Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Lives Remembered

As the year 2008 draws to a close, my thoughts turn to those who left this life this past year.

On the national scene, we read about the deaths of actors, explorers and writers: Sydney Pollack, Charlton Heston, William F. Buckley Jr., Roy Scheider, Sir Edmund Hillary, Michael Crichton, and many other notables.

On a personal level, several family friends passed away this year: John Penfield (of Torrington, Wyoming), Reba Penfield (of Lusk, Wyoming), Alice Sheman (of Manville, Wyoming) and several others who knew my parents well.

On Christmas Day, Sue's grandmother Jane Mueller died. She was 93. She lived a rich and good life, and was surrounded by hugging great-grandchildren just a few days before her death. Her funeral service was yesterday and I led the graveside service.

As I prepared for her service, I was struck by a few ideas. The first is the sovereignty of God. I felt that He was not surprised by her passing. I remembered in Scripture that God is our sustainer and our provider:

"I lie down and sleep; I wake again because the Lord sustains me" (Psalm 5:3)

"Even in your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you." (Isaiah 46:3)

The second big idea that I pondered was the incredible hope of eternal life offered by faith in Christ. At the graveside service I read the comforting words of forgiveness and eternal life found in the Anglican Common Worship service:

Hear the words of comfort our Savior Christ says to all who truly turn to him:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

“God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Hear what Saint Paul says:
“This saying is true and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” (1 Timothy 1:15)

Hear what Saint John says:
“If anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous One; and he is the propitiation (atoning sacrifice) for our sins.” (1 John 2:1,2)

May God bless those who have passed away in 2008 and comfort their families. May He also richly bless you this coming new year,

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Handel's Messiah

A Christmastime favorite for many is to listen to Handel's "Messiah".

Here's a link to a live recording of Handel's "Messiah" performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra (the first ten minutes of the two hour broadcast have a good introduction of the work...the famous "Hallelujah Chorus" is at around 1:27:00 in the recording.)

The masterpiece, written in 1741, describes the life of Christ. Part One describes the Advent, Part Two describes Christ's death and resurrection while Part Three describes the events found in Revelation.

The link to the lyrics (called the libretto) can be found here.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Detective Story

Ever since I was a teenager, I've enjoyed detective stories, especially those written by Raymond Chandler. His fast moving thrillers are enjoyable to read. I'm also a big fan of the old black and white film noir movies that are based on his stories.

As I was chatting this week with a friend about Aimee Semple McPherson (a very popular minister in the 1920s and 30s who founded the Foursquare Gospel Church), I remembered that I had written a short story a few years ago inspired by her famous disappearance of 1926.

One day "Sister Aimee" (as she was known) went to the beach for a swim and disappeared (many at the time assumed she had drowned). Thirty-five days after her disappearance she stumbled out of the Mexican desert and into a border town. She reported that she was abducted, but many had doubts and different theories about her disappearance.

In 2005, after reading a brief account of her disappearance, I thought it would be interesting to write a detective story in the style of Raymond Chandler inspired by 1926 event. (As they say in "Law & Order", my story is completely fictional and doesn't attempt to portray any actual events or people).

Here's a link to my detective story.

A word of caution to sensitive eyes...there are a few accounts of violence in the story.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Wednesday Evening Worship & Prayer

Here the link to this week's Wednesday Evening Worship & Prayer:

This week we'll spent some time singing worship and praise songs, then pray the Evening Prayer from the "Book of Common Prayer".

The Scriptures we'll be reading tonight seem perfect for the Advent season:
-Psalm 72:11-18
-Jeremiah 23:5-8
-Matthew 1:18-25

The Old Testament passages focus on the glory and redemption of God, the New Testament pasage tells part of the story of Christ's birth.

I hope you find it a helpful resource in your devotional life this week,

Monday, December 15, 2008

Happy Bill of Rights Day 2008

Among the holidays in December is the little known holiday called the "Bill of Rights Day" created by Franklin Roosevelt in 1941.

On this day in 1791 the Bill of Rights can into effect when it was officially ratified by three-fourths of the states. These first ten amendments to the Constitution (called the Bill of Rights) limit the power of the federal government by enumerating individual protections on the freedom of religion, speech, assembly, and petition. Also included is the right to bear arms and prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment and self-incrimination.

Here's a link to the Wikipedia entry for an explanation of the Bill of Rights.

The National Archives has a transcript of the Bill of Rights here.

For 217 years these basic principles have helped to limit the power of the federal government and protect individual freedom in a number of ways.

Happy Bill of Rights Day,

Why December 25th?

Christianity Today has an interesting article on why we celebrate Christmas on December 25th.

Click here for the article.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Method for Thanksgiving

During this week’s Wednesday evening worship and prayer, I mentioned a resource by Matthew Henry. Here’s the link to this week’s prayer.

Matthew Henry, who lived from 1662 to 1714, was an English pastor. He is best known today for his commentaries, but I’ve found his smaller work called “A Method for Prayer” to be a very helpful resource in focusing on the attributes of God and in giving thanks to God for who He is and what He has done. In the book, Henry lists the character and attributes of God, followed by corresponding prayers from Scripture. Here’s an example…

"Let us now lift up our hearts, with our eyes and hands unto God in the heavens. Let us stir up ourselves to take hold on God, his face, and to give him the glory due unto his name. Let us now attend upon the Lord without distraction, and let not our hearts be far from him, when we draw nigh unto him with our mouths, and honour him with our lips. Let us now worship God; who is a SPIRIT, in spirit and in truth...

1. We must solemnly address ourselves to that INFINITELY GREAT and GLORIOUS Being with whom we have to do, as those that are possessed with a full belief of his PRESENCE and a holy awe and reverence of his MAJESTY which we may do in such expressions as these:

- HOLY, holy, holy Lord God Almighty, which art, and Wast, and art to come.

- O thou whose name alone is JEHOVAH, and who art the most HIGH over all the earth

- O God, thou art our God, early will we seek thee; our God and we will praise thee ; our father's God and we will exalt thee.

- O thou who art the true God, the living God, the only living and true God, and the everlasting King ! The Lord our God, who is one Lord.

The book is available online for free at Google Books, here.

A version with modern text is also available from Christian Heritage Publishers.

I hope you find it a helpful resource in giving thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving,

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Problem of Pain

In our weekly Wednesday evening prayer this week, we'll remember St. Elizabeth of Hungary. Elizabeth was born in 1207 and spent much of her life caring for the sick and the poor. Even now, a number of hospitals have been named after St. Elizabeth. Here's a link to our online prayer.

For my work, I’ve spent nearly the entire Fall doing software training in a number of hospitals -- spending a lot of time in ERs and Intensive Care Units, helping doctors look at radiology images of people suffering from congestive heart failure, brain injuries, breast cancer and a whole host of other problems.

Remembering St. Elizabeth and my work, I've had a chance to think a lot recently about sickness, difficulty, and death.

Not unique to myself, these topics have also been significant issues in the life of the Church. And many, including myself, have asked the question: “If God is good, how can there be suffering in the world?” C.S. Lewis called this “The Problem of Pain”.

As I've sought to have a better understanding to this question, I've come to a few conclusions...

First, it's clear to me that Scripture indicates that the cause of our difficulty is due to our sinful condition (something theologians call "Original Sin"). It’s not that a sick person is more sinful than a healthy person, but rather we learn in Scripture that sin entered into the world with the sin of Adam and Eve, our “First Parents” (as the theologians would call them), resulting in a separation from God which ushered in pain, toil and difficulty into the world.

In understanding this issue of sin and sickness, I've found much insight from writers and teachers in the Reformed Tradition who have looked at this issue of sin from a very different perspective than many moderns. Instead of asking (as moderns might), “How can there be a good God with pain and suffering in the world?” They have said instead, “Isn’t it amazing how good God is -- even though we have sinned. We deserve so much worse. We have been disobedient, we have broken God’s law, we are under God’s wrath. We deserve death. Isn’t it amazing that God the Father sent His Son to mend our relationship with Him and make us His children. Isn't it amazing that God has extended grace to us."

These scholars have also emphasized the sovereignty of God. What this means in a nutshell is that God is God and I am not. I can’t manipulate God to get Him to do what I want. I can't pray a special prayer for healing that He will always answer. If He desires to heal someone who is sick, He will. If He chooses not to heal, He won't. There are no magic formulas that we should rely on…it’s up to Him. I can pray to God for healing, as we see Jesus and the disciples doing in the Bible and I can leave the results to Him, trusting that whatever the outcome, "in all things God works for the good of those who love him" (Romans 8:28).

Another source that I've found helpful is the teaching of George Eldon Ladd. Through the writing of Dr. Ladd, I've been able to see sickness and healing in the context of the Kingdom of God. In his book called "The Presence of the Future" Dr. Ladd explains that "God is the Lord of history; but there are hostile elements, opposing forces that seek to frustrate God's rule." He notes that "Evil is so radical that it can be overcome only by the mighty intervention of God."

Dr. Ladd adds, "History will witness a continuing conflict between God's Kingdom and the realm of evil; and in this conflict, men in general and the disciples of the Kingdom in particular will be called upon to suffer. In fact, they may expect opposition and suffering to be their normal experience."

There are no easy answers when people face difficulty, illness and pain. I'm encouraged though that in Scripture we can see Christ's heart for the hurting. He showed mercy to those who came to him in need. Here's a few examples:

-"When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed the sick." (Matthew 14:14)

-"Jesus called his disciples to him and said, 'I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way." (Matthew 15:32)

-"Jesus had compassion on them and touched them their eyes. Immediately they recieved their sight and followed him." (Matthew 20:34)

-"When the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said 'Do not weep.'" (Luke 7:13)

May we be reminded this week of Christ's us and to the world.

Grace & Peace,

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Remembering Charles Simeon

In last night's online Wednesday Evening Worship & Prayer, we remembered the life of Charles Simeon. Our online prayer can be found here.

Simeon was born in England in 1759 and became a Christian when he was in college.

John Piper, in a sermon he preached in 1989, noted several interesting things in Simeon's life. The sermon can be found here.

Piper noted that Simeon's conversion was remarkable in that it was prompted by his college's compulsory annual partaking of the Lord's Supper. After reading a book on the Lord's Supper, Simeon became convinced of his own sinfulness. He later wrote:

"Accordingly I sought to lay my sins upon the sacred head of Jesus; and on the Wednesday began to have a hope of mercy; on the Thursday that hope increased; on the Friday and Saturday it became more strong; and on the Sunday morning, Easter-day, April 4, I awoke early with those words upon my heart and lips, 'Jesus Christ is risen to-day! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!' From that hour peace flowed in rich abundance into my soul; and at the Lord's Table in our Chapel I had the sweetest access to God through my blessed Saviour."

After finishing his college work he was ordained and appointed to Holy Trinity Church at Cambridge where he remained for fifty-four years until shortly before his death in November 1836.

Simeon faced several trials in ministry.

One significant trial was with his congregation, who, unable to fire him, refused to have him preach any time other than Sunday morning. For a time they locked the doors to their individual pews, refusing to come to church and refusing to allow others to sit in their seats.

With great wisdom, at the age of 71, Simeon wrote to a friend, "My dear brother, we must not mind a little suffering for Christ's sake."

Having a passion for sharing the good news of Christ with others, Charles Simeon had great influence on a number of younger ministry leaders including Henry Martyn, David Brown and William Wilberforce.

Piper contends that the secret to Simeon's perseverance in ministry was his knowledge of his own limitations and sinfulness. He believed that he was made right with God, not by his own work, but by God's mercy in the forgiveness of Christ. Simeon wrote:

"I love simplicity; I love contrition. . . . I love the religion of heaven; to fall on our faces while we adore the Lamb is the kind of religion which my soul affects."

May Charles Simeon serve as an example to us as we seek God in the midst of difficulty, as we work with younger leaders and share the good news of Christ with others.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Wednesday Evening Worship & Prayer

Here the link to this week's Wednesday Evening Worship & Prayer:

After spending about 15 minutes singing worship songs, we'll pray the Evening Prayer from the Anglican "Book of Common Prayer". Following the liturgical calendar we'll remember the life of Charles Simeon, an Anglican pastor and teacher.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Prayer and the Anglican Liturgy

I spent last Saturday morning and afternoon with some Anglican friends.

We met at Grace Anglican Church in Circleville, Ohio, a town south of Columbus. At our meeting Fr. Dale Minor and Dcn. Jack Snyder led us in a training on's how Webster's defines the word:

Li*tur"gics\, n. The science of worship; history, doctrine, and interpretation of liturgies.

The training began with Fr. Dale and Deacon Jack leading us through the Morning Prayer service in the Anglican "Book of Common Prayer". After we prayed, they shared with us some of their practices around praying the "Daily Office" of Morning Prayer. We learned too that an online version of Morning Prayer can be found at:

After our discussion on prayer, Fr. Dale and Deacon Jack discussed the liturgy of their Sunday worship service. Liturgy, they reminded us, is a word that has its roots in the Greek word "laos" (which means people) and "ergon" (which means work)...thus liturgy is the "work of the people" in public worship. Fr. Dale reminded us that all who join us in worship are participants, not members of an audience. In our worship we have an audience of one...the Lord.

They also shared with us their use of vestments, incense and bells as well as how they conduct eucharist (communion). They also reviewed a document with us about "the drama of worship" which they also have posted on their website here.

I appreciated their helpful teaching.


Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Creeds Revisited

The latest edition of "Mars Hill Audio Journal" has an interesting discussion about the use of creeds in worship.

The discussion was between Ken Myers (of Mars Hill Audio) and Stephen J. Nichols (research Professor at Lancaster Bible College). In the interview, Nichols discussed the history of Biblical interpretation and the use of creeds, noting that in the 19th Century there was a move to focus on "Jesus of the Bible" instead of a "Jesus of the Creeds".

He explained that this move initially sounds like a good thing. The problem, he notes is that in taking this approach, we may focus on narrow, particular texts of Scripture (those that we like) while omitting others. He gives the example of only focusing on passages about the love of God, and omitting those that describe Him as a Judge.

When we just look at one passage at a time, he explained, we end up "getting awash in a sea of texts" until landing on the particular text that we like.

Confessions and creeds he said, "help us see the whole picture of Scripture".

We need to be careful too, Nichols noted, of the contemporary Church's focus on personal experience. "It's not that personal experience is bad," Nichols says, but it becomes dangerous when it is all that there is. "When it is loosed from its moorings of a Confessional commitment", Christianity becomes reduced to "my experience", creating our "own personal Jesus" (in the words of Depeche Mode).

Nichols explained that it is easy for us to ignore parts of who Christ is. Not seeing the whole picture, however, gives us "a distorted view of Jesus, a distorted theology and a distorted view of discipleship". As well as a distorted view of the "nature of our salvation" Myers added.

"These creeds," Nichols noted, "were the lifeblood of the Early Church and for much of the history of the Church."

As Americans, we value innovation, things that are new, edgy and unique...the Creeds were written seventeen hundred years ago.

The question for us is, "What role do these traditional, historic Creeds play in our life?"

Here's a link to the Apostle's Creed, one of the important creeds of the Church. The site also contains two articles by James Orr that explains the Apostle's Creed in detail.

Mars Hill Audio's website is: They have a number of helpful resources that address Christianity in contemporary culture.

Grace and Peace,

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Wednesday Evening Worship & Prayer

Here the link to this week's Wednesday Evening Worship & Prayer:

This week we'll spent about 25 minutes singing worship and praise songs, then pray the Evening Prayer from the "Book of Common Prayer".

I hope you find it a helpful resource in your devotional life,


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Apostle's Creed

In this week's recording for Wednesday Evening Worship & Prayer, I spend a few moments talking about the Apostle's Creed. It's a regular component of our Evening Prayer, here's the text:

"I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.

He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen."

I mentioned in the audio recording that I find the creed helpful because of its succinct summary of the Christian faith. It speaks of the Trinity...God our Father (an almighty, creator), His Son Jesus Christ (his only Son and our Lord) and the Holy Spirit.

It also speaks to the "Grand Miracle" as C.S. Lewis called it, the incarnation...that Christ came to earth, is completely divine and also completely human...enabling Him to live the life we should have lived and died the death we deserve.

I like too how it not only speaks to past events in the history of the world and the Church, but also points to future events...Christ will "come again to judge the living and the dead" as well as the promise of "life everlasting" to those who have trusted in Him for the forgiveness of sins.

I hope you'll find the Apostle's Creed a helpful reminder of our Christian faith.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Wednesday Evening Worship & Prayer

I've uploaded the text and audio files for Wednesday Evening Worship & Prayer for a new online group with the Anglican Fellowship of Cincinnati.

The files can be found by clicking here.

We'll spend about twenty minutes singing worship and praise songs, then pray through the Evening Prayer service from the Anglican "Book of Common Prayer".

I hope you find it to be a helpful devotional resource.


Friday, October 17, 2008


Last weekend we saw the new movie called "Fireproof", a movie created with the help of 1,200 volunteers from Sherwood Baptist Church in Albany, Georgia.

Here's a link to the preview:

If I could serve as a very bad movie critic for a moment (Gene Shalit eat your heart out), here's my take on it:

"The movie Fireproof stars Kirk Cameron as Captain Caleb Holt who is a firefighter in a troubled marriage. He thinks that his marriage has gone up in smoke. His wife, Catherine (Erin Bethea) thinks the marriage has flamed out too, and her feelings begin to smolder for a hot doctor at work. Just when all seems lost, Caleb's father intervenes and challenges his son not to burn out but to unconditionally love his wife for forty more days. In the process Caleb becomes fired up about his wife and God. This movie is a sizzler. It's scorching hot. Don't miss this blistering performance.
Okay, so I won't quit my day job to write movie reviews. What did I really think....I thought the movie got off to a slow start, but soon was very interesting.

For me, Fireproof was a great reminder of God's unconditional love. I recommend seeing it.


Thursday, October 9, 2008

Remembrance of Things Past

New Brunswick, NJ – I’m working in New Jersey this the city of New Brunswick, the home of Rutgers University. Yesterday after work, I drove “down the shore” to the Wildwoods and Cape May in southern New Jersey.

I had worked in Wildwood during the summer of 1987, when I was eighteen, so it was enjoyable for me to see the area again and walk along the shore last night.

I was amazed to see the difference that a season makes…during the summertime the streets are filled with traffic and parking is limited. Last night, however, there was almost no traffic on the roads, making it easy for me to drive through the small near-empty towns.

On my drive south and then north again, I listened to music from the eighties and thanked God again for events long past.



Thursday, October 2, 2008

Writing Project - to page 200

I'm still editing: "Go Eat Popcorn: A personal journey through Paul's letters".

I'm now up to page 200. In the latest section, I look at the "Big Picture" ideas of Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians.

Here's the link for pages 1 through 200:


More on...What is the Gospel?

John Piper on "What is the Gospel":

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

What is the Gospel?

A brief and helpful video from "The Gospel Coalition" on "What is the Gospel?"

Here's Mark Dever's description:

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Pilgrim's Progress Online 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" 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:

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 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:


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 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:


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:

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'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:

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:

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:

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:

Blessings to you both,

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

John Owen, continued

...a few more quotes by John Owen, quoted by J.I. Packer in "A Quest for Godliness":

On communion with God, Owen wrote:

"Our communion...with God consisteth in his communication of himself unto us, with our returnal unto him of that which he requireth and accepteth, flowing from that union which in Jesus Christ we have with him...[a] mutual communication in giving and receiving, after a most holy and spiritual manner, which is between God and the saints, while they walk together in a covenant of peace, ratified by the blood of Jesus."

Receiving Christ's love is by faith, Owen describes as:

free, willing consent to receive, embrace and submit unto the Lord Jesus, as their huband, Lord and Saviour, -- to abide with him, subject their souls unto him, and to be ruled by him for ever...When the soul consents to take Christ on his own terms, to save him in his own way, and says, 'Lord...I am willing to receive thee and to be saved in thy way, --merely by grace; and though I would have walked according to my own mind, yet now I wholly give myself to be ruled by the Spirit, for in thee have I righteousness and strength, in thee am I justified and do glory; --then doth it carry on communion with Christ...Let believers exercise their hearts abundantly unto this thing. This is choice communion with the Son Jesus Christ. Let us receive him in all his excellencies as he bestows himself upon us;--be frequent in thoughts of faith, comparing him with other beloveds, sin, world, legal righteousness; and preferring him before them, counting them all loss and dung in comparison of him...and we shall not fail in the issue of sweet refreshment with him."


Monday, August 25, 2008

Remembering John Owen

I read part of J.I. Packer's book called "The Quest for Godliness" today. It is a terrific book about the English Puritans (who lived generally between 1550 and 1700). As I was reading I learned that one of the most notable Puritan theologians, named John Owen, died on this date in 1683...325 years ago.

Owen is, according to Packer "the hero of this book" and "was one of the greatest of English theologians." Referring to himself as a "teacher" Owen spoke and wrote at length about the importance of the cross and the Spirit in the lives of Christians in dealing with sin.

On sin, Owen wrote, "its nature and formal design is to oppose God; God as a lawgiver, God as holy, God as the author of the gospel, a way of salvation by grace and not by works, are the direct object of the law of sin."

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:


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Worship Gathering follow-up

Thanks to all who were able to attend the "Worship Gathering" on Saturday, Aug. 9th. It was an encouraging evening for me, as I was commissioned a Lay Catechist in the Anglican Mission in the Americas.

In addition to Rev. Doc Loomis who drove from Hudson, Ohio we were also joined by Fr. Dale Minor and Deacon Jack Snyder of Circleville, Ohio who led us in a Communion service.

That evening, I also led a brief Bible study, of a few verses in Galatians chapter two. In my next few posts I'll include my notes from our Bible study.


Thursday, August 7, 2008

Worship Gathering and New Website

I'll be hosting a Worship Gathering this Saturday, August 9th at 7:00pm at LifeLand Community Church in Mason. As always I’m looking forward to our time together.

In addition to spending time in worship and prayer we’ll be doing something that will be quite significant for me.

I’ve shared with many of you that I’ve been working with a group called the Anglican Mission in America (AMiA) since last fall to understand more about Anglican worship and how we can integrate contemporary worship music with traditional elements of the Church of England.

On Saturday at our worship gathering, some folks from AMiA will be joining us to participate in worship and to appoint me as a Lay Catechist. (If you’re like me, I hadn’t heard of that title before now…in common terms a Lay Catechist is a ‘non-ordained teacher/leader’). The appointment will make official a relationship that I’ve had with AMiA for some time, providing myself and our group with oversight, accountability and resources. I’m glad they’ll be joining us.

With their help, I’ve recently created website for our group at: I hope you find the site helpful in understanding what we do at our monthly worship gatherings and also a helpful resource for telling others.

Many blessings,

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Price of Truth

Alexander Solzhenitsyn died this week in his beloved Russian homeland.

In 1945 Solzhenitsyn was arrested for writing critically (in a letter to a friend) about Joseph Stalin’s conduct of the war and sentenced to eight years in a labor camp and then to internal exile. While imprisoned and in exile, his beliefs changed from a Marxist worldview to a Christian perspective.

Starting in his early forties, he wrote several novels and books based on his experiences in the labor camps -- bringing into the open the Stalinist cruelties in which perhaps twenty to thirty million Soviets were imprisoned and ten million Soviets killed.

It has been reported, that in the 1960's Solzhenitsyn was monitored so closely by the KGB that he was never able to work with his entire draft of his book called “The Gulag Archipelago”. Instead, he hid portions of the manuscript at the homes of friends, and when he visited them, he would work on that section of the book.

In 1970 he won the Nobel Prize for literature and in 1974 he was deported from the Soviet Union. He spent the next twenty years living in exile in the West.

Three of his books greatly affected me when I read them in High School and college ("One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich”, “The Cancer Ward”, and “The Gulag Archipelago”.

Below is one of my favorite passages from his novel, "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich"...showing some of the cruelties of the forced labor camp and the perspective of Christian prisoners. The passage begins as Ivan Denisovich (who is also known by the nickname "Shukhov") gets ready for bed in the prison barracks:

Head on the pillow, stuffed with shavings of wood; feet in jacket sleeve; coat on top of blanket and --Glory be to Thee, O Lord. Another day over. Thank You I'm not spending tonight in the cells. Here it's still bearable.

He lay with his head near the window, but Alyosha, who slept next to him on the same level, across a low wooden railing, lay the opposite way, to catch the light. He was reading his Bible again.

The electric light was quite near. You could read and even sew by it.

Alyosha heard Shukhov's whispered prayer, and, turning to him: "There you are Ivan Denisovich, your soul is begging to pray. Why don't you give it its freedom?"

Shukhov stole a look at him. Alyosha's eyes glowed like two candles.

"Well, Alyosha," he said with a sigh, "it's this way. Prayers are like those appeals of ours. Either they don't get through or they're returned with 'rejected' scrawled across 'em."

Outside the staff quarters were four sealed boxes--they were cleared by a security officer once a month. Many were the appeals that were dropped in to them. The writers waited, counting the weeks: there'll be a reply in two months, in one month...

But the reply doesn't come. Or if it does it's only "rejected".

"But, Ivan Denisovich, it's because you pray too rarely, and badly at that. Without really trying. That's why your prayers stay unanswered. One must never stop praying. If you have real faith you tell a mountain to move and it will move..."

(At this point in the book, Shukov questions Alyosha in several paragraphs if he had ever seen a mountain move).

..."Oh, we didn't pray for that, Ivan Denisovitch," Alyosha said earnestly. Bible in hand, he drew nearer to Shukhov till they lay face to face. "Of all earthly and mortal things Our Lord commanded us to pray only for our daily bread. 'Give us this day our daily bread.'"

"Our ration, you mean?" asked Shukov.

But Alyosha didn't give up. Arguing more with his eyes than his tongue, he plucked at Shukhov's sleeve, stroked his arm, and said, "Ivan Denisovich, you shouldn't pray to get parcels or for extra stew, not for that. Things that man puts a high price on are vile in the eyes of Our Lord. We must pray about things of the spirit -- that the Lord Jesus should remove the scum of anger from our hearts."

After some discussion about Orthodox priests, Shukov relied,

"Well," he said conclusively, "however much you pray it doesn't shorten your stretch. You'll sit it out from beginning to end anyhow."

"Oh, you mustn't pray for that either," said Alyosha, horrified. "Why do you want freedom? In freedom your last grain of faith will be choked with weeds. You should rejoice that you're in prison. Here you have time to think about your soul. As the Apostle Paul wrote: 'Why all these tears? Why are you trying to weaken my resolution? For my part I am ready not merely to be bound but even to die for the name of the Lord Jesus.' "

Shukov gazed at the ceiling in silence. Now he didn't know either whether he wanted freedom or not. At first he'd longed for it. Every night he'd counted the days of his stretch--how many had passed, how many were coming. And then he'd grown bored with counting. And then it became clear that men like him wouldn't ever be allowed to return home, that they'd be exiled. And whether his life would be any better there than here--who could tell?

Freedom meant one thing to him--home.

But they wouldn't let him go home.

Alyosha was speaking the truth. His voice and his eyes left no doubt that he was happy in prison.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn died on August 3, 2008. He was eighty-nine.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Hamilton, the Duel and Communion

In my previous posts, I mentioned that I recently finished Ron Chernow's biography on Alexander Hamilton.

I found reading the biography so interesting because Hamilton had an almost Forrest Gump-like ability of being at the right place at the right time early in American History. As an aide to Gen. George Washington he was at many of the crucial battles with the British, even leading combat troops at the battle for New York and at Yorktown. He was a signer of the Constitution (the only signer from the state of New York), he was a founder of the First Bank of the United States, a general of the Army during John Adams' administration and even a founder of the New York Post.

Unfortunately, Hamilton was also present at what Henry Adams called "the most dramatic moment in the early politics of the Union" --- the famous duel between Hamilton and Aaron Burr in 1804 that resulted in Hamilton's death.

Oddly enough, Hamilton and Burr had known each other since their early 20's and had much in common. Both had endured childhood tragedies and were both orphans, both were officers in the Revolutionary War, both studied for the bar at the same time in Albany, and both had been prominent attorneys in New York City for a number of years.

Over the years, however, Hamilton had grown to greatly dislike and distrust Burr (who was quick to shift his political beliefs in order to succeed). Their rivalry grew so divisive, that in the Presidential race of 1800, when the Electoral College dead-locked between Burr and Thomas Jefferson, Hamilton put his support behind Jefferson, even though he and Jefferson had been bitter rivals for many years during George Washington's administration.

When forced to choose, Chernow wrote that, "Hamilton preferred a man with wrong principles (Jefferson) to one devoid of any (Burr)."

After thirty-six votes in the House of Representatives, Jefferson eventually won the Presidency, which made Burr the Vice President.

In 1804, while still Vice President, Burr ran for Governor of New York. Again Hamilton campaigned against him, causing Burr to lose to the candidate that Hamilton supported.

Burr had heard that Hamilton had defamed his character, and called for a duel. Hamilton, not wanting to look like a coward, accepted.

Early in the morning on July 11th, both men climbed a cliff across from New York City in Weehawken, New Jersey. Hamilton had written earlier in the week that he intended to "throw away" his first shot by shooting away from Burr. In fact, it appeared that his shot hit the branch of a tree overhead. Burr's first shot hit Hamilton above the right hip.

"I am a dead man." Hamilton is said to have proclaimed when he was hit.

Hamilton did not die instantly. He was taken to a house of a friend along the Hudson River in Manhattan. Eventually his wife joined him. To comfort her he kept repeating the phrase:

"Remember, my Eliza, you are a Christian."

In addition to feelings for his family, Chernow explained that Hamilton was "preoccupied with spiritual matters in a way that eliminates all doubt about the sincerity of his late-flowering religious interests."

As soon as he arrived he asked for last rites from the Episcopal Church and called for Rev. Benjamin Moore. (Moore was rector at Trinity Church and President of Columbia University...where Hamilton had attended as a youth, when it was called King's College). Initially Rev. Moore refused Hamilton's request, knowing that Hamilton had not been a regular at church-going and not wanting to sanction the duel.

Hamilton, ever the persuader, told Rev. Moore after professing his faith in Christ, "My dear Sir, you perceive my unfortunate situation and no doubt have been made acquainted with the circumstances which led to it. It is my desire to receive the communion at your hands. I hope you will not conceive there is any impropriety in my request."

Hamilton added, "I have no ill will against Col. Burr. I met him with a fixed resolution to do him no harm. I forgive all that happened."

Chernow writes, "At that point Rev. Moore relented and gave holy communion to Hamilton, who then lay back serenely and declared that he was happy."

The following day he bid farewell to his children, repeated to Rev. Moore that he "had no malice toward Burr, that he was dying in a peaceful state, and that he was reconciled with God and his fate."

At 2:00pm on July 12, 1804, thirty-one hours after the duel, he died. Hamilton was forty-nine.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Young Hamilton and Rev. Knox

As I mentioned in my previous post, I just finished reading Ron Chernow's biography of Alexander Hamilton.

In his short life, Hamilton had a number of accomplishments: aide to Gen. Washington during the Revolutionary War, co-author of the Federalist Papers, and first U.S. Treasury Secretary among distinctions.

Unlike the other "Founding Fathers", who were raised on southern plantations or in wealthy northern towns, Hamilton was born into poverty on the small island of Nevis (near St. Croix) in the Caribbean. It is this location that Chernow, in his biography, is at his best in vividly describing Hamilton's younger years. After moving from one location to another with his parents and older brother an amazingly sad set of events occurred over the course of four years. Chernow writes:

“Let us pause briefly to tally the grim catalog of disasters that had befallen these two boys between 1765 and 1769; their father had vanished, their mother had died, their cousin and supposed protector had committed bloody suicide, and their aunt, uncle, and grandmother had all died. James, sixteen, and Alexander, fourteen, were now left alone, largely friendless and penniless.”

Eventually, Alexander got a job as a clerk in a trading office. Two years after these horrible event (in 1771) he was befriended Dr. Hugh Knox, a newly appointed Presbyterian minister in St. Croix. (I was surprised to learn that Knox was ordained by Rev. Aaron Burr, the father of the man who would be Hamilton's nemesis and killer in later years).

Rev. Knox saw potential in the young sixteen year old and made his collection of books available to Hamilton, and encouraged him to read, write and learn. Another biographer, Joseph Murray, (in 2007) explained that,

"Knox preached a brand of religious fundamentalism that that must have resonated in Hamilton's mind that was so inherently geared to structured and well-ordered reasoning. The library that Knox brought with him offered Hamilton broad new vistas of ideas and knowledge. Finally, here was a man of great intellect, a source of answers, and ready to engage in intellectual pursuits. Knox's friendship awakened in Hamilton a religious fervor, stimulated his intellectual development and gave direction to his powers of expression."

Rev. Knox encouraged Hamilton to write an essay for a local paper and eventually worked with others to establish a fund (four annual shipments of West India produce) to send the young Hamilton to a college in one of the Colonies to the north.

Hamilton did not hesitate to take the offer and quickly enrolled at King's College in New York City. While he was there, the Revolutionary War began and he enlisted with the Continental Army, rose quickly through the ranks, and soon became an indispensable aide to Gen. Washington and the patriot cause. Chernow explains:

"In fewer than five years, the twenty-two-year-old Alexander Hamilton had risen from despondent clerk in St. Croix to one of the aides to America's most eminent man."

For me, I was amazed to see how quickly circumstances in Hamilton's life had changed. They had changed so quickly for the worse with the death of so many family members before he was fourteen. Then, at the age of sixteen with the help of Rev. Knox, his circumstances changed so quickly for the better, leading to his amazing rise through the ranks of the Continental Army.

Reading this gave me many lessons to think about here: mentoring, our need for God in times of difficulty, the shortness of life and the kindness of strangers among others.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Summer Reading

I arrived home on Sunday, after a week of vacation on the east coast. (We had a very nice time in Virginia and North Carolina).

On our trip we visited Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson (pictured above).

I love history, and during my week off I read Ron Chernow's biography of another Founding Father, called simply, "Alexander Hamilton" (2004).

Chernow describes many of Hamilton's positive qualities....a visionary genius who predicted many of the needs of the early United States, a patriotic artillery commander, a trusted aide to Gen. George Washington during the Revolutionary War, a member of the Constitutional Convention, a co-writer of the Federalist Papers and the first U.S. Treasury Secretary, among others.

The author also paints a very vivid picture of Hamilton's darker a man filled with vanity, one easily injured by rumors and slights as well as a womanizer.

Interesting, Hamilton had several significant encounters with pastors at the beginning and at the end of his life. In the next few posts I'll write more about what I've learned.


Saturday, July 12, 2008

Why Worship

If you gathered five Christians together and asked them, “Why do we worship?” it’s likely you’d get ten or more different responses. They might say,
  • “Because we are commanded to.”
  • “Because I’m thankful for all that God has provided."
  • “To receive what God has for me.”
  • Or, "To remember what Christ did for me.”
One of my favorite parts of C.S. Lewis’ book “Reflections on the Psalms” are his reflections on the worship and praise of God.

The words “Praise the Lord” can be found throughout the Psalms, and Lewis devotes an entire chapter on the topic in his book. (The chapter is called, “A Word About Praising”).

Lewis notes first his initial confusion when reading about the perpetual praise that the Lord asked for. “Gratitude to God, reverence to Him, obedience to Him, I thought I could understand; not this perpetual eulogy.”

Lewis explains that “God does not only demand praise as the supremely beautiful and all-satisfying Object...he commands it as lawgiver.”

So, in a nutshell, Lewis is saying that God wants us to praise Him.

Before getting into the heart of the question of “why should we praise God”, Lewis first refutes the idea that God needs our worship:

“The miserable idea that God should in any sense need, or crave for, our worship like a vain woman wanting compliments, or a vain author presenting his new books to people who never met or heard of him, is implicitly answered by the words, 'If I be hungry, I will not tell thee' (Psalm 50:12). Even if such an absurd Deity could be conceived, He would hardly come to us, the lowest of rational creatures, to gratify His appetite. I don’t want my dog to bark approval of my books.”
Lewis reminds us that God does not need our worship. Yet it is something that He requires/desires us to do.

Lewis also refutes the idea of bargaining with God, for example, people saying, “Do this and I will praise you”. He calls that notion infantile, but says, “I have often, on my knees in prayer, been shocked to find what sort of thoughts I have.”

As Lewis reflected on this topic of praise, an interesting insight came to him: that people praise all the time. Our praise may not be focused on our Creator, but praising, according to Lewis is something that all humans do. He writes this about his epiphany on the topic:

“I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise…the world rings with praise – lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite 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.”

So, praise is something that humans seem “wired” to do. He continues:

I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: “Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?”
After reading the “isn’t she lovely” line I’ll do my best to refrain from any Stevie Wonder jokes...but Lewis explains here that the things that we are drawn to praise are things that we want others to join in praising too. Lewis explained that the writers of the Psalms, “in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about.”

Like the angels, Lewis notes, Christians will praise God for all eternity. To imagine this, he explains that,

“we must suppose ourselves to be in perfect love with God – drunk with, drowned in, dissolved by, that delight which…flows out of us incessantly again in effortless and perfect expression”

I had to read that passage again:
  • drunk with delight (in the Lord)
  • drowned in delight (of the Lord)
  • dissolved by delight (in the Lord)
Lewis explains, “In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.”

Enjoying God. In part, that is what praising God is about. When we praise and worship we offer ourselves to the Lord and at the same time get to know Him more too. As Lewis explained, “it is in the process of being worshipped that God communicates his presence to men.”

Friday, July 11, 2008

More on the Good News

As a follow-up to my last post, I recently learned that the folks from the Gospel Coalition have also made Don Carson's lecture from last year's conference available. His talk is called "What is the Gospel" and is a great theological explanation of the Good News.

Here is the link:

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Good News

The "Good News" or "the Gospel" is how Bible translators have translated the Greek word euangelion into English. This Gospel or Good News, as I've heard a teacher recently explain it is simply that God is both holy and loving. Because He is holy He must punish sin. But because He is loving he sent His Son Jesus Christ to live, then die on a cross and rise again. On the cross Christ satisfied the holiness of God (by taking the punishment for sin) and He also satisfied the love of God (by providing a way for people to be saved).

When we believe in Christ (trusting Him for the forgiveness for our sins) we will be saved and accepted by God. This faith, or belief, is a belief that Christ "lived the life we should have lived and died the death that we should have died."

Quite simply, the message of the Gospel "is that you are more wicked and sinful than you ever dared believe but you are more loved and accepted than you ever dared hope."

So, "though we are wicked, we are absolutely loved and completely accepted through Jesus Christ."

These words that I've quoted on the Gospel were explained by Tim Keller, Pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.

I heard some additional comments on the Gospel by Rev. Keller this week in a video called "What is Gospel-Centered Ministry?" In his lecture he explains what ministry shaped by the Gospel looks like.

Here is the link:

I really enjoyed his comments, I hope you will too.


Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Business of Temptation

I just finished reading C.S. Lewis' novel called, "The Screwtape Letters" for my class at Reformed Theological Seminary. The book is a wonderful study on the subject of temptation written from the perspective of a senior demon (named Screwtape) to his nephew named Wormwood.

The letters in the book are funny...with hilarious names for the demons (including Screwtape, Wormwood, Glubose, Slubgob, Triptweeze, Toadpipe and Slumtrimpet) as well as an account of Screwtape getting so angry that he turns into a centipede.

The letters are also written from the perspective of the demons, thus God is called "the Enemy" and Satan is referred to as "Our Father Below".

Among the interesting things in the novel is Lewis' use of the word "business" to explain the work of the demons. Screwtape tells his nephew:
  • "So do not allow temporary excitement to distract you from the real business of undermining faith and preventing the formation of virtues" (Letter 5)

  • "(God) wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them." (Letter 6)

  • "Our business is to get them away from the Eternal and Present. With this in view, we sometimes tempt a live in the Past...or (to) live in the Future." (Letter 16)

The "business" then of demons, according to Screwtape, is to undermine the faith of Christians, prevent the formation of virtues and to keep people thinking things that are not of God.

Lewis' "Screwtape Letters" serve as a helpful reminder that we, as Christians, will face temptation. The professor of the seminary course, in fact, recommends that all Christians read the novel annually, as he does, to acknowledge the reality of temptation. For me, Lewis' novel is a humbling reminder of our weakness as humans and our utter dependence upon God to deliver us from evil.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Man Bites Dog

Findlay, Ohio - I’m visiting my parents this week at their house in Findlay (a city in northwest Ohio). Coincidentally, on Monday, my sister sent me a link to an article about Findlay in the Washington Post (I've included the link below). To me it displays another example of the mainstream media’s disconnect with Americans who hold traditional values. Articles like this seem to follow a common pattern:

  1. Make a story out of a non-story.
    The article is about rumors of presidential candidate Barak Obama’s religion in the conservative city of Findlay, Ohio. In the article the reporter notes that one out of every ten Americans believes that Sen. Obama (falsely) is a Muslim. If I do my math correctly, that means that 90% of Americans believe (correctly) that Sen. Obama claims to be a Christian. So I ask, where is the story? What purpose does it serve to analyze the confused views of ten percent of Americans?
  2. Make the candidate (or cause) that you support appear to be a victim.
    While focusing exclusively on rumors about Sen. Obama, the article makes no reference to rumors about Sen. McCain (in Findlay or any other location). I have no doubt that the reporter could have asked interviewees what rumors they have heard about him and received a response.
  3. Make an idea that you oppose be the cause of a problem.
    It is interesting that after reporting on the rumors, the reporter then identifies the cause of the rumors, which in essence he says is: conservatism. There could have been numerous causes or theories that could have been offered as to why rumors start and continue to be communicated (including the retirees having more time on their hands to talk, or from a Christian perspective, human sinfulness), but instead the reporter chose tradition. "They always want things the way they were," is how he quoted the city’s mayor. (To me, the mayor's quote seems to be used completely out of context.) To attribute tradition, or a desire not to see things change, as the cause for rumors being spread seems unfounded. So, if I follow the reporter's logic, I would not hear rumors about candidates in less conservative or traditional places?
  4. Include unflattering characteristics of those you are writing about (including things that have little or nothing to do with the story).
    Many times contemporary reporters will do this by writing about a person’s appearance or their speech. In this article, in addition to using the term "Rust Belt town" to describe the city, the reporter added the extraneous details of the price of the individual’s home and their celebration of Memorial Day. Although I chuckled when I read the description of the "gigantic plastic unicorn perched on the front porch draped in an American flag", I found it difficult to see how those details contributed to a story about gossip and rumors about a candidate’s faith in a Presidential election.
  5. Make sweeping generalizations.
    The reporter noted ominously, "On College Street, nobody wanted anything to change" and "Only one man on College Street remains open-minded". Humorously, Findlay’s local paper noted that at one end of College Street (as the name suggests) is in fact the local college. The houses on College Street near the University of Findlay contain dozens of college students. Were these young people included in the reporter’s description of those who don’t want "anything to change" or those who failed to be "open-minded" about rumors surrounding Sen. Obama’s religion? Did he interview all of these residents on College Street in order to come to his conclusion? Did he interview some of them? Any of them? I doubt it.
  6. Provide no perspective on the issue.
    Reading this piece one could easily come to the conclusion that Findlay’s residents are unique in sharing rumors about political candidates and likely even racist in their view of Sen. Obama. The unfortunate fact is that rumors and slander have been consistent throughout America’s Presidential elections (from John Adams and Thomas Jefferson to Bill Clinton and George W. Bush).
  7. Quote no moral authorities on the issue.
    The Washington Post article is about a rumor regarding a candidate’s religion. If one is writing an article about religious perspectives in a city, wouldn’t it be helpful to hear from those who are religious leaders? What does a Findlay pastor think about gossip and rumors? How do they guide their flock to listen to the truth?
  8. Pretend to be objective.
    Notice the last several lines of the article: "He will listen to their story, weighing facts against fiction. For a few minutes, he might even believe them. Then he’ll close the door and go inside, back to his life. Back to his grocery story, back to his son’s auto shop, back to the gossip on College Street. Back to the rumors again."

    First of all, a reporter writing a vivid account about a future event seems ludicrous. When I read those words I wondered:

    -What if they don’t come to his door?
    -What if he’s not home?
    -What if he learns more information between now and then?

    Journalists are trained to write about what happened (in the past) and if necessary, include quotes from others about predictions of future events. (I would think that would be covered in Journalism 101). Fiction should not be included in a newspaper article.

    Secondly, the words smack of fatalism...the despair that things will never change. Interestingly, it was because of this very thing...the nihilism and supposed "detached reflection" in the Press that Christian writer Soren Kierkegaard wrote warnings about their work many years ago. Kierkegaard (who lived from 1813-1855) humorously suggested that the motto of the Press should be: "Here men are demoralized in the shortest possible time on the largest possible scale, at the cheapest possible price." He believed that only "the religious sphere of existence" could combat the nihilism that was found in the Press (and brought about by the Enlightenment).

Since the publication of the Washington Post article about the rumors in Findlay (which was also released on MSNBC’s website and distributed to 669 news organizations in 56 countries), the Courier, Findlay’s local paper, has been filled with letters to the editor from people around the country, some saying how Findlay residents should be "ashamed" of themselves, while others denounce the reporting.

On Tuesday the Courier ran a long article with their own interviews of three of the individuals who were quoted at length in the Washington Post piece. All three said that they were misquoted.

Link to the Washington Post story:

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Surpised by....

On Monday night my younger boys and I went to see the Cincinnati Reds play the Pittsburgh Pirates; two teams that are tied for last place in the National League Central division. The Reds trailed for most of the game and at the bottom of the ninth inning the Reds trailed by one run, causing some in the crowd of 20,000 to leave the stadium. The first batter up for the Reds in the ninth inning was the catcher, David Ross, who hit a double. Next up for the Reds was Ken Griffey, Jr. or simply "Junior" as he's referred to by Cincinnati fans.

I've enjoyed following Griffey Jr.'s career over the years. Growing up in Ohio, I was a fan first of his father who played for the "Big Red Machine". The first time I saw "Junior" play was in 1990, his second year in the Major Leagues, when I had gone to Seattle to visit my grandparents. That game was terrific, as the Mariners faced Nolan Ryan, a veteran pitcher with the Texas Rangers. When the Rangers were batting, Ken Griffey Sr. played left field for the Mariners, with his son in center.

For Monday night's game, as an older Ken Griffey, Jr. came to the plate, the crowd rose to their feet and began cheering and clapping. Soon the pitcher was in his wind-up, and then seconds after the pitch was released, Griffey Jr. hit the ball deep over the center field wall to win the game for the Reds. It was his 603rd home run.

The crowd, the boys, and I were ecstatic. It was so fun to watch.

On the drive home, the boys talked all about the "walk-off home run" while I thought about C.S. Lewis and his many references to joy. It was a concept that Lewis had first encountered in his youth, then in later life, saw the Christian implications.

Lewis used the German word "Sehnsucht" to describe the intense feeling of joy that people can experience. In "The Screwtape Letters", he has a senior demon named Screwtape explain this about joy to his nephew (who was assigned to tempt a Christian):

"Fun is closely related to Joy--a sort of emotional froth arising from the play instinct. It is very little use to us (demons). It can sometimes be used, of course, to divert humans from something else which (God) would like them to be feeling or doing; but in itself it has wholly undesirable tendencies; it promotes charity, courage, contentment, and many other evils."
As Lewis noted in other writing, finding joy can sometimes be I found at the bottom of the ninth inning of a baseball game.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Reflections on Psalm 19

After my previous post, I received several emails about people's interests in C.S. Lewis' views on the Psalms, so I'll continue with a few more posts on the topic.

I found it interesting to read this week in "Reflections on Psalms" that C.S. Lewis' favorite was Psalm 19, a pslam with fourteen verses and attributed to King David. Lewis says, "I take this to be the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world."

The first six verses of Psalm 19 are a description of nature, and how the heavens "declare the glory of the Lord".

1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. 3 There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. 4 Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun, 5 which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. 6 It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is hidden from its heat.

On these first five verses, Lewis notes that the writer, first "thinks of the sky; how day after day, the pageantry we see there shows us the splendour of its Creator. Then he thinks of the sun, the bridal joyousness of its rising, the unimaginable speed of its daily voyage from east to west. Finally of its heat.." He adds that "nothing is hidden from its heat" is the key phrase in the psalm, as the writer "has felt the sun, perhaps in the desert, searching him out in every nook of shade where he attempted to hide from it, so he feels the Law searching out all the hiding-places of his soul."

The next several verses (verse 7-12) describe the law of the Lord:

7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. 8 The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. 9 The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. 10 They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. 11 By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

For me, it was interesting to see a pattern or "formula" in these verses:

"the ____ of the Lord is ____, _____, ____"

For the first part of the formula, the writer used the following words:

  • the Law of the Lord
  • the statutes of the Lord
  • the precepts of the Lord
  • the commands of the Lord
  • the fear of the Lord
  • the ordinances of the Lord

Next, the writer used this amazing set of words to describe the Law: perfect, reviving the soul, trustworthy, making wise the simple, right, giving joy to the heart, radiant, giving light to the eyes, pure, enduing forever, sure, altogether righteous, more precious than g0ld, sweeter than honey.

On these verses, Lewis explains that "the Law gives light, it is clean and everlasting, it is 'sweet'. No one can improve on this and nothing more fully admit us to the old Jewish feeling about the Law; luminous, severe, disinfectant, exultant."

Next (in verses 12 and 13) are two verses about forgiveness:

12 Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults. 13 Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression.
The last verse (verse 14), I noticed, is a verse that traditionally many pastors have said just before delivering a sermon:

14 May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

...a good prayer for us to pray as we read and reflect on Psalm 19 too.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

An Appetite for God

I've shared with some of you that I've started taking some classes from Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC. The class I'm currently in is studying the writings of C.S. Lewis, and I've recently been reading his "Reflections on the Psalms", a book that I've found to be rich with insights on worship, justice, mercy and many other topics.

On worship, Lewis described the writers of the Psalms this way:
“They express a longing for Him (the Lord), for His mere presence…they long to live all their days in the Temple so that they may see ‘the fair beauty of the Lord’ (Psalm 27:4). Their longing to go up to Jerusalem and ‘appear before the presence of God’ is like a physical thirst (Ps. 42). From Jerusalem His presence flashes out ‘in perfect beauty’ (Ps. 50:2). Lacking that encounter with Him, their souls are parched like a waterless countryside (Ps. 63:2). They crave to be ‘satisfied by the pleasures’ of His house (Ps. 65:4). Only there can they be at ease, like a bird in the nest (Ps. 84:3). One day of those ‘pleasures’ is like a lifetime spent elsewhere (Ps. 10). "

What an extraordinary description of a heart for worship, or having "an appetite for God", as Lewis describes it.

I've recently begun hosting a monthly worship gathering that incorporates modern worship music with some traditional elements from the Church of England. I'm hopeful that as we gather, we will grow in our heart for God like that of the writers of Psalms.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Take and Read

Two resources have recently crossed my path that encourage learning through reading.

The first is a wonderful commencement address by popular historian David McCullough called The Love of Learning that was given to the graduates of Boston College. A transcript of McCullough's speech can be found here:

In the commencement address, McCullough quotes the wisdom of Abigail Adams,

"Learning is not attained by chance. It must be sought with ardor and attended with diligence."

He also includes the advice John Adams gave to their son John Quincy Adams, to always carry a book with him on his travels because,

"You will never be alone with a poet in your pocket."

The second resource that reminded me of the importance of learning and reading is this month's issue of the "Mars Hill Audio Journal" by Ken Myers. Their website is:

At their site you can order issue 90, or listen to a free podcast featuring some of the interviews from this issue. In the Mars Hill Audio piece, Ken Myers makes the point that reading is important because as Christians, we have been given scripture in a written format. He notes that,

“The word spoken and written lives at the center of the Christian faith…We are after all created in the image of a speaking and writing God. One who utters all things into existence who reveals His law by writing with his finger on tablets of stone, who reveals Himself in dreams and visions but who also provides words to accompany and sometimes explain those images, who comes among us as the Living Word.”

Two good pieces encouraging us to read and learn.