

Furthermore, people really seem to be comfortable talking about how horrible a guy he is. After all he killed dogs! He capitalized on the violent treatment of dogs through his side business.

Now I am not out of step with everyone else on this. I think what he did was wrong. From what I have read there is little doubt that he was vicious and unfeeling.

What I am after, instead, is the social observation that people are so comfortable talking about this issue and condemning his actions while living in a country that sanctions the free choice to kill human life.

Read the whole thing.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Arminian Myth #6

From Arminian Theology by Roger E. Olson

Myth #6: Arminianism is a human-centered theology.

Truth: An optimistic anthropology is alien to true Arminianism, which is thoroughly God-centered. Arminian theology confesses human depravity, including bondage of the will.

Jacob Arminius believed in the bondage of the will. Any good in human life only came because prevenient grace had freed the will first. In Arminian theology, free will is more appropriately called "freed will."

The power to believe for salvation man couldn't do on his own. That power had to be divinely conferred on man.

When man sinned, human beings became incapable of responding to God for salvation.

"Grace is the beginning and continuation of spiritual life, including the ability to exercise a good will toward God." (Olson 144)

Simon Episcopious taught that in the fallen state, apart from God's special prevenient grace, man has no free will to do any spiritual good.

After surveying various Arminian theologians, Olson concludes, "With the sole exception of Limborch and some of his followers, then, Arminius and his seventeenth- and eighteenth-century followers embraced the doctrines of original sin and total depravity. They affirmed the bondage of the will to sin in a manner reminiscent of Luther and Calvin." (150)

Arminian theologian William Burton Pope surely cannot be accused of a man-centered theology when he writes, "No ability remains in man to return to God; and this avowal concedes and vindicates the pith of original sin as internal. The natural man ... is without the power even to co-operate with Divine influence. The co-operation with grace is of grace. Thus it keeps itself for ever safe from Pelgianism and semi-Pelgianism." (Olson 154)

Olson sums up this way: "The moral ability to respond to the gospel freely--by the graciously freed will--is a free gift of God through Christ to all people in some measure. It does not mean that anyone can now seek and find God using natural ability alone! It is a supernatural endowment that can be and usually is rejected or neglected. According to Arminian theology, because of Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit all people are being influenced toward the good; the deadly wound of Adam's sin is being healed. And yet their fallen nature is still with them." (155)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The 3 Rs of a Growing Knowledge of the Bible

Reading: It's amazing how much you come to learn about the Bible just by reading it! (It should be fairly obvious that people who actually read their Bibles know more about it than those who don't.)

There will be lots of things you don't understand; keep reading. As you continue to read over the months and years, passages that seem impossible to understand now will become transparent to you in the future.

Case in point: Zechariah has always been a difficult book for me to understand. But as I read through it this last time, I was amazed at how much more of it I was understanding. And how rich a book it is!

'Riting: On a regular basis, take notes on what you're reading, whether in a notebook or on a computer. Writing forces you to slow down and pay more attention to details. And there is a wealth of enriching teaching in the details. There is much to be savoured in Scripture. Taking notes, writing down your observations, allows Scripture to soak in, sifting down to your long-term memory.

'Rithmetic: Over time, reading and 'riting add up (there's the math part). A friend told me yesterday that he has started reading through Joshua, taking notes as he goes. Excellent!

Some Christians starting today might be discouraged: "Yeah, but there are 66 books of the Bible, and I'm just starting. It's going to be a long time before I have a good knowledge of the Bible."

What can I say to that? Most worthwhile things are not mastered overnight. Many worthwhile things require years of progress. Knowing the Scriptures is the same way.

So, yes, it will take you a while to grow in your knowledge of the Scriptures. But if you get into the Scriptures today and tomorrow and the next day, you'll know more of the Bible next week than you do right now.

Furthermore, the payoff is immediate. If you start with Joshua 1 or Psalm 1 or Genesis 1, you begin to learn things now--about God, yourself, our world, sin, salvation, etc. Your faith begins to grow. Your love for God begins to grow.

When it comes to learning the Bible, it's basic 'rithmetic:

reading + 'riting = Biblical literacy

Eritrean Brother in Christ Tortured to Death

Voice of the Martyrs reports:

"On July 23, Yemane Kahasay Andom, a Christian imprisoned for his faith in Eritrea died after authorities denied him medical treatment, according to Compass Direct News.

"Yemane is the third Christian to die in prison this year. He died at Mitire Confinement Center from complications with malaria and was reportedly tortured while in prison. It is believed his body was secretly buried at the camp.

"... two weeks prior to his death, Yemane was allegedly weakened by continuous physical torture and solitary confinement because he refused to sign a recantation form. Though Compass reports it is not clear what the contents of the recantation form were, most Christians interpret the signing of such a form as the denouncement of their faith in Christ.

"The Eritrean government persecutes Christians, often placing believers in metal containers that are extremely hot during the day and cold during the night. Nearly 1,800 Eritrean Christians are believed to be under arrest because of their religious beliefs...."

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

When Euthanasia Progresses from the Right to Die to the Duty to Die

Nancy Gibbs, writing in TIME magazine, expressed concern recently about the slippery slope of euthansia. The examples detailed in the paragraph below are scary.

"But each step forward gets a little more slippery. Is there some point, visible in the cloudy moral distance, where the right to die becomes a duty to die? We don't need to set Grandma adrift on her ice floe; the pressures would be subtle, wrapped in the language of reason and romance — the bereaved widower who sees no reason to try to start over, the quadriplegic rugby player whose memories paralyze his hopes, the chronically ill mother who wants to set her children free. Already in Oregon, one-third of those who chose assisted suicide last year cited the burden on their families and caregivers as a reason. A study in the Netherlands found that one in four doctors said they had killed patients without an explicit request--including one doctor who believed that a dying Dutch nun was prevented from requesting euthanasia because of her religion, so he felt the just and merciful thing to do was to decide for her." (emphasis added)

Read the whole article.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Arminian Myth #5

From Arminian Theology by Roger E. Olson

Myth #5: Arminian theology denies the sovereignty of God.

Truth: Classical Arminianism interprets God's sovereignty and providence differently than Calvinism without in any way denying them; God is in charge of everything without controlling everything.

Different notions of sovereignty
  • Calvinism -- God ordains everything, control everything; absolute control
  • Arminianism -- God ordains much, and this sometimes extends even to human choices and actions. But he doesn't stipulate all choices and actions, especially sin. He allows sin, permits it, sometimes prevents it, sometimes limits it. But sovereignty doesn't mean absolute control. And this is by God's sovereign choice to extend to men some freedom.

God's sovereignty is in some sense analogous to the sovereignty a monarch exercises over a nation. His power is great, and there are many things that people do or don't do as a direct result of his control. But he does not control everything everyone does.

Jacob Arminius argued that there are some things God can't do--sin. "God's character as supreme love and justice make certain acts of God inconceivable. Among them would be foreordaining sin and evil" (Olson's words, 120).

Arminius was puzzled by accusations against him regarding providence, "because he went out of his way to affirm it. He even went so far as to say that every human act, including sin, is impossible without God's cooperation!" (121).

Arminius affirmed concurrence. God is the first cause of all actions, because human beings couldn't even lift a finger without his power. God commits to cooperating with a man in his actions, even in his sin, thought the guilt of sin belongs to the man, because the man has decided to use his God-given power to commit sin.

Later Arminius added, along with sinful acts, calamities to occurrences that God allows and controls but doesn't plan or decree.

John Wesley held to a specific, particular providence.

"Either, therefore, allow a particular providence, or do not pretend to believe any providence at all. If you do not believe that the Governor of the world governs all things in it, small and great; that fire and hail, snow and vapour, wind and storm, fulfill his word; that he rules kingdoms and cities, fleets and armies, and all the individuals whereof they are composed (and yet without forcing the wills of men or necessitating any of their actions); do not affect to believe that he governs anything." (John Wesley; in Olson 127)

Olson writes concerning Arminian theologian John Miley: "For Miley, and most if not all later Arminians, God's primary way of ruling over human affairs is though persuasion, but God's persuasive power is greater than any creature's. God's influence lies directly on every subject so that nothing can happen without being pulled or pushed by God toward the good. However, free and rational creatures have the power to resist the influence of God. This power was given to them by God himself. Miley's theology assumes a divine self-limitation for the sake of human liberty" (131).

"One thing should be absolutely clear from all these examples of Arminian accounts of divine sovereignty and providence--the common accusation that Arminianism lacks a strong or high view of God's sovereignty is false. Every classical Arminian shares with every classical Calvinist the belief that God is in charge of and governs the entire creation, and will powerfully and perhaps unilaterally bring about the consummation of his plan. Arminians demur from Calvinism's divine determinism because it cannot avoid making God the author of sin and evil" (135).

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Job Didn't Get the Job

Job has done such a fine job of explaining how God could improve upon his job that God just has a simple questionnaire (Job 38-39) for Job to ace before god status is conferred upon him.

Here's a rundown of the topics where Job needs to demonstrate proficiency.

  1. Foundations of the earth -- Who measured them? How were they constructed?

  2. Placement and containment of the seas -- Any experience?

  3. Lighting of the world -- Have you regulated that before?

  4. Ocean depths -- When was the last time you were there? Have you ever been there?

  5. Gates of death -- Have you seen them?

  6. Size of the earth -- What is it?

  7. Location of light and darkness -- What are their respective addresses?

  8. Warehouses of storm components (snow, hail, lightning, winds) -- Have you been in these before? Do you even know the way to them?

  9. Flood rains -- How do those make it to the desert to water it?

  10. Rain, dew, ice -- How are those all formed? You surely don't think they just "happen," do you?

  11. Constellations -- What experience do you have in moving those through the heavens? Do you even know how to do it?

  12. Storms (again) -- Do the clouds and the lightning bolts respect your authority and obey your orders? What is your proficiency in assessing storm need? Assuming that storm components do cooperate with your instructions, do your orchestrated storms do the job?

  13. Food service -- What's your track record in providing for the animals; say, for the lions and the ravens?

  14. Animal reproduction (We'll just focus on the goats and the deer right now) -- Explain all you know about the pregnancy, labor, and delivery of each. Which ones are pregnant right now, and how far along are each?

  15. Animal kingdom -- The independence of the wild donkey and the wild ox, the stupidity and speed of the female ostrich, the strength and laugh-in-the-face-of-death courage of the horse, the flight capabilities and hunting prowess of the hawk and the eagle: Explain each of these in detail; how they came about and why the animals differ so much from one another.
1 The LORD said to Job:
2 "Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?
Let him who accuses God answer him!"
3 Then Job answered the LORD :
4 "I am unworthy—how can I reply to you?
I put my hand over my mouth.
5 I spoke once, but I have no answer—
twice, but I will say no more."
--Job 40:1-5 (NIV)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Tree Huggers

Richard Preston’s The Wild Trees tells the story of botanists Steve Sillett and his wife Marie Antoine as well as another tree lover, Michael Taylor.

The gist of the (true) story is this: These three people (and a few others) love trees, love to climb trees, and, especially in the case of Sillett and Taylor, are passionate about Redwoods on the west coast. Sillett and Taylor often plunge—sometimes alone, sometimes together, sometimes with others—into various Redwood areas to find the largest and the tallest. They are in fact responsible for finding and naming most of the biggest Redwoods we know today.

I found the book fascinating for several reasons.

1) The description of the trees. The size of these tree, how they develop, and how they play host to a whole other world—all kinds of life—some 30 stories above our own are amazing.

2) The efforts of Sillett and co. to discover, climb, and learn about Redwoods—the climbing techniques as well as the dangers and thrills.

3) The passion of Sillett and co. The passion scientists have for God’s creation (though these particular scientists are evolutionists) reveals to me how interesting God is as a Creator. His creation, such as trees, is so amazingly complex and intricate and wonderful that people can be fascinated by certain aspects of it for decades at a time.

4) The book’s well-written. It’s written like a story. It flows. It feels more like a novel than a non-fiction book about scientists.

Just a few tidbits from the book:

Often Sillett and others would spend the night in or near the crowns of these Redwoods. They would sleep in treeboats, hammocks suspended between branches, sometimes as high as 30+ stories in the air!

Redwoods have a habit of growing other trunks in the sky from their branches or from the main trunk. For example, a tree named Adventure, 334’ tall, has 40 extra trunks. (234)

Another one, Iluvatar, contains 220 trunks. “The top of Iluvatar is so dense with foliage that you could put on a pair of snowshoes and walk around on top and play Frisbee there.” (202)

The base of Iluvatar

The author’s daughter climbed a giant tulip poplar tree in Georgia that has a cave in it. The mouth of the cave was 90’ above ground. She climbed in through the mouth and rappelled down 20’ through the center of the tree. “She came out into a room inside the tree, where a hole looked out into the canopy, like a round window.” (243)

Click here to see a pictures that give some perspective on how tall these Redwoods are.