Thursday, September 27, 2007

Wailing and Gnashing of Teeth

I have always imagined that when the Bible described the "wailing and gnashing of teeth" of those cast away from the presence of God in the judgment that this was an expression of physical pain, sort of like when a linebacker pulls a hamstring (cf. Matt. 13:42, 50). But I was stunned to find the same word for "gnashing" used in Acts 7:54. The scene is the martyrdom of Stephen. The word of God says that after his testimony that "when they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth."

The context here is that they utterly despised Stephen and were enraged at the words which he spoke; his words were words of condemnation to them. I wonder now if that wailing and gnashing signifies something more than more pain at the torment they are enduring. I believe that it also signifies their continuing hatred of God, especially because they have been righteously judged for their sins.

It is incredible to imagine that after seeing the glory of God in Christ, and even after hearing a just and holy verdict, that those who are sentenced will feel, instead of remorse, even greater hate towards God. But I believe that this is entirely possible, and I believe that apart from the grace of God, such enmity is the natural response of the fallen heart. This makes the miracle of the newbirth and the staggering change that it brings in the human character all the more marvelous.

What say you? Do you believe that when the wicked are judged that they will be repentant, or that they will become even more recalcitrant than before? Will the gnashing of teeth be out of pain only, or will they gnash their teeth at the Sovereign God the way they did at His martyr Stephen?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Fun Picture

This is my son trying to smuggle himself into my backpack before our man-trip to Arkansas. I can't wait until he can go for real.

Changes in My Short Life

I was born in 1974, which really isn't that long ago...I think. Anyway, I was thinking about how many changes I have seen in my short life. Some of this may be due to economics, I don't know. I was thinking how weird the world would be without our upgrades, and how weird younger people would think it would be without this stuff. Here are the inventions in no particular order.

1) Cordless phones. When I was a kid, all our phones were connected by a long, slinky looking cord. These cords were magically altered to tangle so that, no matter what you were reaching for, you would come up 6 inches short. Also, the cord was designed to snap out from between your chin and shoulder when reaching for said object so that it could bang on the ground and wall with maximum force. I remember when my dad got a cordless phone. We all took turns walking around the house saying, "Can you hear me now? I'm like, 20 feet from the base. I'm serious! I can reach my keys and everything!"

2) Cell phones. These were like cordless phones, only you could drive with them. A friend had one of the early models. It was a huge box/phone that went in your car. I think it cost $20 a minute to run the thing. Recently, I was watching "Commando" on TBS. (You know, the Schwarzenegger movie with Alyssa Milano in it?) Anyway, the bad guys were trying to call the big boss and tell him that Schwarzenegger had gotten off the plane but they couldn't find a pay phone to make the call. Pay phones...remember those?

3) Computers. Yes, there was a time when I had no computer, and neither did anyone else. I had an early Commodore 64. Here's a flashback for you, Load "*" ,8,1. I hooked it in directly to the TV and stayed up all night playing Bard's Tale. Fabulous, man, fabulous.

4) Microsoft Word. Seem like a little deal to you? FYI, I learned to "type" on a real live typewriter. I wrote term papers on typewriters. A typewriter! Egad. I cannot imagine trying to do that again. The very thought of it gives me the creeps.

5) Remote control TV. My dad got an RCA TV with a remote control when I was a kid. That means you didn't have to get up to "turn the dial." His TV actually malfunctioned whilst under warranty, so he sent it back and got a new one. He failed to pack up the remote with the return, so we had two remotes. I hid outside with the second remote and changed the channels on him when he tried to use the volume and etc. What a hoot.

6) LASIK surgery. Holy smokes, they can do surgery on your eyeballs now with laser beams and you will have nigh perfect vision the next day. Can you believe it? I know this may not seem like a wild advancement to you, but that's because you probably haven't ponied up the $1300 yet to get yours fixed. I asked the doctor if I gave him an extra $500 if he would install X-Ray vision. He said, "Not yet." Upon reflection I was quite thankful that this cannot yet be done. Men are not to be trusted with X-ray vision under any circumstance.

7) The internet. I used to have to look things up in an Encyclopedia. Thank you Al Gore!

8) TiVo. Possibly the most wonderful invention in the past 25 years. Actually, it is neck and neck with the Post-It Note invention and the CamelBack.

9) Actually, TiVo, Schmee-Vo. I remember when the VCR came out. We had a Beta Max. We backed the wrong horse on that deal.

10) Satellite TV. Okay, not really a universe shaking invention, but when my aunt and uncle got a "satellite" in the 80's, the thing took up half the backyard. It looked like they were trying to contact Mars, not watch television.

11) Microwave Oven. This was a divine inspiration. Without this invention, God knew that thousands of college freshman would have cruelly starved to death each year.

12) Computer Animation. We are thankful for this invention, precious, because it made it possible for the Lord of the Rings Trilogy to be done right. I mean, can you say, "Clash of the Titans"? Remember the special effects in that one? If not for computer animation, Gollum would have had to be played by Steve Buscemi with a shaved head.

13) CD's. I grew up listening to "The Charlie Daniel's Band" on 8-track. (8 Tracks are like CD's with tape, only you get fewer songs and can only fast-forward.) We had an Eagle's 8-track as well. I had the J. Geils Band album. In case you don't know, that a big record. I listened to "Freeze Frame" about 1 million times. There was another song on that album that I used to like, but now I am aghast that I listened to it at such a tender age. I had no idea what they were talking about. My blood runs cold indeed.

I think that's enough reminiscing for one day. You guys can add your own favorite, recent, life-changing inventions.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

John Calvin on Church Discipline

I thought I'd share something from my reading today. Calvin has some interesting things to say about Church discipline. He seemed quite anxious that the Church's exercise of discipline might turn into cruelty and legalism.

"Although excommunication also punishes the man, it does so in such a way that, by forewarning him of his future condemnation, it may call him back to salvation. But if that be obtained, reconciliation and restoration to communion await him. Moreover, anathema is very rarely or never used. Accordingly, though ecclesiastical discipline does not permit us to live familiarly or have intimate contact with excommunicated persons, we ought nevertheless to strive by whatever means we can in order that they may turn to a more virtuous life and may return to the society and unity of the church. So the apostle also teaches: 'Do not look upon them as enemies, but warn them as brothers' [II Thess. 3:15]. Unless this gentleness is maintained in both private and public censures, there is danger lest we soon slide down from discipline to butchery." [From Calvin's Institutes, Chapter XII, Section 10].

When Calvin spoke of "excommunication," he meant that persons under discipline were not allowed to partake of the Lord's Supper, unless they met the condition of repentance for which they were under discipline. This is why he mentions that the "anathema" is very rarely or never used. Anathema meaning that someone was essentially cut off from Christ without hope of reconciliation.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Heart of a Savage

For almost two years now, I've had something living in my attic that I cannot catch, poison, or even see. I have long thought that this varmint was a squirrel. The only problem with that theory was that the critter liked to move his attic furniture in the middle of the night, and squirrels don't usually do that.

Last night, I believe that I finally came face to face with my nemesis. It was no squirrel, oh no, not a squirrel at all. Squirrels are cute, sort of, and they make a good spaghetti. This thing is useful for nothing.

You have to understand the build up to this encounter. I have tried everything to get rid of this pest who keeps me up at night. We've tried traps, rat poison, boarding up the awning on the house, and we've even called the pest control to no avail. It's been like a bad Disney movie where the guy keeps being outwitted by some dumb animal.

So last night I open the back door to bring my dog's food into the house, and much to my fright, the nefarious creature is less than 6 inches from my foot eating my dog's food. It was an opossum, possibly the ugliest creature that God ever made. And, I kid you not, the thing hissed at me. It hissed! I just about died of a heart attack.

Fortunately, my girlie squeal was interpreted by the creature as a sign of hostility, so it retreated under my grill and stared at me. My first thought was to run into the house and grab my shotgun, but I figured that the gun going off at 11:00pm in my neighborhood might scare a few folks. Plus, the clever animal had curled himself around the gas tank of the grill, and I figured if the shotgun didn't wake the neighbors, then the exploding tank rattling the windows would surely do the trick.

So I did the only thing that I knew to do. I went and got my garden hoe. I didn't know exactly what I'd do with it, but I decided that if the beast went on the attack that this would be my best option. So there I was, hoe in hand, staring down my nemesis. I was only momentarily distracted by noticing that my wife was watching through the window. I didn't know what to do, but I knew I needed to act manly.

I stared at this opossum for a good three minutes, and for a moment, I pitied him. Yes, he had woken me up almost every night for a year and a half, and he had pilfered food from my beloved dog's bowl for who knows how long, and he had generally embarrassed me in front of my wife countless times already. ("Honey, what's that noise?" Me, "What noise?" Her, "That one, in the attic!" Me, "It's that creature waking us up again at 2am." Her, "Are you going to get rid of it or what!") He looked so helpless laying under that grill staring at me with those beady black eyes. So I did the only thing a man could do in that situation. I smashed him in the face with the hoe as hard as I could.

I couldn't really get a good swing at him, and that's what really irks me. It was really more of a jab than a swing, and I think the blow was partially absorbed by the gas tank instead of fully on his skull like I had planned. Regardless, he streaked out from under the grill and headed for my shop, which I can only surmise is the point of entry to the house. (The two are connected.)

But I wasn't going to give up that easily. I went on a savage rampage, swinging and striking at the scurrying, hissing beast like a maniac. I hit a tricycle, a Red Flyer Wagon, a box of sidewalk chalk, and one folding metal chair. I managed to graze him once more before he vanished behind the building, but I suspect I did little damage to him.

Though I managed to drive the enemy from the field, I do not know if I would call this encounter a total victory. I know that somewhere nearby, and sullen opossum is licking his wounds and planning his revenge. But last night, he didn't scurry in the attic for the first time in a year, and if he comes back, I'll have my hoe handy.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A Personal Gift from Our Father

I often marvel at the greatness of the Lord God. I wonder at His power and glory and holiness. I see the universe and its vastness and I realize that this great place in which we live is a mere reflection of His might. It is easy to admire that sort of majesty.

In some ways, it is like admiring Einstein's intellect because for its genius, or watching an athlete at the top of his game. We are amazed at what they accomplish. They become our heroes. We wear their jerseys, and we cheer for them and watch them perform. Or we study them and their writings and are enriched by their ability to communicate such wonderful things.

I believe then, it is easy to marvel at God at arm's length. It is an altogether different story when His majesty comes close. It is absolutely life-changing when the Maker of All Things is near enough, and concerned enough, to hear and sympathize with the longings of our heart. He made the stars, and yet He is concerned with my needs, even with my unnecessary desires.

Almost three years ago, God blessed us with a healthy baby boy. We were, and are, ecstatic about that. Soon after, however, my wife developed a complication and had to have surgery. We were told that it was highly unlikely that we would have anymore children, even if we opted for "help," which we quickly decided against.

We prayed, and we decided that if this were God's will, then we would be content with it, and since we had a desire for more children, we would look into adoption. We rejoiced to think that we might be able to become the parents of a child in this way, and we prayed that the Lord might help with the financial end of that process.

But the desire of our heart was for another child of our own. I confess that I asked God for this often, even with tears. I wondered if such a prayer was selfish, and I still wonder. I knew that my wife wanted to carry another child. We were content with no more, and we were thankful for our son, but we wanted another baby. So despite the fact that it might be selfish, I asked for a baby. And now, almost two years from the time that we were told of the improbability, the Lord has opened the womb of my wife. She is two months pregnant and wonderfully "morning sick."

I cannot here describe how this makes me feel. I am filled with rejoicing, but it is not simply because we are, God willing, having a baby. I rejoice because I know that God heard me and He answered. My hero came to visit, and He saw my tears and He listened to my request. He was not too big or busy to hear me in this matter, and even if I was being selfish, He granted my desire. He treated me like a son, like someone important, like someone worthy of His attention.

I am a theologian and pastor and student of the Bible. I know that God omnipotent and omniscient. I know that He parted the waters for Israel; I know that He governs the nations. I know that God is working in the world for His glory, and that He will get it on a global scale. His plans are world-wide so that the nations may marvel. I get the "big picture," and I love it. God's plans are so big and so marvelous that I am sometimes ashamed to ask for what I want. My personal requests feel like bothering dad when he's busy at the office.

So I write this post, in part, to thank my God for once again demonstrating that He cares for and loves "the least of these," to try and convey to you my humility at His graciousness, and to solicit yet more prayers on my behalf that our baby will grow and be healthy. In all this, I have become even more a debtor to God's grace, and I am the happiest, most grateful debtor on earth.

Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness,
And for His wonderful works to the children of men!
For He satisfies the longing soul,
And fills the hungry soul with goodness.
(Psalm 107:8-9)

Monday, September 17, 2007

Creative Writing: Intercession

The pleasure of tucking him into bed belongs to me, though the joy is often a shared one. Each night is the same, I tell my son that I love him, and I lay my hand on his head and I pray for him. He laughs because he's two and I force a smile. He doesn't yet know the seriousness of prayer, and he cannot know the burden of the heart. He just knows that bedtime is near, and he hopes that laughter will entice one last moment of play before sleep.

I pray for him to have a peaceful rest, and I pray for his health. This is easy and comes with no sorrow. In the end, I pray for his soul. Every night, I wrestle for his sake that God will take him and fashion him after the image of Christ. I plead for God to change his heart and rescue him from sin's folly.

I intercede for many sons and daughters, but this one is mine. This is my son, and my heart is knit to him. I want, more than all others, for this one to be saved. I cannot bear the thought of eternal condemnation for my son, my flesh and blood, my baby. I know that he has a sinner's heart; this, too, he inherited from his father. I know that God's swift judgment would be just and right and praiseworthy. But I tremble for it, and I doubt God's justice in it in my heart.

I comfort myself with thoughts of the age of accountability, though the evidence is scarce and rather flimsy. But this delay will not last long, for soon he will be a man and his sin will mature. What will be my comfort then if he lives and loves rebellion against the Holy One?

In my mind's eye I can see him there before the throne of the King, awaiting his sentence. My son, my only-begotten son, standing before the Lord of All Souls in the terror of judgment. I cannot shield him; I cannot save him in that day, and I cannot blame my God for doing right. Should my son be commanded to depart forever, I must kiss the rod and praise the King, for I know that He is just for doing so.

These thoughts are soul-grinding thoughts, and they leave me nearly without strength. So each night, I slip into my son's room and I lay my hand upon his head and I pray for God to spare him. He giggles while I plead.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Sinful Remembrance

I have a hard time watching dramatic television. In truth, I have a hard time watching goofy television. My wife makes fun of me because I have to get up and leave the room so often during episodes of television shows. The reason is because I cannot stand to watch people do things that will lead to awkward or humiliating consequences, even in a comedic situation.

Unfortunately for me, I have 1,000 such scenarios stored in my memory banks. Not from silly things on TV, but episodes from my past that I have grown to regret. I regret them because of the shame they have brought to me and to my Lord; I regret them because of the selfish sin that prompted the actions. Yes, I am forgiven, but that doesn't stop the squirm when a fresh re-run of my iniquity passes through my mind.

I have come to see these episodes as chances at rehabilitation. Instead of immediately switching channels in my mind, I allow myself to remember the humiliation that sin brings. I try to feel the remorse now that I should have felt then, and I repent that I ever did such a deed or thought such a thought. I believe that this can be a healthy exercise, as long as we remember in view of Christ's atonement and our justification.

Augustine did this, and one particular thing he remembered was a vivid picture for me of the pre-salvation love of sin for sin's sake and the remorse and repentance of the born-again Christian. Augustine recalled a time in his youth when he and some of his friends had stolen some fruit out of a neighbor's tree. Augustine said that he stole the fruit despite the fact that he had better fruit at his home. He wasn't even hungry when he did the deed. Indeed, they wound up feeding most of the fruit to pigs. So why had he stolen the fruit? He could only conclude that he stole the fruit because he loved sin. He stole the fruit, not for the sake of fruit, but to satisfy his craving to do evil.

Sometimes Christians feel overwhelmed by past sin. For the record, I think that this can be a good thing. Anytime we begin to realize that we are unworthy of grace and are, at heart, brazen sinners, we have arrived at a pivotal, life-changing truth. When we realize that grace can reach us there, even in the slop-pit of our own making, we begin to see the beauty of a crucified Savior.

So when those embarrassing re-runs pass through my mind, I feel the shame afresh. This helps me in two ways: It reminds me of the shame of wickedness, thereby cautioning me against committing the same wickedness. Secondly, it reminds me that I have a great Savior. When I committed those foul deeds, I relished my sin. Now, I am ashamed, deeply ashamed, and I pray to be even more so. That, my friends, is a work that only grace can bring.

I remember my iniquity, but I do not linger on it. I leave that valley of shadow as many other have before me. I'll let my thought on the matter be expressed in the words of Horatio Spafford, who said it much better than I ever could:

My sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part, but the whole,
is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more,
praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Apologetic Frustration

"In order to know truth, you must pray that God will reveal it to you. In order to know truth, you must read God's word. If you do these two things, sincerely, then God will show you that what I am saying is true. Why don't you pray that God will reveal to you that the Book of Mormon is true, he did for me."

Sounds pretty good right up to the last point, doesn't it? I have faithfully kept my appointments with the LDS missionaries each time they come by since I have been here. I'm on the list, and so each new crew comes by for a visit. Tonight's appointment was the most frustrating yet.

The girls were sweet and gracious. They were not argumentative, nor were they easily ruffled. Though they were certainly not Scripturally knowledgeable, they knew their Mormon theology quite well. After a certain number of visits, I know, generally where to steer the conversation, but tonight that didn't help.

Did you know that the authority to baptize was lost from the death of the apostles until the apostles appeared to Joseph Smith? When I argued the point, I was told that this was the fulfillment of the great "falling away" that Paul predicted to Timothy. Amos had foreseen it as well.

So I turned to the essence and being of God Himself. This proved totally fruitless. They simply insisted that we were the same essence as him, that we were eternal like him, that we had chosen to come here from before the foundation of the world so that we might become more like him, and that the Scripture never contradicted this. Nothing I could muster would satisfy.

Besides, they knew that the Book of Mormon was true because God had told them it was true. And that, in the end, is how we know truth. God tells us through our feelings, and when that happens, no amount of persuasion would change our minds.

We touched on the glory of God, I countered with every Scripture I could think of, but each was cleverly warped to fit into their thinking. The fact that I refused to pray about God revealing to me whether or not the Book of Mormon was true was simply evidence of my hard-heart. I said plainly that the Bible was the source of authority and that it contradicted Joseph Smith. That was met with incredulous looks.

I seriously prefer debate with the Jehovah's Witnesses. Seriously.

So where would you go, dear reader, to demonstrate that we are not of the same essence as God? (It's not enough to say, "There's nothing like God!" They simply respond, "Of course there's nothing like God. He's way ahead of us!") And where would you go to prove that the church never ceased to exist outside of Ephesians 3?

The Ordinary Jesus

You would not have known him, most likely, if you had passed him on the street. He would have been just another face in the crowd. Especially if you had met him before his ministry really began to take off. One testimony to this fact is that from 12 to roughly 30, we know nothing of what Jesus was up to. Nothing at all.

Isaiah said it would be like that. As he peered down the corridor of time with the eyes of the Spirit, he saw the Messiah. This is how he described his coming King:

He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; and when we see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him (Isaiah 53:2).

Isaiah thought that there was nothing particularly attractive about Jesus. He looked to Isaiah to be stunningly normal. No shekinah glory beaming from his face, and no halo encircling his head. He was an ordinary Jewish guy, an ordinary man.

Another shocking example of Jesus' apparent normalcy was his reception at Nazareth. Upon his arrival the people exclaimed, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, ‘I have come down from heaven’?" (John 6:42). Think on that for a moment. Nazareth was probably a small, rural town where everyone knew everyone else. They'd seen Jesus grow up, they knew where he lived, they knew his parents and what his father did for a living. Whatever they had observed in his young life must have been rather unimpressive. After all, they certainly hadn't expected that he would be the Messiah of Israel, and frankly, they thought he was probably out of his mind for saying so.

There are two points that I want to make from the ordinary life of Jesus. The first is that when you silence his word, you take away much of what demonstrated how extraordinary he truly was. Jesus was ordinary to look at, but when he opened his mouth rivers of living water flowed out. This is why churches die today, I believe. They hold to an exalted Jesus, and they picture him as a sort of mystic, probably, with a halo over his head, but they will not heed his word, and because of this, they miss the marvel of who Jesus is. When pastors and teachers fail to proclaim the Word of God, we will wind up missing the human Jesus as well as the divine one.

How quick we run past the man to embrace the God, and thereby we miss much wonder. Yes, I trumpet and proclaim Jesus as God, and I love that truth with passion. But with equal fervor I must say, "Yes! Yes! And he is man! (With a little 'h',even!) He cried and bled and worked and walked and breathed and fell. He was splendidly and wonderfully ordinary. Yes, he holds the worlds together by his will, but behold him stumble on the way to calvary! I am excited, friends, that Jesus is God, but I am also excited that he is man.

Do you think that you would have recognized him just by looking? Could you have spotted him in a crowd? I think not. He was too ordinary. If you still think that you would have been able, then I propose a test. Go to your church nursery this Sunday and look at all those precious babies and see if you can pick out the next great pastor or evangelist or author or Christian. Then go to to where the toddlers are being taught and see if you find greatness there. Or observe the teenager who serves you fries with your burger or sacks your groceries. Can you see glory there? Or do you overlook them because they are ordinary and familiar? Do not underestimate the "ordinary" man, for from such stock God saved the world.

For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5).

Monday, September 10, 2007

Creative Writing: Last Minute Preparation

The people of God are singing. Each verse that is sung is like a tick in a countdown, and when it is over I must stand and declare the gospel. It is my duty to declare the unsearchable riches of God's Word. I must prepare.

I have a charge, and it is a dreadful charge. A dread like no other I have known. I must remind myself of this to extinguish my pride. My words will be weighed by the One before whom the mountains will flee and the earth will burn. I will stand before Him, when the heavens have melted from the heat of His glory, after the fierceness of His countenance has flattened every hill, and after the earth has worn out like a garment. Yet I will remain, and I will stand before Him and give an account for what I say today. All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and its flower falls away, but the Word of the LORD endures forever.

Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. This is what I remember now as I move to the pulpit to do my sacred duty and fulfill my charge. The King bought these people with His blood and defended them with His life. His Spirit hovers over the congregation like a mother hen over her chicks. He, too, will weigh my words to see if I will feed the flock the Word of Life. The Spirit wishes to hear the gospel and to exalt the Lord's Christ. He who was there when the earth was formed, He who brought it forth from nothing, He who sustains my own life and breath listens to see how I will use that life and breath this morning.

My heart pounds as I open the text. I pray, fervently, silently before I begin. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. That I might do your Word justice, O Lord! Today I will do my best to preach the Word. Today I will lift up Jesus Christ will all my might. I need this, the people need this, and with this responsibility comes the promise of great reward. When the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.

The time has come. Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Overcoming The Long Night of Unbelief

I once heard a story about a rather cruel experiment. It seems that a researcher put a mouse in a bucket of water to see how long it would tred water. Just as the mouse was going under to drown, the researcher rescued the unfortunate rodent. The researcher found that if the same mouse were subjected to the same conditions, the mouse would tred water for much longer than the first time the experiment happened. The reason it could last longer, the researcher hypothesized, was because the mouse had hope based on its first rescue. That hope of rescue gave the mouse the strength it needed to hold on.

David likened calamity to drowng. He wrote:

"If it had not been the LORD who was on our side,
Let Israel now say—
If it had not been the LORD who was on our side,
When men rose up against us,
Then they would have swallowed us alive,
When their wrath was kindled against us;
Then the waters would have overwhelmed us,
The stream would have gone over our soul;
Then the swollen waters
Would have gone over our soul. (Psalm 124:1-4).

The physical threat of armies caused anguish for the whole person. The spirit was affected as well as the body. The spiritual floodwaters of fear threatened to overwhelm their very souls. Yet, God delivered, and David reminded them, "Let Israel now say, if it had not been the LORD who was on our side" then the enemy would have prevailed.

God's faithfulness is the key to surviving the long night of unbelief. That is, after all, the main cause of our fears and woes. We believe that we will fail, that the enemy will prevail, or that nothing will ever change. The monotony of life and apathy erode our confidence in God. Yet, there is hope while faith holds and a candle yet smolders. The bruised reed may stand straight and strong again.

I have often said to those who grieve that the candle of hope kindled in Christ's resurrection shines brightest in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. The same can be said of the long night of unbelief. Though surrounded by doubt and hopelessness, if we can yet see the promise of God in the risen Christ, we may yet come out of this vale to the green pastures.

My failures as a husband and pastor are legion. I am unworthy of the mantle of those who came before me. And for every failure, I feel the accusation of Satan as did Martin Luther of old. Luther said that Satan would come to him and say, "Luther, Thou art a great sinner!" And what shall I say? There is truth to the charge. I answer with Paul, and with Luther, and with John Newton, "This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief" (1 Tim. 1:15). John Newton who said, "My memory is nearly gone; but I remember two things; That I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior."

This hope, this blessed hope, that Christ came to save sinners is the guide out of the long night of unbelief. There I am, in the valley of woe, sad and filled with worry, a sinner filled with doubt. Yet that is precisely the kind of hopeless and helpless wretch that Christ came to deliver. I find in this a hope that cannot be quenched and a light that is never smothered. Hope in Christ, beloved, and He will see you through.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Centaurs and Werewolves

I cannot even begin to think of the theological implications of this research. Is it only a matter of time?

The god of Art and Culture

If this post is going to make any sense to you, then you need to read this article on idol destruction in Nigeria. I want to give you my first, gut reaction, and then my biblically reasoned one.

I confess that as I first read this article I was deeply dismayed. I thought that the "Pentecostal Pastor" who destroyed these "heirlooms" was being rash. I thought that his motivation was all wrong. I have reconsidered my initial reaction and have decided that I was, for the most part, terribly wrong.

Throughout the Old Testament, the Israelites were commended for their zeal in destroying idols. It was always with great sadness that I read about a king "...but he did not tear down the high places" or some such thing. I got excited when men like Gideon went and tore down altars to false gods. So why was I averse to my brother in Nigeria doing the exact same thing?

Some may think, "Yes, Brad, they did destroy idols in the OT, but this is the New Covenant, man! We know that idols are nothing, right?" Well, destruction of things devoted to false gods is not exclusive to the OT. These idols this man destroyed were part idol part fetish, which means that they were believed to hold magical properties. Check this out:

And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand silver pieces (Acts 19:19).

Should he have spared them because they were valuable? Not according to this passage in Acts. Should he have spared them because they told the story of his heritage? That, in the end, would be the last objection.

He certainly should, if he so desired. Those idols represent bondage. Those idols represent a system of beliefs that sent his fore-fathers to hell. Would a freed slave want to keep shackles his father had worn? Perhaps, but perhaps not. If he chose to burn them with fire as a gesture of his newfound freedom, no one would protest that they were ancient heirlooms to be preserved

Most Westerners who read this article will be miffed at someone's wanton destruction of ancient cultural heirlooms. This deception is buried deep in the mind of the West, as if culture is above reproach and to be preserved at nearly any cost. (Unless, of course, it is Western culture!) Indeed, many will see the pastor's burning of these idols as an act of barbarism. They would have no trouble seeing him bow down and worship these mute and worthless things. That would please them. But to burn them...barbaric sacrilege!

Those were his idols, not his culture's. Let him do as he sees fit before the Lord. Burn the accursed things if you see fit, my dear brother. In the meantime, I will repent of my latent idolatry of culture and art.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Father-Son Time

This afternoon my son and I had some alone time. Mommy had some errands to run in Baton Rouge. So Ethan and I had/are having man time.

I am attempting to teach him to spit like a man, but thus far I have been unsuccessful. Far from mere barbarism, spitting is an important skill. The boy cannot use grown-up toothpaste until he can spit properly. (Not to mention properly playing baseball.) We will work on this some more this afternoon.

During lunch, we shared Eggos and Mac-N-Cheese. The preparation of this kind of weird but simple meal will help to ensure his survival in college. We also drank milk straight from the jug, which, while not essential for male survival, tends to repulse those of the female gender. While becoming disgusting to the fairer sex may seem counter-productive, it is absolutely an essential male trait. Such behavior sub-conciously reinforces to the female her value in a relationship, for without her care and constant attention, the male in her life would die of malnutrition and filth.

Later today, we will tackle using the potty standing up. Should be fun.