Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Pilgrim's Progress Online

....as a followup to my previous post, here's a link to an online version of John Bunyan's "The Pilgrim's Progress"



Friday, September 26, 2008

A Pilgrim's Progress

I finished reading John Bunyan's "The Pilgrim's Progress" tonight. It's one of the required books for my class on the English Puritans at Reformed Theological Seminary.

If you have not read it, I would highly recommend at least skimming the book.

The book is an allegory of the Christian experience...of going through this life to Heaven. It's likely that Bunyan came up with the idea for the book while imprisoned, then published an initial version in 1678. Of all of the writings of the English Puritans, "The Pilgrim's Progress" is the most well known.

There are two parts to the book. Part One tells the story of Christian, Part Two tells the story of his wife Christiana and their children as they journey from their home in the "City of Destruction" to God's "Celestial City".

For me, the book is a helpful reminder that I (like all Christians) am on a spiritual pilgrimage...I will encounter various trials and difficulty and places of rest as I follow Him.

Bunyan's main characters, Christian and Christiana, found it helpful to have others join them on their pilgrim journey. Christian found assistance from individuals named: Evangelist, Interpreter and Hopeful. Christiana, found help from people named: Mercy, Great-Heart, Gaius, and Valiant-for-Truth.

(As an aside, as I read about Mr. Great Heart in Book Two, the great model of a Puritan pastor, I was reminded about some biographies that I've read about Teddy Roosevelt. When he was a child, he and his siblings would call their father by the nickname: "Great Heart"...as they had read "Pilgrim's Progress" and felt that he personified the name. What a great nickname to be given by one's kids.)

As I read "Pilgrim's Progress", I thought too about the monthly worship gathering that I've been hosting through a new group called the "Anglican Fellowship of Cincinnati". I thought of how one of our primary roles is to serve as encouragers (like Great Heart, and Mercy and Hopeful); to encourage one another along the "pilgrim way" of Christian discipleship as people take the journey from their own "City of Destruction" to God's "Celestial City". For me, that's quite an encouraging thing to think about.

I'll post more about our monthly worship meetings at: http://www.cincyanglican.org/

I'm hoping to have the next worship gathering planned soon.

Blessings to you in your pilgrimage,


Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Writing Project - first 150 pages

I'm continuing to edit: "Go Eat Popcorn: A personal journey through Paul's letters".

I'm now up to page 150...in the latest chapter, I explore some differences in the translations of Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians.

Here's the link for pages 1 through 150: http://www.dstiles.com/GoEatPopcorn.pdf


Monday, September 22, 2008

Wall Street and other bailouts

New Orleans - I've spent the past several weeks in New Orleans, Louisiana...where the people are friendly and the weather sometimes is not. I was originally scheduled to arrive here three weeks ago, but was delayed by Hurricane Gustav. When I finally did arrive, people were just returning from their "hurri-cation" and fixing up the damage brought by the heavy winds of Gustav and awaiting more bad weather from Hurricane Ike. (Ike eventually went south causing flooding in southern Louisiana and Texas and then brought high winds through the Midwest causing Sue and the boys to be without power in West Chester for a few days).

In addition to the news about the bad weather, it was also hard not to miss the news last week about the government "bail out" of our nation's leading financial institutions. At the end of the week the price tag was estimated at $700 billion dollars for this "once in a lifetime" catastrophe.

For an overview of the crisis, I've found Robert J. Samuelson's writing In the Washington Post helpful. His articles: "Wall Street's Unraveling" and "The Confidence Game" raise some important questions about how the financial firms found themselves in this crisis and the recovery plan that is being proposed.

For me, I wonder how long the increase in government spending can continue. The U.S. already has a $10 trillion dollar national debt.

I wonder too about the assistance that will likely be provided. It is in our nature to subvert rules and look out only for ourselves. I wonder how people will use this latest bailout for their own gain. I was reminded of this in last Friday's "USA Today" that noted that the federal government has provided over $20 billion dollars to coastal areas after Hurricane Katrina, with the provision that new homes be elevated to avoid future disasters. The newspaper noted, however, that local officials have told residents that they do not need to follow the federal government's rules (so that they can keep rebuilding costs low and rebuild at a quicker pace). And so houses are being build at the same pre-Hurricane Katrina levels.

As I thought about the current "bail out", and feeling more and more depressed, I was reminded of the biggest "bail out" of all....one given to sinners by a loving and just God. God provided this "bail out" (called a "condescending love" by scholars) to the world by providing forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ.

St. Paul wrote in Romans 5:8: "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."

In Galatians 2:20 Paul added that the Son of God: "...loved me and gave his life for me."

John Bunyan summarized these ideas in "The Pilgrim's Progress":

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save everyone that believes. He died for our sins, and rose again for our justification. He loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood. He is mediator between God and us. He ever liveth to make intercession for us.”
(I Tim. 1:15, Rom. 10:4, 4:25, Rev. 1:5, I Tim. 2:5, Heb. 7:25).

A good bailout to focus on.


Monday, September 15, 2008

Whitehorse Inn interview with R.C. Sproul

I watched a great interview tonight with R.C. Sproul of Ligonier Ministries and Michael Horton of the Whitehorse Inn ministries.

R.C. Sproul has written a number of books that have been helpful to me, including: "The Holiness of God", "Faith Alone" and "Getting the Gospel Right".

They discuss a number of topics in the interview including: "Christless Christianity", grace, atonement, deism and divine providence.

Here is the link to the video: http://www.whitehorseinn.org/previous_programs.htm#0907


Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Journalism of Personal Destruction

We've heard from commentators and journalists for many years about the acrimony of Washington politics and the politics of "personal destruction".

For years they've told us how destructive these negative comments can be, and how politicians need to be more focused on finding solutions to fix the problems that Americans face instead of spending so much time criticizing others.

I found it interesting then to read today's New York Times and the views of their commentators regarding Sen. John McCain and his choice for Vice President, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska.

Here's how the candidates were referred to today in the Sunday New York Times Opinion page:

- Thomas Freidman said that Sen. McCain was "ready to sell every piece of his soul to win the presidency" and that Gov. Palin knew as much about reform as "the first 100 names in the D.C. phonebook."

- Frank Rich called it a "snide remark" that Gov. Palin praised Americans from small towns. He wrote that she "lies with ease about her record" and is the candidate that embodies a "fear of change".

- Maureen Dowd described Sen. McCain as "trigger-happy" and Gov. Palin as "our new Napoleon in bunny boots".

It is amazing to me that these and other commentators bemoan the "politics of personal destruction" yet willingly engage in it when candidates are selected that they disagree with.

Their cries for Gov. Palin to stay at home are reminiscent of Mrs. Timorous, in John Bunyan's "The Pilgrim's Progress", who attempts to dissuade Christiana (the main character in the second book) from starting her difficult pilgrimage. Mrs. Timorous tells her: "Oh, the madness that hath possessed thee and thy husband, to run yourselves upon such difficulties!"

Not embracing her criticism, Christiana replied: "Tempt me not...since you came not to my house in God's name, as I said, I pray you be gone, and not to disquiet me further."

Common in all of today's New York Times editorials was a grave concern over Gov. Palin's lack of experience to serve as Vice President. I doubt, however, that these commentators disgorged similar language in 1992 when another Governor from a small state, with no foreign policy experience, named Bill Clinton, was nominated as his party's candidate for President.

The New York Times should have higher standards than the disrespectful and muck-raking language of today's opinion page.

It's evident from the editorials today that it's not just politicians who engage in the politics of personal destruction.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Writing Project - first one hundred pages

...still more on edits to my writing project called "Go Eat Popcorn: A personal journey through Paul's letters".

Here's a link to the first 100 pages: http://www.dstiles.com/GoEatPopcorn.pdf

Grace and Peace,


Friday, September 12, 2008

Latest Writing Project - the first 50 pages

I've been able to spend some time editing a writing project that I started last year...

It's called "Go Eat Popcorn: A personal journey through Paul's letters". It is somewhat difficult to categorize...it's somewhat of a blog and somewhat of a Bible commentary.

My hope is that it will be an engaging look at four letters in the New Testament and help Christians discover new life in Christ.

Here's a link to the first 50 pages: www.dstiles.com/GoEatPopcorn.pdf

As Paul would say...

Grace and Peace,

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Lewis' Lists

Last week I finished my class on the theology of C.S. Lewis at Reformed Theological Seminary. Although at times I felt overwhelmed by all of the required reading, overall, I felt like I've learned a lot about Lewis' views.

In spending the past several months reading his work, it was interesting for me to see that not just themes carried from one of Lewis' books to another, but (as one could imagine) some of his writing patterns did as well. One technique that I found interesting was C.S. Lewis' use of lists in a long sentence to emphasize the point he was making.

(I'm sure there's a Ph.D. dissertation in this for some enterprising young scholar who's willing to analyze Lewis' sentences that contain, say, three or more commas). Here are a few of the lists that I observed:

In "Mere Christianity" Lewis makes the point that all civilizations have a moral code or law:

"If anyone will take the trouble to compare the moral teaching of, say, the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Hindus, Chinese, Greeks and Romans, what will really strike him will be how very like they are to each other and our own."

In discussing his concept of "men without chests", (that is, a lack of a moral compass pointing to transcendent virtues) in the book "The Abolition of Man" Lewis declares:

"You can hardly open a periodical without coming across a statement that what our civilization needs is more 'drive' or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or creativity."

In his preface to the "Screwtape Letters" Lewis gives us this list when he notes that evil is something that is not done exclusively by the poor in some Dickensian back alley, but rather it is also,

"conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices; by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice."

In explaining how to tempt a Christian in "The Screwtape Letters", the veteran demon Uncle Srewtape tells his nephew to focus his "patient's" thoughts on worldly things, thus seeing faith as simply a means to a worldly end:

"Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours -- and the more "religious" (on those terms), the more securely he is ours."

In "The Great Divorce", a fictional tale describing a trip from Hell to Heaven, Lewis' narrator describes walking through a large dingy city that turns out to be Hell:

"However far I went I found only dingy lodging houses, small tobacconists, hoardings from which posters hung in rags, windowless warehouses, goods stations without trains, and bookshops of the sort that sell The Works of Aristotle."

In his book called "Miracles", Lewis describes how prophets and saints have had a sense of the greatness of God:

"Because, just touching the fringes of His being, they have seen that He is plentitude of life and energy and joy, therefore (and for no other reason) they have to pronounce that He transcends the limitations which we call personality, passion, change, materiality and the like."

In "The Problem of Pain" Lewis describes how easy it is to deceive ourselves in denying our sinful actions and thoughts:

"I do not think it is our fault that we cannot tell the real truth about ourselves; the persistent, life-long, inner murmur of spite, jealousy, prurience, greed and self-complacence, simply will not go into words."

In "A Grief Observed" (Lewis' poignant account of his thoughts and feelings after the death of his wife), he writes,

"We have seen the faces of those we know best so variously, from so many angles, in so many lights, with so many expressions -- waking, sleeping, laughing, crying, eating, talking, thinking -- that all the impressions crowd into our memory together and cancel out into a mere blur."

In "Reflections on Psalms", Lewis reflects on how enjoyment naturally overflows into praise:

"The world rings with praise -- lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game -- praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians and scholars."

Lastly, in his book called "The Four Loves" Lewis gives my favorite list as he explains how God's divine love can help us love others:

"Divine Gift-love in the man enables him to love what is not naturally lovable: lepers, criminals, enemies, morons, the sulky, the superior and the sneering."

There are more lists from the writings of C.S. Lewis, but these are a few that I found particularly interesting. Lewis, we see from these examples, was not content with simply making a generalization about his thoughts, but instead desired his readers to ponder the exact, precise, specific, explicit and unambiguous details.

Grace and Peace,

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Some Anglican friends

I spent part of last week with some Anglican friends.

Last Sunday I assisted with worship at Grace Anglican Church in Circleville, Ohio. The boys and I had a great time visiting with Fr. Dale Minor and his wife Val.

Fr. Dale and Fr. Joe Boysel (their new associate pastor) post their sermons online at: www.gracech.com

At the end of last week, I had lunch with another Anglican friend, Fr. Peter Matthews who pastors St. Patrick's Anglican Church in Lexington, Kentucky. The church's website is: http://www.saintpatrickschurch.org/

I had a great time hearing the story of St. Patrick's church and getting to know Fr. Peter. In addition Fr. Peter posts some of his deep thoughts on politics, religion and life at: http://petermatthews.blogspot.com/

Blessings to you both,