Saturday, December 19, 2015

Why Love is So Great

But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:13, NASB

Love: Preeminent Reinforcement

I've been editing a document for a friend and found this passage to be beautiful and insightful regarding the famous passage on the role of faith, hope and love. The argument I am accustomed to teachings that argue love is superior because of its longevity. While there is a day when faith becomes sight and hope is fulfilled, love will never lose its usefulness. We will love and be loved throughout eternity!

While this line of reasoning is solid and wonderful, my friend argues that love is (also) preeminent 1) because it gives a holy context to the other two and 2) because it nurtures and supports the other two in our present reality. In his own words:
...he begins with a negative emphasis on its essential nature (what good is any other act or quality, even including faith, without it?) then ends with a statement that only 3 qualities can endure in this world: faith, hope, and love. Perhaps the interpretation could even mean that the three qualities are all that will endure into eternity: Faith, the trusting in God’s goodness and vision; Hope, by which we know for certain we have been redeemed and are loved; and Agape’-Love, the concern for all that God pervades and all that is of God. And the greatest of these three? Without love, faith is sterile. Without love, how can we have a hope—in God or anyone or anything else? Without faith, love can heal us until we are able to trust enough to express faith. Without hope, love gives us vision to see the focus of hope is in God, in his unchanging certainty, and in the needs within his creation that he has prepared for our actions to heal.

—Steve Morris

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Corn King



Yesterday's post
on Halloween provoked several thoughts from good friends. Here's one of them that deals with a topic that I actually considered writing about but figured it would be way too long. He does a great job of distilling the arguments.

A number of years ago, my pastor at the time dismissed objections to Halloween on the basis that the dressing up as ghosts and goblins was, in the recent Christian milieu, meant as mockery of the Celtic religion and beliefs. In some sense, this could, however, be taken as a more "scientific" than "Christian" attitude, but could also be perceived as the reasonable attitude of the modern Christian.

The other ideas, related to death, are a couple of quotes from C.S. Lewis, Miracles (NY: Macmillan, 1947):

First, about Christ as the "dying god" of nature religions (including the Celtic): The records, in fact, show us a Person who enacts the part of the dying God, but whose thoughts and words remain quite outside the circle of religious ideas to which the dying God belongs. The very thing which the Nature-religions are all about seems to really have happened once: but it happened in a circle where no trace of Nature-religion was present. (p. 118)

About the Christian doctrine of Death, after talking about religions who believe death to be meaningless because of reincarnation and religions who believe death is critical to escape an illusory life: Christianity countenances neither. Its doctrine [of Death] is subtler. On the one hand Death is the triumph of Satan, the punishment of the Fall, and the last enemy. Christ shed tears at the grave of Lazarus and sweated blood in Gethsemane: the Life of Lives that was in Him detested this penal obscenity not less than we do, but more. On the other hand, only he who loses his life will save it. We are baptized into the death of Christ, and it is the remedy for the Fall. (p. 130.)

While we celebrate the martyrdom of those saints who were persecuted until death, we also see Death less the threat because Jesus has conquered it. It is now the gate through which we must pass on our way to our reward. That does not make it attractive, but it does make it something we can consider without fear, even with a humorous approach, at times. It may be, as Lewis says, the final enemy, but it no longer has the final word.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Get Ready for Halloween

This is Halloween!

As the days grow shorter and the nights feel darker, it is natural to begin thinking of the day when we shut our eyes for the final time on this earth. During autumnal changes, when leaves change colors and fall, we cannot help but consider the brevity of life. We even call the phases of our lives "seasons" in direct comparison to weather patterns.

It is no wonder that Halloween, All Saints Day and All Souls Day should fall one right after the other during the final days of October and first days of November. But what is the significance of these holidays (should we even call them holidays as Christians) and how are they related? I'll give you an abbreviated version of the history.
  • Samhainapprox. 43 CE Gaelic festival celebrated on November first. It marked the end of the harvest and beginning of the darker winter days. It was also their New Year's Day. It was believed that the line between the living and the dead was blurred on the evening before (October 31) and ghosts would roam the streets.
    History.com: History of Halloween
  • All Saints' Dayapprox. 603 CE Pope Boniface IV fixed November 1 as the anniversary to celebrate all saints who had given their lives for the furtherance of the gospel, calling the day "All Hallows Day" and redeem the ongoing festivals by celebrating "All Hallows Eve" the evening before. Hence, the contraction "hallow e'ven"
    Catholic Encyclopedia: All Saints' Day
  • All Souls' Dayapprox. 1048 CE A day set aside to remember all the dead and pray that they safely pass on from purgatory to heaven.
    Catholic Encyclopedia: All Souls' Day

    NOTE: This is a very simplistic statement on purgatory, for clarity, seek someone who knows this process more intimately than I do.

So, Pagans had it first?

Probably. Although, note that the dates I cite are rough estimates on when these holidays/festivals were officially adopted by the celebrants. Common sense and anthropological assessments will tell you that the traditions hearken back much further than that. Undoubtedly, Celtic tribes held harvest festivals before 43 CE (perhaps even while Christ walked this earth), but Samhain as historians note it began around 43 CE with the mixing of Roman and Celtic traditions.

The same is true with All Hallows Day (All Saints' Day) and All Souls' Day. The early church always celebrated their martyrs. The church calendar is littered with Feast Days dedicated to the memory of one faithful servant or another. Therefore, even though 603 CE is pinned as the official organization of this holiday, the traditions surrounding it goes back to the early church.

As for All Souls' Day, Spanish (636 CE) and German (980 CE) traditions well pre-date the official recognition of the holiday in 1048 CE by St. Odilo of Cluny. Therefore, it is firmly entrenched as the last of the traditions to come around.

It should also be noted (as mentioned in the video from History.com) that current Halloween practices are completely separate from Samhain. Current, American Halloween traditions are almost all late 19th and early 20th century in origin, peaking sometime in the mid-1900s with the baby-boomers, who today are the generation most nostalgic for the Halloween of their youth. At best, it is a non-religious holiday for most.

Sanctifying the Day

A lot of Christians point to the fact that Halloween (and other holidays) were not Christian inventions and therefore belong to the world. As a result, they should have no place in the Christian life. As a matter of personal choice, I say OK, I respect your stance for you and your family. However, I also ask: Why can't we take a pagan holiday and sanctify it?

Halloween plays on our basest fear: death and the afterlife. People dress up and make light of the greatest equalizer: the grave. Who can truly laugh at the grave harder than the Christian whose God has taken the sting out of death? Halloween is a great opportunity to remember and live in this truth.

Not only that, but we are constantly told to remember our mortality in scripture. Ecclesiastes 7:2 tells us
It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.
That's why a funeral is better than a party. It leaves us sober-minded, cognizant of the short period of time we have on this earth. James reminds us in James 4:14
Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.
Halloween can be a party, but it can also be an opportunity to reflect on life and death without losing a loved one.

We can insist that we are holier than everybody else by abstaining from this holiday or we can take this opportunity (when mankind naturally considers the life cycle as displayed by nature) to reflect on our lives and make adjustments accordingly. Take some inspiration from the saints that have gone before us.
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. Hebrews 12:1.
Let us go out and live in light of eternity.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

King of Glory: With victory in his fist

The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains,
The world, and those who dwell in it.
For He has founded it upon the seas
And established it upon the rivers.
Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD?
And who may stand in His holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood
And has not sworn deceitfully.
He shall receive a blessing from the LORD
And righteousness from the God of his salvation.
This is the generation of those who seek Him,
Who seek Your face—even Jacob.
Selah.

Lift up your heads, O gates,
And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
That the King of glory may come in!
Who is the King of glory?
The LORD strong and mighty,
The LORD mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, O gates,
And lift them up, O ancient doors,
That the King of glory may come in!
Who is this King of glory?
The LORD of hosts,
He is the King of glory.
Selah.

— Psalm 24 NASB

Two Questions

This psalm asks two main questions. First, it asks Who can approach God in His holiness? Is there anyone who can stand in God's presence without fear? The Psalmist answers his own question. If you have clean hands and a pure heart, then you're cool. You can approach God in his holiness without fear of condemnation. On the contrary, once you arrive, you can expect a blessing. 

The second question is Who is this King of Glory? Can anyone truly know God? Sure, he reveals himself to us through his word (specifically, The Word Made Flesh), but by definition there is always more to learn about God. Here, God is revealed as a warrior, He is a conquering Hero. He is willing and ready to destroy his enemy. He is aggressive and glorious. To borrow a thought from C. S. Lewis: our God is good but by no means is he safe. He is wild and he is the king.


He is Active

It is always important to note activity when studying scripture. Notice the contrast in the amount of activity between the first and second half of this Psalm. Notice how there is no activity in the first half when the Psalmist talks of ascending to the holy place. Oh, he describes the perfect person but doesn't say that one exists. He doesn't claim the authority of clean hands and a pure heart. He simply points out that those qualities are needed. His silence screams out the sad reality: nobody is able to ascend to God on their own merit. 

But oh! The King of Glory is active. He descends and enters in through our gates and doors and in doing so lifts them up. He has come to conquer our hearts and receive the hero's spoils. He has come to flex his muscle and bridge the gap between himself and his subjects. He reclaims that which verse one already declares is his own. 

This has already been done through the work of Christ. We can now ask two more questions: Death, where is your sting? and Grave, where is your victory? (1 Corinthians 15:55) We know our King of Glory is clutching the victory in his mighty fist. Soon, we will see Philippians 2:10 come to fruition, when at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Walk Worthy Weekend Recap #WalkWorthyWknd

I attended the Walk Worthy Conference this past weekend at Camp Horizon. I wasn't sure how I wanted to post my recap. Thankfully, Steve (Camp Director & Father-in-law) made the decision for me when he recorded the sessions using Spreaker. You can just listen to the sessions (good stuff) or download them for offline listening/archiving.

Nate Bramsen was the main speaker, so you will see more sessions with him. He is a missionary to Niger. Other sessions include Brian Killins (Colombia), Ken Hardisty (Formerly to the Philippines) and Kim Keating (Currently: Philippines).

Listen below. Note that you can click on the list icon to browse and select other messages.



Holy Things on Facebook

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Friday, October 16, 2015

Weekend Worship: Stars

O Lord, our Lord,
How majestic is Your name in all the earth,
Who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens!
From the mouth of infants and nursing babes You have established strength
Because of Your adversaries,
To make the enemy and the revengeful cease.

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained;
What is man that You take thought of him,
And the son of man that You care for him?
Yet You have made him a little lower than God,
And You crown him with glory and majesty!

— Psalm 8:1-5, NASB
For this mix, I wanted to consider God's creation and our place within it. The glory of the heavens declare God's majesty. Specifically, most of these songs reference the stars and how insignificant we can feel when looking out at them. Abraham's descendents are likened to the stars and we know that anyone who believes is considered a descendent of Abraham. Did you know that God knows the stars by name (Psalm 147:4)? He cares enough to know you too.

Again, if I missed your favorite song on this topic, leave me a comment. I would love to hear about it!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Faith Implies Doubt

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

— Proverbs 3:5-6
Faith implies doubt.
If there was no reason to doubt, what place would faith have?

Faith is the act of trusting.
This trust is not in the perfect pathway but the builder of the path.

If faith is the leap, then trust is in the one who will catch you — not in your ability to stick a perfect landing.

If I could stand balanced on my own, why would I lean on God?

Doubt your sense of direction and trust the Cartographer.
Doubt your equilibrium and trust the God of Balance.

Doubt yourself. Trust God.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Weekend Worship: Light



I would like to try and get back into this music thing. Maybe I just won't talk too much and let the music do the talking. This weekend's WW playlist is all about The Light.

In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.
— John 1:4




If I missed your favorite worship song about light, let me know what it is in the comments!

Awl in the Ear, All for the Family

Awl in the Ear, All for the Family. A study on Exodus 21.
“If you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve for six years; but on the seventh he shall go out as a free man without payment. If he comes alone, he shall go out alone; if he is the husband of a wife, then his wife shall go out with him.

If his master gives him a wife, and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall belong to her master, and he shall go out alone.

But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife and my children; I will not go out as a free man,’ then his master shall bring him to God, then he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost. And his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall serve him permanently."

— Exodus 21:2-6

Lord's Supper Meditation

This passage is fairly commonly referred to during the Lord's Supper, in fact, it was used as a springboard for a devotional on a recent Sunday morning.The brother lead a passionate devotional on the Lord Jesus' devotion to his father as he set his face toward Calvary. This is good. It is a great place to begin. Jesus is the suffering servant of Isaiah 53. He was devoted to the Father and did only the things which pleased him (John 8:29).

According to tradition, the Exodus 21 passage is linked to Psalm 40:6. This Sunday was no exception:
Sacrifice and meal offering You have not desired;
My ears You have opened;
Burnt offering and sin offering You have not required.
Then I said, “Behold, I come;
In the scroll of the book it is written of me.
I delight to do Your will, O my God;
Your Law is within my heart.”


— Psalm 40:6-8
The reference to opening (piercing) ears is clearly a reference to the law of Exodus. The psalmist joins the idea of the devoted slave to a new kind of sacrifice; a sacrifice that does not follow the external tradition of the corporate worship system, but gets at the heart of the matter.

God does not desire little pious displays, what he is after is a Once For All Sacrifice. God wants someone who only does the things which delight him. There is only one man who has ever done that, the Lord Jesus, who was willing to submit to horrible execution on the cross.

A Family Affair

Getting back to the text at hand, notice the motivations involved in the slave's desire to have his ear pierced and therefore forever join himself to his master. The slave must reason within himself:
‘I love my master, my wife and my children; I will not go out as a free man,’
I understand that most of my readers can read. But sometimes details slip by without notice. Here are the terms of the slave's status enumerated:
  • Prerequisite: The slave has already served 6 years for his master.
  • Condition 1: He is unmarried. He may go free.
  • Condition 2: He is married. He and his wife go free. There are no stipulations to his wife's service. It is assumed that the man's service covers the woman's. Suppose she has only served 3 years at the time that her husband is set to go free, she will go with him at that time.
  • Condition 3: If the man has children during his 6-year service, both the wife and children belong to the master. If the man goes free, he must go alone. He loses his family.
  • Recourse: Go free and live in the corresponding condition (single or married) listed above or bind yourself to the master and keep your family.
I understand this changes the narrative of the original meditation. I do not intend to discredit it in any way. There are great things to be said about it. If you have been reading this blog for a while, you know that I am a strong proponent of multiple meanings in any particular text. Every good piece of literature can be interpreted this way, why not scripture so long as you can support the position? Please bear with me and I hope this interpretation makes sense.

I am implying here that the main motivation for the slave is not love for the master, but love for his family. How often do you suppose a slave said, "I love my master, I'm going to bind myself to him for all eternity and give up any chance for freedom." I'm sure it has happened. Perhaps it was common. It seems more likely, from a sociological perspective, that the slave would say, "If I exercise my freedom, I will lose my family. My only choice is to join myself to this master and keep my wife and children."

There's no ignoring the ethical dilemma created by this situation. Only a scoundrel would abandon his family. Binding himself to the master would seem to benefit the master here. However, for the purpose of this post I do not intend to get into that discussion. I shall table it for a later time. Suffice it to say, the emotional pull of this decision is astronomical.

The Metaphor

I believe there is a clear metaphor to be seen here. One that is beautiful and precious and illustrates what Christ has done for mankind.

The Prerequisite

The number 6 is significant in scripture. It is one short of the perfect number 7 and signifies man, because man was created on that day. Yes, the number 6 is significant because God created the world in 6 days (Genesis 1). Regardless of one's interpretation of days, that is the period of time assigned to God's active work on the creation of the universe.

This is the time period of God's service. He worked. We know this because on the 7th day, when everything was completed, he rested. Everything was done. Note also, all subsequent events were supposed to occur during this day. If sin had not entered the world, and man had not fallen, we would have continued in perfect communion with God during this eternal 7th day of perfect rest.

Concerning the 6-days of creation, who is it that does the work? We know that God upholds the universe by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3). We also know the word was there in the beginning and was the agency which created all things (John 1). Not only that, but this word became flesh and dwelt among us. By this reasoning, we know attribute creation to Jesus &mdash the Son of God. By him all things consist (Colossians 1:17).

The Condition

During this period of labor, God decides to make man. Not only does he create man, he creates man specially. He creates in his own image. There is a special relationship between man and God as a direct result of this special creation. This relationship is commonly described as a father/son relationship in scripture. It is a familial bond. God created man and placed him into the world as a ruler over it. I believe we can see where this metaphor is going at this point.

Man submits himself to Sin.

After the fall of man, man is now subject to a new master. The master is cruel. The master is harsh. The master punishes his subjects mercilessly. The order of the universe is turned on it's head because of sin. Man is no longer master of his domain, he now dominated by Sin and Death.

The Decision

Now God has a decision to make. He spent the 6 days in service. He can now cut loose and go free, but he cannot take his children with him. He must go alone. That is the law.

While deserting his creation was an option for him, it really was no option at all for a loving God. A good Father would not consider abandonment, so he chose the only other option:
He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

— Philippians 2:6-8
Yes, The Lord Jesus was obedient to his Father who commissioned the work of redemption. Yes, in a sense he bore a hole in his ear and devoted his life to Jehovah.

Jesus also submitted himself to death on the cross. More importantly, he submitted to Death and in doing so, defeated it.

Jesus emptied his essence into the form of a person and suffered under the cruel master of Sin, but never succumbed to partake in Sin's fleeting pleasures. He was tested and tried in every way, but resisted the urge to indulge himself in anything unholy.

As a result, we have a man seated in the heavens mediating between God the Father and ourselves (1 Timothy 2:5). Jesus has bridged the gap because he submitted himself to our masters though he was free. He submitted himself to death on the cross and proves it with holes in his hands and feet and head and side.

Conclusion

I apologize for an extra long post. I try to keep my thoughts concise and clean. Forgive me for rambling a bit.

How vast is the love God has for us? We will continually learn new aspects of his grace and mercy for all eternity. I know there are holes in this metaphorical interpretation of the passage of scripture, but my learning is now in part. I look forward to personally inspecting those wounds and crying out to Jesus; for if I cannot articulate myself in the blogosphere, what chance do I have in person?

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Targeting Christians, the New Era

Targeting Christians, the New Era
"These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”
— Jesus, John 16:33
This is a post I have been reluctant to write. Too many Sundays I have heard preachers preach about how persecution is coming to the United States of America. "It is inevitable," they would say, "We see it happening — slowly, but surely."

I have been reluctant to write about it because it seemed like a ridiculous notion. How could a country whose basic principle revolves around freedom turn around and persecute one group of people for something they believe? Oh wait, did you forget about the history of racism in this country? I digress...

Here's the thing, I can't ignore it anymore. I cannot rationalize the events that I have seen from afar and the people I have prayed for in their moments of grief and tragedy. There is an undercurrent of resentment and hate that is building up and bubbling over. People are very angry for a lot of different reasons. Emerging is a common target, others in their community who believe in Christ.

This is not an isolated occurrence any longer. It can and has happened anywhere, from the Northeast to the Southwest. The Southeast and the Pacific Northwest are not exempt from this trend. In this article, I will give a rundown of five of these instances from my memory alone. All linked articles were published either by the New York Times or NPR.

Roseburg, Oregon — School Shooting, 2015

This is the most recent tragic school shooting. On Thursday, October 1, a gunman walked onto campus at Umpqua Community College and opened fire. He killed nine before shooting himself. Early reports indicate that his procedure included a question about his victim's religion before determining what kind of gunshot wound they would receive.
Willis, who visited her granddaughter in the hospital, said Friday Boylan told her the shooter was asking students about their faith. "If they said they were Christian, he shot them in the head," Willis said her granddaughter told her.
I understand that these reports are early and may be discredited somewhat. However, the typical smoke/fire relationship indicates that there is likely substance of one kind or another to this story.

Littleton, Colorado — School Shooting, 1999

The infamous Columbine High School Shooting in 1999 is my earliest memory of this kind of tragedy. I know this kind of homeland terrorism has happened as long as humans have had access to weapons, but this is the first time since I reached the age of reasoning that this kind of story made the news. It didn't help that I was slated to begin high school in 2000 after 4 years of homeschool instruction.

The popular story of Cassie Bernal has been debated and likely debunked. However, it appears that the conversation between the gunman and someone did occur. The person was shot for replying affirmatively that they did believe in God. That is persecution. It also qualifies as public intimidation.

Oakland, Oregon — Christian University Shooting, 2012

On April 2, 2012, a gunman (and previous student) entered the campus of Oikos University in Oakland, California and began shooting. He killed seven and wounded three. He was later caught.

While it is unclear what the gunman's motivation was, his target was crystal clear. Oikos University is a Christian university, affiliated with Praise to God Korean Church. While enforcement is impossible, attendees at Christian Universities are typically professing Christians. Connect the dots.

Lancaster, Pennsylvania — Christian School Shooting, 2006

On October 2, 2006, a man decided he would hold up a one-room, Amish Schoolhouse and shoot little girls. This one was personally devastating. My best friend grew up in Lancaster, PA. I visited the area several times. I have great respect for the Amish and their devotion to their faith though I don't agree with their stance towards technology (minor point of dissension).

Although their community was targeted for terrorism, the story of forgiveness that came out of the tragedy is awe-inspiring to say the least. It does not matter that I disagree with their stance on technology when I whole-heartily endorse their stance on forgiveness. This is a community that lives out their genuine faith. I respect them for that.

Charleston, South Carolina — Church Shooting, 2015

On June 17, 2015, a white gunman opened fire inside a black church in Charleston, SC. Nine were killed because they were inside Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church after 9 PM.

Undoubtedly, this mass shooting was motivated by racial prejudice. However, the targets were believers who had gathered together in their house of worship. The one does not discount the other. This a classic scenario of the persecuted church. Could it happen again? Absolutely.

Conclusion

Last year, I was offered a job at Charleston Southern University, a Baptist university in the same city as Emanuel Methodist Episcopal Church. So yes, this hits home. I could have been in that area. The trend is for these shooters to operate out of School Libraries and Churches. As a librarian and a Christian, this could happen to me. I know that sounds really personal and morbid, but it must factor into my thought process.

While it is implausible that the US government will ever officially endorse the persecution of Christians, that doesn't mean it does not happen. It certainly happens every day. Sometimes it becomes violent and deadly. These are just a few examples that have occurred in a 16-year span.

Finally, as Christians, we follow a God who knows the tribulations we are subject to in this world. Guess what, he knows because he was in this world and experienced them. He not only experienced persecution, he overcame it. He is powerful to save us as well. That gives us peace to continue living for him.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Feed the Baby

Milk of the Word

I have two lovely daughters. I try to cherish every stage of their lives. Sometimes it is difficult. Sometimes it is pleasurable. And then there are times that serve as epiphanies and I end up thanking God almighty for using them to teach me something.

My firstborn did this and my second has recently started to as well. As I feed her from the bottle, she will reach up and try to wrap her hands around it too. It's as if she wants to make sure that she gets every last drop. Like she is afraid I am going to wretch the elixir from her toothless mouth and leave her to starve.

Sometimes as she places her best death-grip on the bottle she cracks open her eyes to give me a sideways glance. "Don't even try it," she threatens, "I don't want to burp, I want to eat." Both of my daughters have done it and I suspect it is a normal stage of development.

Desire the Word

Scripture urges believers to have this desire for God's word. If God's word is like milk, then the believer is like an infant. We have so much to learn and so many milestones to hurdle, we need nourishment. We crave it. We want it. We want to put away everything that potentially removes the Word of God from our lips. (I would say going in both directions, but that takes the metaphor further than intended, I believe. Maybe that's just from my personal experiences with acid reflux.)

That's not the part that brought a tear to my eye. This is:

She's not strong enough to actually hold her own bottle yet. I could easily draw it out of her lips. If I did not support the vessel, she would not receive a single drop of nourishment. She is willing, but very weak.

An infant — a newborn babe — doesn't do much other than scream and cry and be as annoying as possible. In this analogy, that is the believer. Peter is illustrating our dependency on God. Yes, we desire. But so does God and he gives us nourishment like a father who mixes formula for his child and settles into an armchair for a feeding at 4 am. God is like the mother who tenderly and willingly nurses her daughter though she is weary from all the events of the day.

Peter goes on to call Christ the living cornerstone. He is our support. We crave him. We want more of him. He will not disappoint us. He is willing to teach all who come to him with a willingness to learn. Without his support, we are lost & doomed to remain hungry.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Walk Worthy Weekend Conference

This conference has been going on annually for a few years now. I've heard great things about it. In fact, I am seriously trying to make it out to it this year. While I can't personally endorse it from my own experience, I can't imagine it would be anything but informative and encouraging. Plus, these conferences are only as good as your own attitude.

The conference is hosted by Christian Missions in Many Lands and you can register on their website. It will take place at Camp Horizon in Leesburg, Florida. Perhaps I'll see you there!

Friday, September 18, 2015

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Friday, September 4, 2015

How Lovely V - Conclusion


Based on Psalm 84
A Sermon.

Dwelling Places

"To be homeless the way people like you and me are apt to be homeless is to have homes all over the place but not to be really at home in any of them."

Frederick Buechner
The Longing for Home

Coming Home

This quote hit me hard. I recently moved from Miami to Fort Myers and for a while rented an apartment while owning a condo. I was working in Fort Myers and had an expecting wife and a young daughter in Miami. I made a conscious effort to call one place home and to never use the term for the other. Can you guess which was home?

It seems like this is a trap for Christians everywhere. We might find ourselves homeless, not in the sense that we have no home, but we feel at home in many different places. I know, the first thing that comes to mind is the world and knowing that we are not of this world (John 17.16). But sometimes these homes can be made of more sinister materials.

Maybe I harbor a home of regret over previous failures. I need to remember that God has taken care of my guilt.

Maybe I harbor a home of superiority. I need to remember that everyone comes to God the same way.

Maybe I harbor a home of religious activity. I need to remember that God wants nothing to come between me and Him, even churchy duties. Am I, are you, at home with the Lord alone?

Too Dirty?

Do you still think you are too dirty to draw close to the Lord? This is a problem I see in the assembly, particularly in our worship meetings. I hear men, usually young but older men have done it too, stand and give a devotional at the Lord's Supper. Problem is, they focus a lot on their own shortcomings. Don't get me wrong, we need to acknowledge our failure and thank God for his grace. But our failures should never obscure God's goodness. We should never be the focus.

But why? How can we even think about approaching God's glorious presence? I have two related stories and one point for you:
  1. We finally sold our condo in Miami. But before then, I decided I would take my family to visit my old work buddies at FIU (Florida International University). We went to lunch. I fed my daughter some broccoli and milk, ate my cafeteria food and caught up on all the goings-on at the University. After a little while, my daughter escaped the table. She is full of energy and really curious, so I got up and decided to wrangle her back to the table in a fun way.

    I began a little faux chase. I completely forgot the immediate context of what we were doing (re: milk and broccoli). She gave chase. I caught her. I tickled her. I spun her around and flipped her upside down. Just as I got back to the table up came the milk and broccoli. Instead of turning out to barf on the floor she turned in and barfed in my shirt pocket.

    Milk and broccoli in my shirt pocket.
    I didn't have time to change before closing.

  2. After closing we went and spent some time at my parent's house. I got my shower and put on some travel clothes because we had to drive back to Fort Myers that night.

    We were sitting at the dinner table and I was holding our newborn. Our kids have strong necks (never wobbly) and weak stomachs (acid reflux) so I almost always hold them outward. That evening, I held her on my knee facing outward.

    After some time, I start feeling warmth on my lap. It seems to be spreading. I mentioned it to the table, but nobody saw her barf. I glance at my lap but don't see anything.

    Then, the baby farts (flatulence) and it's too late to take preventative measures. Poop flies out of her diaper in all directions and my lap is instantly covered in the brown-yellow-green goop that passes for infant excrement. My baby has just crapped all up in my lap.

These experiences were repulsive. They are gross. They are unbelievably nasty. They are the perfect illustration of our current discussion. Immediately following these extracurricular activities, they were un-cuddleable. Something had come between us. But these things do not change my love for them. I still loved them fiercely. How much greater is God's love than my human love? Hint: The answer is greater than you can imagine.

But it doesn't stop there. You see, I can bathe my babies and then cuddle them once they're clean. Our Lord has done that for us. In John 13, Jesus washes his disciples feet as a symbol. He says in verse 10 "He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean." He has declared us clean. We still get dirty and need spot work from time to time, but the source of Filth has been dealt with. He has cleaned us and now draws us near. We are family.

Conclusion

Do you know that God wants you as his honored child in his dwelling place? We are not second-class citizens in his presence. We are his guests of honor. We are his family.

This study has meant a lot to me. I hope that through this series of short devotionals you have caught a glimpse of Almighty God. I trust that a small glimpse of God is enough to change the viewer for all eternity. May we seek God's dwelling place continually and know that he wants to help us through the journey.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

How Lovely IV - The God you've always wanted to be with


Based on Psalm 84
A Sermon.

Dwelling Places

Behold our shield, O God,
And look upon the face of Your anointed.
For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand outside.
I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God
Than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
The Lord gives grace and glory;
No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.
O Lord of hosts,
How blessed is the man who trusts in You!

— Psalm 84.9 - 12

Arrival

The psalmist has arrived! When you strut past the pearly gates and stroll into the Heavenly courts, what will be the first thing out of your mouth? What will you say to the Almighty? This is a scenario I imagine many people have considered. The poet says this: "Behold our shield".

The shield. A weapon of defense. The poet is defending his right to be there! What right do you have to stand in the presence of God? The poet goes on to state his claim: "look upon the face of Your anointed." In Israel's day, the hopes of the nation rose and fell with the King's righteousness. A good king will equate to a prosperous nation. Bad kings led to hard times. Just as Israel's hopes rose and fell with the righteousness of a man so our hope is joined to the Man, Christ Jesus. (Romans 5:17)

How Great it Is

The poet proceeds to use exaggerated language (Chiasmus) to express how great it is to be in the presence of God. He says:
  1. "a day in Your courts is better than a thousand outside." In other words: "I'd rather have a short, devoted life lived in step with my God than a long live far from him."
  2. "I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness." Or: "I'd rather forsake all comforts for the chance of a glimpse of Almighty God."
While it seems like the poet is advocating a life of asceticism, note that this is exaggerated language. He is stating that if there were a choice to be made, his preference would be obvious. Being near to God has its benefits as well. For instance:

Blessings All Mine

In stark contrast to the previous verses which hint at asceticism, the psalmist describes the incredible blessings which flow from God to his creation. God:
  • Gives liberally - The sun shines without discretion on all!
  • Gives what is needed - We needed a shield, He provided himself.
  • Gives directly - We do not need a trickle-down effect, we have direct access and direct blessing in his presence.
God wants to give and give and give to his people. We enjoy these blessings as we draw near to Him and recognize Him as the Source of ever good and perfect gift (James 1.17).

He's actually always wanted to be with you

Until know we have been reading this Psalm from the perspective of the pilgrim who seeks close proximity to His God. However, we must pause at this point and realize that we are not the aggressors in this scenario. God is the one who is actually pursuing us. Consider this reading from Mackintosh:
God had ever moved in the fullest sympathy with his people. When they were plunged in the furnace of Egyptian bondage, He was in the burning bush: when they were treading their long and dreary journey across the burning desert, his chariot travelled in company with them all the way. When they stood beneath the frowning walls of Jericho, He was there as a man of war, with a drawn sword in his hand, to act for, and in sympathy with, them. Thus, at all times, God and his Israel were together. While they toiled, he toiled, and until they could rest, he would not rest.

C.H. Mackintosh
David's House and the House of God
This is the God we have always wanted to be with, but as we look back on the journey we find that this is the God who has always wanted to be with us. He took the necessary steps to bring us into His presence and give us rest. He wants us to feel at home in His presence. He doesn't want us to constantly look over our shoulder or fear expulsion. We can rest in Him. He is home.

Conclusion

Have you stopped to consider the age-old question: "If God were to ask why He should let you into His kingdom what would you say?" Take a few moments and carefully consider your answer. Maybe write it down and read it back. Realize that He wants to be with you just as much as you want to be with Him — potentially more than you want to be with Him. He is willing to sacrifice Himself for your sake.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

How Lovely III - Strength to Get There


Based on Psalm 84
A Sermon.

Dwelling Places

How blessed is the man whose strength is in You,
In whose heart are the highways to Zion!
Passing through the valley of Baca they make it a spring;
The early rain also covers it with blessings.
They go from strength to strength,
Every one of them appears before God in Zion.
O Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer;
Give ear, O God of Jacob!
Selah.

— Psalm 84.5 - 8

Finding the Strength to Get There

No Guessing

The psalmist does not leave us guessing for long at all during this transitional period of the poem. He openly declares that we would have no hope of reaching God's presence if not for God's strength as well. Verse 5 plainly tells us where our strength is: in HIM. We are in dire need of His Strength to deliver us into His Presence. He is both our Object of our Affection and our Means of Deliverance.

In Your Heart

Note the literal rendering of 5b: In whose heart are the highways to Zion. Growing up, I was instructed not to talk about God being in your heart. Verses like: The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9) were emphasized. We cannot trust our heart. We cannot base our decisions on our fleeting, carnal emotions. But what do we do with a verse like this?

Note that this verse is not saying to trust your heart. It is telling you to equip or inform your heart. This guidance can be in your heart or not. In other words, guidance originates from elsewhere, you simply upload that information into your heart; hide it in your heart maybe? Of course, the Christian believes the best guidance comes from the scriptures and the Holy Spirit. The combination of these two should inform and guide the believer's decisions. Remember, this knowledge does no good as theory; it must become part of the person's core being.

Valleys & Rain

Once we get into the midst of this pilgrimage, we find that the journey is not easy. We are faced with obstacles that challenge our resolve to enter God's presence. However, the psalmist reminds us that these valleys and rains will eventually turn into springs and blessings. In other words, we journey from strength to strength. This is an incredible phenomenon that is hard to quantify, but easy to relate to if you have been there. We have joy because of Who is waiting for us in the end. Things can become dark and bleak and grim and worrisome, but it is through trouble that God reveals himself. It is in hardship when God proves his character to us in a personal way. I can marvel at God working things out for So-and-so, but when God does it in my family it becomes real.

This Psalm has inspired many songs. Petra's Road to Zion is clearly a re-working of this section. The final verse perfectly encapsulates the idea:
Sometimes it's good to look back down
We've come so far - we've gained such ground
But joy is not in where we've been
Joy is who's waiting at the end

There is a road inside of you
Inside of me there is one too
No stumbling pilgrim in the dark
The road to Zion's in your heart
The road to Zion's in your heart

Rest Assured

Rest assured, says verse 7, God has never lost one of His own. If you set out on this journey, you are going to learn some things. You are going to have some tough times. But you are going to make it because God will make sure you do. Jesus reflects this sentiment himself several times. "...I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of my hand..." (John 10.28). "...I guarded them and not one of them perished..." (John 17.12). This is a strong and steady fact. We can count on Him.

Conclusion

Do you have the strength to enter God's dwelling place? I'm not talking about your stamina or your worthiness. I'm talking about your guidance. I'm asking if you have the right Help. Have you reached out to the Lord and asked for His strength? Rest assured, He'll give it to you.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

How Lovely II - Where you want to be


Based on Psalm 84
A Sermon.

Dwelling Places

How lovely are Your dwelling places,
O Lord of hosts!
My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the Lord;
My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.
The bird also has found a house,
And the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young,
Even Your altars, O Lord of hosts,
My King and my God.
How blessed are those who dwell in Your house!
They are ever praising You.
Selah.

— Psalm 84.1 - 4

This is where you want to be

The Fainting Soul

While the NASB translates this term to yearn, other translations choose the word faint. This word that describes the poet's reaction towards the thought of The Lord's courts in the Hebrew is fascinating. The original word is usually translated complete. So how does one get faint from complete?

There is one word that describes the use of faint instead of complete: Thanksgiving. That time when everyone gets together and that table is piled high with all sorts of good things to eat. There's an oversized bird, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, corn souffle, macaroni and cheese, cranberry sauce, stuffing/dressing, white bread, corn bread, ham, lechon, rice, beans, moros, platanos, yucca... (maybe only in my home-town). There's so much food and somebody's got to eat it!

So we indulge. We have seconds and fourths then comes the dessert (___ Pie, fill in the blanks)! We eat until we are satisfied. We eat until we are full. All words related to complete. Then we take our naps. We eat until we faint. Satisfaction/completion has always been tied to the idea of rest. Consume until you collapse.

So it should be with our view of God. Our impression of His loveliness should be so huge that the minor glimpses we are permitted to see leave us in a tryptophan-like coma. It is a problem to have a small view of God. A small view of God leads us to some pretty skewed versions of His Person (usually of the selfish variety). He is immense. He is awesome. The moment you begin to think that you understand the person of Jehovah coincides exactly with the moment you have no clue about Him. This fact should pique our interest to learn more about Him while realizing that we will never become experts. We, as Christians, should be OK with that reality. We should continue to seek our fill of Him.

How does He fill us?

  1. Aesthetics
    From Verse 1 - "How lovely are your dwelling places..."

    Through creation, we know that God is a creator of lovely things. He is majestic and loves beauty. Romans 1 is the popular passage when referring to God's greatness revealed in creation and those concepts certainly apply here. One can look to the heavens and the earth as a testament to God's power and glory. I have had the privilege of driving back and forth through the Big Cypress National Preserve for the past few months and I can personally attest to the beauty of nature as a reflection of God's own beauty. Whether discussing the sunset on the horizon or an osprey taking a catch to her nest, the majesty of the Almighty is on display.

  2. Identity
    From Verse 2 - "My soul longed...for you"

    Our soul can also be defined as our identity here on earth. It is the collection of our memories and applied knowledge. Our identity can and should be so wrapped up in our God that His character is seen in us. This is where Romans 12 come in to play as we are transformed into the image of the Son. C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity references two fairy tales that illustrate some of the mechanics behind this concept:
    • Beauty and the Beast - In this tale, a beautiful woman kisses a horrible beast and thereby transforms this monster into a man. Didn't Christ come into this world to "kiss us" with His grace and transform us into godly creatures? This is an inward reality that occurs the moment one believes on the Lord Jesus Christ.
    • The Man in the Mask - In this tale, a man with a horribly disfigured, ugly face is forced to wear a mask as a public service. However, he finds that the mask is actually improving his looks little by little until he no longer needs the mask to cover his ugliness. In a sense, this also occurs in the life of a believer as we become more and more conformed to the image of the Son of God. We daily take up our cross and follow after Christ. We make daily decisions to serve Him and confess our shortcomings. This is not magic. It takes discipline. That's why we are called disciples. The outward reality comes little by little, day by day, hour by hour.

  3. Reason
  4. Impulse
    From Verse 2 - "My heart and flesh sing for joy..."

    The heart, in the Old Testament, is where emotions were turned into decisions — it was the rational center of a person's being. The flesh is usually the opposite, it is the naturally selfish inclination of man as a creature. Wouldn't it be nice for our rational minds and primal instincts to find agreement? Wouldn't it be nice to see the civil war between flesh and sense in Romans 7 come to an end? It does! If only for a fleeting moment, these two currently opposed elements find harmony when we are immersed in the presence of the Alighty.

Conclusion

Is this where you want to be? Was your heart stirring at the thought of absorbing God's glory in His very presence? When we ask to see His face He will reveal Himself. He may, like with Moses, reveal only the fraction of His glory that will overwhelm us while protecting us. But He will respond. As always, seek and ye shall find.

Monday, August 31, 2015

How Lovely I - Intro


Based on Psalm 84
A Sermon.

Dwelling Places

What are the Lord's dwelling places or tabernacles as mentioned in verse 1 of Psalm 84? What are the implications of these places? In this brief introduction, we will explore the six places mentioned in this Psalm which qualify as a dwelling place of the Lord.

What follows is an exercise in word association. I simply wrote the first thing that came to my mind when considering the term. Perhaps it's not the best association, but I believe it rings true to scripture.

The Courts

"My soul longed and even yearned for the courts of the Lord"
— Psalm 84.2 NASB
Holiness. The courts were a holy place in the sense of separation. One could not simply waltz into a king's court, one must be summoned. The same holds true for a judge's court — does a 'court summons' ring a bell? This is a place that is accessible by invitation only.

Further, one's behavior is also altered by this place. You do not behave in the King's Court the same way you behave in your own home. You do not behave before the Justice the way you would at a restaurant. Your behavior is also set apart (holy) in these places.

Note that the holy behavior is demonstrated in the court because that is where the King is present. It's not because the room is sacred, but because our God is sacred. God is a God of holiness. He is totally and completely separated from us in every way. His ways are higher, greater, purer than ours. This is his holiness. The fact that He wants us in his courts is a mind-blowing truth.

The Altar

"Even Your altars, O Lord of hosts"
— Psalm 84.3 NASB
Justice. How could a God of such holiness ever invite us into His courts? How could we stand to be in His presence? As a just God, He must punish iniquity and man's mark is nothing more than iniquity upon iniquity. Therefore, the only reason God would have to invite us into His presence would be to execute judgement.

Enter the altar. The provision that God has made for man to come into His holy presence. God's conundrum is such: He is holy and must punish sin with a death sentence, but He is love and longs to forgive. By executing a death sentence on a substitute, God's justice is satisfied and man is free to stand in His courts. In the old testament, this was done through the blood of bulls and goats but now in the perfect death of His Son.

The House

"How blessed are those who dwell in Your house!"
— Psalm 84.4 NASB
Rest. Home is where we can kick off our shoes, loosen our belts and relax. We don't have to keep up pretenses or impress the boss. Why can we be ourselves? Because we are with the people we know the best and who know us better than anyone else. We couldn't fool them even if we tried to!

Are you at home with God almighty? Are you trying to fake Him out with the good stuff you do? Don't you know He knows you better than you know yourself? He looks through your pretenses and detects your heart's condition. He can see through your actions and know your innermost thoughts, desires and motivations.

Why dont we just rest in the finished work of Christ? Then we will be at home.

The Heart

"In whose heart are the highways to Zion!"
— Psalm 84.5 NASB
Guidance. I know. The heart is deceitful. I understand, it's desperately wicked. I got you. But we still are motivated and directed by our hearts. It is important to train your heart so that the guidance it provides is good.

Better yet, why not give your heart over to God? When you do that, when He occupies your heart's spaces, you will have the ultimate road map. He will direct your paths when His word is hidden in your heart. He wants to guide you. Let him in!

The Valley

"Passing through the valley of Baca they make it a spring;"
— Psalm 84.6 NASB
Distress. The Valley is a classic picture of distress. It is the geographically low counterpoint to the mountaintop experience. The valley is dark. The valley is obscured. We don't want to be enclosed in the valley, we want to experience the elation of the peak. Yet, with no valley there would be no peak.

Where is God when we are in the valleys of trial and tribulation? He's there. Next to us. Experiencing it with us. We have a Savior who sympathizes with us because he has been there too. While sometimes poetry may seem trivial, but Footprints in the Sand rings true here. God dwells with His people. Even if it means going through the valleys.

Mount Zion

"Every one of them appears before God in Zion."
— Psalm 84.7 NASB
The Establishment. Mount Zion was the established place where God would meet His people and accept their worship. Pilgrimages were made to this mountain and God honored these pilgrims for their faithfulness. God is a personal God who treasures personal relationships with each person He created, but there's also a place for corporate worship.

When we are told not to forsake the assembly, it's not a cold rule that we need to follow. This command is not a badge to put on our sports coat so others can see our holiness. This command is for our benefit. Christ says when 2+ gather together He is in the midst He means it. He wants to join us and commune with us as a body. He meets the pilgrim of Psalm 84 in Zion, He meets the Christian at Church.

Conclusion

This is just the beginning of the Sermon. I have three more posts coming up that deal with the three sections of this Psalm directly.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Concerning God


God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

God, furthermore, said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is My name forever, and this is My memorial-name to all generations.

Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, “I am indeed concerned about you and what has been done to you in Egypt.

Exodus 3:14-16

God's Name

I AM. It is God's name. Arguably translated: Jehovah. This is the name of God. Note that this is the only name of God which is not related to what He does. This is God's special name that reveals WHO HE IS. It is the name assigned to the "all changing unchanged one" to quote John Donne. It is an all-encompassing name for an all-powerful God of all things.

From this short passage, He is:
  • The Authority
  • God of the past
  • God of the present
  • God of the future
  • God of Israel
  • God of the Gentile
Yet, here is the most tender of all the things that He is: He is indeed concerned about you. Stop and consider that a while.

This passage, well known for the image of the Burning Bush, is commonly referenced as a high place of God in all his power. He calls Moses and sends him to Pharaoh. He yells at Moses for acting cowardly. He talks of all the wonders that He will perform to prove His authority over Egypt.

But right in the midst of all this machismo, God has a tender moment. He is concerned about His people.

Conclusion

This is the unchanging God we are talking about.
Indeed, He is still concerned about His people.

He is concerned about you.
He wants to deliver you.
Are you still in peril today?
He is indeed concerned about you.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Miracles by C.S. Lewis - Book Review

The Book

Miracles
C. S. Lewis

Intro

As part of my ongoing quest to read every word penned by C. S. Lewis, I recently picked up Miracles. It's part of the boxed set I purchased with birthday money/gift card. Here's the obligatory run down:

A few observations:

  1. Buy this boxed set for someone. It will entertain their brains for years to come. (This boxed set & I go way back to 2012)
  2. For being such a Lewis Lover, I only read one of his books per year. That deflates my ego.
  3. There's something about late summer (July-August) that gives me a hankering for some C. S. Lewis. Anybody else get that?
  4. Mere Christianity & The Screwtape Letters are the only two left in the set. I read & reviewed MC before getting the set (in April!) & I've read TSL a few years ago. TSL deserves it's own review. Hey, the month of August is young!

Review

I have decided to do away with the technical merit section of this particular review. Lewis gets excellent marks for his structure & organization as always. It is important to note that while Miracles is in many ways comparable to Mere Christianity in it's approach, it is actually much more technical, theoretical & abstract than MC. However, there are moments where Lewis' arguments rise from the drudgery of theorem & snaps into sharp focus. Those moments are pure gold.

Naturalism - Is it anti-miracle?

Lewis spends most of his time on this subject. In fact, the title of this book could have been "Nature Versus Supernature" though that title is not very interesting. Lewis deconstructs Naturalism (the idea that Nature is all there is) and leaves the reader with the conclusion that something beyond nature must exist. One poignant argument revolves around the so-called Laws of Nature & the fact that Laws of Nature do nothing without being first thrown into action by a force outside of itself. For instance, nobody ever says they tripped on gravity. People trip on an untied shoelace which causes their body to be in a position where the Law of Gravity takes over. Hence, every Law of Nature must be set in motion by a preceding cause going back to an Original Cause that had to set Nature herself in motion. Christians believe that God is this Uncaused Cause.

Having established that there must be an entity behind Nature—our Supernatural God—Lewis asks about the nature of the miraculous. Many assume the miraculous to be a violation of the Laws of Nature. Lewis argues that this is a wrong perception. If there is a God. If that God can perform the miraculous. If that God created Nature. Why would we suppose miracles to be a violation of nature?
If events ever come from beyond Nature altogether, she will be no more incommoded by them. Be sure she will rush to the point where she is invaded, as the defensive forces rush to a cut in our finger, and there hasten to accommodate the newcomer. The moment it enters her realm it obeys all her laws... The divine art of miracle is not an art of suspending the pattern to which events conform but of feeding new events into that pattern.
Hence, the moment Jesus multiplies bread, it becomes regular digestible bread. When he creates wine in Cana, it becomes real wine with intoxicating properties. When God's Seed is implanted in Mary's womb, it undergoes the process of gestation, birth, childhood, etc. No Law is suspended. A new event is fed into Nature & Nature rolls with it without a hitch.

Lewis also gets into a discussion on literalism in this book. He detests the idea of people who try to improve on the ancient pictures with something they believe to be more literal. So instead of viewing God as Father, they try to describe Him as Energy. Clearly, the Bible uses specific imagery to get at certain aspects of the divine which our modern imagery does not. Further, when we try to be more precise, we end up creating a ridiculous picture that's harder to believe than the ancient metaphor.

C. S. Lewis does eventually start talking about the Miracles themselves. He tackles the question of the Grand Miracle (The Resurrection) & it's implications for Christians. He argues that the Resurrection is not a new life, but a continuation of the current life only glorified. He argues that this Grand Miracle is the pinnacle of history. Other miracles performed by Jesus affirm his identity as the ultimate Corn King (myth of death and rebirth) which has been rumored since ancient times.

Conclusion

If you have read Mere Christianity a couple times, I urge you to pick up Miracles & give it a shot. I know that I have learned a lot from a single reading and am excited to pick it up again in the near future to see what else can be gleaned from it's pages. If you've never read C. S. Lewis before, this is not the one to start with. While you will doubtless learn a lot, it helps to have a background in MC to understand where Lewis is coming from.

TIP: As you read Miracles, look for lists. Lewis loves his lists and they're really helpful!

Check out a few of my favorite quotes from Miracles. If you need to, you can pause the show on the lower right-hand corner to actually, you know, read them. :)
...

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Justice for Cecil the Lion - Christian Perspective


Justice for Whom?

Sometimes a big news article can serve as a reminder of spiritual things. Here's a thought shared on Facebook by a friend of mine.
There has been many internet postings for the illegal poaching of Cecil the "lion" & rightfully so...

But many have been wondering of why the other "Lion" poached has not created the same uprising & media demand for justice...

This "Lion" was in the protected area of the tribe of Judah...previously this "Lion" roamed on paths paved with gold far more than the 50k ‪#‎walterjames‬ paid & this "Lion" drank from the crystal sea & was so much sweeter than Cecil as this Lion was & is known to lay down beside lambs, its prey, & not harm them but protect them from poachers...

This Lion was lured away by one of the people who the Lion fed & trusted as a friend but this friend lured the Lion into a quiet & peaceful village known as the garden of gethsemane & there this unloyal poacher lured the Lion in & used a kiss as a laser beam to mark the Lion so the poachers for 30 pieces of silver could hunt the Lion & skin this Lion as a trophy kill...

There was & is no outrage for this Lion like there is for poor Cecil & this Lion was not mounted on a wall & no selfies were taken but they beat & tortured this Lion while still alive & then strung this Lion up on a Tree on Golgotha to hang for all to see & enjoy & then let the Lion hang till the Lion drew his last breath!

Plz like & share not for Cecil the lion but for the REAL LION who died for the likes of me & you!!!

Sorry Cecil you won't live again, but THIS LION OF THE TRIBE OF JUDAH REIGNS & LIVES TODAY despite the cruelty shown to HIM & unlike Cecil HE never would attack you but rather chooses to SAVE you despite our cruelty to HIM!!!

Nick Sardina

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Names of God - Nathan Stone

The Book: The Names of God
Author: Nathan Stone

I was entrusted with a small library of books a few years back. I had planned to incorporate them into a chapel library, but that dream never came into fruition. Days turned to weeks, months and then years as these books became forgotten in a corner of my personal library. Upon moving to a different city, I rediscovered these books and resolved to either read them or give them away. I have given a lot of these books away. The Names of God is a book that I have heard a lot of people reference over the years, so I decided to give it a read.

Review

This is a simple, straightforward read. It is quite informative and leads into worship quite nicely. My only critique is that, like a lot of books of the genre, it is very formulaic and tries to present the revelations of the names of God in a dispensational model. That's fine when it naturally fits, but at times it seemed forced. It suffices to say that God reveals himself to his people appropriately, rather than implying that God progressively reveals himself according to some over arching meta-narrative.

While Stone writes 12 chapters revealing 12 names of God, there appear to be actually 3 names of God and 12 variants of those names which expound on God's character. The names of God are:
    1. Elohim (The God of creation and power)
      1. El Shaddai (God Almighty - Covenantal God)
    2. Jehovah (The God who relates to his people - I AM)
      1. Jehovah-jireh (Provision)
      2. Jehovah-rophe (Healer)
      3. Jehovah-nissi (Banner)
      4. Jehovah-M'Kaddesh (Sanctification)
      5. Jehovah-shalom (Peace)
      6. Jehovah-tsidkenu (Righteousness)
      7. Jehovah-rohi (Shepherd)
      8. Jehovah-shammah (Is There)
    3. Adonai (Lord who is due reverence - He is master, we are servant.)
Note: this is not the order which the author presents this material. These are my own observations. I give this book 3.5 of 5 stars for readability and content. 

Conclusion

If you can get your hands on this book, please read it. It should enhance your understanding of certain passages of scripture. I will not look at a passage with LORD versus God or Lord the same way again. It really helps to have some knowledge of the meaning behind these names of God. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Sociology and Holy Week

What Makes You Tick?

The Washington Post (Sarah Pulliam Bailey) published an article recently that caught my eye. It included a nice infographic that matched Myers-Briggs Personality Types to the Patron Saints of Holy Week. After seeing it, I absolutely had to find out who I was and which saint I would be associated with.

It's a fun exercise even if somewhat flawed. After asking a few people's opinions, I narrowed my Myers-Briggs Type to either:
  • ISTP - St. Anthony (of the Desert)
  • INTP - St. John (of the Cross) « This is the one I'd pick if I had the choice.:-)

Here's the infographic!

Leave me a comment with your Patron Saint of Holy Week!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Message Notes - @bstache49

Luke 19

  • (32) Jesus as Prophet
  • (38) Jesus as King
  • (46) Jesus as Priest

5 Hurdles to Redemption in Hebrews 2

  1. (2) the Law
  2. (5-6) Man's destiny
  3. (8) Restore natural order
  4. (9) Defeat death
  5. (14) Bondage and fear of death

Speaker: Jonathan Brower 
Follow him on Twitter @bstache49
More quotes follow hashtag #BTSermon 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Cheating Patriots and Real Life

So everyone seems pretty much convinced that the Patriots, an extraordinary team who earned a trip to the Super Bowl this year, is a club full of dirty rotten cheaters. Instead of spying on the other team's plays, this time the Patriots decided to deflate their game balls in order to increase their odds of maintaining possession in cold, rainy conditions. At least, that's the alleged trespass. 

Funny thing though, most analysts that I have heard feel that the Patriots are clearly the better team. They believe that even without the assistance of shady practices the Patriots would be representing their conference in the Super Bowl. So why the uproar?

That is certainly a question that is being asked. Why are certain people making a big deal about this? Some players are even going to the extreme of claiming that everyone does it, so the NFL should not make a ruling or punish the offenders. 

So the main argument by the players is, "Everbody's doing it, so let it slide." 

Problem is, there are no standards there. The relativity of this outlook leaves no room for accountability and several sports analysts have called players out on this midset. 

I have heard sports talk hosts insist that if the NFL finds that someone in the Patriots organization is complicit in deflating footballs, that shows a deliberate act of circumventing league rules and the league must take action no matter how trivial the incident was. 

This reminds me of God's sense of justice. Any sin is an offense to God. He has no choice but to judge each offense justly, no matter how trivial you might think it is or how many people think those behaviors are normal. 

God has also found a way to justly deal with your sin without passing the punishment on you. He did that by sacrificing His Son on the cross. 

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

On the Road with the Archangel: Book Review

On the Road with the Archangel
Frederick Buechner

On Google+ as +Frederick Buechner

After getting ripped off by Barnes and Noble (I didn't realize it at the time, but some lawyer informed me that I was, in fact, ripped off) I was included in a settlement. As a result, I had a couple pennies to rub together in my Barnes and Noble account. A good friend of mine, +Jonathan Roberts , had recommended that I read some Frederick Buechner. He said that he really enjoyed Buechner's work and that I would probably enjoy it too. I went ahead and purchased a couple of his nook-books and just finished reading On the Road with the Archangel, my second Buechner book. My first was The Longing for Home. I am glad that I have been introduced to Mr. Buechner.

Technical Merit

On the Road with the Archangel, as with Buechner's other work, is phenomenally written. The prose takes on the aura of poetry. But alas, I am repeating the things I said in my previous review.

One thing to note about this work, it is a retelling of an ancient tale. Therefore, the author did not fabricate this plot. He may have embellished details and added some interpretation, but the story is borrowed from the Deuterocanonical Book of Tobit. Therefore, this is a different type of writing since it relies on different factors than The Longing for Home, which was more of a memoir.

Taking all things into consideration, I give On the Road with the Archangel 4 out of 5 stars for technical merit. I enjoyed Buechner's storytelling and his theological interjections and clarifications a lot. He was able to take the story of Tobit and make it clear and accessible without removing its ancient feel.

Review

Tobit is all about prayers and how God provides answers to them. A man named Tobit goes through several circumstances which leave him blind and desperate to end his life. Being a religious man, he prays that God take him from this world honorably. Simultaneously, a young woman named Sarah also desperately prays to die as her 7 husbands are savagely murdered by a demon named Asmodeus. As a result, her family comes under suspicion and shame in the community.

Tobit, in preparation for his inevitable death, sends his son Tobias on a journey to retrieve some money that he had stored in a far away place (which happens to be Sarah's home town). In one fell swoop, the archangel Raphael, angel who delivers prayers and answers, disguises himself as Tobit's distant relative named Azariah and goes with Tobias on the journey.

During the course of the journey, Azariah (Raphael the Archangel) provides the answers to each of their prayers while weaving several surprises along the way.

Conclusion

This is a really well-written book. I personally enjoyed it a lot. I come from the world of Christianity that does not take Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical books seriously. Unfortunately, I had not read the book of Tobit previous to this experience. However, I can see the value of this book as a mythological story that highlights God's character. I recommend On the Road with the Archangel to any who can read this book with that mindset.
Christopher M. Jimenez. Powered by Blogger.

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