Thursday, December 22, 2011

worshiped by angels

There is a prominence of angelic ministry at two places in Jesus' life: at his birth, and at his death and resurrection.  

At Christmas we are reminded that there is a spiritual realm, and the existence of angelic beings who are very much interested in what's going on here.  

The angels love the Son of Man, who is the Word made flesh.

"Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory," (1 Timothy 3:16)
"And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, 'Let all God's angels worship him.'"  (Hebrews 1:6)
"...things into which angels long to look."  (1 Peter 1:12)

So should we -- like these mighty beings -- see Jesus, look intently at all he has done, and worship him!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

more on marriage

Recently published: The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God, by Tim Keller, with his wife Kathy.

I'm looking forward to reading this.  I listened to part of the sermon series this was based upon, but I plan to put this book in the queue soon.  Here are some popular Kindle highlights, and a quote at the end that Trevin Wax posted.  Great insights to think about...

Wedding vows are not a declaration of present love but a mutually binding promise of future love.
Marriage used to be a public institution for the common good, and now it is a private arrangement for the satisfaction of the individuals. Marriage used to be about us, but now it is about me.  
According to the Bible, God devised marriage to reflect his saving love for us in Christ, to refine our character, to create stable human community for the birth and nurture of children, and to accomplish all this by bringing the complementary sexes into an enduring whole-life union.
It is the illusion that if we find our one true soul mate, everything wrong with us will be healed; but that makes the lover into God, and no human being can live up to that.  
The Christian teaching does not offer a choice between fulfillment and sacrifice but rather mutual fulfillment through mutual sacrifice. 
Whether we are husband or wife, we are not to live for ourselves but for the other. And that is the hardest yet single most important function of being a husband or a wife in marriage.
If two spouses each say, “I’m going to treat my self-centeredness as the main problem in the marriage,” you have the prospect of a truly great marriage.
The Christian principle that needs to be at work is Spirit-generated selflessness—not thinking less of yourself or more of yourself but thinking of yourself less. It means taking your mind off yourself and realizing that in Christ your needs are going to be met and are, in fact, being met so that you don’t look at your spouse as your savior.  
The primary problem is . . . learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married. 
The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.
As a pastor I have spoken to thousands of couples, some working on marriage-seeking, some working on marriage-sustaining, and some working on marriage-saving. I’ve heard them say over and over, “Love shouldn’t be this hard; it should come naturally.” In response, I always say something like, “Why believe that? Would someone who wants to play professional baseball say, ‘It shouldn’t be so hard to hit a fastball?’ Would someone who wants to write the greatest American novel of her generation say, ‘It shouldn’t be hard to create believable characters and compelling narrative?’”

Sunday, December 18, 2011

nehemiah walk-through

We finished teaching our adult elective on Sunday, "Rebuilding Jerusalem: Leadership and Community in Nehemiah."  

Did a walk-through and discussion to highlight key lessons and applications by chapter, as follows:

1.  Prayer:  important from first to last.  We need to ask, as we live and/or lead in community, have I prayed about each decision?  Do I see the big picture of God's work of redemption in history?  Do I feel his concerns on my heart?  Do I really believe in God's providential guidance? Am I living in dependence upon him?

2.  Planning:  results in informed and timely action.  Am I adequately informed before I take action, or even before I speak of intended action?  Am I thoughtful, and do I know the task that lies before us?  Have I taken the trouble to get first-hand knowledge of the situation?  Am I bringing others into this information -- and my intentions -- at the right time?

3.  Labor:  the work is divided, and everyone has a part.   Do we know our assignment?  Do we see the big picture of what God is doing and how our labors fit in?  Are we actually working side-by-side with others?  Are we using our talents, or lack of talents, to avoid doing the work set before us?

4.  Opposition:  is ever-present; courage and wisdom needed.  Do I know who my enemies are?  Am I prepared to work and to defend the work at the same time?  Am I alert and vigilant toward the thief who comes to steal, kill and destroy? Do I shy away from conflict when I should face it squarely?  Am I seeking God for the wisdom and courage needed to face intimidation and deception? 

5.  Authority:  brings justice and order to the community. Do we have a true understanding and respect for authority within God's plan?  If we have authority, are we acting in a timely way to bring about justice and peace within the community?  Are we holding others accountable to God's standards, especially when their actions hurt others?  As a parent, am I acting with proper authority within my family?  If we are under authority, are we appreciative  and submissive for the greater good?

6.  Success:  despite all opposition God grants success.  Do I understand God's definition of success as found in the Bible? Am I seeing some aspects of his work in and through me actually coming to completion?  Am I sticking with the work until God gives success?  Will I be able to say to God, the work you gave me to do I accomplished?  Am we aware of his supernatural work in and around his people?  Do I fully understand that it is God who wills and works in me to bring about his purposes? 

7.  People:  make up the community of God.  Just a list of names, but that's who makes up the community!  Am I letting tasks get in the way of relating to people?  Am I remembering that the work is ultimately not about a wall, but about people coming into and enjoying God's kingdom?  Am I building relationships in the midst of the work? Do I know others by name and appreciate their being in God's family?

8.  Word:  renewal and rebuilding comes from hearing Truth.  Am I reading and using God's Word in ministering to others?  Do I realize that it is the hearing of the Word that brings about faith and life?  Am I involved in a smaller group where together we can seek a real understanding and application of Scripture?  Do I realize that, when God brings fresh power to his people, it is usually through the proclamation of his Word in a life-changing way?

9.  Confession:  dealing with and repenting from sin.  Am I honest about sin in my own life?  Am I humbled by the evil still in my heart?  Am I willing to deal with this openly among God's people?  Am I turning from sin and trusting Christ for the forgiveness he purchased with his death?  Do I see that God delights to give us forgiveness, joy and refreshment when there is no denial in our hearts?

10.  Covenant:  commitment to preserve community, support worship.  Am I committed to support the life and work of God's people?  Am I a faithful member of a church?  Am I giving to support its ministry?  Do we think about God's new  covenant with us through Jesus Christ, and how he is faithful to us in all things?  Are we energized by this? 

11.  Organization:  leaders make a difference.  If I am a leader, am I bringing order and peace to the life of our community?  If I am not currently in leadership, am I supporting those who lead and giving thanks for the blessing of an organization that brings order to our lives? Is our organizational structure conducive to our spiritual life and community? 

12.  Celebration:  the importance of worship and music.  Are we celebrating and giving thanks for all that God has done?  Are we a people happy in the Lord?  Do we sing with our hearts?  Do we take sufficient time to stop and reflect upon God's works?  Are we pursuing the purity that is fitting for the worship of God?

13.  Purification:  an ongoing need until the Kingdom comes.  Do we realize that problems will persist and that Christ's Kingdom is not consummated yet?  Do we get overly discouraged at problems which continue to crop up?  Are we continuing to turn to God in prayer for all the challenges we face?  Are we continuing to pursue purity and growth, or do we get disheartened or bitter?  Do we leave our cause and our work and our reputation in the hands of the Lord? 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

my 7 favorite marriage quotes (today)

"Marriage isn't supposed to make you happy - it's supposed to make you married."  (Frank Pittman)

"You don't marry one person; you marry three:
the person you think they are,
the person they are, and
the person they are going to become as a result of being married to you."  (Richard Needham)

"No two human beings are made for each other. Every human being is made for God. Marriages are not made in heaven. There are no prefabricated marriages. They are made right here on earth, day by day, by the sacrifices both persons are called upon to make. And marriages are not made by what comes naturally. That is important, of course, but marriages are made by what does not come naturally and that is self-sacrifice. You will soon learn that it costs to be a lover, that the language of love is sacrifice. And you will have many opportunities to speak this language."  (From wedding homily by Father Rodney Kissinger)

"When there is love in a marriage, there is harmony in the home; when there is harmony in the home, there is contentment in the community; when there is contentment in the community, there is prosperity in the nation; when there is prosperity in the nation, there is peace in the world."  (Chinese proverb)

"My grandmother had three sayings on her kitchen wall:
'It could be worse.'
'It's a great life - if you don't weaken.'
'We get too soon oldt, and too late schmardt.'"
(Diane Sollee,

"William Morris wrote a poem called 'Love is Enough' and someone is said to have reviewed it briefly with the words 'It isn't.' . . . , To say this is not to belittle the natural loves but to indicate where their real glory lies. It is no disparagement to a garden to say that it will not fence and weed itself, nor prune its own fruit trees, nor roll and cut its own lawns. A garden is a good thing but that is not the sort of goodness it has. It will remain a garden, as distinct from a wilderness, only if someone does all these things to it."  (C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves)

"My wife uses fabric softener. I never knew what that stuff was for. Then I noticed women coming up to me, sniffing, then saying under their breath, 'Married!' and walking away. Fabric Softeners are how our wives mark their territory. We can take off the ring, but it's hard to get that April fresh scent out of your clothes."  (Andy Rooney)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

justified as a gift

"[we] are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith." (Romans 3:24-25 ESV)

"For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, 'Abba! Father!'"  (Romans 8:15 ESV)

"When our salvation depends upon our righteous behavior, our righteousness will be driven by a desire to elevate ourselves in the eyes of God. This is not love for God, it’s self-protection. ...  The gospel turns religion upside down. The gospel assures us of God’s acceptance, given to us as a gift earned by Christ’s worthiness, not ours. In response to that gift, we are moved to obey. Love for Him grows in response to His love for us.”  

(J. D. Greear, Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary)

jonathan edwards on kindle

Adam Parker at has posted Kindle-compatible (.prc) files of some of the Yale editions of the works of Jonathan Edwards, available as free downloads.  Tables of contents are included.     

Download these to your computer and then transfer them via USB to your Kindle. 

All of Edwards works are available online, as well, at the Yale website.  

If you are new to Edwards I would recommend two works to start: The Religious Affections, which is an essay on the signs which accompany a true saving experience (a work of God in the heart).  And Charity and Its Fruits, which is a series of sermons on love from 1 Corinthians 13.

Download from here.  

Monday, December 12, 2011

unto us is born

Fragile finger sent to heal us 
Tender brow prepared for thorn
Tiny heart whose blood will save us 
Unto us is born
Unto us is born

So wrap our injured flesh around You
Breathe our air and walk our sod
Rob our sin and make us holy
Perfect Son of God
Perfect Son of God

Welcome to our world

(Chris Rice, "Welcome To Our World")

what grace is ours

Saturday, December 10, 2011

athanasius paraphrased

Excerpts from chapter 2, On The Incarnation of the Word, by Athanasius...

"It was by surrendering to death the body which He had taken, as an offering and sacrifice free from every stain, that He forthwith abolished death for His human brethren by the offering of the equivalent...
"Naturally also, through this union of the immortal Son of God with our human nature, all men were clothed with incorruption in the promise of the resurrection. For the solidarity of mankind is such that, by virtue of the Word's indwelling in a single human body, the corruption which goes with death has lost its power over all. 
"You know how it is when some great king enters a large city and dwells in one of its houses; because of his dwelling in that single house, the whole city is honored, and enemies and robbers cease to molest it. Even so is it with the King of all; He has come into our country and dwelt in one body amidst the many, and in consequence the designs of the enemy against mankind have been foiled and the corruption of death, which formerly held them in its power, has simply ceased to be....
"Thus by His own power He restored the whole nature of man.
"'For it became Him, for Whom are all things and through Whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the Author of their salvation perfect through suffering.' [Heb. 2:10] He means that the rescue of mankind from corruption was the proper part only of Him Who made them in the beginning. He points out also that the Word assumed a human body, expressly in order that He might offer it in sacrifice for other like bodies: 'Since then the children are sharers in flesh and blood, He also Himself assumed the same, in order that through death He might bring to nought Him that hath the power of death, that is to say, the Devil, and might rescue those who all their lives were enslaved by the fear of death.' [Heb. 2:14-15]
"By man death has gained its power over men; by the Word-made-Man death has been destroyed and life raised up anew."

My summary: The human race has fallen from the glory of its creation by God.  Only the Creator of humanity can restore it, and in his love he comes to rescue us from corruption and death.  He comes as a human, as one embodied person, and unites himself to human nature.  Our corporate solidarity is such that his glorious presence within the human race reverses its corruption. The value of his sacrificial death is more than equivalent to the death which enshrouds the entire human race. We by faith unite ourselves to him in confidence of this Sacrifice and in the hope of the resurrection.  

In taking on human nature Jesus restored the whole nature of humanity.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

fred and nehemiah on rebuilding

Here's Fred Smith with some lessons from Nehemiah on rebuilding walls (or, recovering from a loss).  

The best way to overcome the confusion that comes with loss is to organize it.  A plan dispels confusion.  When Nehemiah got the vision for rebuilding the wall in Jerusalem, he realized the people had lived depressed for 80 years, moping because the wall was down.  How long did it take to rebuild?  52 days!

We have fallen walls in our own life that need restoring.  The longer we grieve, the harder it is to begin the restoration process.  Start rebuilding before you make a heavy psychological investment in the loss.
Here are four points for rebuilding:

1. Stay constructively busy.  Too many people think they need to head for the islands for a vacation when experiencing loss.  A good friend, Dr. Howard Rome, formerly head of the World Psychiatric Society, once said to me when discussing a severe loss “Fred, stay busy.”  He knew that if I kept moving my training and habits would keep me constructively busy.  Now a word of warning….not just busy, but constructively busy.  One of my favorite poems says, “When in trouble, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout.”  That is NOT constructively busy.  Rebuild the wall after loss.

2. Live with the facts.  A friend asked me to assess his son’s executive capabilities.  I had to tell him I didn’t see great potential.  In a conversation with the young man he told me he wouldn’t have anyone around him who brought bad news because it depressed him.  You can’t run a business or a life like that.  A sound solution to any problem depends on a clear statement of the facts.  I must work with the facts as they are, not as I wish they were.

3. Don’t lose the good of a bad situation.  Kubler-Ross says the greatest things in her life have come from the “windstorms” of her life.  She talks about putting people into the tumbler of life to polish them.  I say, “don’t waste the experience.”Scripture is full of examples where crisis turned to blessing.  Joseph said, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”  Paul tells us that in God’s economy all experiences work for the ultimate good of His people.

4. Be redemptive.  It is my Christian responsibility to bring redemption whatever my circumstances.  Revenge is not redemptive; fear of failure is not redemptive.  I am not to be conformed to this world, but transformed by the renewing of my mind.  I am not to be externally pressed, but internally impressed by the Holy Spirit to bring redemption----whether I am winning or losing.

From Breakfast with Fred, weekly email.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

the true God-man

And the angel answered her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy - the Son of God."   (Luke 1:35 ESV)

"The glory of the incarnation is that it presents to our adoring gaze not a humanized God or a deified man, but a true God-man --  one who is all that God is and at the same time all that man is: one on whose almighty arm we can rest, and to whose human sympathy we can appeal."  (Benjamin B. Warfield)

gospel trail (ministry of tourism style)

Israel's ministry of tourism recently inaugurated a "gospel trail" to "follow in the footsteps of Jesus."  Though I don't really think us walking in the literal, physical footsteps of Jesus is quite what he was interested in, nevertheless, this is a great idea.  Seeing the scenery and locations of the events recorded in the Gospels in invaluable.  

Gleaned from the JPost article: The route of the Gospel Trail follows the path which Jesus walked at age 30 after he left Nazareth.  The trail, which runs for 63 kilometers, starts at Mount Precipice just outside Nazareth and continues eastwards down to Capernaum, taking in a number of important sites, including the Mount of Beatitudes, Magdala (Migdal today) the home of Mary Magadelene; Tabgha, the site of the Feeding of the Five Thousand; and Capernaum, where Jesus established his ministry.  Those traveling the trail will be able to do so by car, bicycle and, more traditionally, on foot – despite the current lack of amenities and accommodation along the route. The ministry says it is working on a program to encourage entrepreneurs to develop tourist facilities to provide services for those walking the trail.

Jerusalem Post article is found here

Friday, December 2, 2011

Dr. Thomas Schreiner - Living Like Jesus is the Only Way - ETS 2011

A good word (17 minutes) from Tom Schreiner to ETS scholars (and all aspiring scholars, and students). If "Jesus is the only way", how does this affect my relationship with others especially in academia...

Dr. Thomas Schreiner - Living Like Jesus is the Only Way - ETS 2011

Dr. Schreiner is the author of a superlative commentary on Romans, and is professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

this is how he comes

Ann Voskamp writes: 

"And this Gospel? It doesn’t come wrapped in twinkling lights and satin bows; it comes straight into our pitchest black. The Gospel of Christ, it’s a messy, bloody thing and this is how God was born, bloody and bruised, and that’s how God chose to die, bloody and beaten. And our God, He knows the comings and goings of our bloody battles, and this is exactly where He meets us. The Gospel is good news in the eye of the worst news.

"Advent is believing this, and this is how Christ comes:  

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him…” (Isaiah 11:1-2)

From her post, "One small seed."

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

new release: theology of edwards

Gerry's new book is out, and already at the top of my wish list. (I like the cover art, as well... they've put some color in JE's cheeks.)  Will have to save a few $ before it goes in the shopping cart.  (I think Oxford's publishing philosophy is "we publish no book under $80.")

The Theology of Jonathan Edwards, by Michael J. McClymond, and Gerald R. McDermott. (Oxford University Press, 2011)

By the way, co-author Michael McClymond, historical theologian at St. Louis University, will be in Roanoke, February 10 (Friday) at 7:30 pm at Antrim Chapel, speaking on, "Jonathan Edwards and the Future of Global Christianity."  (Sponsored by the Blakley Fund for Evangelical Studies.  The public is invited; no tickets are required.)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


"...if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come."  (2 Cor 5:17 ESV) 

This truth refers not just to my individual story of conversion to Christ.  Indeed, at age 20 I died to an old life and found new life in Jesus.  But more, as united to Christ by faith and by the Spirit, I am part of the new creation that began at Jesus' resurrection, which will be consummated in fullness at his second advent.

It was the Firstborn and Lord of the new heavens and new earth who stepped out of the tomb that Sunday, and us with him.  Chesterton writes, 

On the third day the friends of Christ coming at daybreak to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away.  In varying ways they realized the new wonder; but even they hardly realized that the world had died in the night.  What they were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but of the dawn.   (From The Everlasting Man)

Sometimes, I feel old and worn out. I need to remind myself of these things: "The new has come," and it hasn't changed in its newness. The old creation "wears out like a garment" (Heb 1:11)  But I can't wear out the newness of the new creation which is everlastingly new.  

Each and every day, therefore,...

--I am in the eternal new covenant with God through Jesus Christ. (Jer 31; Heb 8)

--I have an unchanging new identity in the righteousness and likeness of God.  (Eph 4:24)

--I have new mercies to receive from God today. (Lam 3:22, 23)

--I have new life from the Spirit to experience. (Rom 7:6)

--I have new songs to sing. (Ps 33:3)

--I am waiting for a brand new world to come. (Rev 21:5)

So, sometimes my body feels old, especially at 6 in the morning, but the new has come, and it is still new!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

such a good shepherd

Listen to this song by Fernando Ortega.  Enter in, and worship the Shepherd!

Wesley on human depravity

Sometimes people think that it is only Calvinists that hold to "total depravity".  Yet this is a biblical doctrine, held also by classic Arminians, too.  It is only in Pelagius (in the 4th century) and later in the Enlightenment and some branches of modern evangelicalism that believe there is some good spark in humanity that is able to respond to the knowledge and goodness of God.  

Case in point is this excerpt from John Wesley's sermon on "Original Sin."

"...we can have no love of God: We cannot love him we know not. Most men talk indeed of loving God, and perhaps imagine they do; at least, few will acknowledge they do not love him: But the fact is too plain to be denied. No man loves God by nature, any more than he does a stone, or the earth he treads upon. What we love we delight in: But no man has naturally any delight in God. In our natural state we cannot conceive how any one should delight in him. We take no pleasure in him at all; he is utterly tasteless to us. To love God! it is far above, out of our sight. We cannot, naturally, attain unto it...Thus are all men atheists in the world...”  
"They knew not that all men were empty of all good, and filled with all manner of evil. They were wholly ignorant of the entire depravation of the whole human nature, of every man born into the world, in every faculty of his soul, not so much by those particular vices which reign in particular persons, as by the general flood of Atheism and idolatry, of pride, self-will, and love of the world. This, therefore, is the first grand distinguishing point between Heathenism and Christianity. The one acknowledges that many men are infected with many vices, and even born with a proneness to them; but supposes withal, that in some the natural good much over-balances the evil: The other declares that all men are conceived in sin, and shapen in wickedness; -- that hence there is in every man a carnal mind, which is at enmity against God, which is not, cannot be, subject to his law; and which so infects the whole soul, that there dwelleth in him, in his flesh, in his natural state, no good thing; but every imagination of the thoughts of his heart is evil, only evil, and that continually."  
(John Wesley, Sermon on Original Sin, #44)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Parker V-S Vacumatic Successor

Great pen. Took many good notes with a burgundy VS in D. A. Carson's class on Hebrews. Eccentric? Yes, I know.

PenHero 365: Parker V-S Vacumatic Successor

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

hard sayings of Jesus

So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.  For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink."  (John 6:53-55 ESV)

I'm preparing to preach on the second half of John chapter 6, which includes this statement by Jesus.  His hearers -- both outsiders and his own disciples -- found it difficult and offensive.  As would many today.    

In my study I came across F. F. Bruce's book, The Hard Sayings of Jesus (IVP Academic, 1983)  His introduction is noteworthy:

Many of those who listened to Jesus during his public ministry found some of his sayings 'hard', and said so. Many of those who read his sayings today, or hear them read in church, also find them hard, but do not always think it fitting to say so.
Our Lord's sayings were all of a piece with his actions and with his way of life in general. The fewer preconceptions we bring from outside to the reading of the Gospels, the more clearly shall we see him as he really was. It is all too easy to believe in a Jesus who is largely a construction of our own imagination - an inoffensive person whom no one would really trouble to crucify. But the Jesus whom we meet in the Gospels, far from being an inoffensive person, gave offence right and left. Even his loyal followers found him, at times, thoroughly disconcerting. He upset all established notions of religious propriety. He spoke of God in terms of intimacy which sounded like blasphemy. He seemed to enjoy the most questionable company. He set out with open eyes on a road which, in the view of 'sensible people, was bound to lead to disaster.
But in those who were not put off by him he created a passionate love and allegiance which death could not destroy. They knew that in him they had found the way of acceptance, peace of conscience, life that was life indeed. More than that: in him they came to know God himself in a new way; here was the life of God being lived out in a real human life, and communicating itself through him to them. And there are many people today who meet Jesus, not in Galilee and Judaea but in the gospel record, and become similarly aware of his powerful attractiveness, entering into the same experience as those who made a positive response to him when he was on earth.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

what to give thanks for

Many families like mine, I know, have a time around the Thanksgiving dinner table where we share "what we are thankful for."  

Sometimes, especially with younger children, there may be long pauses after we've thanked God for our family and pets.  

So, it's time to think ahead and get a running start on gratitude.  Here's what I came up with this morning...

God exists, and you are not him.  God reigns, not chance!  God rules over creation and history, working all things according to the counsel of his most wise and glorious will.  Give thanks for these truths!  

God is unchanging in his essence, nature and purposes. God is good, his steadfast love endures forever, he is infinitely wise and powerful, and he is not capricious or evil. Give thanks that he is trustworthy!

God has made a beautiful creation: trees, mountains, animals, and many other things.  For all things bright and beautiful, great and small, wise and wonderful -- give thanks to God for all that he has made!  

You are created in the image of God: you can think, feel, touch, love, and make choices. Give thanks for this!  If you have chosen poorly, give thanks that God joyfully welcomes back the prodigals who return. 
God cares enough for us that he has revealed himself to us in words.  He wants us to know him!  Thank him for the gift of His Word, the Bible.

God sent his Son into the world that we might be saved.  Give thanks that he came to us when we could not come to him!

Jesus is God and man in one Person.  He knows our weakness, and he is mighty to deliver us.  Give thanks for such a great Savior!  

On the Cross, Jesus bore all your sin, guilt, shame, debt, and brokenness.  He has carried these off, never to be placed to your account again.  Give thanks for this!

The tomb that Jesus was placed in was only a temporary stay for him.  The Father was pleased with his Son's sacrifice, He is risen forevermore, and the new creation has begun.  Give thanks!

In Christ you have forgiveness, new life, adoption into God's family, and a calling to serve his Kingdom.  Give thanks for your position in Christ!

Is God at work in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure?  Give thanks with trembling!

God gives you a spiritual family for fellowship, to encourage and build you up in Christ. Give thanks for the church!  

God is a God of providence.  He guides your life and provides for your needs: food, clothing, shelter, safety, and much more.  Give thanks for many such blessings you have received!

Do you have a family?  If your family life is happy, that is a gift from God -- give thanks for this!  If your family life is not happy, this is a way God draws you to himself to find the happiness that only he can give. Give thanks in all things!

Do you have friends? Give thanks for the wonderful gift of friendship, for those who stick close to us through thick and thin. Are you lonely?  Give thanks that there is a Friend who sticks closer than a brother.    

Are you employed?  Give thanks for this.  Are you unemployed?  Give thanks in all things, and believe that he will never abandon or forsake you.  Give thanks to him who supplies all your needs.   

Are you healthy?  This is a gift from God. Are you in sickness, in pain, or in sorrow?  Give thanks that your Father in heaven cares for you, will never leave you, and will one day wipe every tear away. Give thanks ahead of time!

Finally, God will one day banish evil forever, and will establish a new heavens and earth in truth, beauty and righteousness.  Give thanks for the glorious future we have!  

"In everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."  (1 Thessalonians 5:18 NAS)

highlights, from the garden to the city

I am enjoying From the Garden to the City, by John Dyer, which is a readable, yet thoughtful, biblical theology of technology.  Here are some quotes...

“One of the most dangerous things you can believe in this world is that technology is neutral.”

"When technology has distracted us to the point that we no longer examine it, it gains the greatest opportunity to enslave us." 

“We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.” (quoting John Culkin)

"...a simple, encompassing definition of technology: 'the human activity of using tools to transform God’s creation for practical purposes.'"

"Technology, then, is the means by which we transform the world as it is into the world that we desire. What we often fail to notice is that it is not only the world that gets transformed by technology. We, too, are transformed."

"In this sense, technology sits between us and the world, changing and molding both at once. The world feels the spade, but we feel the handle. We use the tool to dig at the ground, but in another sense the ground uses the tool to chafe at our hands."
"The shovel connects us to the earth, but it also functions to insulate us from directly touching the soil. Our primary connection then is with the tool, not the creation itself, giving the tool the opportunity to simultaneously shape both the world and its user."

"In some sense, all of our technology can be understood as an attempt to overcome the effects of the fall. We create shovels and tractors to help us work the unruly land, and we invent soft bedding and epidurals to help ease the pain of childbearing.  We build air conditioners and heaters to overcome the weather and drive-through windows to overcome our hunger. We invent lightbulbs to overcome the darkness and search engines to overcome our lack of wisdom. Each of these inventions brings us  incredible benefits, and collectively they work to reduce the suffering that we experience from the curses of the fall. And yet, like Adam and Eve’s clothing, our technology never truly solves the deeper problem of sin that came with the fall."

"We use our idols fundamentally as a way of meeting our needs apart from God, and this is our greatest temptation with technology—to use it as a substitute for God."  

"If you ask the average person, 'What is the meaning of your cell phone and what sense of identity and values does it mediate to you?' you might be answered by a confused look. But if you ask, 'How would you feel if you lost your cell phone?' the immediacy of the answer would betray deep beliefs about what it means to be connected. It may be that the cell phone is not just a tool but an integral part of the person’s identity, who they define themselves to be."

" the post-fall world, God not only approves of but even helps with our technological development. At the same time, technology is also one of the chief means by which humans attempt to create a world without God. As our technology grows more and more powerful, the illusion of control becomes increasingly convincing. Today, our powers have grown to the point that in Western industrialized countries, we can go through our entire lives without the slightest physical need for God or other people."

"In his later years, Marshall McLuhan offered us what he called a 'tetrad' that is helpful in understanding how those tendencies emerge and play out within a culture. McLuhan’s tetrad proposes that all media and technology do four things.  First, they extend or magnify something that we do naturally. For example, a mobile phone extends our ability to communicate and enhances our sense of personal identity. Second, they eliminate or amputate something that we used to do. Mobile phones eliminate the need for landlines, and they also eradicate one’s ability to be unreachable and alone. Third, all media retrieves something from the past. Mobile phones retrieve the ability to connect on a regular basis with a frequency and familiarity that people were accustomed to when they lived in small villages. Finally, every technology has the possibility of reversing into a more negative behavior when it’s overused. When we use mobile phones too much, we never deeply connect with anyone, and instead we may maintain surface communication with everyone."

"At one end of this story is a pristine garden prepared by God for humankind to develop and transform. At the other end is a glorious, heavenly city full of human creations, art, and technology. At the center is our Savior Jesus Christ crucified on a cross, the most horrific of all technological distortions, built by transforming a tree from the natural world into a tool of death. Yet in his resurrection, Christ redeemed even that tool, transforming it into the symbol of our faith that eternally portrays his power over death and sin."

John Dyer (ThM, Dallas Theological Seminary) has been a web developer for more than ten years, building tools for Apple, Microsoft, Harley Davidson, the Department of Defense, and Dallas's NPR affiliate. He currently serves as the Director of Web Development for Dallas Theological Seminary and lives near Dallas, Texas, with his wife and family

Monday, November 21, 2011

we are bracketed

"I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end."  Blessed are those who wash their robes so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. 

(Revelation 22:13-14 ESV)

"Our lives are bracketed, or, boundaried, not by the decisions and actions of Caesar, not by the rise and fall of Rome, nor by the rise and fall of the United States. Our lives are boundaried by him, ‘the first and the last.’ Whatever else happens in our history and whatever else happens in my history, Jesus is there as the first word and Jesus is there as the last word. And Jesus is here in the middle with the Word that gives us life.”  (--Darrell W. Johnson, Discipleship On The Edge: An Expository Journey Through The Book of Revelation)

Painting above, Christ in the Hagia Sophia as "Pantokrator", which is Greek for "The Almighty (All-powerful) One". 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

amateur + google = scholar?

Here's a quote sent to me from my friend Harry...  

"One of the most disastrous illusions of the internet age is that an amateur plus Google is equivalent to a scholar. A search engine offers information, more or less relevant according to the skill of the searcher. But it does not sift that information; it does not sort fact from fancy, wheat from chaff. It does not explain which facts are relevant and which are beside the point. It does not weigh the merits of competing arguments and tell the user where the balance of evidence lies. A bright amateur armed with the internet may at best be better informed than he would otherwise have been, and he may occasionally catch a real scholar in a factual error. But it will not turn him into a scholar himself. There is no such thing as effortless erudition."

(- Dr. Timothy McGrew, Professor of Philosophy at Western Michigan U  

Saturday, November 19, 2011

not at all natural

"And [God] made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him." (Acts 17:26-27 ESV) 

An age-old question of philosophers is, "why is there something rather than nothing?"  Another question easily overlooked is the follow-up, "why is there this something rather than something else?" 

Sixty years ago, in an article titled "The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences," Physicist Eugene Wigner, who received a Nobel Prize for theoretical contributions to nuclear physics, remarked, "it is not at all natural that 'laws of nature' exist, much less that man is able to discover them."

Here are some other things he wrote:

"The enormous usefulness of mathematics in the natural sciences is something bordering on the mysterious and that there is no rational explanation for it... 

"The miracle of the appropriateness of the language of mathematics for the formulation of the laws of physics is a wonderful gift which we neither understand nor deserve. We should be grateful for it and hope that it will remain valid in future research and that it will extend, for better or for worse, to our pleasure, even though perhaps also to our bafflement, to wide branches of learning...

"It is difficult to avoid the impression that a miracle confronts us here, quite comparable in its striking nature to the miracle that the human mind can string a thousand arguments together without getting itself into contradictions, or to the two miracles of laws of nature and of the human mind's capacity to divine them." 

Albert Einstein said something very similar, when he said, "How can it be that mathematics, being after all a product of human thought which is independent of experience, is so admirably appropriate to the objects of reality?"

Einstein summed it up this way: "The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible."

We have a world we can see and measure and explain.  Natural laws are a blessing of creation.  Even the very laws of identity, non-contradiction, and excluded middle are miraculous gifts which testify to our Creator God, and lead us onward that we might come to know him.  

on athanasius

"[Athanasius] stood for the Trinitarian doctrine, 'whole and undefiled,' when it looked as if all the civilized world was slipping back from Christianity into the religion of Arius – into one of those 'sensible' synthetic religions which are so strongly recommended today and which, then as now, included among their devotees many highly cultivated clergymen. It is his glory that he did not move with the times; it is his reward that he now remains when those times, as all times do, have moved away."  

(--C. S. Lweis on the influence of Athanasius, from his introduction, On The Incarnation)

real hope

“Christian hope is not about wishing things will get better. It is not about hoping that emptiness will go away, meaning return, and life will be stripped of its uncertainties, aches, and anxieties. Nor does it have anything to do with techniques for improving fallen human life, be those therapeutic, spiritual, or even religious. Hope has to do with the knowledge of ‘the age to come.’ This redemption is already penetrating ‘this age.’ The sin, death, and meaninglessness of the one age are being transformed by the righteousness, life and meaning of the other. What has emptied out life, what has scarred and blackened it, is being displaced by what is rejuvenating and transforming it. More than that, hope is hope because it knows it has become part of a realm, a kingdom, that endures. It knows that evil is doomed, that it will be banished. This kind of hope has left behind it the ship of ‘this age,’ which is sinking.”

(--David F. Wells, from The Courage to Be Protestant)

Monday, November 14, 2011

a prayer

Martyn Lloyd-Jones mentions in his sermon "What is a Christian?" a stanza that Hudson Taylor had written on a slip of paper that he used as a bookmark. When Taylor, founder of China Inland Mission, died in 1905, this was discovered in his Bible: 

Lord Jesus make Thyself to me
A living bright reality
More present to faith’s vision keen
Than any outward object seen
More near, more intimately nigh
Than e’en the sweetest earthly tie.
--Attributed to Charlotte Elliott (1789-1871)