There is one God, Yahweh, who created the world good and rules all things. Violence and evil are not written into the fabric of creation but are due to sin and His righteous judgment on sin, and therefore there is hope of redemption from evil. Ultimate reality is not a gaggle of gods, nor an autocrat, nor an impersonal Fate. Rather, ultimate reality is Three Persons in an eternal communion of love. Above us is a God who is love, whose love overflows in creating a world He did not need and in redeeming a world that had turned from Him. Heaven is not a battlefield or a prison; it is a dance hall filled with song. And, one day, earth will join in.
"The two values that are becoming dominant in our culture are: efficiency and control.
I think those are inadequate as virtues. There's nothing inherently virtuous about them and they tend to move us in non-virtuous directions. I think we need less efficiency and to give up control over things in order to have more virtuous lives."
- Quentin Shultze, author of Habits of the High-Tech Heart: Living virtuously in the Information Age
Entertainment values are very hard to quarantine. They invade religion. They are attracting an audience. They are attracting clients. How do you attract a client to a church? You attract people who have been conditioned by decades of entertainment ... by entertaining them.
One of the things that the mega-church movement has been doing to attract its thousands of congregants is to devise the service of worship as entertainment through music, light shows, cappuccino carts and all these things. The congregants will feel that they are at a rock concert and the religion is thrown in as an extra.
Entertainment is pervasive in every aspect of our lives and it drives our lives. Entertainment is such a dominant force it tends to marginalize anything that's not entertaining.
The media create expectations for us and how our lives ought to proceed. We live within those expectations. And we are the first generation that is able to start to live within its illusions.
"In the end, it was a lot easier for God to get Israel out of Egypt than it was to get Egypt out of Israel.
The Passover and Exodus was about getting God's people out of Egypt. The 40 years in the desert was about getting Egypt out of God's people."
We don't generally pay much attention to All Saints' Day in the contemporary Protestant Church. But that wasn't always the case. Here is a great hymn for that occasion from the Glory to God: Presbyterian Hymnal written by Anglican hymn writer Horatio Bolton Nelson in 1864. It is set to Vaughan Williams' beautiful King's Lynn.
1 For all Thy Saints in warfare,
for all your saints at rest,
Your holy name, O Jesus,
forevermore be blessed!
For those passed on before us,
we sing our praise anew
and, walking in their footsteps,
would live our lives for You.
2 We praise you for the Baptist,
forerunner of the Word,
our true Elijah, making
a highway for the Lord.
The last and greatest prophet,
he saw the dawning ray
of light that grows in splendor
until the perfect day.
3 All praise, O Lord, for Andrew,
the first to welcome You,
whose witness to his brother
named you Messiah true.
May we, with hearts kept open
to You throughout the year
proclaim to friend and neighbor
your advent ever near.
4 For Magdalene we praise you,
steadfast at cross and tomb.
Your “Mary!” in the garden
dispelled her tears and gloom.
Apostle to the apostles,
she ran to spread the word.
Send us to shout the good news
that we have seen the Lord!
5 We pray for saints we know not,
for saints still yet to be,
for grace to bear true witness
and serve You faithfully,
till all the ransomed number
who stand before the throne
ascribe all power and glory
and praise to God alone.
"We need to find
21st Century answers to 1st century questions, not 19th century answers to 16th
century questions." N.T. Wright As we Protestants anticipate Reformation Sunday next week, this is a very helpful caution. Please don't think I [or Wright] am discounting Church history or historical theology or the Protestant Reformation. Most definitely not! This is simply a pointed exhortation addressing a very specific tendency among tidy-minded Reformed types in the Church today. This is our temptation. Why did the Reformers do what they did? Because they were like the men of Issachar who understood their times and what Israel should do. They went back to Scripture alone and held loosely to historical precedence where they felt the two clashed. Today, our temptation is to regard Reformational Confessions as semi-inerrant. We are in danger of quoting the Reformers instead of following their example; to honor the letter and disregard the spirit of the Reformation. But rather, we ought always to go and learn what these words mean: Semper Reformanda.
"Education is a series of religious acts partly because the power of assumption is so great. Assumptions are even more powerful than assertions because they bypass a persons critical faculty and thereby create prejudice. Government education assumes God to be irrelevant to the educational process when, in fact, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge" (Proverbs 1:7). Such false assumptions by the government schools can then be combined with arguments that prove the truth of what is false. These false assumptions are particularly beguiling because they appeal to one of our worst instincts - the desire to be fashionable or at least to avoid being associated with the unfashionable or unpopular." - Herbert Schlossberg, (Idols for Destruction, 1983, p. 210) The above quotation was found in Randy Booth's chapter "Family and Education" in The Church-Friendly Family, edited by Uri Brito. In about a dozen pages, Pastor Booth articulates the best content summary of Christian Education that I have ever heard or read in my life. I cannot recommend it to you highly enough. So many kindly old ladies ask in exasperation, "How could anyone look at the hummingbird in flight or the sun setting over the ocean, or the elegant double helix of a DNA strand and not recognize God's glory on display?"
"Dante does something very, very interesting and - to the limit of my ability to judge such things - something deeply true and wise in his characterization of the deepest level of Hell.
I have in my day seen three different discotheques named "Dante's Inferno". To name a discotheque "Dante's Inferno" you are, I presume, counting on the notion of heat; transgressive sexuality; wild, hot stuff. There is a kind of glamour in evil: "bad boys" I've heard it said that the world of men is divided into husbands and lovers. The husbands are dull and good, and the lovers are bad and sexy. Rock stars for my entire lifetime have been cashing in on this motif.
Dante is having none of it. For him, evil is not glamorous. If I may be permitted such an observation, Milton gets into a fair amount of interpretative trouble because his Satan is so glamorous. No one ever said that Dante's Satan is the real hero of The Comedia. And there's good reason for that. We only see him in one canto and he can't talk. He is however very good at drooling.
This is de-glamorizing evil. And evil is de-glamorized in another way, because the deepest level of Dante's Hell is not fire. It's ice; cold, motionless, dark, near-absolute zero, frigidity; nothingness. There's nothing cool - nothing cool - about Dante's Satan...
[Just as at Babel] what thwarts human presumption is a kind of anti-intellect, anti-intelligibility. So what stands at the center of Hell is gigantic idiocy; literally gigantic, drooling idiocy. And the punishment here is cold and ice."
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. - Philippians 2
Having just finished a week of intensive study from Genesis, I can't help but see that here in this oft-debated kenosis passage, Paul is alluding back to our earliest history as a people - the points where we got it wrong our Lord Jesus got it right. The sin of Adam wasn't simply stealing the King's food [although it was that], it was a power grab.
As much as pragmatic Americans might wish it to be otherwise, the Bible is not an answer-book. It includes advice, and laws, and rules, but a lot of it consists of puzzling prophecy, ancient history, obscure parables and apparently abstract theology. What are we supposed to get from that? We ask for an answer key, and God gives us poetry. Can’t we just skip the story and get to the moral?
No we can’t.
God gave us the Bible to guide us, but also – more fundamentally – to form us. By studying the Bible, hearing it, reading it, learning from it, we are being remade.
One of the ways the Bible remakes us is by giving us clues about God’s character and work. Parables aren’t moralistic tales. They’re allegories of God’s work in the world, the mysteries of His kingdom. By learning the parables, we learn to anticipate God’s next move.
We anticipate that when wheat is sown, weeds will be sown as well. We anticipate that we’ll have to wait for harvest for everything to be sorted out. We learn that the tree that counts doesn’t even look like a tree, but more like a bush, or a cross. We learn that God’s kingdom moves ahead through agents that we recoil from – prostitutes, tax-gatherers, sinners – as God sanctifies the world using the unclean.
But by learning the parables, living in the parables, and living out the parables, we come to know the ways of God. God is the choreographer and lead partner of our history and of our lives, and by learning the rhythm of the parables, we learn to keep in step with our dance partner.
"The God in whose service Bach labored and the God I worship today are one and the same. In the sight of the God of Abraham, I believe that the two hundred years separating the time of Bach from my own day can be of little account. This conviction has brought the great composer very much closer to me. We are fellows in faith, and equally foreign in our parentage to the people of Israel, God’s people of Biblical times. Who can be said to approach more nearly the spirit of Bach: a European who does not attend church and carries his Christian cultural heritage mostly on the subconscious level, or an Asian who is active in his faith although the influence of Christianity on his national culture is small?”
- Masaaki Suzuki, on the strangeness of his life's labors to establish a Japanese Bach Collegium
"I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. So be wise as serpents and harmless as doves". Christians often find it easy to be one or the other, but seldom both. Without innocence, shrewdness become manipulative; without shrewdness, innocence becomes naivety.Though we face different crises and different problems to those of the first disciples, we still need that finely balanced character, reflecting so remarkably that of Jesus Himself. - N.T. Wright
What are ten books your teenagers read as part of their homeschool education?
One of the weaknesses of the school model of education is that it squeezes out great books that don’t fit neatly into one or another of those artificial divisions of learning we call “subjects.” We don’t start with, “What books have had a deep impact in shaping what I am?” But with “What subjects am I supposed to be teaching, and which books will help me teach them?” I don’t teach my children subjects—I seek to instill in them wisdom. Which means I have them read the books that gave me wisdom.
All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes: The Christian and Pop Culture by Ken Myers. This book was a genuine wake up call to me, alerting me to the more subtle ways the broader culture has influenced not just what I think, but how I think. It was for me the beginning of seeking to live a more deliberate life.
The Abolition of Man by CS Lewis. A thoughtful yet accessible prophetic exposition of the then coming post-modernism.
The Holiness of God. We often, as parents, struggle with fear that our children are more eager to please us than their heavenly Father, that they see their faith as a familial thing, but that they don’t quite own it personally. This classic exploration of the character of God is deeply helpful. It reminds my children that God is for real, and that they must deal with Him, one at a time.
Monsters from the Id by E. Michael Jones. Jones, editor of Culture Warsmagazine, traces the history of horror fiction from Mary Shelley’sFrankenstein to Aliens. Why would I want my teens to read that? Because Jones, as is his habit, masterfully weaves the private lives of the creators of these stories with their ideologies and the stories themselves. Reading Jones is like reading Romans 1 unfold before your very eyes as you watch minds given over to depravity bear bitter fruit.
I was honestly surprised when this was pointed out to me. I would guess over the course of my life I’ve read two works of fiction for every work of non-fiction. I hadn’t planned at all to make the list all non-fiction, and so am happy to add here fiction. As with before I am not here arguing that these are the ten best fiction works ever, only that they are the ten that I genuinely want my children to read. Here they are, in no particular order:
The Scarlet Letter — Hawthorne is no friend of the Bible or the Christian faith, but like so many great authors he is haunted by it. He has no grasp of the Puritans, but, ironically, a decent grasp of our sinfulness. While the townspeople are merely clownishly wicked, his exploration especially of Dimmesdale and Chillingworth are both chilling and worthy.
A Clockwork Orange — Anthony Burgess is among my favorite writers of the 20th century. While Kubrick’s adaptation of the novel is not at all for the faint at heart, the book shows us Burgess’ genius without showing things best left unseen. A fascinating exploration of the folly of behaviorism, a philological romp, and a genuinely intriguing exploration of the rise and fall of civilizations, well, that’s quite a lot for a slim volume.
A Tale of Two Cities — Dickens starts slow, reminding us what happens when we are paid by the word. But the final third of this close-up in the midst of cultural devastation reminds us of the One Great Hero.
The Great Santini — Not one you expected, right? Pat Conroy is likely not in anyone’s canon, save perhaps the Sproul family canon. Conroy, like his thinly veiled father, manages to stir together charm and pathos, evil, and family unity. The result is somehow both disturbing and moving.
"Half of our marriages end in
divorce." No they do not. The real numbers are in and it seems that little
more than half of half end in divorce.
As a homeschool dad, I often refer to the
“smell test” when reviewing math assignments with my sons. ‘Okay, if
you multiply a big number by another big number, the answer is not going to be a
small number, right?’
Well, perhaps we can do the same here.
How many married people do you know? Okay, now how many divorced?
This is a difficult thing to get our minds around, but try. Think about
the sheer staggering number of married adults you know. It is far easier
to list the unmarried adults than the married. Now think about the
divorces. Do they even begin to approach half?
Jeff and Shaunti Feldhahn are Christian
marriage counselors, popular conference speakers, and family enrichment authors.
This month Shaunti released The Good News About Marriage reporting the
findings of an 8-year research project reviewing the statistical data on
marriage and divorce in America. Her conclusions are shattering many of
our most common conjugal clichés.
Among her more noteworthy findings were:
-The divorce rate in America has never even been
close to half. While the actual divorce rate is impossible to establish,
[the Census Bureau stopped trying in 1996] realistic estimates put the societal
divorce rate as low as 27% with almost every source reporting a decline in
divorces for the last 30 years!
"To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, and to devote the will to the purpose of God.”
Hey Mike! I’ve spent this last year trying to figure out the right career for myself and I still can’t figure out what to do. I have always been a hands on kind of guy and a go-getter. I could never be an office worker. ...I like trying pretty much everything, but get bored very easily. I want a career that will always keep me happy, but can allow me to have a family and get some time to travel.... Thank you!
- Parker Hall
My first thought is that you should learn to weld and move to North Dakota. The opportunities are enormous, and as a “hands-on go-getter,” you’re qualified for the work. But after reading your post a second time, it occurs to me that your qualifications are not the reason you can’t find the career you want.
Consider your own words. You don’t want a career – you want the “right” career. You need “excitement” and “adventure,” but not at the expense of stability. You want lots of “change” and the “freedom to travel,” but you need the certainty of “steady pay.” You talk about being “easily bored” as though boredom is out of your control. It isn’t. Boredom is a choice. Like tardiness. Or interrupting. It’s one thing to “love the outdoors,” but you take it a step further. You vow to “never” take an office job. You talk about the needs of your family, even though that family doesn’t exist. And finally, you say the career you describe must “always” make you “happy.”
Thank you to Uri Brito for posting this on his blog. It is a collection of quotes from Albert Mohler's interview with theologian Stanley Hauerwas. It fits perfectly into yesterday's sermon/Gospel passage - Lk 24: Returning to the Church and finding Christ in the breaking of bread. [*Please note: the transcripts widely available online INCORRECTLY quote Hauerwas in the section below. I've reviewed the audio and transcribed them accurately.*] Enjoy!
Mohler: When you look at American Christianity in general, and American Evangelicalism in particular, you appear to see a church that is looking less and less like the church.
Hauerwas: That’s true. I have great admiration for evangelicals for no other reason than they just bring such great energy to the faith and I admire that. But one of the great problems of Evangelical life in America is evangelicals think they have a relationship with God that they go to church to have expressed but church is a secondary phenomenon to their personal relationship and I think that’s to get it exactly backwards: that the Christian faith is a mediated faith. It only comes through the witness of others as embodied in the church. So I should never trust my presumption that I know what my relationship with God is separate from how that is expressed through words and sacrament in the church. So evangelicals, I’m afraid, often times, with what appears to be very conservative religious convictions, make the church a secondary phenomenon to their assumed faith and I think that’s making it very hard to maintain disciplined congregations.
This Lenten season, I've been preaching a series of homilies on the 7 deadly sins. Last week at the close of the service in which I had just preached on lust, a young boy from our congregation came up to me with a comment. I am certain that he is still a bit too young to have understood much about the subject, but then he surprised [and delighted] me with this observation: "Pastor, if you really wanted to talk about lust, you should have talked about The Silver Chair. That story teaches all about the sin of lust!"
It reminded me instantly of the [abridged] article below [although King argues for a different dominant sin in The Silver Chair]. I found it after hearing Rich Lusk reference Dr King's work which traces the 7 deadly sins through Lewis's 7 Narnia novels. The full article can be found here. Enjoy!
Several years ago I discovered an interesting relationship between the seven deadly sins and C. S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia.
The development of a list of seven especially damning sins is shadowy. However, the list that came to be most influential in the church was developed by Gregory the Great (540-605) characterized by its Latin acronym, saligia: superbia (pride), avaritia (greed), luxuria (luxury, later lust), invidia (envy), gula (gluttony), ira (anger), and acedia (sloth).
William Langland's Piers Plowman, Dante's Divine Comedia, Chaucer's "The Parson's Tale," and Spenser's Faerie Queen all devote serious attention to these. It is not surprising then that Lewis knew them so well. Throughout The Allegory of Love Lewis refers to the seven deadly sins. In several other works he refers to specific sins on the list and in Poems he focuses an entire poem, "Deadly Sins," on each one. It is my contention that he may either consciously or subconsciously have emphasized one of the seven deadly sins in each one of the seven Narnian books.
In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Edmund personifies gluttony.
"There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves. I have heard people admit that they are bad-tempered, or that they cannot keep their heads about girls or drink, or even that they are cowards. I do not think I have ever heard anyone who was not a Christian accuse himself of this vice. And at the same time I have very seldom met anyone, who was not a Christian, who showed the slightest mercy to it in others. There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it in ourselves, the more we dislike it in others. “The vice I am talking of is Pride or Self-Conceit: and the virtue opposite to it, in Christian morals, is called Humility. You may remember, when I was talking about sexual morality, I warned you that the centre of Christian morals did not lie there. Well, now, we have come to the centre. According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere flea bites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.”
Since the question is back on the table with this weekend's release of the Noah flop film, here is an answer deep from the archives.
As it turns out, the Nephilim have everything to do with Christian boys who lust after the Emma Watsons of the world and nothing to do with fantastic CGI rock giants or prurient alien angel-demons.
WHO WERE THE NEPHILIM?
An exegetical study of Genesis 6.
According to the O and NT’s, Moses was the author of the Torah. His audience was a post-Exodus, pre-conquest Israel. His main spiritual concerns would have been:
A. education – Israelite [and Canaanite] history and that of the land she was to inhabit;
B. Faith in God through hardship and uncertainty [grumbling vs perseverance - especially while traveling; trusting God as He works in time and processes; being subverted by the temptations of food, idolatry, and compromise with powerful empire-builders];
and C. Purity through separation [ethical and marital; being subverted by women]. All three of these themes are nearly omnipresent subtexts undergirding every portion of Genesis. They explain the content and emphasis of nearly everything contained therein.
To answer the question at hand, I would like to key in on the third concern – spiritual purity and marriage. At the risk of overstating my case, if Genesis were written today as a sensational political paperback, it would be called something like: “Setting the Record Straight: The true history of the Israelite Nation: how women, paganism, and faithless compromise almost destroyed God’s people, why Canaan is rightfully theirs and why the bloodthirsty, idolaters must be driven from it.”
You'd be hard pressed to find a contemporary song with a tenth the doctrinal substance or devotional force or sacred passion of this Ancient Christian Hymn. It was written by Venantius Fortunatis in the years prior to A.D. 600 and set to an ancient Plainsong tune.
1.Sing; my tongue, the glorious battle, sing the winning of the fray; o're the cross the Victor's trophy, sound the loud triumphant lay: tell how Christ, the world's Redeemer, as the victim won the day.
"This is the conclusion of the whole matter. God gives what he has, not what he has not: He gives the happiness that there is, not the happiness that is not. To be God or to be like God and share his goodness in response to his blessings or to be miserable; these are the only three alternatives. If we will not learn to eat the only food that the universe grows- the only food that any possible universe ever can grow- then we must starve eternally... Law said “If you have not chosen the Kingdom of God, it will make in the end no difference what you have chosen instead.” Those are hard words to take. Will it really make no difference whether it was women or patriotism, cocaine or art, whisky or a seat in the Cabinet, money or science? Well, surely no difference that matters. We shall have missed the end for which we are formed and rejected the only thing that satisfies. Does it matter to a man dying in a desert by which choice of route he missed the only well?" - C S Lewis from The Problem of Pain and A Slip of the Tongue
Thanks to Dr Jim Jordan for introducing us to it and the Clerk of Oxford for posting a great recording of the French Carol and Lenten Hymn: White Lent.
1. Now quit your care And anxious fear and worry; For schemes are vain And fretting brings no gain. To prayer, to prayer! Bells call and clash and hurry, In Lent the bells do cry 'Come buy, come buy, Come buy with love the love most high!'
2. Lent comes in the spring, And spring is pied with brightness; The sweetest flowers, Keen winds, and sun, and showers, Their health do bring To make Lent's chastened whiteness; For life to men brings light And might, and might, And might to those whose hearts are right.
3. To bow the head In sackcloth and in ashes, Or rend the soul, Such grief is not Lent's goal; But to be led To where God's glory flashes, His beauty to come nigh, To fly, to fly, To fly where truth and light do lie.
4. For is not this The fast that I have chosen? - The prophet spoke - To shatter every yoke, Of wickedness The grievous bands to loosen, Oppression put to flight, To fight, to fight, To fight till every wrong's set right.
5. For righteousness And peace will show their faces To those who feed The hungry in their need, And wrongs redress, Who build the old waste places, And in the darkness shine. Divine, divine, Divine it is when all combine!
6. Then shall your light Break forth as doth the morning; Your health shall spring, The friends you make shall bring God's glory bright, Your way through life adorning And love shall be the prize. Arise, arise, Arise! and make a paradise!