Thursday, December 29, 2011

North Korean funeral

Having served with the 2nd Infantry Division near the DMZ in the Republic of Korea, I've maintained an interest in the region. One cannot help but notice the outpouring of grief, and wonder if it was required, even coerced. While this may be true, a nation that claims to be atheist can have nothing good to say about death, the final enemy. For an atheist, death is the end, with nothing further to hope for. Life has little meaning, since life is an accident of nature on a world that just exists for no higher purpose, and thus how we live is a matter of arbitrary other words, the message of he book of Ecclesiastes.

If there is no God, a funeral has to be the ultimate downer, a miserable experience that reminds us that we will all die and cease to exist...but for the Christian, death is not "the end" but "to be continued". We can talk about the future, with hope. There is grief and loss expressed at Christian funerals, but not despair; certainly not the gun-wrenching agony we've seen on TV over the death of a ruler. C.S. Lewis confidently stated, "There are better things ahead than any we leave behind." Amen.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


I've been asked what books I'd recommend to someone who's getting started in the Christian faith. Here are some suggestions...

Essential Truths of the Christian Faith, by R.C. Sproul
After You Believe, by N.T. Wright
Knowing God, by J.I. Packer
Prayer, by Phil Yancey
A Short Life of Christ, by Everette Harrison
...and a good Study Bible in a modern translation (like the Life Application Study Bible)

That's a good start.

Santa in School

I was surprised when Saugus made national news yesterday because our Superintendent of Schools banned Santa Claus from the classroom. Yet if Christmas is to be removed from the public sector, Saint Nicholas is a logical extension of the ban. The only reason the ACLU hasn't opposed him is the public outcry. I feel sorry for Mr Langlois and for any who feel caught in the need to avoid offense by eliminating something most people cherish. While "Santa" may have devolved into myth, the real saint was a devoted follower of Christ. Let him back into school, and also the Reason for the Season, at least in the name of diversity and inclusion. By the way, most people aren't offended by Christmas. I had lunch the other day with group of Jewish friends, and when the waitress wished us a "Merry Christmas" they smiled, said "Thank you", and wished her one as well--no offense taken. Now that's the holiday spirit!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Advice for new believers

1. Find an older Christian who will commit to discipling you on a regular basis.

2. Attend church regularly.

3. Make sure you understand the gospel. Clarify this before ‘moving on’ to other things. But don’t stay away too long! Learn to live a ‘gospel centred life’.

4. Start bible-reading daily. Follow a plan (eg. ‘I will read 2 chapters of the New Testament each day’). If you have the time and desire to do so, be ambitious in what you read. However, don’t be discouraged if you can’t read quickly. And don’t expect to take in everything you read.

5. Start praying daily. If it helps, meet with another Christian for a period to help get you started. Learn from how others pray, but don’t feel you must copy them. As a simple guide: praise God, confess sin and ask for things that you and others need.

6. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. This is a vital pathway to learning and growth. Naturally, you will have questions about countless things, so ask away!

7. If you are ‘a reader’, consider getting hold of a Christian book that will help you learn more about the bible. Ask your pastor or mature Christian friends for recommendations.

8. Tell others you are a Christian. New Christians make some of the best evangelists. Your first two years as a believer may be your most productive in reaching unbelievers.

9. Be patient with yourself. You have the rest of your life to grow as a Christian!

(from blog Unashamed Workman)

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas on Sunday

When Christmas falls on a Sunday…

Many churches, finding that Christmas falls on a Sunday this year, are choosing to scale back their services or even cancel them in light of the holiday.

“This is a consumer mentality at work: ‘Let’s not impose the church on people. Let’s not make church in any way inconvenient,’” offered David Wells, professor of history and systematic theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. “I think what this does is feed into the individualism that is found throughout American culture, where everyone does their own thing.”

Fuller Theological Seminary professor Robert K. Johnston worries that another Christmas tradition is fading. “What’s going on here is a redefinition of Christmas as a time of family celebration rather than as a time of the community faithful celebrating the birth of the Savior. There is a risk that we will lose one more of our Christian rituals, one that’s at the heart of our faith.” Ben Witherington III, professor of New Testament interpretation at Asbury Theological Seminary, called it a “capitulation to narcissism.”

It didn’t help that some of the megachurch spokespersons gave less than helpful answers as to why, such as the desire to cater to the family (which could hold true on any other Sunday as well), or simply to be “lifestyle-friendly,” which positions them to charges of wholesale capitulation to culture. Even worse was the response that church services would be cared for through DVD’s, which is jolting to anyone with even the barest of theological sensitivities to the doctrine of the church and its worship.

But somebody needs to call “time-out” for a minute, because neither side is getting this one right. The critics are being too quick on the draw, and the reasoning offered by the churches cancelling their services isn’t what best validates their choice.

First, evangelical churches of all kinds throughout the United States have seldom held services on Christmas Day even when it has not fallen on a Sunday (a tradition that dates back to the Puritans).

Second, marking Christmas has never been tied to a Sunday-specific celebration (as with Easter). If there is a day that has uniformly been seized by churches to celebrate the birth of Christ, it has been Christmas Eve - and the large churches being chastised for not having Sunday services on the 25th are planning on offering numerous services on the 24th.

Third, it is not simply the megachurches who are doing this – churches of all types are, at the very least, scaling back their service offerings for the 25th (so making this about a megachurch or seeker-targeted sellout is unfair).

Finally, some of the rhetoric criticizing churches for opting out of services on the 25th skates dangerously close to Sabbatarianism, with a fair dose of legalism to boot. To insist that we must meet on a Sunday – any Sunday – can be debated. Early church records show a preference for worship on the “Lord’s Day,” but only the second-century church manual, the Didache, directed Christians to meet at that time. No day was set aside in Gentile Christianity for worship until the time of Constantine and the institutionalization of the church, but nowhere is it directly commanded in Scripture.

So are we admonished to gather together as believers? Yes. But not necessarily on a Sunday morning.

For many years, Christmas Eve has been the day of choice for the communal celebration among Christians of the birth of Christ. Celebrations could be held on Christmas Day, but very few would come. If one cares about leading the church to celebrate the birth of Christ, they should go with the hundreds or even thousands that can assemble on Christmas Eve against the handful they might be able to engage on Christmas Day - particularly since there is the biblical freedom to do so.

This isn’t compromise; it is common sense. But it is a moot point for most churches. The volunteer base needed for a Christmas Day service simply cannot be met. As I joked with one reporter, the critics who want to insist on a Christmas Day service have no intention of being the one sitting in the nursery watching someone else’s child. They may not have any intention of attending at all. I recall a deacon in the church I pastored while in seminary insisting on a Sunday night service on Super Bowl Sunday. We had the service; he stayed home to watch the Super Bowl.

The larger issue, of course, is how best to address the valid cultural concerns expressed by individuals such as Wells, Johnston and Witherington, who are well-intentioned and justifiably concerned about the world in which we live and what it might be doing to the church.

My contention is that they have the right description of a cultural malady (materialism, individualism, consumerism), but the wrong diagnosis (that it is demonstrated by whether you go to church on December 24 vs. December 25), and have certainly applied it to the wrong patient (the churches choosing to scale back or cancel on the 25th) – which makes their prescription all the more ineffective (to fight the culture war, we should have services on the 25th).

We will not keep Christ in Christmas through a Christmas Day service, whether on a Sunday or any other day of the week. We will keep Christ in Christmas by working to keep His birth in the center of our hearts and celebrations (as Christmas Eve services will most certainly do).

We will keep Christ in Christmas by avoiding the materialism our culture places upon the holiday season.

We will keep Christ in Christmas most of all by reaching out to individuals within our culture for Christ so that one day they may celebrate His birth with us.

Whenever it is we meet to do it.

-James Emery White

Friday, December 2, 2011


"The Bible answers important personal questions like: Where do I come from? Who am I? What went wrong with this world? What went wrong with me? What can be done about it? And what can I expect in the future? Answers to each of these questions are found in the pages of Scripture, and these answers shape how we view ourselves, others, and the world in which we live. When these truths operate in our minds, we are living by a Christian worldview." –Tony Reinke (from Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Who's your guide?

Thomas Merton wrote, "The most dangerous man in the world is the contemplative who is guided by nobody. He trusts his own visions. He obeys the attraction of an interior voice but will not listen to other men. He identifies the will of God with anything that makes him feel, within his own heart, a big, warm, sweet interior glow...such a man can wreck a whole city, or even a nation" (New Seeds of Contemplation).

Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans Day prayer

Lord of hosts, quiet heroes surround us. They are our doctors, our letter carriers, our machinists, our accountants, our co-workers, our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, our neighbors and our best friends. Under their civilian attire beats hearts that will for a lifetime be proudly wrapped in the uniforms of the United States Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. We honor their service and do not take lightly the sacrifices they have made to secure freedom from tyranny, fear and oppression. These heroes quietly carry with them the memories of those who did not return home. We owe them our gratitude, and ask You to bless them and their loved ones. This we pray, in Your strong and mighty Name, Amen.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

the GLORY of God

I’ve always seen the word “glory” as a mere superlative, without understanding its implications.

Eugene Peterson says that “glory” is a large word in our Scriptures, radiating the many dimensions of God’s grandeur, brightness, effulgence, and illuminating everything around it.”

Middle Eastern scholar Kenneth Bailey defines the word: “Behind the Greek word doxa (glory) is the Hebrew word kabod (weight). In Middle Eastern culture, a “weighty” person has to do with wisdom, balance, stability, reliability, second judgment, patience, impartiality, nobility, substance, and the like. Latin has preserved these ideas and attached them to the word gravitas. Glory has to do with gravitas! It’s not about us, it’s about God’s glory.”

Gravitas is a recently popular word, which we often use to describe candidates and politicians who appear to be people of substance.

The Westminster Confession opens with a question: “What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” This seems to coincide with I Cor 10:31, “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

I worked at a Christian camp in North Carolina that quoted that verse nearly every day, at every meal; it was their defining statement. I was hiking to a waterfall and a teenager asked me how that played out in day-to-day life, not a simple question. I suggested that our enjoyment of God’s creation pleases and thus glorifies Him, and when we choose to stop living for self and live for God, this too brings Him glory. John Piper observed, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”

But God has glory even if we don’t acknowledge Him. C.S. Lewis wrote, “A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word “darkness” on the walls of his cell.”

Finally, another of my favorite authors, Madeline L’Engle posed the challenging question: “What did I do today that might have given God pleasure?

Monday, November 7, 2011


"Once we concede the assumption that is the citizens who arbitrarily determine what is right and wrong, we have cut ourselves adrift in a sea of relativism." –Jim Peterson

"If there are no absolutes by which to judge society, then society is absolute." –Francis Schaeffer

"The key question isn’t 'Is it ever OK to steal?' but 'Is it ever not wrong to steal?' If there is no absolute truth, then the matter of stealing doesn’t matter...unless someone’s stealing from you, though it’s a good deal for the thief." -RGL

"We are moving towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires." -Pope Benedict XVI

"In the act of destroying the idea of Diving authority we have largely destroyed the idea of human authority." –G.K. Chesterton

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Treasuring God's Word

On YouTube there’s a inspiring video of the Kimyal tribe of West Papua Indonesia. This remote tribe was untouched by the outside world until World Team missionaries Phil & Phyliss Masters brought the Gospel to their area in 1963. Phil Masters was martyred in 1968 when he and fellow missionary Stan Dale were killed and cannibalized by the Yale tribe. But the tribe came to faith in Christ. For many years they were without a Bible in their own language, but after considerable effort, in 2010 the Scriptures were translated and published for them. The video shows a small plane belonging to Mission Aviation Fellowship landing on a gravel airstrip. The pilot remarks, “There’ll be a big party when we land.” The scene shifts to the airstrip, where tribal leaders instruct the people to clap and wave palm branches, and for dancers in traditional garb to begin dancing, as everyone sang, “Yes Jesus Loves Me, the Bible tells me so.” One of the leaders explained that only select passages had been translated, but now they would have it all--from Genesis to Revelation.

One of the translators was present, Rosa Kidd, who saw the response of the people and said this: “We know that it is God doing something here. We knew they would be happy, but the tears and emotion is overwhelming. Their respect for God’s word is palpable. We’ve had copies of the Bible so long we take it for granted; we don’t cherish it; we don’t realize what a gift we have.”

The first case of Bibles was unloaded, and the pilot handed it to the leader of the Kimyal tribe; then the tribal leaders led the people in prayer and thanksgiving, with tears running from their eyes. The pastor of the tribe prayed: “O Lord, the plan You had from the beginning regarding Your Kimyal--the month that You had set, the day that you had set-- has come to pass today. You decided that we should have Your word in our language. Today we are living in the light. For this we give You praise!” A woman holding one of the Bibles said, “I will pass this on to my children, and it will keep them on the path of righteousness, and our children will pass it on to their children.” The celebration continued on long into the night, an occasion that would not be forgotten.

Some of us were given a Bible in Sunday School; do we remember that day, do we remember how important that day was? How much do we treasure, how much do we cherish God’s word?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Rekindling devotions

This "clergy appreciation month" my teriffic church congregation gave me an Amazon Kindle, and I'm really enjoying it. I downloaded a Bible, a devotional book, and a book of Puritan prayers...and now have an extremely portable way of doing daily devotions. I also have a few Christian books, along with some classics I've been wanting to read. I can't see this replacing my conventional books, but it is a convenient way to read, and anything that can "rekindle" devotions is great. Prayer is a spiritual discipline that comes easier to some than others, and if we can find a way of making it work for us, all the better--for our good and the glory of God.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Casual or Committed

When it comes around to faith in Christ, isn't this what it's all about? Do we have a casual faith--one that says our trust in Christ occupies a small part of our lives, or are we committed, dedicated followers of our Lord? We are called in Scripture the bride of Christ...let's stop dating and get married. Casual faith is no faith at all. Bonhoeffer said, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." Jesus wants our all; He wants us to give Him top priority, over all earthly things. Let's put to death self-interest, self-idolatry. Anything less means we've bought into the agenda of the world. Let's put Christ first!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Not the way it's supposed to be

The most-quoted movie in recent history when illustrating original sin...

In the 1991 film Grand Canyon, an immigration attorney breaks out of a traffic jam and tries to drive around it. He doesn’t know where he’s going and he’s alarmed to note that each street seems darker and more deserted than the last. Then, a nightmare. His fancy sports car stalls. He manages to call for a tow truck, but before it arrives, five local toughs surround his car and threaten him. Just in time, the tow truck shows up and its driver—an earnest, genial man—begins to hook up to the sports car. The toughs protest: the driver is interrupting their meal. So the driver takes the group leader aside and gives him a five-sentence introduction to sin:

Man, the world ain’t s’pposed to work like this. Maybe you don’t know that, but this ain’t the way it’s s’pposed to be. I’m s’pposed to be able to do my job without askin’ you if I can. And that dude is s’pposed to be able to wait with his car without you rippin’ him off. Everything’s s’pposed to be different than what it is here.

The driver’s summary of the human predicament is just about perfect.

The Law of God

Those who attack Christianity often use the Leviticus strategy, listing some of the harsh and (to our modern perception) strange laws listed there. What they assume by so doing is that every biblical command is a universal law. The Law of God can be divided as such: Moral Law, Civil and Ceremonial Law, and Laws governing the occupation of Palestine. There are also practices alluded to such as primogeniture, the giving of the first-born a double inheritance (since he will take care of the extended, agrarian family). What a New Testament perspective takes away from this is the moral obligations to love God and one’s neighbor, embodied in the Ten Commandments. Besides those, we have principles of conduct, especially in the Book of Proverbs that help us live wisely. What is most important to know is that we do not live under the Law as a means of salvation. No one could meet the standard. Rather (and just as in the Old Covenant), we come to God through sacrifice. Atonement must be made, since God does not overlook our sin. Every sin must be paid for—and was—upon the Cross. When we receive pardon, we desire to live lawfully, not as a way to gain Heaven, but because we’re citizens of the place, and our lives have been transformed by God’s grace.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

To the terrorist

You who would hold the sky captive, The sea prisoner, The land in chains… You who hide in caves, Retreat to the wilderness, Disappear behind false names and forged papers… You who smuggle guns and arms, Hide rockets in cities and bombs in homes, Build weapons against the innocent and the bystander… You whose designs are destruction, Whose plans are fear, Whose joy is hate… You who harden your hearts And wrap yourselves in death… What evil has robbed you of your love, Your compassion, Your goodness, Your humanity? What lies have invaded your minds So that you choose to die in order to kill? We who love our lives and liberty Stand firm and strong against terror. We will defend our nation and our people. We will protect our land and our homes. And we pray for you to find hope and comfort In lives of peace. (Anonymous)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Ready for the storm

My favorite musician is Scottish folksinger Dougie MacLean, known for his song “Ready for the Storm.” It’s such a great song that I wrote an extra verse to it an gave it to Dougie the last time I saw him in concert. We’re being hit with the impact of Irene, not as bad as Jersey, yet enough to rattle us here in New England. I won’t be kayaking today!

When natural disasters hit we’re reminded that we live in a broken world that was once perfect. Paradise is gone, and we’re seeing the effects of the Fall, a world where we experience what seems like the absence of God. Sometimes God is absent because people choose to exclude Him from their lives. They aren’t seeking God and don’t want to be found. This too is an effect of the Fall.

God works even when it seems like He’s absent. Praying in a seemingly empty room, it is a temptation to think that God is indifferent to our needs. We don’t actually see Him, and when we pray, we wonder if and how our prayers may be answered. We struggle with doubt. Jesus told the patron saint of doubters, Thomas: “You have seen and believed; blessed are they who believe without seeing.” We yearn to hear our Lord’s voice, but have to be content with the record we’ve been given in Scripture.

We find ourselves much like the children of Israel who waited and endured 430 years of Egyptian slavery, hoping for deliverance. Where was God all that time? Why was He silent? The Jews began to wonder if God no longer knew His once-chosen people. They felt abandoned…and so do we during low periods of our lives.

There are vast stretches of time, even in the Bible, when nothing remotely like salvation seems to be happening. We feel this absence and don’t know what to make of it. We need to understand that the absence of God is part of the story.

The Psalms are full of impatient waiting. In Psalm 13, David doesn’t hesitate to express his frustration; he cries out, “How long, O Lord?” God understands, yet He is not obligated to come at our beck and call. When He is silent, He has a reason, which He is not required to share. And if He did, we still might not comprehend His answer. And so the greatest part of faith remains waiting.

When Jesus was born, a 400-year period of silence was going on in Israel. The last word Israel had from God came in the Book of Malachi. In our Bibles, one turn of a page separates Malachi from Matthew, but that single page turning took over 400 years. By the time of our Savior’s birth, many wondered if they were a forgotten people. Pagan Rome was occupying their land, and bad things were happening to good people. But another Moses was born in Bethlehem who would deliver His people from the bondage of sin.

A minister was hiking the Appalachian Trail; he was tired and cold and had no place to sleep. He found a place to lay down under the stars, and it started to rain. Deciding to be like a prophet of old, he cried out, “Lord, I rebuke the wind and the rain in Jesus’ Name: Stop in the name of Jesus!” Yet the rain continued, and the minister looked heavenward, confused and discouraged and prayed, “Lord, I love You anyway.”

The rains come and we wait. Nothing changes God’s commitment to us; not even time. If we’re sensitive to God’s ways, we may glean some insight. It’s been said that “coincidence is when God chooses to be anonymous.” We believe He is sovereign, which means He is doing things right now in our lives, whether we realize it or not. One day this will be clear. God doesn’t guarantee that life will make sense, but there’s a comfort in knowing He has a plan, a reason for everything.

Faith means stepping out with no clear end in sight, and perhaps even no clear view of the next step…all the while, trusting in God whom we do not see…and regardless of how we may feel, we accept that He is present, caring, active. We look around at what appears to be a God-forsaken world and we still trust and obey.

When God is silent, we’re reduced to patient waiting, anticipating, and trusting. A better, brighter day is coming.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Prayer of John Baillie

Let me use disappointment as material for patience.
Let me use success as material for thankfulness.
Let me use trouble as material for perseverance.
Let me use danger as material for courage.
Let me use reproach as material for long suffering.
Let me use praise as material for humility.
Let me use pleasures as material for temperance.
Let me use pain as material for endurance.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Belief in Science

A presidential candidate last week was asked by a child (who was being coached by his mother; more about that shortly), "How old is the earth?" -which the candidate recognized as a way of obtaining his view of the creation/evolution debate. He stated that both views were being taught in his home state out of fairness. You can hear on the video the mother then saying, "Ask him why he doesn't believe in science."

Wow. So if you believe a higher power had anything to do with the existence of this planet, you have rejected science outright. I guess that makes you an idiot. I'd like to ask this woman, "Tell me why you don't believe in God. And why you're sure this world is the result of a cosmic accident." The Bible states that God created the world; it doesn't say how, just Who, and why. Intelligent design merely states that life can be best explained by the intervention of a designer. And scientists like Michael Behe (author of Darwin's Black Box) do a good job of defending ID--which is not religion--but simply a statement that the complexity of life indicates a power purposely behind it all. To say that theists don't believe in science is an offensive, unfair, prejudicial accusation.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

God didn't make a mistake...

by Joni Eareckson-Tada

I sure hope I can bring my wheelchair to Heaven.

Now, I know that’s not theologically correct.

But I hope to bring it and put it in a little corner of Heaven, and then in my new, perfect, glorified body, standing on grateful glorified legs, I’ll stand next to my Savior, holding His nail-pierced hands.

I’ll say, “Thank you, Jesus,” and He will know that I mean it, because He knows me.

He’ll recognize me from the fellowship we’re now sharing in His sufferings.

And I will say,

“Jesus, do you see that wheelchair? You were right when you said that in this world we would have trouble, because that thing was a lot of trouble. But the weaker I was in that thing, the harder I leaned on You. And the harder I leaned on You, the stronger I discovered You to be. It never would have happened had You not given me the bruising of the blessing of that wheelchair.”

Then the real ticker-tape parade of praise will begin. And all of earth will join in the party.

And at that point Christ will open up our eyes to the great fountain of joy in His heart for us beyond all that we ever experienced on earth.

And when we’re able to stop laughing and crying, the Lord Jesus really will wipe away our tears.

I find it so poignant that finally at the point when I do have the use of my arms to wipe away my own tears, I won’t have to, because God will.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A king with a fatal flaw

Book Review: King Solomon-the temptations of money, sex, and power; by Philip Graham Ryken, President of Wheaton College

The sober reality that even the wise can fall prey to the temptations of the world is the thesis of this study of Solomon. I'd easily say that pastors preparing a sermon series on the life of Solomon would find this an essential resource. It is both substantive and devotional.

I've avoided Solomon because his life seems such a contradiction--a wise/foolish king who knew better. How can that be? If our beliefs truly affect our behavior, and if God makes us wise, how can we fall into such phenomenal sin? Those who trust in God are hardly perfect, but Solomon out did most of us with his polygamy and polytheism. So why did he act so foolishly? Did he reject his own God-given wisdom? When considering Solomon, we may worry whether we too might come to a tragic end. If Solomon could fail, is there any hope for us?

Ryken resolves the dilemma in chapter 12. Like King Lear, King Solomon had a tragic flaw: he did not continue to choose godliness and live out that choice. "The more he loved other things, the less he loved God, until one day he was not living for God at all." Solomon lost his first love and ended up where he had no business being. Ryken points out that even "our spiritual gifts will not prevent us from falling into grievous sin." Yet God's love did not depart from Solomon, though he suffered natural consequences of his sinful choices.

The only thing lacking is an overview of Solomon's writings--Song of Songs, parts of Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. I'd like to know if Ryken considers Ecclesiastes a sorrowful king looking back on a less-than-admirable life.

Bible study groups will appreciate the study guide in the back. And individuals looking for an inspiring read to help them in their spiritual journey will not be disappointed. There are many light-weight "popular books" in the Christian book market. This one has appeal for the average reader, yet is substantive. I suspect the chapters were originally sermons that have been expanded, which is in no way a criticism. This should be in every church library and in the pastor's study as well.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Freedom from religion

An atheist group objected to a Christian concert at Fort Bragg NC, but now the Commanding General is allowing an atheist-themed concert for early next year. Why is it "unconstitutional" for one ideology but OK for another? It is come to this: only atheists have rights to spread their ideology. Militant atheist stands in sharp contrast to Christians who simply want to share the Good News of God's love.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Faith sharing

We have to go outside our comfortable Christian environment to encounter people who need Christ. As we listen to them, and learn of their concerns, we can offer the answers found in God’s word and introduce them to our Savior. What kind of openings for the Gospel message might we find? At work, someone may be concerned about the pressures of their job or home life. At school, students may be stressed about their future, social pressures, and self-acceptance. At the neighborhood gym, civic or social club, we may meet someone worried about their health or world events--all these people we encounter may be wondering what God has to do with all these issues. When we become compassionate listeners, God will give us opportunities to share our faith.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Debt Ceiling debate

In church Sunday someone asked that we pray about the debt debate in Congress, and not wanting to take sides, I remarked how LBJ liked to quote Isaiah during times of congressional conflict: "Come, let us reason together." I hope our leaders in Washington will take Isaiah's advice...also that we follow the advice on our currency: "In God we trust."

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Amy Winehouse

The 27-year old British singer has joined the sad ranks of Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, and Janis Joplin by self-destructive behavior. The news reports are clear about her addiction, but seem to be downplaying the fact that she received the natural consequences of lifestyle choices. She serves as an example for any who might be tempted to follow such a path. There's nothing good that can come from finding answers in addictive behavior. As William Glaser put it in Reality Therapy, we all have legitimate needs in life, but sometimes we're tempted to get them met with irresponsible means. When life hurts, there are healthy ways of escaping the stress. And there is God, Who stands ready to walk with us--as our Higher Power and our Friend.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Book Review: Worship & the Reality of God by John Jefferson Davis

When we do away with ritual, we end up with anemic worship, if worship at all, according to Professor Davis. How is much of today's evangelical worship different from a contemporary Christian music concert? In order for worship to have substance, we need a return to liturgy, a theme expressed years ago by Robert Weber in his book Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail. As a pastor, I've chosen the middle ground between "high church" and "low church" with blended worship--a mix of the formal and informal, because, as Davis puts it, we are ministering to the whole body of Christ and not a "niche" group. I've seen "specialty" churches that indeed focus on one demographic, and I have tried instead to cover all the bases with a general/collective approach...and so I found much in this excellent book to say "Amen" to. The message of this book is much needed today. I spoke briefly with Professor Davis at GCTS who admitted this is a "tough sell" in many of today's churches, but I think more and more pastors are discovering the richness of ritual, culminating in substantive worship focused on God's glory; after all, He is our audience.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

From Fear to Faith

When I was an Army Chaplain, I invariably would be asked by Commanders during field exercises to pray for good training weather. And I would be reminded of General George Patton’s Chaplain. You may know the story. On December 14th, 1944, on the eve of the Battle of the Bulge, Patton called his Third Army Chaplain into his office and told him he wanted to publish a prayer for good weather. Now, what most people don’t know is that Patton also said to his Chaplain, “With your prayer, and my relationship with God, we’ll have good weather to fight.” When I explained this to one of my Commanders, he said, “Chaplain, we’re in trouble.” Patton’s Chaplain received the Bronze Star for his prayer. Since then, most Commanders have regarded Chaplains as meteorologists, even though we’re really in sales, not management!

Patton was known for being a fearless Commanding General. Listen to a few of his famous quotes:

o “Fear kills more people than death.”
o “There is only one direction—forward!”
o “The person who cannot face a fear will always be running from it.”
o “The courageous man is the man who forces himself, in spite of his fear, to carry on.”
o “You are not beaten until you admit it. Hence, DON’T.”

The reason Patton was able to face his fears and engage the enemy courageously was simple. Patton explained that the reason Patton conquered his fear was by reading the Bible (“every #@&*% day!”). While Patton’s language was typically soldier-rough, he sincerely trusted the promises of God in Scripture. Like King David, he declared, “God trains my hands for battle; He gives me His shield of victory and His right hand sustains me” (Psalm 18:34-35).

I don’t regard myself as an exceptionally courageous person, but when I entered Iraq during Desert Storm I wasn’t afraid. My confidence was not due to our effective weaponry, but due to God’s watch-care. I knew He was with me every step of the way. Because of God, we can face life and death.

In II Timothy 1:7, Paul explains, “God has not given us a spirit of fear/timidity, but a spirit of power, love and of self-discipline.” This is also the theme of the Old Testament Minor Prophets book of Habakkuk, in which the prophet encourages Israel to move from fear to faith in times of trouble.

While fear can mar our effectiveness as Christians and cause us to worry how people may respond to our efforts to express our faith, God can grant us boldness. We can serve God with confidence. We can be fearless because the Spirit is with us and gives us the ability to serve God effectively. Faith casts out fear, and helps us to see life from God’s viewpoint.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Book Review: Allah, a Christian Response by Miroslav Volf

After reading this book on Muslim-Christian conflict, I think the author's unstated thesis is: "I can't change other people's attitudes and actions, I can only change mine." Volf's concern is not what Muslims think of us, or even whether they might be inclined to meet us halfway (although that is his hope) in dialogue and mutual tolerance. He can only speak as a Christian. But this limitation exposes the weakness of his argument in an otherwise excellent book. So what if our "circle" includes them; it matters little if their circle excludes us...unless we love them so much that they come around, which appears to be Volf's sincere hope.

In order to promote solidarity, Volf argues that Christianity and Islam have the same God: "Christians and Muslims name in different names and worship in different ways the one true God." However, there is no consensus among Muslims as to whether Allah is the God of Christians (Jews are omitted for the most part from the discussion, as are all other faiths). And some Christians respond to terrorism by concluding "their God can't be ours." Fear of Islam (however justified) does not welcome reconciliation.

A stumbling block to harmony is the Trinity. In order to defend a Trinitarian position against the charge that Christians say but don't mean that God is "one", Volf gives the best explanation I've read of the Trinity. Muslim criticism is toward a misguided view of the doctrine, Volf claims...which even many Christians admittedly get wrong; it's a difficult doctrine to grasp. Volf insists, "the talk about `three Persons' does not subvert God's oneness...God is beyond number" (which seems to imply 1 + 1 + 1 = 1). He speculates that the term "person" may not accurately describe what is largely inexpressible (language has limitations). He goes on to say, "The divine `Persons' are tied together in their mutual cannot say that the act of one is the act of that Person alone; the other two are always `in' the third."

In dealing with stereotypes, Volf spends considerable time unpacking Pope Benedict XVI's volatile comment that Islam is a violent religion...which resulted in some Muslims declaring the Pope must die. If a Muslim cleric said Christians were violent, would there have been comparable rioting in the streets?

My response to Volf's overall argument is that it doesn't matter whether we worship different deities; we can choose to be at peace regardless, with anyone. Volk asks, "Is monotheism by its very nature religiously and politically exclusive?" No, our prevalently Judeo-Christian nation is not at war with India, Japan, or China, yet their religions are even more at odds with ours. Does it really matter (politically) whether or not we worship the same God? Can Muslims and Christians "live under the same political roof and work together for the common good?" Volf asks.

In describing religious differences, Volf omits what I see as the major difference between the two, namely grace: "God demonstrates His love for us in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us," Romans 5:8. How do Muslims satisfy the justice of God? But Volf's book is about political theology, not soteriology. This emphasis on justice plays out with Islam's denial of love toward enemies. They are told to love their neighbor...but what if that neighbor isn't a Muslim? Is God's love conditional? In writing to a Christian audience, Volf rightly charges us: "If you say that Your God is unconditional Love, you should show unconditional love towards Muslims."

Volf envisions a world that can embrace diversity and religious pluralism, and the free exercise of religion, to include the right to witness and to leave one's religion--no problem in America, but a huge problem in some Muslim countries. But the real issue is the human heart: "Bad people, with no intention of doing good, can think alike about God, and that won't prevent them from being at each other's throats." Volf admits, "We fail often, and fail miserably, not because of our convictions, but despite them."

Volf is hoping that Muslims and Christians will decide our religions are not "radically incompatible" and thus choose to coexist for the sake of peace. Otherwise clashes and conflict will continue. Changes in attitudes on a global scale are critical: "Our common future is at stake." There will be no peace unless all nations choose religious tolerance. There must be charitable dialogue, engagement--conversation, not crusade.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Book Review

Rest in the Shadow of the Almighty, by Daniel R. Ledwith (Living Grace and Truth Ministries)

What do we normally think of when we hear the theological term “the sovereignty of God”? For many, this doctrine means God’s providential, unconditional election, regarded as the hallmark of Reformed theology…but outside of seminary classrooms, people in the pews are more concerned over domestic, health and economic challenges. To put it bluntly, what is God up to when my car won’t start on a Monday morning? Pastor Dan Ledwith nails the matter--not dismissing TULIP, but focusing on the more practical aspects of God’s sovereignty. Everything God does is love, even when we can’t fathom His purpose.

Using Psalm 91 as his focus and foundation, Dan understands God’s promises in terms of “rest” as a multi-faceted manifestation of God’s providence. Rest is defined as “knowing that God knows what He is doing even when we don’t know what He is doing.” The One in control assures us that “nothing can stop Him from providing all that we need in order to do everything He has planned for us to do and to become all He wants us to be in Christ.” Believing this affects our behavior and frees us to live confidently for God. We may at times panic and fret; God does not. Even our guilt and human limitations present no obstacle for God who is remaking us. “We can let go of our past because God has let go of our past.”

While practical, the book does not suggest that a sovereignty of everyday challenges is less intellectual or less important than the “doctrines of grace”, though it is more relevant, especially when life hurts. It is comforting to know that is a reason, a “why” in the midst of suffering. Dan points out that we “do not need to fully understand everything about how the engine works in order to drive.” Rest in the Shadow of the Almighty is an encouraging book that explains why we can trust that God will bring us through the tough times intact.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Anniversary thoughts...

Today's my wedding anniversary, so a few thoughts on the subject of "LOVE":

Love is an unconditional, sacrificial, compassionate, mature, lifelong commitment...and not simply a "feeling." Unfortunately for many, loneliness plus hormones equals disaster. Thanks to Hollywood, many people expect to hear bells ringing and birds singing, and not the hard work true love demands. Love is also a choice; it doesn't "grab" us; we choose it. We love intentionally. What many call love is born of insecurity and often becomes jealousy. Love may be tested, but the genuine article will survive.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Fan the Flame

II Timothy 1:6, “Fan into flame the gift of God”

Harley Sheffield was part of the 15,000-mile relay to carry the Olympic torch to the 100th gathering of the games in Atlanta. His section of the relay went over the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington, on May 7th, 1996. While carrying the torch in a special holder on his bicycle, the rear tire blew out, he lost control of the bike, fell, the torch got damaged, and the flame went out. The crowd gasped in disbelief, but members of the Olympic committee accompanying Sheffield knew just what to do. They reached into their van, pulled out another torch and lit it from the “mother flame” that stayed with the van. The procession continued without further incident.

At times we need to rekindle the flame, with a little help. A relative of mine worked at a kids’ summer camp, and to get the campfire going would used an old “Native American” method: Wakunda Juice…otherwise known as lighter fluid!

Has our flame gone out at times? As we make our journey through life, we hit some rough spots, take some spills, and occasionally the fire goes out…but we can regain our fire from the Source, and we can again burn with spiritual passion. When we fall, we get up, learn from our experience, repent, and keep driving on, with renewed strength. When we get weary, God renews our strength. By His grace, we persevere.

People who talk about “fire in the belly” are declaring that they have the motivation to accomplish something difficult and challenging, that they have the drive to do it, to see it through--because it is well worth doing. Preachers often talk about “being on fire for Jesus”, meaning the same thing. Are we committed followers, or has our fire gone out?

In the Book of Acts, on the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit appeared as flames atop each disciple, energizing them for the task of telling the world the Good News. They were “fired up” for the job! They burned brightly for God.

How do we fan into flame God’s fire? By first realizing that it’s not about us; God’s flame is a gift. God is the one who kindles and reignites us so that we can burn brightly. He uses others; one spark becomes a stronger flame when it is joined to others. We’re better able to live for God and reflect His light when we’re together. Here’s our mission…

Matthew 5, from the Message: “You're here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We're going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don't think I'm going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I'm putting you on a light stand. Now that I've put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand--shine!”

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Memorial Day

It's an hour before the annual Memorial Day parade in Saugus. We always do it on Saturday, leaving Monday free for cook-outs, plus we can get more bands who are booked on Monday. This year Senator Scott Brown (LTC/JAG) is participating, along with the Captain of the USS Constitution. A bagpiper from my church will be playing at the cemetery. When people tell me "Thank you for your service" I smile and answer, "It was a blessing to serve." I'm sure a lot of soldiers don't see the Army as a "blessing", but for me it was. I had a wonderful opportunity for 25 years to live all over the world, have some exciting adventures along the way, and communicate the hope and meaning God gives. I retired with fond memories and no regrets.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The End of the World

Well, the world didn’t end last night, though I suppose it did for Harold Camping; but disappointment is nothing new to him, for he predicted that 1998 would see the Second Coming. Camping is a civil engineer and the founder of Family Radio, a nation-wide network of religious programs. He is not a biblical scholar, and his view of the Apocalypse is not shared by most Christians. He is not a cult leader, but someone who views the Bible from an engineer’s perspective, which caused him to mathematically work out his end-time scenario. What Scripture does teach is that Jesus will return some day, that His return is imminent…though to say it is soon or to set dates is very presumptuous. There are several popular views of the end times, and we should not use what others believe about this as a litmus test of their faithfulness to Scripture. Jesus could return today, but that is knowledge above our understanding. We should keep this in mind while scoffers make fun of Christians over this non-event. When someone asks your opinion, share what Scripture does say about the blessed hope of the end-times, when every wrong will be made right, and every knee will bow and every tongue confess Christ as Lord.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


I am very concerned about libertarians who are attracting support among fiscal conservatives, as if the economy were the only important issue. A libertarian view is unconcerned about social issues, and places personal freedom above all else, even when that might not be such a good thing. Libertarians appear to be saying "who cares" about matters such as the legalization of drugs and prostitution. If there are no moral absolutes, then anything goes, which would be a dangerous thing. I spoke recently to a libertarian anarchist who was upset because someone stole his laptop...yet if there is no right or wrong, why not swipe stuff? Get away with whatever you can. C.S. Lewis noted that people who believe there are no moral absolutes quickly change their tune when they're treated un fairly. Let's not vote with our wallets.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Heresy we're reluctant to name

A lot of blogspace has been devoted to Rob Bell's universalism, along with charges of heresy. Yet why are my fellow-Reformed friends so reluctant to call Arminianism heresy, when it is a greater error and does more damage to the doctrines of grace? To say that man is sovereign over salvation and that the atonement is not sufficient to keep believers secure is a terrible heresy, yet we smile and agree to disagree. I think Rob Bell may at least have a higher view of the atonement than most Arminians.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

my father

After suffering a subdural hematoma, my dad peacefully departed this world. He was 92. He spent his last few days in a hospice that looked more like a retreat center. He regained consciousness (after a week asleep) briefly and I was able to talk to him, play my guitar, and pray with him. It was as good an exit as one could hope for, and I thank God for having the past four months with him. The past few years I lived in dread of getting a phone call from New Jersey telling me he died; being with him, having him live with us has been a blessing, so I'm more grateful than grieving. I'm so pleased my church congregation got to know him, and after services I'd see people sitting with him talking. It's all been good. I'm a bit overwhelmed by all the paperwork and I'm hoping to go kayaking soon on the Annisquam (see photo above). Thanks to all who've expressed their prayerful concern.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

What they don't teach in seminary

Seminaries train theologians, not pastors. They teach hermeneutics, systematic theology, Biblical languages, church history...but with the exception of homiletics, there's little offered for many of the critical tasks pastors need to do regularly, to include:
-The Lord's Supper/Communion
-Anointing the sick
-the conduct of church/board meetings
Some seminaries hope their mentored ministry (apprentice) program will cover these matters, as the student works with local clergy. But there's no way of knowing for sure, unless the pastor maintains a thorough checklist of topics.
Case in point: the first funeral I ever attended, I conducted, and with absolutely no preparation. I literally made it up, and hoped what I was saying and doing was OK.
Hopefully the church will strive to do a better job of equipping future pastors to effectively serve God's people.

Monday, March 28, 2011


It was pretty exciting for me yesterday in church. My father (92), who moved in with us a month ago, came to church...he asked to come. He'd been living in New Jersey and his doctor told him he couldn't live alone any more. We are now caregivers, and it is going better than expected. Yesterday for the first time ever he saw me conduct worship, and heard me sing and preach. I will admit to some nervousness, but twelve years at a church does make one confident, and the service went by nearly flawlessly (we had a problem with one of the candles, that's it). Everyone fussed over dad and it was a great day. I showed him my office with all my Army memorabilia, to include a photo of him in uniform. Afterwards, he told me "the people at the church really like you," which is a nice affirmation. Praise the Lord for something I never thought I'd ever see.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Heresy or Hope?

Rob Bell is getting a lot of criticism for his new book, Love Wins. He was on Good Morning America this morning explaining his view of universal redemption, how he believes that one's destiny is not fixed at death, that even in Hell people may be given an opportunity to repent and trust in Christ. The result is that one day "every knee will bow and every tongue will confess Christ as Lord."

This could be classified as a theology of hope. No one hopes people will end up in Hell (I hope no one wants that). Before using the "H" word (Heresy, not Hell), let's be charitable and remember that evangelical universalists (not Unitarians) believe the critical Christian doctrines such as the Trinity, creation, sin/the Fall, the atonement, the inspiration of Scripture, the return of Christ, and salvation through Christ alone, by grace alone, with faith alone.

God can save everyone if He wanted to...does He not want to? Should we limit the scope of God's love? If Hell is eternal conscious torment, how does God console the intolerable loss of believers who have non-believing loved ones? Will we get a lobotomy or make us callous to their torment? Does this mean He loves me but not my mother? And does human choice end at death? These are but a few questions that arise from this debate.

Bell is likely going to lose a lot of followers for his controversial book. "Gregory MacDonald" published The Evangelical Universalist under a pseudonym out of concern over backlash. I realize that wanting something to be true doesn't make it true, and that Scripture is our only authority. While we might disagree with the paradigm, are these individuals heretics, or simply hopeful?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

John Piper's prayer for Japan

Father in Heaven, you are the absolute Sovereign over the shaking of the earth, the rising of the sea, and the raging of the waves. We tremble at your power and bow before your unsearchable judgments and inscrutable ways. We cover our faces and kiss your omnipotent hand. We fall helpless to the floor in prayer and feel how fragile the very ground is beneath our knees.

O God, we humble ourselves under your holy majesty and repent. In a moment—in the twinkling of an eye—we too could be swept away. We are not more deserving of firm ground than our fellowmen in Japan. We too are flesh. We have bodies and homes and cars and family and precious places. We know that if we were treated according to our sins, who could stand? All of it would be gone in a moment. So in this dark hour we turn against our sins, not against you.

And we cry for mercy for Japan. Mercy, Father. Not for what they or we deserve. But mercy.

Have you not encouraged us in this? Have we not heard a hundred times in your Word the riches of your kindness, forbearance, and patience? Do you not a thousand times withhold your judgments, leading your rebellious world toward repentance? Yes, Lord. For your ways are not our ways, and your thoughts are not our thoughts.

Grant, O God, that the wicked will forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts. Grant us, your sinful creatures, to return to you, that you may have compassion. For surely you will abundantly pardon. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord Jesus, your beloved Son, will be saved.

May every heart-breaking loss—millions upon millions of losses—be healed by the wounded hands of the risen Christ. You are not unacquainted with your creatures’ pain. You did not spare your own Son, but gave him up for us all.
In Jesus you tasted loss. In Jesus you shared the overwhelming flood of our sorrows and suffering. In Jesus you are a sympathetic Priest in the midst of our pain.

Deal tenderly now, Father, with this fragile people. Woo them. Win them. Save them.

And may the floods they so much dread make blessings break upon their head.

O let them not judge you with feeble sense, but trust you for your grace. And so behind this providence, soon find a smiling face.
In Jesus’ merciful name, Amen.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Healthy Churches

Churches are a lot like families...they're often dysfunctional. So the messy stuff of interaction and healing relationships goes on in the fellowship hall. This should come as no surprise. I talk to a lot of pastors, and some are very discouraged by in-fighting, gossip, and general dissatisfaction within their congregations. I realize how blessed I am that my church is so healthy. It is hard enough to be a pastor without having a stressful environment in which to minister. Ministers need the support of their flock, and I'm not talking money. It is an encouragement to me that my congregation prays for me and doesn't expect me (or my family) to be perfect.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A fresh start

A while back I got fed up with all the junk on my home computer. I suspect I had several viruses, and needed to do something about the “infection”. Programs were slowing down, and I was getting lots of “error” messages. Scandisk wasn’t working. It was a mess. So I backed up my important files, and did a radical restore function, returning my PC to the mint condition it was in when I first bought it several years ago. I got a fresh start.

I thought how we all could use such a refreshing reboot. In a way, we do so through confession and the reassurance of God’s forgiveness. Ideally, we could begin every day with such a new beginning. But there’s our cluttered memory, those hidden files, the viruses we hold onto. We put up with the condition of our inner computer far too long before considering something repentance.

A Christian is not someone who never does wrong. We are instead, models of God’s grace. We’re not sinless, though we try to sin less. When we fall, we get up and (hopefully) learn from the experience; we may even help keep others from stumbling. We admit our failures to God and to ourselves (and maybe also a trusted friend). We go on, with God’s help. When we encounter a system failure, we trust the Lord to clean us up and remove all the “junk” we’ve been accumulating.

The author of Hebrews counsels us to “strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily hinders our progress” (12:1). We fight against sin, which isn’t easy. We are born swimming in polluted waters. Our environment is thoroughly secular and filled with ungodly influences that call to us, enticing us. Non-Christian worldviews clamor for our attention. If we’re not careful, we can easily become infected by false thinking. But then there are the “weights”. These are the things that, while not sinful, can burden us. They impede our progress. They become excess baggage. Like a computer with insufficient memory, we find we can’t handle much more, often because we’re too encumbered with stuff. We may have to carefully appraise what we should delete and send to the recycle bin.

After performing a system analysis (appraising the demands placed on us) we unload the items that are keeping us from being effective. We don’t merely eliminate stuff; we add positive activities that will enrich us. Just like we may want to free memory on your PC by getting rid of some mindless games so you can load some Bible software, we can reprogram our thinking by getting into God’s word and taking time to pray. We can let the System Manager, the Webmaster of our soul maximize our effectiveness in life.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Defiant Gratitude

Defiant Joy by Kevin Belmonte is both biography and literary analysis, much like the biographies written by Chesterton himself: a view of the man and his thinking from an admirer. I’d read Belmonte’s excellent biography of William Wilberforce and was eager to learn about “G.K.C.” Belmonte clearly christens him as the forerunner of C.S. Lewis. And while a convert to Catholicism, Chesterton is depicted as a Christian first, and a Catholic second. As such, and because of his apologetics (and awesome quotes) he is a favorite of Protestants, a guilty pleasure some of us are hesitant to admit to.

I think the title is a bit off; Belmonte clearly and repeatedly states that it was gratitude, not joy, that foremost defined Chesterton and that led to his becoming a Christian. Joy is the attribute we ascribe to Lewis. Also I would have preferred more biography. I now know Chesterton’s writings better, but I would like to know more about the man. His day-job as a journalist is briefly noted, but I wanted to know more about that, and more on his personal life. As Belmonte is Protestant, perhaps he could have also spent some pages talking about Chesterton’s appeal to Protestants (he does record Phil Yancey’s admiration, and it is because of Yancey that I read Orthodoxy). Now I am eager to read more of Chesterton’s books, particularly The Man Who Was Thursday.

In an age which Deborah Tannen has described as “the argument culture”, we need more witty and winsome debaters like Chesterton, who are endearing even (and especially) to their opponents. That may be the biggest “take-away” from Defiant Joy.

Just as Chesterton caused a revival of interest in Charles Dickens, I hope Belmonte’s new bio will inspire a Chesterton revival.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Are you surprised?

From D.A. Carson's book, How Long, O Lord? -reflections on suffering & evil:

"Christians undergoing pain and suffering will be well served by contemplating the Bible's story line and meditating on the price of sin. We live in an age where everyone is concerned about their 'rights'. But there is a profound sense in which our 'rights' before God have been sacrificed by our sin...if we see suffering as the result of living in a fallen world, the consequence of evil in which we ourselves all too frequently indulge, then however much we may grieve when we suffer, we will not be taken by surprise" (pp. 44-45).

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Is freedom overrated?

People who argue for more freedom may in fact want license to live without moral restraint, and to justify their behavior, often based on the rejection of absolutes (even God). In his book Generous Justice, Tim Keller raises the objection of people who wish to participate in vices privately, arguing "What I do in private doesn't harm anyone." Yet Keller observes that "What you do in private shapes the kind of person you become...since you interact with the community, what you do in private does affect others." I suspect freedom can only work when society has a firm moral basis.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

How to answer a fool

Proverbs 26:4 says "Do not answer a fool according to his folly."
Proverbs 26:5 says "Answer a fool according to his folly."
So, what is the proper response to a fool?

Prov 26:4--Don't become a fool to argue with a fool.
Prov 26:5--Don't let a fool think himself wise because no one can defeat his 'sterling logic' yet give him a wise answer to chew on.

In one sentence

On another blog, Strawberry Rubarb Theology, Dane Ortland asks leading Bible scholars and pastors to summarize the messsage of the Bible in one sentence. To read all the results, go to

Here are my favorites:

"The Creation of the Father, devastated by sin, is restored in the death of the Son of God, and recreated by the Holy Spirit into the Kingdom of God."

"God is in the process of restoring a lost humanity corrupted by sin, redeeming His creation and reestablishing His rule through Jesus Christ and making it possible for those who follow Him to be part of a glorious, eternal community."

"God made it, we broke it, Jesus fixes it."

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


I just got back from visiting my dad in, NJ who was in the hospital; he is 92 and had some procedures and will be returning to his home. I wish he'd move in with us but he's very independent. I'm back just in time for the blizzard and I can't even go out to shovel the way it continues to come down. So I'm working on my blog. I also have Tim Keller's latest book, Generous Justice, and a commentary on James (my next sermon series). It has been a stressful week away, but God got us through. Thanks for your prayers, and please continue to pray for my dad.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Parents Can't...

Tomorrow I will conduct the funeral of a young adult who died from a drug overdose, and try to console his parents--who have lost their future. They will likely feel some guilt, in wondering whether they did enough to prevent their son's self-abuse, in spite of knowing that there comes a time when young people are responsible for their decisions. This personal accountability was highlighted in a wise collection of sayings I picked up a few years ago, called "Parents Can't"...

I gave you life, but I can’t live it for you.
I can teach you things, but I cannot make you learn.
I can allow you freedom, but I cannot be accountable for it.
I can define “joy” for you, but I can’t be responsible for your happiness.
I can teach you right from wrong, but I cannot make moral choices for you.
I can encourage you to learn, but I can’t take your tests for you.
I can buy you beautiful clothes, but I cannot make you beautiful inside.
I can show you what’s healthy, but I cannot make you embrace a healthy lifestyle.
I can offer you advice, but I cannot accept it for you.
I can listen to you, but I can’t make you talk.
I can counsel you to care about others, but I cannot make you compassionate.
I can give you love, but I can’t force it on you.
I can urge you to share, but I cannot make you unselfish.
I can convey how everyone has value, but I can’t stop you from judging others.
I can teach you respect, but I cannot force you to show honor.
I can advise you concerning friends, but cannot choose them for you.
I can instruct you about sex, but I cannot keep you pure.
I can caution you about alcohol, but I can’t say “no” for you.
I can warn you about drugs, but I can’t prevent you from using them.
I can teach you about kindness, but I can’t force you to be considerate.
I can take you to church, but I can’t make you believe.
I can admonish you about sin, but I can’t make you holy.
I can love you as God’s gift, but I cannot place you in God’s family.
I can pray for you, but I cannot make you walk with God.
I can teach you about Jesus, but I can’t make Him your Lord.
I can tell you how to live, but I can’t give you eternal life.

Inactive members

In his book The Purpose Driven Church, Rick Warren counsels pastors to let go of their inactive members, saying that they left for a reason, and to spend your energy on getting new people in...and while I agree with that, it is so hard to let go. I feel that we have so much to offer, so why would people neglect their own spiritual well-being by not coming to church? If they're going elsewhere, I could live with that, but it is painful to think that these people are content to live apart from their extended spiritual family. Did they leave us because they weren't "of" us? This is the argument of the first epistle of John. I wish I knew. It hurts.