Monday, August 31, 2009

Making sense in retrospect

Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus." Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him." (John 12:20-26 ESV)

These are Jesus' words the day before his crucifixion. The Greeks visiting Jerusalem, and requesting an interview, would certainly be an open door for wider ministry into the Mediterranian world. Yet he knows he must turn away -- his earthly ministry is over. As a 30-something rabbi it would seem his life and influence would be tragically cut short.

Yet the death of this Grain of wheat -- the Seed of the woman (Gen 3:15), the Seed of Abraham (Gen 12:7) -- would bring a worldwide harvest of redeemed souls. And this, through the cross of his death. Countless multitudes, and I myself, are part of that fruitful harvest. And on the third day, the disciples realized that everything had changed, and the new creation had begun!

Alistair McGrath once said that one of the lessons of the cross is that "faith means believing in advance what will make sense only in retrospect."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

From the Hubble website: This image of the core of the nearby spiral galaxy M51, taken with the Wide Field Planetary camera (in PC mode) on NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, shows a striking , dark "X" silhouetted across the galaxy's nucleus. The "X" is due to absorption by dust and marks the exact position of a black hole which may have a mass equivalent to one-million stars like the sun. The darkest bar may be an edge-on dust ring which is 100 light-years in diameter. The edge-on torus not only hides the black hole and accretion disk from being viewed directly from earth, but also determines the axis of a jet of high-speed plasma and confines radiation from the accretion disk to a pair of oppositely directed cones of light, which ionize gas caught in their beam. The second bar of the "X" could be a second disk seen edge on, or possibly rotating gas and dust in MS1 intersecting with the jets and ionization cones. The size of the image is 1100 light-years.

Sunday quotes, "Our Creative God"

"The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language
where their voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world."
(Psalm 19:1-6 NIV)

“The ancient covenant is in pieces: Man knows at last that he is alone in the universe's unfeeling immensity, out of which he emerged only by chance." (Jacques Monod, Chance and Necessity, 1970)

“The cosmos is all that there is, or was, or ever will be.” (Carl Sagan, Cosmos)

“That man’s….origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; …that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, …all these things…are … so nearly certain that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's salvation henceforth be safely built.” (Bertrand Russell, "A Free Man's Worship")

“What may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine nature-have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Rom 1:19-20)

"All this stuff — enough to form 50 billion galaxies, maybe fantastically more — is thought to have emerged roughly 14 billion years ago in less than a second, from a point with no physical dimensions. Set aside the many competing explanations of the big bang; something made an entire cosmos out of nothing. It is this realization — that something transcendent started it all — which has hard-science types such as Sandage using terms like 'miracle'." (Gregg Easterbrook)

“In three minutes ninety-eight percent of all the matter there is or ever will be had been produced. We have a universe. It is a place of the most wondrous and gratifying possibility, and beautiful, too. And it was all done in about the time it takes to make a sandwich.” (Bill Bryson)

“The odds against a universe like ours emerging out of something like the Big Bang are enormous. I think there are clearly religious implications.” (Stephen Hawking, quoted in J. Boslough, Stephen Hawking’s Universe, p. 121)

“Such (cosmological coincidences) seem to run through the fabric of the natural world like a thread of happy coincidences. But there are so many odd coincidences essential to life that some explanation seems required to account for them.” (Sir Fred Hoyle, The Intelligent Universe)

“A commonsense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as chemistry and biology, and there are no blind forces worth speaking about in Nature” (Sir Fred Hoyle “The Universe; Past and Present Reflections” Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics, 1982)

“At this moment it seems as though science will never be able to raise the curtain on the mystery of creation. For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story [of the big bang] ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.” (Robert Jastrow, God and the Astronomers, p. 116)

"We can infer certain things from the fact of creation. God must be a being of infinite power to create 'out of nothing' all the enormous vastness and energy of the universe. He must also be a being of infinite wisdom to create a universe that is not only fine-tuned to exist, but is also fine-tuned for life on earth. He must have infinite freedom of the will to decide to create the universe." (David Kingston)

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!
"Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?"
"Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay him?"
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.
(Rom 11:33-36 NIV)

Is this your response? If not, why not?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Rose River

This is a photo my wife took of the Rose River in Madison County this summer.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Lutherans Gone Wild, a report from Uwe in Minneapolis

Uwe Siemon-Netto comments from the ELCA national assembly in Minneapolis...

To state it bluntly, there is nothing Lutheran about what has happened in Minneapolis. We have witnessed 19th century cultural Protestantism gone wild --the view held that Christ and the highest expressions of aspirations of culture are in agreement. But what are at any given time the highest expressions and aspirations of culture? Do they not come across as Zeitgeist, or spirit of time? And were not Nazism and Communism powerful murderous manifestations of a Zeitgeist? The genocidal “choice” ideology that has slaughtered more than 50 million unborn children in America since the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973 certainly falls into this category.

Aghast, faithful Lutherans wonder: “Lord where shall we Lutherans go?” Why is it that we Lutherans so often lose our way just at a time when no message is more needed then ours? Let it be known that there is a paradoxical tension between Christ and culture: The certainty of being forgiven sinners through Christ’s redeeming work on the cross frees us to engage the world with all its foibles but not to embrace them as the ELCA has just done.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

our tools shape us

This is a quote from Marshall McLuhan, educator and media scholar of the 1960s & 70s. He said, "We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us", namely that advances in media through technology increase our extension, but ultimately change us. We are ultimately communicating ourselves, and our extensions become part of us and our self-identity. He said, "With telephone and TV it is not so much the message as the sender that is sent." What was once face to face communication changed with the advent of the telephone and TV. There's a greater reach, but it is only our voice or image. We gain extension, we lose dimensions. McLuhan said, "When you are on the phone or on the air, you have no body."

Other insights from McLuhan, who also coined the term "global village":

"The future of the book is the blurb."
"The ignorance of how to use new knowledge stockpiles exponentially."
"At the speed of light, policies and political parties yield place to charismatic images."
"Today each of us lives several hundred years in a decade."

There's an interesting prophecy given in Daniel 12 about the "end of time." The angel says, "But you, Daniel, close up these words and seal the book until the time of the end. Many will dash about [rush here and there / to and fro], and knowledge will increase." (NET)

This must mean not just that knowledge will grow over time, which would be naturally expected. This must be something more significant, as in the exponential growth of knowledge. And the movement "to and fro" some have thought refers to the extent of travel, but I think more likely the phrase indicates a frenetic superficiality. Much information will be processed, but there will be no increase in wisdom, and thus as the angel says, "seal up the book."

McLuhan wrote in Understanding Media that the technologies we invent and use regularly will have a hypnotic or numbing effect upon our nervous systems. In one chapter he speaks of the true understanding of the Narcissus myth:

“The Greek myth of Narcissus is directly concerned with a fact of human experience, as the word Narcissus indicates. It is from the Greek word narcosis or numbness. The youth Narcissus mistook his own reflection in the water for another person. This extension of himself by mirror numbed his perceptions until he became the servomechanism of his own extended or repeated image. The nymph Echo tried to win his love with fragments of his own speech, but in vain. He was numb. He had adapted to his extension of himself and had become a closed system. Now the point of this myth is the fact that men at once become fascinated by any extension of themselves in any medium (material) other than themselves…The wisdom of the Narcissus myth does not convey any idea that Narcissus fell in love with anything he regarded as himself. Obviously he would have had different feelings had he known it was an extension or repetition of himself. It is perhaps, indicative of the bias of our intensively technological, therefore narcotic culture that we have long interpreted the Narcissus story to mean that he fell in love with himself, that he imagined the reflection to be Narcissus.”
Neil Postman has picked up where McLuhan finished:

“Information must be moved and consumed continuously. That is the price to be paid for speed-of-light transmission. What the information may be is of no consequence, as long as it is attention-getting, and does not inhibit the flow of new information coming fast behind it.” (Neil Postman, Teaching as a Conserving Activity)


“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.” (Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death)

A rather ironic postscript to all this: on Marshall McLuhan's tomb are the words, "The Truth Shall Make You Free."

We should really think about this.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

raising the bar

Here's an
interview with David Platt, who discusses how he raises the bar for biblical understanding and practice in his church. His "secret church" is an interesting idea. A couple of quotes...

We have severely dumbed down the Word, and shown a lack of trust in the sufficiency of the Word in the way we preach. We find it necessary to supplement it with entertaining stories and quips or good practical advice for living the Christian life that are not based in the Word. This deficiency transfers into people content with a little "Word for the Day," in a devotional book at best, as opposed to deep knowledge of Scripture. ...

The purpose of God's Word is to transform us into the image of Christ. The Word radically changes the way we live. This is why it's more important for me to preach Leviticus than to give them tips on parenting. The reality is that Scripture is not a guidebook for a lot of the things folks are going through. It's given to us for one purpose: to make us look more like Christ. When we look more like Christ, then when we're walking through grief or a parenting challenge, we find ourselves in touch with Holy Spirit of God, who is able to walk us through those things we're battling day in and day out. No other book in the Christian bookstore can get them in touch with the Holy Spirit of God.
I couldn't agree more!

Monday, August 10, 2009

"I can't do what only God can do"

Here's an interesting interview with Steelers' safety Troy Polamalu on "faith, fatherhood and football."

Good to see large space given to an open discussion of his involvement in Greek Orthodoxy:

In order to properly meet Polamalu where he lives, this is the requisite, the grounding force that gives meaning to everything he does, every play he makes. Polamalu's evident gratitude to the one who made him is marbled throughout our talk - from his training regime to his travels to Mount Athos, a monastic site in Greece, a place he calls "heaven on earth."
When asked, "How would you define the spiritual struggle you referred to earlier?" he answers,
It's the struggle of good and evil, and with that comes the struggle with greed, jealousy, materialism, sexual morality, pride, all these types of struggles that we face every day, in every second of the day.
Yet one thing seems missing to me... the gospel. Not that I expect him to be an evangelical, but there is no reference to the Lord Jesus, to the Cross, the resurrection, or salvation through Christ. God, church, and various monastics rate mention, but not the Lord Jesus. When asked, "What is your greatest wish for your child?" he answers...
Without a question, my greatest wish would be for him to understand the spiritual struggle and to be a pious Orthodox Christian. That's what I want for myself, as well. Sometimes parents want their children to be what they never were. And that's one thing that I am gracious for Paisios to have: that he's able to grow up in the Orthodox church around monastics and priests that I was never able to experience as a kid - to grasp that, not take it for granted and really culture that.
Hm. Should he know and love the Lord Jesus, and the salvation which comes by grace through faith in Christ and his atonement? Maybe that's just unstated and understood, but it's nice to be clear about that!

Still... it's good to see this interview, and to hear a football player say,

"Football is part of my life but not life itself. Football doesn't define me. It's what I do and how I carry out my faith."

the importance of worldviews

“But there are some people, nevertheless — and I am one of them — who think that the most practical and important thing about a man is still his view of the universe. We think that for a landlady considering a lodger, it is important to know his income, but still more important to know his philosophy. We think that for a general about to fight an enemy, it is important to know the enemy’s numbers, but still more important to know the enemy’s philosophy. We think the question is not whether the theory of the cosmos affects matters, but whether, in the long run, anything else affects them.”

— G. K. Chesterton, Heretics, in The Complete Works of G. K. Chesterton, ed. David
Dooley, vol. 1, (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 41.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

"Building Bridges", Jeff Graf's notes

A bridge-building God

--He spoke in a known language
A “heart” language

--Began to explain the inexplicable

Answered humanity’s most fundamental questions
Is there a God, and if so, how do I relate to Him?
Why am I here, and how do I relate to the people living with me?

God’s starting points

Sin, grace, and atonement

--Anchored firmly within the culture of the day

Kingdom Culture

--Relationship to earthly culture
Above it (√úberkultur)
Vestiges remain in every earthly culture
Biblical culture and not Western or Eastern

--Three missionary goals

Find what remains of Kingdom Culture
Build a bridge from it to the Kingdom of Heaven
Give way to the Holy Spirit to work

Kingdom Culture in the Old Testament

--Ten Commandments
First four – our relationship with God
Last six – our relationship with one another

--God’s use of cultural images

Shepherd (Psalm 23)
Vineyard (Isaiah 5)
Husband (Isaiah 54:5)

--God’s use of story

Noah to illustrate saving grace by faith
Exodus to illustrate redemption from the slavery of sin
Choosing the younger over the older or the weaker over the stronger to illustrate the working of His heart

Kingdom Culture in the New Testament

--The Beatitudes

--Commonly understood cultural metaphors

A man sowing seed in a field (Matt 13:24)
A mustard seed (Matt 13:31)
A woman putting yeast into bread (Matt 13:33)
A treasure hidden in a field (Matt 13:44)
A merchant seeking fine pearls (Matt 13:45)
A fishing net (Matt 13:47)
A head of a household (Matt 13:52)

Apostolic bridges

--John 1:1, 14 God used Koine Greek / Greeks related to logos "the Word" / cultural image: "dwelt [as in a tent; tabernacled]" / related story: "beheld".

--Hebrews 1:1, 2 "prophets" (v 1) culturally accepted, anchor point; "Son" (v 2) new revelation,
bridge to Kingdom culture

Bridges in Acts (Acts 1:8)

--Peter’s first sermon (Acts 2:14-36)

--Paul’s first sermon (Acts 13:16-41)

Starting points for missionaries

Firm confidence in the Lord to be able to prayerfully follow His leading

--Know the “heart language” of the people and use it to gain new insights of how the culture operates

--Practice living using the incarnational principle

Incarnational Principle (John 1:14)

--Hard to find the term in a dictionary and confusing on the Web

--Creator of the Ends of the Earth, who took on human flesh

--An example to follow and yet much more

Living the incarnational principle

--Only Jesus did it perfectly.

--Missionaries do it partially.

Fearless failures

--Certain to fail (at least once)

--Learn and laugh

--Language acquisition

Adult mind with a toddler’s vocabulary
Donde? versus Como?

Subtle and sometimes stunning successes (1 Cor 3:7)

--Propositional bridges

--Story first with a proposition for support – Melanesian approach

--Proposition first with a story for support – Western approach

Going into the culture-to-kingdom construction business in our community

--Just modern or post-modern?

--Same approach

Learn the language
Understand the culture
Find an anchor point

--Take an apologetics class

Leave room for mystery (John 3:8)

--Fear of mystery
Lack of understanding and control
Christian abuses

--Balance theology and God’s sovereignty

Our Challenge

--Learn the language

--Learn the culture

--Be fearless failures

--Be ready to experience subtle and sometimes stunning successes

--Relate propositionally but don’t forget your story

--Leave room for the miraculous