Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ten Years Ago

Today marks the end of the decade of 2000's....the "aughts" as my grandfathers might have called it (at least that's what they called the first decade of the previous century).

Things have changed for us in the past ten years.

Ten years ago, Sue and I celebrated New Year's Eve as guests at an officer's club at an Air Force base...a base that today is regularly sending troops into combat.

Ten years ago, our three boys were quite small...4, 1 and our third only a few weeks old. Now the oldest is taller than Sue and the "little guys" are not so little any more.

Here's how I described life ten years ago...

December 4, 1999

"Dooby, doo doop doo wop bop deeda da. Dooby doo doop doo wop bop deeda da."

"Grant." I yell to him in the kitchen. "Pipe down."

I am sitting on our couch feeding Wilster (our new guy) having just turned off the TV news, resigning myself to the fact that I will know nothing about the world while parenting three children under the age of five.

Our one and a half year old, Zackie, is in the middle of the living room playing with Matchbox cars and a small red wagon. He puts a few cars into the wagon then drags the wagon across the living room floor. The top of his shirt is wet (he's getting more teeth and has been drooling all day).

Suddenly he stops and looks at the baby.

"Ah oh." He says.

Zach has a three phrase vocabulary right now. His words are "Hi", "Da" (meaning uncertain) and "Ah oh" (which means I need to kiss the baby right now and you better get out of my way).

He interrupts his play to kiss the seven week old baby sometimes as often as every three to five minutes.

He quickly moves from the wagon to the couch. Then, he opens his mouth as wide as he can and puts it on the baby's head.

"Ah." He says and moves back to the wagon.

I wipe the spit off of the baby's bald head.

"Dooby doo doop doo wop bop deeda da." I hear again from the kitchen.

Zackie, meanwhile decides to stand on the wagon with one foot.

"Hey be careful." I say while still feeding the baby.

"Jingle bells, jingle bells." Grant sings as he comes into the living room and goes to the toy box.

He grabs a plastic golf club.

"Hey Dad, hey Dad."

"Yeah, guy?"

"You know what this is?" he asks.

"A golf club." I reply.

"No, it's what Indians use, it's a homatawk."

"Oh really?" I say not correcting him. "A what?"

It's a homatawk Dad, and I'm an Indian."

Grant starts making whooping noises while patting him mouth.

Zackie then does the same from the red wagon.

Grant then starts running around the room and Zack begins chasing him. When Grant turns to chase Zack, Zackie runs quickly to me in order to get away.

After a few laps around the living room, dining room and kitchen, Grant returns to the toy box and pulls out a super soaker gun.

"Hey Dad, hey Dad."

"Yeah guy?"

"You know who I am?"


"I'm Luke Skywalker."

"Oh really?"

"Yeah, and I'm after Stormtroopers. Bam, bam." He says as he blasts away at the fictitious people.

"Hey Dad."

"What guy?"

"Zack can be Han Solo, and Will can be Chewbacca."

"Sounds good."

He blasts away some more.

Meanwhile, Zackie has found the book "Yertle the Turtle" and brings it to me. With the baby on my left arm, I pull Zack up on the couch with my right and open the book.

I've learned that you can't really read a book slowly to Zack...he turns the pages too quickly.

I read the book, but the story has a few "holes" in it without reading every page.

Zackie then moves to the side of the couch and stands up. He's our resident daredevil.

"Take a seat." I say with a smile and push him down.

He laughs as he tumbles down on the pillows and the cushions on the couch.

In the process of reading and playing with Zackie I notice that the bottle of milk is not in Will's mouth anymore but instead is now running down his cheek and into his ear.

I grab a paper towel and wipe it off.

Sue has come down from our bedroom.

She's beautiful.

"Who wants a horsey ride?" she asks.

"I do. I do." Grant yells.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Passing of a Friend

I was saddened to learn this week of the recent death of Tricia Lyn Salerno Elson, a friend of mine from my college years.

Trish was my supervisor at a waterpark in New Jersey, and when I first met her I was amazed at her energy, spunk and confidence. She would dance around the pools, spend hours talking to me and my fellow lifeguards, play Billy Joel and James Taylor music over the loudspeakers and greet others with a "Yo baby!"

She and her family were very gracious and helpful to me during a difficult time in my life, and to this day, I am grateful for their help.

Trish was a person who was full of faith in Jesus Christ. She encouraged me on a number of occasions to remember Paul's words in Romans 8:28: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

She was a person who modeled Christ's forgiveness as well. A number of years ago I called her to ask her for forgiveness, and like the Father to his Prodigal Son, she quickly said, "Oh my gosh, I've forgiven you of that years ago!" and she proceeded to update me on her life.

I know that her great faith and joy, humor and love have influenced the lives of many people. Our prayers and condolences go out to her family and many friends.

Tricia's obituary can be found here:


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Helpful Advent Resource

Last Sunday began the season of Advent (which is celebrated by the Church during the four weeks prior to Christmas).

The word Advent comes from the Latin word adventus which means "arrival" or "coming". During this time, the Church focuses on waiting on the Lord and preparing ones' hearts for Christ. We remember those who waited for Jesus' arrival 2000 years ago and we're encouraged to prepare our hearts and wait upon the Lord during this season.

I've attached a link to a really helpful Advent Devotional Guide from All Saints Church in Chapel Hill/Durham, NC. This free booklet contains daily scripture reading, prayers and questions for reflection. I think you'll find it a really helpful resource during this time of spiritual reflection and preparation. Here's the link:

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Outline of "The Institutes" I mentioned in my last post, I'll be reading most of John Calvin's "Institutes for Christian Religion" this fall and winter.

Here's a helpful outline from Timothy George's book called "The Theology of the Reformers":

Book 1: The Knowledge of God the Creator
-twofold knowledge of God

Book 2: The Knowledge of God the Redeemer
-the fall, human sinfulness
-the Law
-Old and New Testaments
-Christ the Mediator: His Person (Prophet, Priest, King) and work (atonement)

Book 3: The Way in Which We Receive the Grace of Christ, Its Benefits and Effects
-faith and regeneration
-Christian life
-the final resurrection

Book 4: The External Means by Which God Invites Us into the Society of Christ
-civil government


Friday, September 11, 2009

Reading John Calvin

I'm looking forward to the theology classes that I've registered for this fall at Reformed Theological Seminary.

In looking at my syllabus, it looks like I'll be spending a lot of time reading John Calvin's "Institutes of Christian Religion."

A number of years ago I read all of Book One and most of Book Four of the "Institutes"...and found it very helpful. I'm looking forward to digging into it again this fall.

I'll write more to keep you up to date on my reading....


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Interview with Todd Hunter

Here's the link to Christianity Today's interview with Todd Hunter.

Todd and I have crossed paths a few times over the past 20 years, and I'm looking forward to working with him in the future.

In the early 1980s, Todd was instrumental in helping to get a Vineyard church started in Cincinnati (at the time he was pastoring in Wheeling, WV and traveling to Cincinnati to meet with a small group. Later he encouraged Steve and Janie Sjogren to move to Ohio to pastor the group). The Vineyard Community Church, that eventually grew from that small group, is where I worked for several years and where my wife currently works.

I met Todd a few years after that (now nearly 20 years ago) when he led a few Vineyard seminars and workshops that I attended.

Now, Todd has joined the same Anglican group that I am affiliated with...the Anglican Mission in the Americas (AMiA). Later this month, he will be ordained an Anglican bishop.

Joining Todd in the consecration to the office of Bishop will be Rev. Silas Tak Yin Ng (of Toronto, Canada) and Rev. Canon David "Doc" Loomis (of Hudson, Ohio).

Doc currently serves as Canon Missioner for AMiA and oversees a regional network of Anglican churches. Last August, Doc commissioned me as a Lay Catechist in the Anglican Church.

Here are two links to learn more about the Anglican Mission in the Americas (AMiA) and our local network of Anglican churches:


It adds up to: 441

Spending some time this week on music from the eighties (the nineteen eighties that is)....

Anyway, I ran across a site from another favorite Christian band from the 80s, a band called 441.

I've found it difficult in years past to find the band's website, as search engines seemed to give me all kinds of information with the number "441" except for info. about the band. But I was able to find them this week!

Here's the link to their site:

At the bottom of the main page on their website they have a control that you can click to listen to many of their songs for free. (The songs start with a recent live concert but you can scroll down to listen to older studio recordings).

The band's first album was the self-titled "441", released in 1984. A year later the band released "Mourning into Dancing", and in 1988 the band released their third (and seemingly final album) called "Sacrifice".

Over the years, I've enjoyed all three albums, but their first album is probably my favorite (which I think I first purchased in 1985).

Their "break out" hit from that album is the song "Break Out" (which reminds me a lot of the music by the Violent Femmes and the song "Rock this Town" by Brian Setzler and the Stray Cats).

The song speaks of conformity and breaking free from the negative influences of others:

Everybody tells you just what to do
Try this buy that
white teeth get you a girl
You always wonder how clothes make a man
All Jesus wants is you to take a stand
Break out! Break free, it’s your responsibility

(from the song Break Out)

Another song which is a sentimental favorite of mine is called, "Mom and Dad" which expresses a thankfulness and love for one's parents.

Another favorite from the album is the song, "In His Presence", which describes facing difficulty and living with the uncertainty of God's will and purposes:

When I find myself in times like these
I know I can be close to Him
But it’s a while before I can see
Why He’s got me in the state I’m in"
(from the song "In His Presence")

The song then reminds the listener that regardless of circumstances we are living in the presence of God:

In a while I’ll be through this
I’m waiting and I’m watching
And I’m going through a trail time
In His presence I am
In His presence I am
In His presence I am
(from the song "In His Presence")

The album ends with the wonderful song, "Looking at You", which describes the theological idea of sanctification - the process of growing in God's grace and being conformed more and more into the image of Christ. The song uses these words:

I can’t believe it when I look at you I see myself
(from the song Looking at You)

If you haven't heard of the band 441, I'd encourage you to give them a listen.


Monday, August 31, 2009

Sounds Like...Adam Again

For my birthday a few weeks ago I downloaded some old songs by a band called "Adam Again".

The cost was $7.90 for all of the songs from their first album, here's the link:

If you've never heard of "Adam Again" (which is likely) you're missing out on one of the best Christian bands from the eighties.

My two favorite albums are their first and second: "In a New World of Time" (released in 1986) and "Ten Songs" (released in 1988).

When I purchased their first album in 1987, I was absolutely amazed at their music...hearing an incredible mix of rock, soul and funk.

The group's sound featured electric guitarist Greg Lawless playing an excellent "Chenka guitar", with the rhythms of Paul Valdez on bass and Jon Knox on drums (although I think the first album may have used a drum machine for some songs).

The band's vocals were led Gene Eugene (Gene Andrusco), who was the group's founder, with his wife Riki Michele who sang a soulful backup.

Listening to Gene's singing now, I am reminded of how much he sounds like the vocalists of Counting Crows and REM.

(I bought their first album, even before I heard their music because their album cover was a painting by Howard Finster, which was similar to one he had done a year earlier for the Talking Heads' album "Little Creatures").

In addition to the music, I found the lyrics of Adam Again to be particularly poignant...a recurring theme in their first album "In a New World Of Time" is the goodness of God:

"When I think of the things I do
I need nothing more from you
Just to be forgiven is enough for me"

(from the song, Life in the First Degree)

"He was God and nothing less
He came to fill your emptiness
His love has stood the test of time
Now it can stand the test of your mind"
(You Can Fall in Love)

"Two thousand years of signs and wonders
All for you to see"


There's also a heavy focus on loss and longing for something more (with a heavy emphasis on crying):

"I looked for a way for years
Alone in my bitter tears"
(Life in the First Degree)

"She says she'll never go home
But tonight she'll cry herself to sleep"

(She's Run)

"Late at night she cries in her bedroom
Wonders if anyone would care if she took her life"

(God Can Change Your World)

In addition, the album has a great focus on giving thanks to God:

"So I'll sing in the streets and dance in the aisles and celebrate what will be"
(Life in the First Degree)

"I try to find the words but I can't even speak except to say Hallelujah"
(Morning Song)

The album ends with a plea to accept God's forgiveness, with the words,

"Won't you listen to the Voice of God, as it whispers your forgiveness."
(Reason With Me)

...again a wonderful album.

In the summer of 1988 (a little over a year after their first album was released) I took a road trip with my buddy Billy to see Adam Again in concert at a Christian music festival in Kitchener, Ontario. Gene was on hand working the sound booth for a number of artists at the music festival called "The Freedom Festival".

A few hours before Adam Again was scheduled to play, a huge thunderstorm came through the area, and the band was forced to move inside to a nearby roller skating rink. It was a strange moment as the band warmed up, with a few fans hudled near the stage and skaters circling the rink.

The next day Billy and I had a chance to meet the band. They were all very friendly. I asked Gene about the bands next album.

As I recall he told me, "We're going to call it Sounds like Adam Again."

Gene went on to make a total of five albums with Adam Again and recorded countless other songs as a producer, engineer and musician with other bands in his Green Room Studio in Los Angeles. He died unexpectedly in 2000.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Chief End of Man

This week I've been reading a book of lectures by Karl Barth called "The Theology of John Calvin". Barth delivered the lectures in 1922 at the University of Gottingen (in Germany) while he served at the university's Professor of Reformed Theology.

In this passage, Barth explains Calvin's beliefs about our purpose of life. He writes that in the in the Geneva Catechism, Calvin explains that,

"God created us and put us in the world in order to be glorified by us. Since he is the origin of our life, it is right that we should place this life in the service of his glory. That this should take place is our supreme good. Should it not, we are in sorrier state than animals. Nothing worse can happen to us than not living our lives for God. And here again we have true knowledge of God in which we know him and come to awareness of the honor we owe him. But the way in which we pay this honor that we owe is fourfold, (1) by putting our whole trust in him, (2) by seeking to serve him with our whole lives and doing his will, (3) by calling upon him in need and seeking salvation and every good thing in him, and finally (4) by recognizing him with heart and mind as the 'sole author' of all good. These four points are the basis for Calvin's presentation of Christianity."
(p. 76-77)

Interesting thoughts,

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Future of Anglicanism

Here's a helpful audio interview at "The Whitehorse Inn" with host Dr. Michael Horton and Dr. David Virtue and retired Episcopal bishop C. FitzSimons Allison.

They discuss new missions in Anglicanism and the important doctrines of justification and imputation.



Friday, August 21, 2009

Two Ways to Live

Here's a great resource about the Gospel called "Two Ways to Live":

The author, Dean Phillip Jensen, explains the concepts in more detail in a video at:

(Note: You'll have to scroll down to the middle of the page to see the video).



Sunday, August 2, 2009

Going Luther's Way

The Washington Post had an interesting article and photo gallery this weekend by James Reston Jr. called "Going His Way". The reporter, who recently completed a book on the Protestant Reformation, writes about his journey of retracing Luther's steps.

Here's the article:


Thursday, July 30, 2009

What is the Church?

A friend recently told me about Steve Fuller's "Church Experiment" blog that describes his visits to 52 places of worship in 52 weeks.

[This new style of writing is becoming more and more popular - with writers explaining their own unique personal experiences, as AJ Jacobs did in the 2004 book "The Know-It-All" - a book that described his reading of the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. I must confess that it's a style that I've used as well in my little booklet called, "Go Eat Popcorn" that describes my experiences reading four of Paul's New Testament letters. Here's a link to the first 200 pages: ]

Steve Fuller's posts are interesting and sometimes humorous. He writes about what he's heard from Pentecostal preachers and his experiences of going to different places of worship (although I would not identify some of the places as "churches" as he does -- like the local Hindu Temple and the Muslim Mosque.)

Reading his blog reminded me of my struggles over the years of trying to find answers to the question of "what is the Church"?

Even though I've been a professing Christian since my youth, the issue of ecclesiology has been one that I've wrestled with over the years.

I guess this struggle can be seen in my own "church experiences" too. I was raised in a very liturgical United Methodist church, discovered a Vineyard "seeker friendly" church in college and worked there part-time for a few years after I graduated. Now I enjoy the beauty of historic liturgical prayer combined with contemporary worship music in an Anglican fellowship.

For me the most helpful answers to the question of "What is the Church?" have come from the writers who lived during the Protestant Reformation. This attempt to reform the church, is generally identified to have begun on October 31, 1517 when Martin Luther (a Catholic monk and teacher) posted Ninety-Five Thesis on a church door in Wittenburg (which is now in Germany).

In the midst of the great turmoil that followed, the leading Protestant theologians of the Reformation (like Luther in Germany and Huldrych Zwingli, and John Calvin in Switzerland) were forced to address the important question of "What is the Church?"

In looking at Scripture they explained that there were two important attributes (that they called "marks") that described a true Church.

These two marks were (1) the preaching of God's Word and (2) the proper administration of the Sacraments.

Preaching, for the Reformers, was one of the two essential marks of the Church. They frequently quoted St. Paul who wrote, "Faith comes by hearing and hearing the Word of God". They sought to follow Paul's advice to "preach Christ crucified" (I Cor. 1:23) and to "preach the Word, in and out of season." (2 Tim. 4:2)

Essential to their preaching was an explanation of the Good News, which the New Testament writers called the Gospel.

Huldrych Zwingli (who lived from 1484-1531) summarized the Gospel with these words:

"The summary of the gospel is that our Lord Christ, true Son of God, has made known to us the will of his Heavenly Father and has redeemed us from death and reconciled us with God by his guiltlessness. Therefore, Christ is the only way to salvation of all who were, are now, or shall be."

According to the Reformers, the task of preaching is to share the Good News that God rescued us from our sin through His Son Jesus.

The second "mark" or attribute of the true Church was the proper administration of the Sacraments. During the Reformation there was much debate between Christians over what was a Sacrament and what was not.

The word Sacrament comes from the Latin word sacramentum meaning something sacred. This concept was used earlier by Greek writers who used the word mysterion to mean something sacred, unknown or mysterious.

For the Reformers, the Sacraments were an outward sign of an inward grace. The items that they identified as Sacraments were baptism and communion (also called "The Lord's Supper" or the Eucharist).

In baptism, according to Martin Luther (1483-1546), it is not the minister or the one being baptized who exerts the religious effort but God. As one historian explained Luther's view:

"God is the Doer in baptism, the minister merely God's agent. In baptism God announces His gracious acceptance of the sinner, for those who receive baptism in faith are none other than those who have been bathed and cleansed in the blood of Christ." (Timothy George, "Theology of the Reformers", pg. 94)

For the Reformers, there was also much debate over the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper.

Some (like Zwingli in his early years, in response to the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation) explained that the taking of the bread and wine was only a memorial. Because Scripture taught that Jesus is "seated at the right hand of the Father", Zwingli in his early years could not accept a belief that communion could be anything more than a memorial. After all, Christ had said, "Eat this in remembrance of me" (Luke 22:19).

Others, like Luther and Calvin (and Zwingli later in life), believed that communion certainly was a memorial, but also something more...something where Christ was present.

Luther referred to Christ's words in Luke 22:19, "this is my body given for you" and Christ's words in the next verse, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you." It is interesting to observe that Christ did not say this is like my body or like my blood. Rather, Christ said, "this is my body" and "this is my blood". Luther explained that Christ was present, "in, with and under" the Sacrament of the bread and the wine.

John Calvin (1509-1564) in affirming the real presence of Christ in the Sacrament, explained that the "mystery of the Supper" is that "Christ is truly shown to us through the symbols of bread and wine, his very body and blood, in which he fulfilled all obedience to gain righteousness." (Inst. 4.17.11)

Calvin explained that the Sacrament involves a "true participation with Christ Himself." In the Lord's Supper, Christians "grow into one body" with Christ and become "partakers of his substance, that we may also feel the power in partaking of all his benefits." (Inst. 4.17.11)

We might ask, "How does this happen? How does Christ unite Himself with His followers in the Sacraments of baptism and communion?"

The answer, for Calvin is that it is the work of the Holy Spirit:

"Even though it seems unbelievable that Christ’s flesh, separated from us by such great distance, penetrates to us, so that it becomes our food, let us remember how far the secret power of the Holy Spirit towers above all our senses, and how foolish it is to wish to measure his immeasurableness by our measure. What our mind does not comprehend, let faith conceive: that the Spirit truly unites things separated in space." (Inst. 4.17.10)

May we have faith to believe the things we do not comprehend and be united with Christ in the power of His Spirit,


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Sir Henry Neville = Shakespeare?

...a fun site to view these apparent decryptions of clues to the true author of Shakespeare's plays and sonnets.

Once you go to the site, click on the powerpoint files to see how the text was decoded.


Summer Reading

I've been reading a very interesting book this week called, "The Truth Will Out: Unmasking the Real Shakespeare" by Brenda James and William Rubinstein.

The authors make the case that Sir Henry Neville (1562-1615) was the author of what we now know as the poems and plays of William Shakespeare. Among many things, they point out that Sir Henry was fluent in many European languages, had visited many of the the places where the plays take place (including Italy and Scotland), had a deep knowledge of the law and the royal court.

They also write about Sir Henry's growing Protestantism after being sent to the Tower of London by Queen Elizabeth before her death. This, they argue can be seen in the "problem plays" (like Hamlet) which were written after 1601.

He kept his authorship a secret, they argue, because of his high position in Parliament.

An interesting additional fact...Sir Henry played a role in the founding of America - he was an investor in the London Virginia Company, which sent an English expedition headed by Captain John Smith to North America. They founded the colony at Jamestown, Virginia in May 1607.

If you have an interest in Shakespeare or like a good mystery, I recommend this book.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Calvin at 500

Last Friday marked the 500th anniversary of John Calvin's birth (who was born on July 10, 1509).

I've been reading a lot of Calvin recently for my classes at "Reformed Theological Seminary", and hope to add some posts here about Calvin's "Institutes for Christian Religion" (sometime in the future).

There have been a number of conferences this summer celebrating the birth of Calvin. For a brief biography and a list of resources, this site will be helpful:

Another resource that I would recommend is last week's interview of Dr. W. Robert Godfrey by Dr. Michael Horton of the White Horse Inn. Dr. Godfrey has a new book out called, "Calvin: Pilgrim and Pastor". Here's the link:


Sunday, June 28, 2009

Leadership Challenges

In response to the news this week of another Christian leader admitting to an extra-marital affair, Rev. Gary Sweeten reposted an article called "The Crisis of Leadership".

Dr. Sweeten has some good advice on recognizing symptoms of a leader's crisis, things that won't work, and things that do.

I also appreciated his words around our need to develop intimacy with God and His Spirit.

Here's the link:


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

First Chapter

I just finished editing the first Chapter of my modern edition of "A Method for Prayer" by Matthew Henry.

Here is the link:

It is still in a draft form, but I hope you find it a helpful resource.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

First 25 Pages of "A Method for Prayer"

Here's the link to the first 25 pages of my modern edition of "A Method for Prayer" by Matthew Henry:

It is still in a draft form, as I haven't done much editing, but I hope you find it a helpful resource.


Sunday, June 14, 2009

A Modern Method for Prayer

I worked tonight on writing and editing a modern edition of Matthew Henry's "A Method for Prayer".

Henry, who lived from 1662 - 1714, first published his "Method for Prayer" in 1712, which utilized Scripture as a means for prayer.

I've found it to be a helpful resource as for my devotional life. I'll post a link to the draft of the text as soon as I finish Chapter 1.


Saturday, June 13, 2009

Ordination Exams

I finished the written part of the ordination exams for the Anglican Church this week...should get the results back in a week or so.


Monday, April 27, 2009

A Summary of Christian Doctrine

Last week I finished a wonderful and concise book called "A Summary of Christian Doctrine" by Louis Berkhof.

Berkhof was a professor of theology for many years at Calvin Theological Seminary who died in 1957.

His book has some great information about Christian beliefs, and a number of suggestions for further study of these beliefs in Scripture. His chapters on the attributes of God, the doctrine of the person and work of Christ and the Church and the means of grace are terrific.


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Palm Sunday Sermon

Christ Reformed Church has posted their Holy Week audio files.

Here's Pastor Kim Riddlebarger's Palm Sunday sermon from April 5th:


Thursday, April 9, 2009

Maundy Thursday

Today Christians celebrate Maundy Thursday, here's how the day is described on the website

Jesus shared the final meal with his disciples, called the Last Supper, on the night before he was crucified. The institution of the Holy Eucharist occurred during this meal, as indicated from the gospel excerpt below:

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom" (Matthew 26:26-29 RSV)

Since Scripture and Tradition tell us that Jesus was crucified on a Friday, Jesus shared the important Last Supper with his apostles on a Thursday. The synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) seem to suggest that the Last Supper was a passover Meal. However, John suggests that Jesus was crucified before the Passover Meal, on the Day of Preparation. Perhaps the Last Supper was done in anticipation of the Passover Meal, or was a Kiddush or some other religious meal. The gospel of John does not record the Institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper, while the synoptic gospels do. However, John's gospel records Jesus washing the disciples' feet. Holy Thursday traditions are derived from all four gospels.

Thus Holy Thursday, also known as Maundy Thursday, is the Thursday of Holy Week, commemorating the Institution of the Holy Eucharist and the Sacrament of Ordination. Holy Thursday also celebrates the agony of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, and the betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot, events that took place on the night before Jesus' crucifixion. The Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday begins the Triduum, which is the three-day celebration of the heart of the Christian faith: Christ's death and resurrection. The Paschal Triduum begins on the evening of Holy Thursday and concludes with the Evening Prayer (Vespers) of Easter. Thus the Triduum includes Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and reaches it high point at the Great Easter Vigil. The name "Maundy" comes from the Latin antiphon Mandatum Novum, i.e. "a new mandate." This new mandate from Jesus is taken from John 13:34: love one another as I have loved you.

Grace and peace,

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Palm Sunday

We're visiting family this week, and I was able to spend Palm Sunday today with the folks at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Davidson, North Carolina.

Rev. Kyle Wallace had a helpful message today about the significance of Palm Sunday, Jesus' cleansing of the Temple and His desire for fruit of the Spirit.

Here's the church's website if you're in the Charlotte/Davidson area:


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Reading Jonathan Edwards - Part 1

Last week I read a book called "The Selected Writings of Jonathan Edwards" for a course I'm taking at Reformed Theological Seminary.

Edwards, who lived from 1703-1758, was a pastor, theologian and briefly served as president of Princeton University.

I had read Edwards's famous sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" in several English classes in High School and college, and so was expecting quite a lot of harsh language in his collected works. (I'll get to that famous sermon in another post or two).

What was surprising to me, however, about Jonathan Edwards' writing were his numerous works about his enjoyment of God.

While walking in his father's pasture he explains, "as I was walking there, and looking up on the sky and clouds, there came into my mind so sweet a sense of the glorious majesty and grace of God, that I know not how to express."

In another passage he writes, "My mind was very much taken up with contemplations on heaven and the enjoyments there...Heaven appeared exceedingly delightful, as a world of love; and that all happiness consisted of living in pure, humble, heavenly, divine love."

In yet another passage he tells his readers: "I very frequently used to retire into a solitary place, on the banks of Hudson's river, at some distance from the city, for contemplation on divine things, and secret converse with God; and had many sweet hours there."

Interesting thoughts on contemplation and reflection from Jonathan.


Sunday, March 8, 2009

Reading Jonathan Edwards

This week I'm reading selections of writings and sermons by Jonathan Edwards for a class at Reformed Theological Seminary....I'll include posts this week on what I learn.


Monday, March 2, 2009

Embracing Bankruptcy

I was surprised to see this post on the New York Times opinion page today:

Dr. Stanley Fish writes about embracing bankruptcy...moral and spiritual that is.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday, which occurs forty days (not counting Sundays) before Easter.

Here's the wikipedia link to an overview of the holiday:

Grace and peace,

Monday, February 23, 2009

Luther's Legacy

Nobody's perfect...I was reminded of that fact last week with the celebration of Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday. In the midst of celebrating the "Great Emancipator" we were reminded from several sources that Lincoln had some very bad things to say about African Americans and their fate (for many years he wanted to deport them to Liberia).

Pastor John Piper wrote last week as well about Lincoln's failures and the fact that all earthly heroes will fail us. You can read the article here.

I was reminded of that truth again this week as I finished reading Roland H. Bainton's biography of Martin Luther, called "Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther".

Luther's legacy is truly staggering...leader of the Protestant Reformation, translator of the Bible into German, proponent of justification by faith....yet there was also a negative side to Luther as well. Unlike Lincoln who had some progression in his thinking of others, Luther's screeds became worse as he aged. Regarding the Pope, Luther was quite quick to call him the Anti-Christ. Regarding Jews, Luther had some very negative opinions. Bainton, Luther's biographer, notes that he wished Luther would have died earlier so that his anti-Semitic views would not have been known.

Regarding his positive contributions, Luther is unequaled. Here's how Bainton describes the work of Luther and his influence on Germans:

"The most profound impact of Luther on his people was in their religion. His sermons were read to the congregations, his liturgy was sung, his catechism was rehearsed by the father with the household, his Bible cheered the fainthearted and consoled the dying."

Compared to the Protestant Reformation in England, Bainton notes that there was not a similar character:
"The Bible translation in England was the work of Tyndale, the prayer book of Cranmer, the catechism of the Westminster divines. The sermonic style stemmed from Latimer; the hymnbook came from Watts. And not all of these lived in one century. Luther did the work of more than five men. And for sheer richness and exuberance of vocabulary and mastery of style he is to be compared only with Shakespeare."
I encourage you read Luther's biography...even though he was an imperfect man. He was a man who doubted, but a man who also had incredible faith...a faith that allowed him to say before the Emperor: "Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen."


Friday, February 20, 2009

Luther's Lyrics

This week I've been reading Roland Bainton's book called "Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther".

In the 1520's Luther challenged Catholic authorities on their practice of selling indulgences, arguing that it contradicted the Scriptural doctrine of justification - of being made right with God - through faith in Christ alone.

What was interesting to me was that for someone focused so much on faith instead of works, the works that Luther produced in the 1520's are truly staggering. During the course of just a few years Luther:

  • wrote three major treatises (starting in 1520) on Christian freedom, "the priesthood of all believers", Two Kingdoms and the sacraments

  • translated the New Testament into German (first published in 1522)

  • wrote "On the Bondage of the Will" (first published in 1525) on the sovereignty of God and the limitations of humans to choose good and their inability to be right with God on their own strength

  • wrote the "Large" Catechism (published in 1529), as instructions to parents and teachers

  • wrote the "Small" Catechism (also published in 1529) for instruction to children

One of the most lasting legacies during this period is his hymn "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" written between 1527 and 1529. Here's a link to the lyrics:

After nearly 500 years, the words to the hymn remain poignant and incredibly stirring.

Many Blessings,

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Luther's Courage

This week I've been reading Roland Bainton's book called "Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther".

What stuck me most over the past few days of reading Luther's biography, was the incredible courage he had when facing certain death in the 1520's for his role in the Protestant Reformation.

It is likely that Luther never intentionally set out to be the leader of the Protestant Reformation. His initial objections to the sale of indulgences were not those of a radical attacking the Church from the outside, but rather, he was an insider...a monk and a scholar within the Church, who posted his Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Castle Church in Latin, intending his work to be read by a learned audience. He believed that the clerics and the Pope would reconsider the sale of indulgences after reading his reasoned arguments and examining Scripture.

What happened next in quick order was that the authorities did not reconsider their position, but rather viewed Luther as a heretic. The Pope threatened to excommunicate him if he did not recant (in June of 1520) and he was ordered to appear before Emperor Charles V in April 1521.

Luther was aware that he was likely to be found guilty and killed. Here's what he wrote just before appearing before the emperor:

"You ask me what I shall do if I am called by the emperor. I will go even if I am too sick to stand on my feet. If Caesar calls me, God calls me. If violence is used, as well it may be, I commend my cause to God. He lives and reigns who saved the three youths from the fiery furnace of the king of Babylon, and if he will not save me, my head is worth nothing compared to Christ. This is no time to think of safety. I must take care that the gospel is not brought into contempt by our fear to confess and seal our teaching with our blood." (pg. 135)

When he did appear before the Emperor at Worms, his words were equally courageous:

"Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason--I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other--my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise." (pg. 144)

The courage that Luther was able to express, in the face of certain death is truly miraculous. Luther was able to rest and have confidence in the Lord...believing that the God who had helped his faithful servants in the Old and New Testament would help him.

May we find the same courage from God, being confident not in our own strength but in His as we continue our life's journey,

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Indulge me for a moment...

I was interested in reading the following article in our local paper about the revival of the Catholic tradition of indulgences:

According to the newspaper article, these indulgences are designed to "hasten" one's "journey to heaven" and "avoid punishment in the afterlife".

I have great respect for the Catholic Church. I am thankful that the Church has stood for the cause of Christianity for so many centuries in the midst of incredible, often difficult, circumstances. Personally, I've found a great number of Catholic authors helpful (especially St. Augustine, Henri Nouwen and Thomas Merton). But this area regarding indulgences is one where we sharply differ.

The issuing of indulgences was a major cause of (what is known today as) The Reformation, which started in the early 1500's and birthed the Protestant Church. The initial leader of the Reformation was a German named Martin Luther, who I've been reading recently for a seminary program.

Luther had initially considered being a lawyer before feeling called by God to become a monk. While living at a monastery and serving as a pastor and teacher in the city of Wittenberg, Luther wrestled with intense feelings of guilt...knowing that he was sinful and constantly falling short of God's standards.

At the same time a man commissioned by Rome, named Johann Tetzel, traveled throughout Germany selling indulgences, to limit the punishment of purgatory for those who purchased them and for their designated recipients who had already died.

Luther eventually did finally find comfort...not in indulgences, or in changing his beliefs about God's standards, but through his study of Scripture, particularly his study of St. Paul's writing (in Romans, to be exact). There he discovered the idea of "justification by faith"...that Christians are made right with God, not by their own works of righteousness but rather through faith in the work of Christ.

If you're struggling with this concept, I'd encourage you to read Romans or Galatians in the New Testament to see Paul's passion around this concept...that it's not our work, but the work of Christ that will remit sin because Christ has taken the punishment for us.

If you're interested in learning more about Luther, I'll be reading his biography this week. The biography I'm reading is by Roland H. Bainton called, "Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther". I'll keep you posted with what I learn.

Many blessings,

Monday, February 16, 2009

In Celebration of Celebration

The 30th anniversary of the publishing of Richard Foster's book "The Celebration of Discipline" was recently celebrated.

The book is a wonderful exploration on the subject of Christian growth and covers many topics, including:

  • the inward disciplines of prayer, fasting and Christian meditation
  • the outward disciplines of simplicity, solitude and submission
  • the corporate disciplines of confession, worship and celebration.

Christianity Today has written much about the book in the past few months and recently they've published an article by Richard Foster about his priorities for the next 30 years:

The mark of a good book often for me is that I can't find it....because I've loaned it to several people and can't remember who the last person was to receive it. That's true for "The Celebration of Discipline"...I found it to be a really helpful book when I first read it in 1989 and several times since. (If you have my copy...send it back).

On a final note, another great book by Richard Foster was one published in the 1980s called "Money, Sex and Power"...a terrific look at those topics from a Christian perspective. I think it is now out of print, but if it's been reissued I'll update the post.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Lincoln Links

Today we celebrate Abraham Lincoln's 200th Birthday. A coworker shared with me these helpful Lincoln links:

The Gutenberg Project - has free digital copies of Lincoln's writing (including the Gettysburg Address, his Inaugural Addresses, his complete speeches as President and his collected writing). Here's the link:

The Abraham Lincoln Association - has posted the 8 volume "The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln", which is hosted by the University of Michigan. Here's that link:

The Library of Congress - has posted several photographs of Lincoln and his family that are in its collection. Here's that link:


Monday, February 9, 2009

Reading Lincoln

On Friday I finished David Herbert Donald's biography, "Lincoln". I found it to be a terrific book.

I found Dr. Donald's description of Lincoln's Presidency to be the most fascinating section of the book. The way in which Lincoln navigated between the many divergent Northern political groups (the "Radical" and "Conservative" Republicans, the "War" Democrats, etc.) was incredibly interesting.

It was interesting to read that many people in these groups considered themselves to be Lincoln's enemies...there were a number of people that said that the Civil War was a "failure" and attacked Lincoln for going too slow/or too fast in regards to emancipation...and for being too lenient/too hard in the area of reconstruction.

In last Sunday's New York Times, William Safire reviewed a number of books published recently about Lincoln. His review can be found here.

In his review he has some very good things to say about Dr. Donald's biography. He writes, "no one-volume life published so far beats David Herbert Donald’s perceptive and lucid work (still selling in trade paperback)."

Mr. Safire also noted that a two volume, 2,000 page, million-word biography of Lincoln by Michael Burlingame called "Lincoln: A Life" will be posted online in the spring. Here's the link: I can't wait to see that.

I'm sure we'll hear more this week about books and resources on Lincoln as we approach his 2o0th birthday on Thursday the 12th. I'm looking forward to that.


Sunday, February 1, 2009

Comfort in Grief

On Friday morning I found myself finishing up work on a software project in a Christian hospital in north Georgia. Having some time on my hands at 8:30am, I took a break from my work and attended the hospital's morning chapel service.

I was greeted warmly by Chaplain Dave, who smiled warmly and shook my hand. I joined a group of three others: a maintenance worker, and two women, one of whom cried throughout most of the fifteen minute service. Chaplain Dave began by reading a passage of Scripture then told us about some of his encounters with patients and their families during the week.

He told about an incredible encounter he had earlier in the week with a woman who was in the ICU. She had stopped breathing for almost ten minutes and had been pronounced dead. After he was called in, he prayed for her and miraculously she took a gasp and began breathing again. A few days later she was transferred to a less critical care room. He said that the nurses had told him that they had never seen anything quite like that before.

Chaplain Dave also told of praying with a family earlier that morning who had just lost a young member of their family to death. He told us that the family was very upset and deep in grief at their loss. "Those cases are always so difficult." he said.

Soon we read some written prayer requests from patients and then began praying.

As we prayed, I thought about some reading that I had done earlier in the week.

I thought first about a passage that I had read in David Herbert Donald's book "Lincoln". In the book, Dr. Donald writes about the death of the Lincoln's son Willie, who died in the White House in February 1863 (he was their second son to die in childhood).

Dr. Donald explained:

"Both parents were devastated by grief. When Lincoln looked on the face of his dead son, he could only say brokenly, 'He was too good for this earth...but then we loved him so.' It seemed appropriate that Willie's funeral, which was held at the White House, was accompanied by one of the heaviest wind and rain storms ever to visit Washington. Long after the burial the President repeatedly shut himself in a room so that he could weep alone."

"During this time he increasingly turned to religion for solace. As Mary Lincoln said years later, 'He first thought...about this subject...when Willie died - never before."

Dr. Donald noted that President Lincoln turned to Rev. Phineas D. Gurley, pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, where the Lincoln's rented a pew. Lincoln, we are told, had several long talks with the pastor who comforted Lincoln with the Christian belief that his son lived on in heaven.

During the morning prayer service at the hospital, my thoughts turned also to the recent death of Father Richard John Neuhaus. Fr. Neuhaus was a Catholic priest, the author of several books, a leader in the ecumenical movement and the founder of "First Things", a monthly religious journal that I have found very helpful throughout the years.

Fr. Neuhaus wrote profoundly about his thoughts on death - the article that I read earlier in the week, called "Born Toward Dying" can be found here.

In the article, Fr. Neuhaus explained how he had served as a chaplain at a large hospital where he would see two or three patients die in a 24-hour period. He also wrote about his own near-death experience several years before where he had heard "presences" (i.e. angels) near his hospital bed telling him, "Everything is ready now."

In the article Fr. Neuhaus noted that when a loved-one dies it can lead to wisdom about this life and the life to come:

"The worst thing is not the sorrow or the loss or the heartbreak. Worse is to be encountered by death and not to be changed by the encounter."

Fr. Neuhaus died on January 8th. In his final column for "First Things" he conveyed a hope in eternal life through faith in Christ...a hope that I had heard on Friday morning at the prayer service led by Chaplain Dave...and a hope that the Lincoln's heard in 1863 from Rev. Phineas D. Gurley.

Fr. Neuhaus wrote hopefully:

"Be assured that I neither fear to die nor refuse to live. If it is to die, all that has been is but a slight imitation of what is to be. If it is to live, there is much I hope to do in the interim."

May you be comforted in your grief,

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Lincoln's Leadership Qualifications

This week I've been enjoying David Herbert Donald's 1995 biography called simply, "Lincoln". (I've been reading it to celebrate Abraham Lincoln's birthday next month).

A passage I read tonight reminded me of the debates and discussions from the 2008 Presidential election over the experience (or lack of experience) of the candidates (specifically Gov. Palin and Sen. Obama).

Here's how Dr. Donald's described Abraham Lincoln's leadership qualifications in 1859 as Lincoln considered running for President:

"To all outward appearances he was less prepared to be President of the United States than any other man who had run for that high office. Without family tradition or wealth, he had received only the briefest of formal schooling. Now fifty years old, he had no administrative experience or any sort; he had never been governor of his state or even mayor of Springfield. A profound student of the Constitution and of the writings of the Founding Fathers, he had limited acquaintance with the government they had established. He had served only a single, less than successful term in the House of Representatives and for the past ten years had held no public office. Though he was one of the founders of the Republican party, he held no close friends and only a few acquaintances in the populous Eastern states, whose votes would be crucial in the election. To be sure, his debates with Douglas had brought him national attention, but he had lost the senatorial election both in 1855 and 1859."

After initially telling reporters, "I must, in candor, say I do not think myself fit for the Presidency", Lincoln (as we know now) decided to organize supporters who then helped him successfully gain the office in 1860.

An interesting comment on Lincoln's leadership qualifications,

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Faith of Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln has been in the news quite a lot in the past few days. Yesterday at his inauguration, President Obama used the same Bible that Lincoln used when he was sworn in as President. And a few days prior to the inaugural President Obama took a train (as Lincoln did) into Washington, D.C.

Next month, we'll celebrate the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln. To remember Lincoln, for the past several weeks, I've been reading David Herbert Donald's biography of Lincoln (written in 1995).

Dr. Donald's access to Lincoln's personal letters provides a number of insights into the history and personality of our 16th president. Of interest to me was his description of Lincoln's religious beliefs.

Dr. Donald notes that Lincoln's parents were members of the Separate Baptist Church "whose members accepted traditional Baptist beliefs, like predestination and opposition to infant baptism, but refused to endorse any formal creed. Adhering to a very strict code of morality, which condemned profanity, intoxication, gossip, horse racing, and dancing, most Separate Baptists were opposed to slavery. Abraham shared his parents' view." (pg. 24)

He notes that as a young man the religious disputes in his community attracted his attention "though, like his father, he was reluctant to accept any creed. His parents' Baptist belief in predestination was deeply ingrained in his mind, though he felt more comfortable in thinking that events were foreordained by immutable natural laws than by a personal deity." (pg. 48)

Later in his life he was accused by political opponents of holding heretical beliefs because of discussions he had as a young man about the veracity of miracles, the accuracy of the Bible and because he never became a member of a Christian Church. He wrote a formal denial of these accusations during his race for Congress in 1846:

"That I am not a member of any Christian Church, is true; but I have never denied the truth of the Scriptures; and I have never spoken with intentional disrespect of religion in general, or of any denomination of Christians in particular." (pg. 49)

Interesting also was the language that Lincoln used in a letter in 1850 to his father Thomas Lincoln, who was on the verge of death:

Abraham Lincoln urged his father "to call upon, and confide in, our great, and good, and merciful Maker; who...notes the fall of a sparrow, and numbers the hairs of our heads."

Interesting words of faith from our sixteenth President.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Church and the World lectures

This week I finished listening and taking notes on the course called "The Church and the World" from Reformed Theological Seminary.

The professor of the course, Dr. W. Andrew Hoffecker, provides a detailed description of the changes in theology from the 18th century to the present.

The best lectures for me were the ones at the end of the course that focused on more recent events and trends: Evangelicalism (2 lectures) and Culture Wars (5 lectures).

The school has also posted these lectures on iTunes U for free. I recommend them.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day

Today Barak Obama will be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. CNN has an interesting interactive site with information (including trivia and speeches) for each of the previous Presidential inaugurals.

Here's the link:


Thursday, January 8, 2009

Ramblings on Theology

For the last few weeks I've been doing a lot of reading on contemporary theology in my latest class at Reformed Theological Seminary called "The Church and the World".

The reading is at times tedious as I read about the devolution (or evolution, depending on one's perspective) from traditional Christian beliefs found in the traditional teachings of the church to the more contemporary writings of Kant, Schleiermacher, Barth and others.

I find that I don't have a lot of patience for those modern Christian theologians who reject what have historically been the essentials of the Christian faith: the deity of Christ, human sinfulness and the inspiration of Scripture among other things.

I have a hard time understanding why they would even want to describe themselves as a "Christian theologian" if all (or most) of the historic tenets of Christianity are rejected. Just call yourself a "deist" or "pantheist".

As these contemporary theologians have rejected the historical tenets of the Christian faith, they have tried to redefine and reduce Christianity by focusing on one of two things: "feelings" (termed by some as a 'God-consciousness') or ethical behavior (to help others live a righteous life or liberate oneself or our society).

This is unfortunate, because the basic assumption of Christian teaching (taught from the beginning of the Church) is that something really happened in history. Christians have believed for centuries that God revealed Himself in human history in events such as the creation of the world and the Exodus from Egypt and in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Christians have taught throughout the centuries that we can know about God and his work in history because He has revealed Himself in Scripture.

Christians throughout the centuries have believed that individuals have sinned, are under God's wrath and need to be redeemed. They have taught that God in His great mercy, sent His son Jesus to earth. And in His death on the cross, it has been taught, Jesus satisfied God's demand for justice and paid the punishment for the sins of those who believe in Him. Christians throughout the centuries have taught that one can receive that forgiveness by repentance and trust in Christ.

Many contemporary theologians have rejected all or most of these points.

Richard Niebuhr summed up the new brand of "Christianity" that rejects the historic view of Christian faith by explaining that they proclaim:

"A God without without wrath (who) brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of Christ without a cross."

That pretty much sums up what I've been reading lately,

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

English Puritan Class

I finished my course on "The English Puritans" this week at Reformed Theological Seminary. The course contains lectures by J.I. Packer and can be listened to for free at iTunes U.

I found the best resource in the course to be Dr. Packer's book "A Quest for Godliness". I read the book in the early 90's and it was great to read it again earlier in the fall. The hero of the book is John Owen.

Owen lived from 1616 -1683 and (as I noted over the summer) much of his work has been reprinted and can also be found online. Here's a link to The Puritan Library which contains is work online: