Thursday, December 31, 2009

7 Tips for Reading the Bible in a Year

'Tis the season for new year's resolutions, and many of us will resolve to read the Bible all the way through this year. It's easier said than done; there are lots of ways to lose the momentum and lose your committment. But it's really not that hard; 15-20 minutes a day will get you there.

You can do it. Here are a few thoughts to help you along on this venture:

1. Skim the hard parts.
Different things require and warrant different levels of reading. You do not read the tv guide with the same degree of care you do a textbook. You do not need to read the "begats" with the same diligence you give to the epistles right now. Ditto with the law and the more difficult prophecies. You'll want to come back to them another time, but for now if what you're reading is just terribly boring, skim it. The key here is don't lose your momentum, which will happen if you dread picking up your Bible.

2. Read the introductions.
Proverbs should be read very differently than Ezekiel or Romans. If your Bible has book introductions, they will probably give you some tips on how to do that. If yours doesn't, they're available online. Or you could get a book to help — maybe a Bible handbook or How to Read the Bible Book by Book.

3. Read meaningful chunks.
Every book in the Bible has a point. Many are designed to make a particular case. If you read a paragraph at a time of a book, you won't be able to piece that case together, and it won't make sense to you. Try to read at least a couple of chapters of any given book at a time, maybe more.

4. Read manageable chunks.
But if you try to read too much at one time, you may find have trouble processing what you've read. Reading the Bible is not just about getting through the Bible; it's about getting the Bible into you. Reading too much at a time can make that difficult.

5. Designate a catch up day.
Sooner or later you'll have a day or two when you barely have time to go to the restroom much less read something. Plan for that. Make one day — a week, a month, whatever — a catch up day. Pick a day when you have a little more leisure time and plan to read a little extra if necessary to stay on your schedule.

6. Make a habit of this.
Though bad days will happen, they'll be fewer if you get accustomed to reading at a certain time in a certain place. It can actually become automatic — that is, you can find yourself reaching for your Bible the minute you sit down, whether you intended to read or not. Choose a time and place when you'll have the fewest interruptions to read every day.

7. Don't make a habit of this.
Honestly, reading the Bible in a year's not the best way to read it. This will give you a broad view of the Bible, and that's important, but it's a terrible way to get a deep view which is critical for growth. So if you do it, do it this year and plan on doing something else thereafter.

Related articles:
5 Questions to Help Your Devotions
How to be a Self-Feeder
Reflections on Leviticus
Bible Study Links

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Post-Christmas Test

"My brethren, we are apt to think of Christ's first coming as a thing past and gone; and so, in one sense, it is. Eighteen centuries and a half have passed since His visible coming, and yet He is with us now. He came to be with His people for all time. "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." The Incarnation is a perpetuated fact; and the various relations of different souls to the Incarnate Christ which we study in the Gospels, are repeated in every generation of Christians. Peter, Thomas, Magdalen, Paul — ay, Judas too, — they are all with us: the names, the outer guise, is changed; the spiritual history is substantially the same. The conditions of the great problem of the relation of souls to Jesus Christ do not vary materially from age to age. He, our Lord, is unchangeable; and human nature, both on its bad and its better sides, is what it has been.

"Let us, then, try to reflect that the words of Simeon are still true, and that they suggest a grave question for every one of us. Christ is set for the rising and fall of many. Religion does not save us by the mere fact of our being brought into intimate contact with it. ...

"What is the case with each one of us? May we humbly hope that with the progress of time we have been more and more drawn towards the Person of our Lord? Or are we conscious of a weakened desire to live near Him and for Him; of a secret dislike of prayer and spiritual reading, which are sure to become intolerable burdens if they should cease to occasion true delight? Have we conquered enemies who once were formidable; or have we fallen back under the power of enemies who, we have flattered ourselves, were conquered once for all?

"Are our motives simpler, clearer, more uniform; or are they at best turbid and composite — a strange mixture of heavenly impulses and earthly resolves — a moral compromise at our very heart, in which the influences which come from below are steadily but surely getting the better of those which come from heaven? In short, are we falling or rising in the atmosphere of souls? ... We must sooner or later look the greatest of all our responsibilities in the face; our responsibility for having known whatever we individually have known of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. That is the talent of talents for which the Great Householder will call us most strictly to account.

"Christ is set for the fall or rising of each single human being in this Cathedral; but His Will is that we all should rise. Let us not baulk His gracious purpose. Rather, while yet we may, let us cling, by faith and love and sincere repentance, to His Pierced Hands; that we may have a part in the first Resurrection, and, by His grace in the second beyond it."

— H. P. Liddon, from Results of Christ's First Coming

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

I Think She Knows

My six-year-old daughter asked me if Santa Claus is real.

I think it was a visiting cousin that prompted this. Talk about putting you on defense.

I've never really supported the whole Santa Claus bit, but my wife — and my mother — wanted to do it. And a number of people pointed that telling her all along there was no Santa would cause problems among her classmates. So I put up with it.

But I don't really like the Santa bit for two reasons. One, I don't like giving credit for what my hard-earned money buys to someone else, especially someone ficticious.

But more than that, I don't want her to wonder if she should add God to the list of imaginary people we told her about. True, my outgrowing Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy didn't cause me to wonder about God, but it still strikes me as asking for trouble.

So I've been very non-committal about the whole thing from the beginning.

And when she asked me if Santa Claus is real, I told her, "Santa Claus is a game we play that makes Christmas more fun."

"Like the Tooth Fairy?"



Yeah, I think she knows.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Review: Greatest Stories of the Bible

This is another one of those books I don't quite know what to do with.

The Greatest Stories of the Bible (NKJ) is most of the narrative portions of the Bible stripped out and displayed in a storybook kind of format — e.g., each story is a "chapter" in the book. It contains most of the narratives plus a few extracts from the epistles (which are, frankly, out of place) but no law, no prophets, and few genealogies. It's a very pretty tome, but it's just the text of the New King James Version. The text is well displayed with large fonts and large margins, but there are no illustrations unlike most other "Bible storybooks" I've seen.

So who's this marketed toward? It's not really a child's book without any illustrations (not to mention the use of the NKJ). For adults or older children, you can skip from one narrative to another in your Bible if you want.

So why buy it?

Well, if you want to read the Bible as a narrative, this could be a good book for you. And there's great benefit in looking at the narrative of the Bible, in seeing the big picture of the story from the Garden to the cross to the New Earth.

So here's my dilemma: I would never have bought this book. (Thankfully, I got it for free -- review copy.) But it's not terrible.

If, for whatever reason, you want a book like this -- a Bible storybook, or a narrative-only Bible -- this would be a decent choice. But I'll just stick with a regular Bible.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Top 10 Modern Christmas Songs

...according to my opinion, of course, but since I have impeccable taste, I think my judgement is sound :)

I gravitate toward songs that don't over idealize the Christmas events and that talk about the whole picture — not just the manger but the mission. It should go without saying that if a song only says "Christ" when followed by "mas," that's not a Christmas song. "Holiday" music is nice, but I want my Christmas music double-barreled, full-throttled, ACLU-heart-stoppingly religious.

Now without further ado, here's the Top 10:

(If you enjoy these songs, you might consider buying some. These folks take a financial risk by allowing their work to be on YouTube.)

#10 Strange Way to Save the World by 4Him
Poor Joseph finally gets a little attention as he reflects on the wonder of the events unfolding around him.

Buy on Amazon

#9 Sing Mary Sing by Jennifer Knapp
Mary already gets a lot of attention, but Jennifer Knapp rocks.

Buy on Amazon

#8 Christ is Come by Big Daddy Weave
A beautiful reflection on who this baby is and why He came.

Buy on Amazon

#7 Welcome to Our World by Chris Rice
Meditating on the wonder of the Incarnation and looking forward to the cross as only Chris Rice can. Sorry no video, just audio (will launch new window).

Buy on Amazon

#6 How Many Kings by Downhere
"How many fathers gave up their sons for me?" A knot in the throat equals a spot on the list.

Buy on Amazon

#5 This Baby by Steven Curtis Chapman
A quick tour from the manger to the cross with realism (and a video that has nothing to do with the song).

Buy on Amazon

#4 Adoration by Newsboys
And sometimes words just fail...

Buy on Amazon

#3 Mary Did You Know by Spoken
Just about everyone's covered Mark Lowry's modern classic, but I like Spoken's rock version.

Buy on Amazon

#2 Here With Us by Joy Williams
Words fail again. Just listen.

Buy on Amazon

#1 Our God is With Us by Steven Curtis Chapman
There are lots of great songs about Christmas, but this one reminds us why Christmas changes lives today. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a video, but I've excerpted the first verse and linked to audio (will open in new window) of the song.

It's so worth your time:
One of us is cryin' as our hopes and dreams are led away in chains,
And we're left all alone;
One of us is dyin' as our love is slowly lowered in the grave,
Oh and we're left on our own.
But for all of us who journey through the dark abyss of loneliness
There comes a great announcement - we are never alone -
For the maker of each heart that breaks, the giver of each breath we take
Has come to earth and given hope it's birth.

And our God is with us, Emmanuel.
He's come to save us, Emmanuel.
And we will never face life alone
Now that God has made Himself known,
As Father and Friend, with us through the end, Emmanuel.
Buy on Amazon

OK, I'm sure I'm missed your favorite. Please share the name and a link if you have one. And if you think my choices are just nuts, feel free to tell me so :)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Full Disclosure

The FTC has decided bloggers must disclose any paid endorsements and freebies that are reviewed or promoted on their sites.

So here's my disclosure:

I'm a bibliophile. I love books for books' sake. Some people relax by walking in a garden; I walk through a bookstore (not that I don't like gardens, too).

I love old books and new books. I love serious books and funny books. I love big books, small books, weird books, and dry books. I love fiction and non, politics, theology, science, and history.

I have over a thousand books in my house. In one room of my house.

When I get a little money, I buy books. But I've got two mortgages, two cars, and two kids — girls, actually, meaning I'm looking at a future of dance lessons, prom dresses, and weddings besides the usual braces and such.

So if I can get free books, I do. I've got a Visa with Amazon rewards. And I gladly accept free books to do reviews.

That doesn't mean my reviews aren't honest. They are. In fact, there's one company that probably won't let me have any more review copies. They might prefer I didn't even buy their books.

But just in case, when reviewing such a free book, I'll let you know in the post. And if I ever get paid to do a review, you'll probably know from the giddy giggling.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Christmas Spirit

In a year when so many people are struggling, so much fear and pain, it can be hard to feel that "Christmas spirit."

But that may be because the traditional Christmas spirit is based on an atmosphere of family, gifts, food, and decorations. When money is tight, all of those things can be hard to come by.

The "meaning of Christmas" is no more about family than about gifts. It is about God becoming a man to free the burdened and oppressed:
"The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. ...
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given:
and the government shall be upon his shoulder:
and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God,
The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end." (Isaiah 9:2, 6-7)

When we gather, God willing, with our families we should be thankful first of all for a God who "made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant" for our sakes. That sentiment, that spirit, does not rely on our circumstances.

You may also be interested in:
God in a Manger
The Lamb of God
The Peasant Prince

Monday, December 7, 2009

Confusing the Lost?

"Several churches in Boise, Idaho are offering to pay people's parking tickets in an effort to demonstrate God's grace. ...

On December 12, organizers plan to gather in front of Boise City Hall and offer to pay off up to $10,000 in delinquent parking tickets.

...[T]he purpose of the giveaway is to help people understand that although they've made mistakes, forgiveness is available."
I'm all for creative methods to explain the gospel of Jesus Christ to the lost. In this case, though, I wonder if they're communicating the wrong message. Specifically, I wonder if they will accidentally perpetuate some bad theology.

One way in which people frequently misunderstand — and attack — the Christian message is to portray it as a vengeful God venting His wrath on an innocent, uninvolved third party. This may make Jesus look very gracious, but it makes God look petty and cruel.

The divinity of Jesus makes this all work -- God doesn't punish a third party; God takes the punishment on Himself in human form.

But that distinction is often missed. And this program, where an uninvolved third party shows up to pay the debt owed the government, seems to facilitate that.

Am I making too much of this, or are they making a mistake here?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Schizophrenia on Evolution

Proponents of naturalistic evolution like having evolution in their biology but not in their sociology.

Though they believe we are all simply advanced animals and that morality, if it exists at all, is simply a genetic predisposition toward mutually beneficial cooperation, they don't like it when people act on that position. (I'm sure this has nothing to do with the fact that most scientists aren't built for a truly dog-eat-dog world.)

A recent Time interview illustrates their problem:
"TIME: You believe that Darwin should continue to be taught in schools. But how can we teach Darwin and also teach that humans are somehow exceptional in the natural world?

DS: I think we have to decide what status we are going to give to the human race. Most of the world's religions hold that human life is sacred and special in some way. In teaching our common descent with animals, we also have to examine what is special about human beings, and why they deserve to be treated differently and granted certain rights."
Unfortunately naturalistic evolution does not leave us with the option of having something special about human beings. We shouldn't get different treatment or rights, and to claim the contrary, we're told, is "speciesist."

If Dawkins et al are right, the Columbine killers were right; there's no difference between killing a human and a cow.

Does that mean Dawkins et al are wrong? No. Naturalistic evolution can be totally true while leading to this horrible conclusion.

But, hey, maybe there really is a good reason to believe in Darwinism and in the sanctity of human life.

But perhaps we should demand that they stop teaching evolution until they can give students a convincing explanation.

Related: Defining Evolution: Getting Terms Right

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

A Miscellany of Links

Some things to pass holiday down time and gear up for the Christmas season.

= Charity:

4 Let's Say Thanks
Sending a free note to make soldiers feel appreciated.

4 Products from Not for Sale
Give Christmas presents that help people break free of slavery.

4 Aid Sudan

= Diversions:
4 Coffee Cup Art

4 Martian Landscapes

4 Nat Geographic's International Photography Contest 2009

= Serious:
4 You’re teaching my child what?
"We know now that teens’ poor decisions are likely due not to lack of information, but to lack of judgement. And there is only one thing that will bring that: time."

4 On Reading Old Books Like the Bible
"Secularists reading the Bible are too often like ethnocentric tourists visiting a foreign country. ... The Bible isn’t what they are used to reading and they read it badly."

4 A Pocket Guide to New Testament Theology

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Smelling Coffee

Contemporary Christian music has a lot of silly fluff, but there is some good, God-centered stuff.

A favorite artist is Chris Rice. He writes songs that are ... different, musically interesting, and full of truth. One of my favorites is Smelling Coffee. Here's the bridge:
Every little breath, every heartbeat
Is a gift of love that You give to me
You keep givin’ even when I’m asleep
‘Cause I know You never stop watchin’ over me
I wake up, my past is gone
‘Cause Your mercy’s new with the mornin’ sun
I’m forgiven, I’m free, it’s a brand new day
‘Cause Your faithfulness is the greatest...
I rarely get through that without a lump forming in my throat. How much I rely on that mercy that's new every morning.

Here's the whole song with a cute, and also kinda different, video:

Monday, November 16, 2009

On the Question of Torture

Would you torture a man to save him?
Little Jashon was missing after his mother's body was discovered. The suspect in his mother's murder is a multiple felon who has killed a child before.

At 17-months-old, even if unharmed, this little boy wouldn't survive long without care. As John at Verum Serum points out, this is basically the ticking time bomb from torture debates.

Any torture debate usually turns into a disjointed mess because people start talking past each other. There are three questions that must be asked, and they must be dealt with independently and thoroughly.

1) Is torture ever acceptable?
2) Is torture ever effective?
3) Is [a given act] torture?

The first question must be answered before the second is discussed because if it is never morally acceptable, it doesn't matter if it's effective.

The third question is essential because we have to decide if a procedure is torture before we try to apply the other two questions to it. For instance, if waterboarding is not torture, it's pointless to bring it into arguments about whether torture is wrong. Both questions need to be resolved separately.

In any debate — whether the topic is politics, religion, a new pet, or updating procedures at work — we need to make sure we pay attention to what the questions really are and whether they're being addressed properly. We serve our Master better with a reputation for clear thinking and honest discussion. And the debate may even prove fruitful.

As to the matter at hand, I'd love to know how you would answer the above questions, but the real, and heart-rending, question is, would you torture a man to save that little boy?

I'm afraid I probably would, but I'm pretty sure I'd be a bit sick to my stomach afterward either way.

[Oh, and they've found a body that's probably the boy's.]

Friday, November 13, 2009

Just Eisegesis

A new(-ish) specialty Bible is about to hit the market. "The Poverty and Justice Bible is your guide to explore God’s messages and challenges regarding the poor," according to "It highlights more than 2,000 verses that spell out God's attitude to poverty and justice."

And when they say "justice," they mean "social justice," by which they mean helping poor people — a good thing as long as it's properly done.

But I have my doubts about this product. The sample on their website shows a highlighted scripture on justice:
"The Spirit will come and show the people of this world the truth about sin and God's justice and the judgment. The Spirit will show them that they are wrong about sin, because they didn't have faith in me. They are wrong about God's justice, because I am going to the Father, and you won't see me again. And they are wrong about the judgment, because God has already judged the ruler of this world" (John 16:8-11 CEV).
Is Jesus talking about poverty and "social justice" here? No, clearly not. But it's got the word "justice" in it, so they highlight it. This is hardly a representative sample (they claim the Bible has over 2000 verses on poverty), but given this and all the other scriptures I've seen these kinds of folks abuse, I fear many verses will be misrepresented as refering to charity and welfare.

They also have a section of essays on poverty related topics including ... military spending?!
"Since 1945, the United States has spent more than $19 trillion on defense. If you were to spend $26 million per day since the birth of Christ, you still would not have spent as much as the United States has spent on defense since the end of World War II."
Um, how much more poverty and suffering would there be in the world if we'd lost the Cold War?

This is not the only essay reflecting such shoddy thought. I don't think I'd want to put this thing in the hands of an impressionable young person.

I'm glad these folks want to remind Christians of our duty to the poor. I'm glad they're trying to help folks understand the Bible. I just don't think they're very good at it. I don't hold out much hope for this product which is looking like the same old Christian Left eisegesis.

(HT: Tim Challies)

Debt Relief and the Jubilee
Helping the Poor Biblically
Loving Neighbors 7000 Miles Away

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Eternal Fire

Verses I wish weren't in the Bible: Matthew 25:41

The sheep and the goats. One to the right; one to the left. Left is bad.
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. ... Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.' ... Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.'"
I hate hell. I hate that it exists. I hate that people go there. I hate the finality of it. I hate the eternity of it.

Some have tried to show that hell isn't permanent. They see it more akin to the idea of purgatory but for everyone. I wish I could believe that.

But the way I read it, the way I understand it, the situation seems clear: Those who have rejected the Savior will be rejected by the Savior. He may give some people chance after chance, but in the end everyone has a last chance.

As much as I hate hell, though, as CS Lewis put it, God hates it more. If I would give anything to keep people from going to hell, He gave everything to keep them from going to hell.

But, truth be told, I wouldn't give anything to keep people from going to hell. Some days I can't even manage to walk across the street. It's so easy to expect that tomorrow will present another opportunity. Sometimes it doesn't, though.

I hate hell. But sometimes I don't hate it enough.

Friday, November 6, 2009


A diverse selection of links to help pass the time...

Bible: Have you heard of Glo? It's described as an interactive Bible "experience." Watch part 8 for a good idea of what this can do. It's an interesting concept, though I doubt I'll ever buy it.

Science: DNA Evidence Can Be Fabricated
Scary doesn't begin to describe it.

Adult Stem Cells: Stem Cells from Fat Used to Grow Missing Facial Bones
One more nail in the coffin of ESCR.

Abortion: Court rejects Pa. buffer law on abortion clinics
Apparently there are limits to limits.

Politics: What's Wrong with Obamacare?
Please pardon the self-linkage. This is a brief (a relative term) summary of the issues.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Chrysostom on Godliness and Evangelism

"Live in a way that won't blaspheme the name of God. On the one hand, don't care about human reputation. On the other hand, don't give reason for others to speak poorly of you. ... There would be no unbelievers if we were the Christians we should be. Everyone would convert to godliness if we generally kept the commandments of Christ, suffered through insults, blessed when we were cursed, and did good when treated poorly."

—John Chrysostom, from Homily 10 on 1 Timothy

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Cause of Abortion

I frequently hear "pro-life" Democrats/liberals say they think the solution to abortion is to deal with the causes of abortion.

They'll tell you abortion is caused by things like poverty, poor birth control education, and social stigmas against unwed mothers. And, of course, the solution to this situation is to have free and liberal abortion laws while throwing lots of money at these problems.

If that is the cause of abortion, maybe, just maybe, that will help. But if it's not?

What if abortion is caused by selfishness?

If a woman has an abortion because "I'm not ready" or "this will interfere with my plans," what will ever change that? As long as people expect the world to revolve around them, there will always be inconvenient babies, and abortion will always be a useful tool to protect their self-interest.

We cannot get rid of abortion by making it no longer "necessary." It will only go away when it is no longer acceptable.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Further Schizophrenia on Abortion

"Scores of healthy foetuses die every year because most hospitals do not give pregnant women what the NHS says is the best test for Down's syndrome.

Dr Anne Mackie, the head of NHS screening programmes, estimated 146 babies a year in England who do not have any abnormality are lost as a result of efforts to detect children with the genetic condition."

The good doctor calls this situation "scandalous and disgraceful." Read the whole story, and you'll get no suggestion that it is in any way unacceptable to abort a baby with Downs. You'll also get no suggestion that it is in any way unacceptable to abort a baby for any other reason.

According to pro-choice rhetoric, it's perfectly fine and morally neutral to abort a child for any reason. You can do it because his timing is inconvenient ("I'm not ready" or "I need to finish school first"), because your chosen method of birth control failed, or because he won't ever be able to live up to your hopes and dreams ("I'm too poor" or a birth defect).

But if the fetus is indeed nothing but a pre-life or potential person, then what does it matter if you accidentally abort one that didn't actually have anything wrong? ("Well, turns out that mole wasn't cancerous.")

If it's a tragedy because a valuable and precious member of the human race died, then every abortion is a tragedy. If it's a tragedy because some mother's heart was broken, then it's always a tragedy.

And if we can't see how we all seem to instinctively know abortion is wrong, that's a tragedy.

America’s Schizophrenic Stance on Abortion

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

My Day Job

For the longest time I was vague, if not silent, about my day job in case my wife stumbled across this blog -- so she couldn't prove it was mine (long story for another time). But since I've been outed, I can be more forthcoming.

I am a medical dosimetrist. These days you can actually major in that at some schools, but most of us have degrees in physics or biology if we have a degree at all -- many don't, having come through a series of technical programs. Me, I have a BS in physics, and I stumbled providentially into a field that makes good use of my background without requiring me to do any actual physics.

So what do I do? For a given patient, the radiation oncologist will determine where the tumor is (or was) and might be and will tell me how much radiation he wants to give those areas. My job is to determine how to deliver that radiation to the tumor while minimizing the dose to normal tissues.

That is the fun part and, often, the hard part because many types of cancer cells are much harder to kill than normal cells. For example, lung cancer is typically given about 70 Gray (Gy); healthy lung dies at less than a third of that, 20Gy. When the tumor is nestled up between the heart, cord, esophagus, and lungs, it can be difficult to get enough dose to the tumor (and sometimes we just can't).

This job gives me a great way to help people without getting yucky stuff on my clothes. It can be very difficult, but it often allows me to be very creative. But the hardest thing about the job is not the work but the people. Specifically, doctors.

Talk to anyone in health care and you'll get pretty much the same response: "It'd be a great job if it weren't for doctors." That's not to say some aren't great. I've worked with some doctors who are absolutely fabulous people. But there are an awful lot of doctors who have extremely exaggerated opinions of their own importance and staggeringly low opinions of everyone else's. Theories abound as to why, but a lot of physicians (in any specialty, not just mine) are just jerks. A lot of doctors are just plain folks, but a lot of doctors think doctors are more valuable than human beings.

Why do I tell you this? Because I think it's why I'm in health care.

I said I think I stumbled across this field providentially, and I think part of the reason was to teach me submission.

You see, doctors run health care. Non-doctors -- whether they're nurses, accountants, lawyers, or policemen -- all report ultimately to a doctor. And doctors tend to stick together. So they have all the political power. And they know it.

So if you work with a doctor who is kind and humble and reasonable, you're lucky. And if you work with one who is arrogant, abusive, or a little stupid*, you're stuck.

And so I have to learn to take requests from thoughtful doctors and demands from nasty ones as if they were delivered the same way. I have to offer my ideas to doctors who will listen and carefully consider what I have to say and to doctors who will disregard me simply because I'm not a doctor (for the patient's sake, you have to try). And sometimes I have to work late on a case for a doctor who will be very appreciate of the extra effort, and sometimes it's for a doctor who believes I should be honored to be in the same room as him.

So how's learning submission going? Yeah, I'll get back to you on that. It's not easy. It's not fun. It's not pretty. But in the end I think I'll be more like Jesus than I would have been otherwise.

*What do you call a guy who graduates at the bottom of his medical school class? Doctor.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Lewis on Temptation

I'm working my way through CS Lewis' space trilogy, and currently I'm reading the second book, Perelandra.

Early in the book, one of the characters has to face an invisible onslaught of demonic opposition -- enemies who do not want him to complete his journey to assist the main character in the war against the forces of evil. The barrage comes in the form of doubts, fears, and temptations that are whispered into his "ear."

The main character, Ransom, tells him, "Oh, they'll put all sorts of things into your head if you let them.... The best plan is to take no notice and keep straight on. Don't try to answer them. They like drawing you into interminable argument."

That seems like good advice when facing any temptation. Trying to argue with a sinful desire only lets it burrow deeper into your mind. It seems to get less odious simply because it's been hanging around so long. The best approach, as Ransom says, is to tell it, "No!" and go on.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Lost and Alone in Sin City

After a super busy month at work (the last few months, really), I'm being sent to a class in Las Vegas for a week. 

By myself. In a city that caters to every one of a man's worst impulses. For a week.

Despite the old canard, what happens in Vegas does not stay in Vegas. Yet temptation is always present and usually quite powerful.

Lord, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from Evil.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Credo House

An American L'Abri?

The good folks of Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, who already edify and educate the church with "The Theology Program" and "Converse with Scholars," have created a place for face-to-face theological training for lay people called Credo House of Theology.
"Think “evangelical theological hub.” Think "seminary for lay people." This is a place to come to find a balanced, Christ-centered theological education and fellowship. It is a place to come to ask the tough questions. You know, the ones "they" say cannot be asked. The Credo House is open to any and all."
Why should lay people want to learn theology? Isn't that for the professionals?

"Theology is more than just an academic discipline reserved only for professional theologians, ... it is a fountain from which all people may daily drink."

And should drink. What we believe affects how we live. And being able to explain what you believe is an important part of evangelizing the lost.

Theology can be over done, but theology done right is a beautiful thing, and this promises to be such a thing.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Outnumbered and Overwhelmed?

Ever feel like you’re outnumbered and losing the fight?

I do. Frequently these days.

The Christian struggles against the world, the flesh, and the devil. We are surrounded by, wedded to, and outmatched by our enemies. They’re everywhere we go, no matter what we’re doing, however much we might wish it to be different.

They’re like an unholy trinity, foiling our better intentions, dragging us under, preventing us from being what we want to be.

But we’re not alone. We’re not even outnumbered.

The unholy trinity stands opposed by the holy Trinity.

We are trapped within our flesh, but the Spirit is within us. We are surrounded by the world, but it is surrounded by the one who made it. We may do battle with the devil, but we know Christ has already won the war.

We may be wedded to our flesh, but we are also wedded to the Son. We are part of the Bride and also of the Body – who also is on our side.

We are supported in our fight by the ones who have come before: those through whom the Spirit has spoken, the prophets and the apostles, and our fathers in the faith who also were given wisdom by that Spirit.

And we are supported by those who surround us – the church of today encouraging us, lifting us up, and binding our wounds.

We do not fight alone. We are part of a family. And we are part of an army. And we outnumber the enemy two to one.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

AGES Software

In the world of Bible study software, you have products at the Macy's level, the Target level, the Wal-mart level, and the flea market level.

I want to tell you about a good flea market software.

The good folks at AGES have put a lot of "oldies but goodies" into pdf format. Real text pdfs, not single-image-per-page pdfs that aren't searchable. You can get sermons, commentaries, theology, and classics at a fraction of what you'd pay for other software.

How fractional are we talking? The Works of Charles Spurgeon, currently on sale for $700 through Logos, costs $20 from AGES and $11 if you buy it from

You can get Calvin, Wesley, Augustine, Bunyan, the Talmud, and more in pdf from AGES.

There's even a nifty collection available from with a little bit of everything.

The fact that these files are pdf-based means that they will also work on many PDAs and smartphones, plus the Kindle. So unlike most of the offerings out there, these can go with you anywhere you have the urge to read some Spurgeon, Finney, or Tertullian.

Is there a down side? Sure. The search in Adobe Reader is certainly not as powerful as in most Bible study programs. For instance, Logos lets you search your dozens (or thousands) of resources all at once from one screen complete with hyperlinks. It's great. It's also expensive.

But if you're interested in reading the greats of years gone by, but don't want (or have) to spend a lot of money, I highly recommend the AGES products.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Athanasius on Sin

"To avoid carelessness, we should consider Paul's words, 'I die daily.' If we also live as though dying daily, we won't sin.

This means that, as we rise day by day, we should think that we won't live through the evening. Also, when we are about to lie down to sleep, we should think that we won't wake up. For our life is naturally uncertain, and Providence gives it to us daily. 

By living our daily lives this way, we won't fall into sin, lust after anything, cherish wrath against anyone, or heap up earthly treasure. But daily expecting death, we will abandon wealth, forgive everyone for everything, and won't harbor lust for women or any other foul pleasure. But we will turn from it as past and gone, always working and looking forward to the Day of Judgment. " --Athanasius, Life of Antony

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Bible Study Links

This weekend was nowhere near as productive as I'd hoped. Between an unplanned plumbing project and a couple of unplanned extended family activities, I couldn't do the writing I'd intended. We did have fun, though.

So here are some useful articles to further your Bible study for your reading pleasure.

=How to Use a Study Bible by Al Mohler

=Giving Ourselves Trouble: Taking Bible Study to the Next Level

=Archeology: What it can and can't do for Old Testament studies - Talbot School of Theology

=John 7:37-39 - Was Jesus quoting or paraphrasing? - from Stand to Reason

=World Wide Study Bible - a tool from CCEL

=Tyndale Tech: Computer aids for biblical studies

Friday, September 4, 2009


Join Me Changing the World
Fundraising for Bibles. Is there a better cause?

Why Discipleship Is our only hope
"The reason the Christian faith has not transformed American culture is that it has not significantly transformed the majority of Christians."

Stay of execution
Sharia and "honor killing" converts to Christianity. In the USA.

Ending with something a little lighter: Paintings of the moon landings from someone who was there, Alan Bean. Well worth your time.

Monday, August 31, 2009

All for Love

We get these breaded fish fillets at Sam’s Club that I just love.

One afternoon I was bit by the munchies and went looking for the chocolate chip cookies my wife and kids had baked the night before. I walked into the kitchen, saw that we had leftover fish, and forgot about the cookies. That’s how much I love this fish.

It strikes me that this may be a good measure of how much you love something or someone – what do you give up for them?

I often give up something I’d like to do and do something I don’t want to do – to be with my wife. I often watch tv shows that make me contemplate suicide – to be with my kids.

For love of my wife I’ve given up other women, independent control of my time and finances, and the freedom to dress myself.

What do I give up for love of God?

What do you give up for love of God?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Review: Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl

“What the heck was that?”

Have you ever had that reaction to something you read? It’s how I felt many times while reading N.D. Wilson’s Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl.

That’s not to say it’s not a good book. It’s well-written, compelling, and downright fascinating in places. But sometimes it leaves you scratching your head.

Wilson has described it as “creative non-fiction,” and that’s certainly accurate. It also reminds me of the “familiar essay,” which is supposed to be about the journey more than the destination. The style is … unusual, but after becoming acclimated you’ll be able to follow him.

In a nutshell, Wilson says the universe, with all its beauty and blemishes, is a canvas on which God’s self-expression is displayed. He encourages us to step back from the details and enjoy the big picture. Along the way he examines evil, hell, snowflakes, bunnies, lightning, and the incarnation. And capital punishment in ant colonies. It’s an interesting ride.

Aside from a few completely unnecessary mild profanities, it’s a good read and well worth your time.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Can We Trust the Gospels? 5

If the Gospels are theology, can they be history?

The title of the next chapter of Mark Roberts’ Can We Trust the Gospels? is also a question often asked by skeptics.
“Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were not writing simply out of antiquarian interest. They weren’t scholars who found Jesus fascinating and decided to write about his life to further their careers. Rather, they were faithful believers in Jesus who composed narratives of his ministry for theological reasons. In the language of our contentious world, the Gospel writers had an agenda” (p115).
But why must this hurt their credibility?

Roberts points out is that they were quite open about their agenda. Mark’s Gospel begins not with “the history of Jesus of Nazareth” but “the good news of Jesus Christ.” The other writers were equally clear about their perspective with John’s being the clearest of all (John 20:30-31).

But does that mean that their histories are unreliable?

Early Christians clearly placed an emphasis on the historical reality of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The scriptures, particularly 1Cor 15, 1John 1, and 2Peter 1, speak of the eye witnesses of the events of the Gospels.

The Gospel writers, “like the vast majority of Jews before them and Christians after them, believed that what actually happened made all the difference in the world. It was in the realm of history that God made his presence known, revealing himself and his salvation. Therefore history … was at the heart of the evangelists’ theology” (p120).

Paul spells out how much we depend on the historicity of the gospel:
…if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead…. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. (1Cor 15:13-15)
The events of Jesus’ life, and especially His death and resurrection, were not regarded as a useful fable, a story of spiritual significance. To them the story was true, or it was meaningless.

This alone doesn’t prove that the events of the Gospels happened, but it does tell us that we can’t discount them simply because they had a theological agenda in writing them.

The book in blog form: Are the NT Gospels Reliable?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Apologetic Reading Links

=Recommended Reading for Critical Thinking and Apologetics from Doug Geivett

"My lecture on “Apologetics in Your Home” has been popular at conferences. During this presentation, I recommend the following books to parents..."

=Christian Apologetics Blog Directory

=Reasonable Faith: the website of William Lane Craig

Monday, August 17, 2009

A Surprising Scripture on the Saints

There are passages in the Bible that don’t say what we expect. They sometimes take us by such surprise that we don’t read them correctly.

One that I’ve been known to misread:
I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of the glorious inheritance of the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.
Except that’s not what it says:
I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. (Eph 1:18-19)
God thinks of Himself as richer for having us.

Whatever He saw in us that made Him willing to go to the cross continues; we are valuable still.

So precious are God’s people that the prophet says,
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing. (Zeph 3:17)
What is valuable is never abandoned, discarded, or abused. It is protected, cherished, and enjoyed.

We are valuable to God. I am valuable. You are valuable.

We are His treasure, and I pray “that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know … the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.”

Friday, August 14, 2009


=My Holy People
"Sometimes we Christians get hung up on the rights and wrongs of discipleship, forgetting the deeper purpose. Like the Israelites, we are called to be set apart from the world around us and devoted wholly to God. The Christian life is not a matter of following the right rules so much as it is living fully for God’s purposes and glory."

=On Not Living Up To Your Promise
"We think the way back is too long and it might be if our goals are still worldly acclaim, but if we simply turn around, Father is waiting. He is waiting to put a ring on our finger and a robe on our back. He rejects no repentant soul."

=The Questions Have Changed
"A woman in our church is taking our denomination’s ministerial studies program. The course named “Introduction to Theology” asks her to respond to several contextualized questions deriving from the various categories of what used to be called Systematic Theology. Looking at the questions she was given she decided to rewrite them. She said the questions were not really the questions she was getting from either new Christians or inquiring seekers. The questions have changed."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Should Christians Marry Young?

What’s a good age to marry?

Everyone has an opinion, but over the years that opinion has trended upward.

I surprised myself on this a few years ago when a friend was talking about getting married. I said 23 seemed a little young to be getting married, and it was the better part of a day before I remembered my wife was 23 when we got married.

At the same time that Americans are marrying older and older, we’re reaching sexual maturity younger and younger.

Biblical commands to remain celibate until marriage have probably never been easy, but it was almost certainly more obtainable when getting married at 18 was the norm.

Perhaps this is a topic where the church should part ways with the culture, not because of explicit morality but because of wisdom. If our young marry, they have a healthy outlet for impulses that otherwise can lead to not just sin but also pregnancy, disease, and emotional hang-ups, among other problems.

Among the side benefits to be reaped are that married students tend to do better in college and stay out of trouble better, marrying young leads to kids younger which leads to grandkids when you’re young enough to enjoy them, and married couples can live off less money than two singles (important in college and after).

Wouldn’t that lead to more divorces? Since the divorce rate was lower in days when the marrying age was younger, youth alone must not be the problem.

Marrying younger is hardly a cure-all for the problems of the country or the American church, but it has the potential to positively shape the lives of the next generation.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Christians and Healthcare Reform, redux

With all of the emotion that accompanies the health care reform debate, it was only a matter of time until people starting stepping over the line. Still, I’m sad to see statements like, “How can you be a Christian and not support health care reform?”

The truth is that just about everyone thinks things need to change. Not supporting any of the Democratic bills does not constitute thinking that our health care system is fine.

And not supporting a “government option” that appears to be designed to lead to a single-payer system is not un-Christian. People of good will can believe that this will only destroy what is good in our health care system and hurt the very people it is intended to help (along with everyone else).

Besides, the real un-Christian attitude is the one that wants to give all this power to the government, right?


As we’ve discussed before, when the discussion is about how to help people, it is not right to start pointing fingers at our brethren.

The un-Christian attitude, the sinful mindset, is the one that says, “I’ve got my health care; I don’t care about you.”

If you're interested in more on the politics of health care reform, visit My Three Cents.

Politics, Religion, and Brotherly Love
Conservatives and the Least of These
Physician Heal Thyself

Monday, August 3, 2009

Does Titus 2 Require Wives to Stay Home?

When we come across Bible passages that are difficult to understand, we recognize that we’re going to have to do some work to figure out they mean. But when a passage seems pretty straightforward, we often just take it at face value and don’t look to see if there’s more beneath the surface.

That can be a mistake. A “straightforward” reading may really be a superficial or even incorrect interpretation.

Is this such a passage?

“[Older women] can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God” (Titus 2:4-5).

Older women should train younger women to be “busy at home.” This has been taken by many to command that married women, and certainly mothers, be housewives.

But does it? We need to look closer. Context, context, context.

Biblical Context
One of the first things we should do when approaching any scripture is to look for parallel passages – i.e., those giving a different account of the same events or a different discussion on the same topic. The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge or a chain reference or study Bible will usually point you to verses that touch on similar ideas.

This passage is very similar to one that we find in 1Timothy. The verse that would catch our eye says:

“I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander” (1Tim 5:14).

Literary Context
That sounds like it is saying basically the same thing as the Titus passage. But if we look at the whole paragraph, it might not.

“As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list. For when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry. Thus they bring judgment on themselves, because they have broken their first pledge. Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to. So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander” (1 Tim 5:11-14).

When looked at in terms of the problem of young widows “being idle” and becoming roaming gossips, you might reasonably wonder whether this passage is a command that women be housewives or a command to stay busy about useful work.

Historical Context
What constitutes useful work? A survey of Bible Manners and Customs and a couple of similar works leaves me with the strong impression that women in that society rarely worked outside the home. So in that society, a woman generally had only one option – taking care of her household.

There were certainly exceptions – we know Priscilla worked making tents beside Paul and her husband Aquila (Acts 18:1-3). But women didn’t get a job at the corner bank in those days, which is why widows needed charity.

What’s the Conclusion?
So would Paul in 1Tim 5 or Titus 2 have been commanding women to be housewives when the vast majority of them already were? Or is it more likely that he was insisting that these women, who were already at home, stay busy and out of trouble?

What do you think?

How to be a Self-Feeder
A Concordance as a Devotional

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Can We Trust the Gospels? 4

The Gospels: What, Why, and How?

Finally(!) getting back to Mark Roberts’ Can We Trust the Gospels?, we come to the question of the nature of the Gospels.

What are the New Testament Gospels?
Knowing the genre of the Gospels helps us interpret them correctly. They are not contemporary anythings – whether history, biography, or novel. We must use ancient categories or nothing at all.

Modern scholarship, Roberts says, has tended to view them as “Hellenistic biographies” – i.e., short biographies that focus on a particular part of the subject’s life that is deemed to exemplify certain virtues. They are not pure Hellenistic biographies, but that is the closest genre we know.

One characteristic of the Hellenistic biography that is useful to our discussion is the freedom of the biographer. Living in a time before tape recorders, no one expected a “quote” to be a perfect quotation. In fact, whole speeches could be manufactured based on a general outline of what the speaker actually covered. It’s said that ancient Greek had no quotation mark and saw no distinction between a quote (in the modern sense) and a paraphrase. This is something that should be considered when discussing the small variations in detail between the Gospels.

Roberts suggests the proof of this is that the early church took both Matthew and Mark to be authoritative even though they differed.

The Gospels, he tells us, give us the ipsissima vox (“his own voice”) rather than the ipsissima verba (“his own words”) of Jesus. His message can be communicated without using the exact words He used. We can consider the Gospels as reliable “sources of genuine knowledge of Jesus,” but we have to consider the intent and process of the Gospel writers in the endeavor.
“Naysayers who deride the reliability of the Gospels because of such things as verbal inconsistencies between the Gospels are making an error of anachronism. Their negativity is almost as silly as criticizing the Gospels for failing to include digital photographs of Jesus” (p92).
Of course this does raise questions about how we should approach ideas like “inspiration” and “inerrancy.” But we don’t need to do that now.

What Difference Does It Make That There are Four Gospels?
It is important that we have not one but four of these Hellenistic biographies.

In interpretation, the four help us get a fuller picture of the Christ they describe, but they serve an apologetic purpose too.

Even if Matthew and Luke truly are dependent on Mark, they do not contradict him. If they are not distinct sources, they certainly “second” his description. Though they do not agree on every detail, they paint the same picture. They did not take the opportunity to “correct the record,” so they at least support his story.

John, however, is certainly independent of Mark. For all the differences between John and the Synoptics, they tell essentially the same story. Roberts lists two pages of details that are common to all four Gospels (here available online); among them:
Jesus ministered during the time Pontius Pilate governed Judea. He was connected with, and His ministry superseded, John the Baptist who saw the Spirit descend on Jesus.

Jesus gathered students around him (as opposed to being sought out like normal Rabbis), and His followers included women (again, unlike normal Rabbis). He taught in the synagogues and was popular with the masses but often left the crowds for solitude.

Jesus had conflict with supernatural evil, used the title Son of Man, and saw His mission as leading to His death. He did many miracles of various sorts including nature miracles, multiplication of food, and raising the dead.

Jesus implied that He had a unique connection to God and referred to God as Father. He was misunderstood by almost everyone, including His disciples who abandoned or denied Him during His crucifixion in Jerusalem at Passover under Pilate with the cooperation of some Jewish leaders.

Jesus was raised from the dead on the first day of the week, and some of His women followers were the first witnesses.
This is the basic story to which four authors of the earliest church attest.

Are There Contradictions in the Gospels?
But beside that basic story, aren’t there lots of contradictory details in the different Gospels? There are certainly variations among the Gospels, but do those constitute contradictions?

Roberts deals with some of the different kinds of variations in the book, among them:

Chronology – Though we tend to arrange events chronologically, in an ancient Hellenistic biography, thematic arrangements were perfectly acceptable. Thus, one author could use a chronological arrangement and another thematic or both could use different thematic arrangements. Objecting to this is nothing more than expecting ancient writers to conform to our standards.

Conflicting theology – The differing theological emphases of the various Gospel writers cause them to highlight or even include different details. This does not necessarily constitute a contradiction.

Ancient quotations – In ancient literature, paraphrases and composite speeches (i.e., speeches manufactured from various quotes) were perfectly acceptable.

Roberts points the reader to Craig Blomberg’s Historical Reliability of the Gospels for a fuller treatment of this issue.

I would like to mention one thing Roberts does not bring up: Translation. The Gospels “happened” in Aramaic and were written in Greek. The problems of translating and transliterating between languages were the same then as they are now, and different authors may have handled various issues differently.

Roberts says, “Many of the apparent contradictions turn out to depend on superficial or rigid readings of the text” (p108) – a problem that can afflict both conservatives and liberals.

In light of all of this, the supposed contradictions either melt away or are revealed to be trivialities that were unimportant to ancient audiences.

Roberts suggests we think of the Gospels as paintings as opposed to photographs. Paintings may not be “’literal’ in the photographic sense,” but they can “capture a slice of reality that eludes the photographer” conveying “mood, feeling, and insight.” They can be “profoundly ‘true’ without being literalistic” (p111). In that light,
“If you had access to only one of the four Gospels, you would have a trustworthy picture of Jesus. It wouldn’t be as detailed or literal as a photograph. But you could trust it to reveal the truth about Jesus. With four Gospels, you’re able to see different things in Jesus and to know with greater accuracy what he was like” (p112).
Finally, Roberts points out that these difficulties with the Gospels are hardly new. They have been recognized from the beginning, and the early church chose to keep the Gospels messy with all the variations rather than trying to turn them into one picture.

“[T]here was no conspiracy in the early church to clean up the Gospels. The truth needed to be protected and preserved, even if it was messy” (p114).

Next time: Can the Gospels be theology and history?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Militant Pacifists

If a pacifist is someone who will not use violence, even to defend himself, a militant pacifist is someone who won’t let you, either.

Recently a group of Christian pacifists calling themselves the Bonhoeffer Four hid in a military training facility to prevent joint exercises between the US and Australian militaries. Their leader pointed out that Jesus calls us to be peace makers.

I have a hard time understanding how this makes peace. It’s far more likely to get someone killed.

More than that, though, I’m not sure how I feel about militant pacifism. Now, Christians are well known for thinking everyone should follow our moral code, but I think this is different.

When the issue is a universal moral – e.g., murder, stealing – I’m ok with saying you shouldn’t do it at all, ever. But pacifism is not like that.

Christian pacifists will generally explain their stance as one that honors Christ, that imitates His peacefulness, and that points toward His kingdom. It’s not a universal moral rule. Asking the unwilling, especially non-Christians, to become pacifists to honor Christ makes no sense.

That said, kudos to them for being willing to put it all on the line to make peace.

On the same day I ran across this story, I rented a movie that, surprisingly, reinforced some of those ideas.

**spoiler alert**
By now most people who are interested have probably already seen the latest Clint Eastwood movie Gran Torino. If not, you can stop reading now, though the movie’s worth seeing even if the twist at the end has been spoiled.

Short version: After bad people do bad things to someone he cares about, Clint Eastwood’s character decides to take matters into his own hands to make sure they are brought to justice.

Does he kill everyone within sight? That’s what I expected. No, he martyrs himself. He lays down his life to protect those he loves.

Justice is served, the innocent are protected, and the only person who dies is one who was willing to do it.

[end spoilers]

Though I question the actions of the “Bonhoeffer Four,” I appreciate their willingness to live out what they believe. It’s not easy to do. We all fail to do it every day in ways that wouldn’t really cost us that much. These guys are going to go to jail.

May we all be as committed to our Master’s commands. May we all be as be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves and, much like Eastwood’s character, be creative in finding ways to do the right thing no matter the cost.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Spirituality During the Flow

Everyone’s life has its ebbs and flows. Some days you’re desperate for something to do, and some days you feel like you’re trying to drink out of a fire hose.

It’s been the fire hose for me for a while. We’ve been short-handed at work for months, and when the new guy finally arrived, a project came up that has had to consume pretty much all of my time.

When you truly have no free time, how do you handle devotions?

I’m not sure if there are solid right and wrong answers, but if there are, I’ve probably gotten a few things wrong. Still, this is how I have approached the question.

No Guilt
First, if there is anyone who really knows how terribly busy you are, who knows that you’re burning the candle at both ends, that you’re desperate just to catch your breath, it’s God. And if there is anything we should know we will receive from our Father in heaven, it is compassion and understanding.

Second, it’s not all about you and your devotions. You need God, but there may be people – your spouse, your kids – who need you. If you really only have two minutes, they’ll probably be best spent giving your spouse a kiss and looking that latest thing your kids have colored, listening to their stories, or however they need you to give them some attention. Part of our spiritual life is how we take care of our families. If you’re neglecting (important word choice!) your kids to pray, you’re not pleasing God.

Third, when you’re spent, you’re spent. When you’ve finally got that one minute of time, if your eyes won’t focus on a page, if a Bible will be no more meaningful than the phonebook, you’ll simply be wasting time you could have better used elsewhere by ignoring that and trying to read the scriptures. It’s better to apply that time and energy where it can be meaningfully used – even when that’s watching Dora the Explorer with a three-year-old.

Fourth, you can keep the evangelical imperative on scripture reading in perspective by remembering this one fact: For hundreds of years, few Christians had their own Bible. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take advantage of the easy availability of Bibles today. We have a precious gift past generations could only dream of, but not reading your Bible every day is not a sin – it was once an impossibility.

(Am I completely off base here?)

No Waste
However, we can probably recover countless little spans of time during the day that can be claimed for devotional use.

Pray on autopilot. Time you’re engaged in something that doesn’t require your full attention is a great time to pray. I’m not saying that it is good to make that your only prayer time in your life, but short term (even long term) that can be a good use of those empty times when you don’t need to think about other things. Time in the shower, brushing teeth, or in light traffic can be put to good use even by those who aren’t ridiculously busy.

Listen in the silence. If you’re not listening to something pressing, and, again, if you don’t need to concentrate, you can also use quiet moments to listen to the Bible on audio. On your commute, on the treadmill, and at work (if your duties allow), you can listen the Bible (and sermons and audio books) to better use those moments.

Sneak a peak. No matter how busy you are, you still have to wait in line at the grocery store. A little Bible in your pocket/purse or on your smartphone/PDA can turn a two minute wait into a chance to read a passage or work on memorizing a verse (which you can meditate on in other quiet moments).

Devotional tunes. Do you normally read a daily devotional? Good worship music (i.e., theologically solid, meaningful hymns or worship songs) is really just a devotional set to music. Listen (or sing along) to a song, hit pause, and ponder. Isaac Watts is just as good as Oswald Chambers. Chris Tomlin can be too.

(Did I forget anything?)

Not for the Long Haul
No, you can’t live off this long-term. But it can help you keep going for a while.

One of the things I’ve learned during my wife’s obsession with survival shows is that even a few bites of food can give you some much needed energy. It can steady your hand and help you focus on the immediate task.

And when the crisis is over, you can feast.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Christ’s Model of Humility

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,

Who, being in very nature God,
made himself nothing,

Who, being in very nature God,
[took] the very nature of a servant,

Who, being in very nature God,
[was] made in human likeness.

Who, being in very nature God,
humbled himself

Who, being in very nature God,
became obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Science Links

Something different, just because...

=Experts Warn of 'Terminator'-Style Military-Robot Rebellion
Sometimes I think scientists need to watch more movies.

=Space storm alert: 90 seconds from catastrophe
Things that make you go "holy crap!"

=What Makes Earth Special Compared to Other Planets
A survey of the amazing coincidences that make Earth great. If you don't believe they're coincidences, ... well, neither do I.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Blast from the Past on Theology

There is a segment of evangelicalism today that dislikes theology and theological orthodoxy and loves the church fathers. This is for them:
Let us keep in mind the sayings of the Lord and the letters of the apostles. They have both told us beforehand that there will be heresies, and in anticipation have given us warnings to avoid them. Since we aren't surprised that they exist, we shouldn't doubt that they are capable of doing shameful things. ... Heresies today won't tear apart the church by their perversion of doctrine any less than the Antichrist will persecute her by his cruel attacks (except persecution makes martyrs, but heresy only apostates). ... For the Apostle Paul says, "prove all things; hold fast that which is good." He considers heretics "not approved" and urges people to turn away from them.
-Tertullian, Prescription Against Heretics

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


=Have you heard about Moral All abortion news, all the time. Morbid, yes, but useful.

=On a related note, did you see Penelope Trunk's unexpectedly pro-life piece on abortion "for your career?"
"You don’t need to get an abortion to have a big career. ... It doesn’t matter whether you have kids now or later, because they will always make your career more difficult. There is no time in your life when you are so stable in your work that kids won’t create an earthquake underneath that confidence. ... There is little certainty. But there are some certain truths: It’s very hard to have an abortion. And, there is not a perfect time to have kids."
It's hard to read at times, but I recommend the whole thing.

=Complete shift in topic: Resurrection Probably Reported in Same Year It Happened (HT: STR)

=Let's cap off this heavy stuff with something light: Star Wars' Cantina song on the harp. Seriously.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Blast from the Past on the Atonement

There are those today who teach that both concern for personal salvation and the idea of substitutionary atonement were products of the Reformers. Mmm hmm...
"[God] sought to form a mind conscious of righteousness, so that being convinced in that time of our unworthiness of attaining life through our own works, it should now, through the kindness of God, be vouchsafed to us; and having made it manifest that in ourselves we were unable to enter into the kingdom of God, we might through the power of God be made able.

"But when our wickedness had reached its height, and it had been clearly shown that its reward, punishment and death, was impending over us; and when the time had come which God had before appointed for manifesting His own kindness and power, how the one love of God, through exceeding regard for men, did not regard us with hatred, nor thrust us away, nor remember our iniquity against us, but showed great long-suffering, and bore with us, He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal. For what other thing was capable of covering our sins than His righteousness? By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God?

"O sweet exchange! O unsearchable operation! O benefits surpassing all expectation! that the wickedness of many should be hid in a single righteous One, and that the righteousness of One should justify many transgressors!"
-from the Epistle to Diognetus, Chapter IX.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Can We Trust the Gospels? 3

The origin of the gospels

We continue Mark D. Roberts’ Can We Trust the Gospels? by looking at three chapters that have closely related content.

When were the Gospels written?
Roberts offers dates for the composition of the Gospels that are later than many evangelicals would give, but he said early on he would use material that the broader scholarly world can agree on. He says the earliest we should expect Mark to have been written was AD60, with Matthew and Luke 65 or later, and John 75+. The dates you see more commonly are probably 3-5 years later for each of those.

Even though I think those dates are all unnecessarily late, they are not catastrophically so. These dates – even the more common ones – are within reasonable lifetimes of witnesses – so the second generation of the church could not just start making things up as both the older disciples and opponents were still around to correct the record.

It’s also worth noting that the Gospels were written well after Paul’s writings. Though there may be much in the Gospels that is hard to believe, the hardest to believe of all is the resurrection which was being taught in Christian circles by at least AD50 (c.f., 1Cor 15) and probably many years before.

What sources did Gospel writers use?
When the Gospels writers did their work, where did they get what they wrote down?

Luke mentions other writers and claims to have carefully investigated everything – suggesting he examined written documents and talked to witnesses, those “eyewitnesses and servants of the word.” Roberts uses this to launch into two kinds of sources: written and oral.

The written sources lead us to the so-called “two-source” hypothesis where Mark and “Q” plus other material were used to construct Matthew and Luke. And Mark is believed to have been constructed of earlier material too. This means there were earlier written sources that are closer to the events in question than the canonical Gospels.

As for the oral sources, we know within 20 years there was an oral tradition being passed down (again, e.g., 1Cor 15). If fact, we should expect a strong oral tradition because theirs was an oral, not a literary, culture – they were used to remembering things that were said. This oral tradition takes us back closer to the events of the Gospels than the canonical records.

Did early Christian oral tradition reliably pass down the truth about Jesus?
But what should we make of this oral tradition? How reliable is that? Wouldn’t that be open to corruption? And what about evolution due to misunderstanding or misremembering the tradition?

The latter is the “Telephone” objection: We’ve all played the game where everyone whispers a sentence down the line until it is garbled beyond recognition. Critics claim this is what would have happened to the Christian oral tradition.

But this objection is weak for a number of reasons:

1. “Since they did their work in community gatherings, if they got the story substantially wrong, the community in which they functioned would hold them accountable for their mistake” (p73).

2. The early Christians thought Jesus was more than a mere teacher, His words were “uniquely true and more important than any other ideas in the world” (e.g., Matt 7:24, Mark 13:31), motivating them to remember what He said and to transmit it accurately (p74). And “…so much in the oral tradition about Jesus does not reflect the needs of the early church” (p78).

3. The words of Jesus seem to have been designed to be memorable.

4. Unlike “Telephone,” the rules of the game were designed to maximize accuracy, not errors.

“Sometimes you’ll hear skeptics talk about the oral period before the writing of the Gospels as if it were a free-for-all, a time when anybody could be inspired by the Spirit to put all sorts of words into Jesus’ mouth. But there is little evidence that this sort of thing actually happened, and plenty of evidence that it did not happen” (p77).

We do not live in an oral culture, and our memories seem to get more unreliable all the time. (I can barely remember by own phone number these days.) That leads us to be skeptical of the abilities of past cultures to remember large amounts of material, but even in our time there are those – in other cultures – who can and do commit large amounts of material to memory:
“The idea of early Christians memorizing substantial traditions about Jesus may seem unrealistic, … but consider the following contemporary analogy. All Muslims are expected to memorize portions of the Qur’an. But many go on to memorize the entire book, which contains more than 80,000 Arabic words. … What enables a Muslim to memorize the entire Qur’an? … [T]he greatest motivation of all … is the belief that the Qur’an contains Allah’s own words. To memorize the Qur’an is to internalize the very words of God. In a similar vein, the early followers of Jesus had both the ability and the motivation to pass on oral tradition with accuracy” (p80-1).
So what should we make of all of this? The first-century dating of the four Gospels, “combined with their use of earlier oral traditions combined with early Christian faithfulness in passing on these oral traditions, add up to a convincing rationale for trusting the Gospels” (p81).

The book in blog form: Are the NT Gospels Reliable?

The rest of this series:
Part 0, Part 1, Part 1.1, Part 2