Monday, August 24, 2009

Song of the Week

I heard this song for the first time over the weekend and I really like the song and actually the whole album:

Use Somebody - Kings of Leon

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Free Books in my office

A friend from church has been dropping off lots of books to me recently as he cleans out his basement. I've taken some, thrown some away (mold or horribly outdated). There are a few that may be of interest to you - if so, just let me know and you can have em:

1. The Old Testament and the Fine Arts: 100 full page art reproductions, 100 art interpretations, 77 hymns and interpretations, 244 poems, 63 stories (copyright1954).

2. The God Who is There, Francis Schaeffer. Great book, but I already have a copy.

3. Miracles, CS Lewis. Ditto.

4. A History of Christianity, Martin Marty. Got it too.

5. Matthew Henry's Commentaries. Very old, pretty cool looking actually. I just don't have space for them and have more current commentaries I rely on.

6. Expositors Greek New Testament. Same as above.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Asking the Right Questions of the Bible

Yesterday I spent time thinking about the Connexion retreat and the discussions we will have about asking good questions, first of the text we're studying then of the group we are leading. I was reminded how asking the wrong questions of a text will lead to wrong conclusions, sometimes even bizarre conclusion.

On of the big problems (as I see it) is that we are often forced to begin with wrong questions of the text because of our overemphasis on relevance and application. Yes, I mean overemphasis. We begin with the standard, 'what does the text say, what does it mean, how does it apply to my life'. The problem is that makes us more important in than God. Marva Dawn writes, "We can too naturally tend toward asking what the text says and means for our benefit instead of what is says about God and how its purpose is to draw us into worship...Before we ask how such an account [the Exodus] might pertain to our own lives, then, let's be sure to examine deeply what God does and what the text reveals about God's character."

That brought to mind another quote by Eugene Peterson. It is from the introduction to Genesis in the Message, "First, God. God is the subject of life. God is foundational for living. If we don't have a sense of the primacy of God, we will never get it right, get life right, get our lives right. Not God at the margins; not God as an option; not God on the weekends. God at center and circumference; God first and last; God, God, God." Notice that application is embedded in this understanding - Peterson does connect our thoughts of God to our lives. We can't get them right unless we put God first. So, for all our emphasis on application and living the Christian life right, we are bound to get it wrong if that becomes the primary focus of living or even of reading God's Word.

So instead of K.I.S.S., I'm encouraging us to K.I.A.G. - Keep it about God. Doesn't quite have the same ring, I know, but I'm not one for acronyms anyway.

Friday, August 14, 2009

song of the week

I listened to this in the car the other day and remembered how much I liked this song. Of course I had to explain the meaning of the song to the boys. Gees, to many questions!

Hunger Strike - Temple Of The Dog

Thoughts from 'Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee'

This article from CNN, "Life is Bare Bones on the Lakota Reservation" reminded me of blog post that I started a couple of weeks ago after watching the HBO movie "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee." I think it was a great film (and I love Netflix - have I said that before?), though I couldn't convince Lynn to watch it with me. It made me incredibly sad - a sadness that was stirred again reading the article. But it also made me think.

Here's the Netflix description: "A dark chapter of U.S. history comes to light in this epic saga (which earned an Emmy Award for Best Made-for-Television Movie) of the U.S. government's deliberate extermination of the American Indians. Beginning after the Sioux victory at Little Big Horn, the film traces the stories of three men: a Sioux doctor (Adam Beach), a lobbying senator (Aidan Quinn) and the Lakota hero Sitting Bull (August Schellenberg)."

The film reminded me of two things. First, we should be very (very, very, very) hesitant to speak of America being a Christian nation. In fact, I would argue we shouldn't say that at all. I don't think we should say it because it doesn't line up with the facts. For example, Ian Barnes and Charles Royster point out that in 1775 fewer than 20% of the population was attached to any church in a meaningful way (Historical Atlas of the American Revolution). Recognize that this is just a couple of decades after the Great Awakenings! Barnes and Royster continue, "One estimate in 1780 suggested that church attendance in Boston, New York and Philadelphia failed to reach 17 percent, and probably only 10 percent in the later two cities." Compare that to recent statistics that show nearly 40% of Americans claim to have gone to church in the last 7 days, though admittedly other studies show it to be much lower - closer to 20%. Either way, the point is the same. We can't claim to be a Christian nation (yes, most people in America claim to be Christian, yet we should probably look more to what people do than to what they claim). Never were.

Oh I can hear people arguing that even if church attendance was as low (lower) we are still a Christian nation because we were founded on Christian, even Biblical principles. Hear what DA Carson says in his book Christ and Culture Revisited, "The heritage of this Deism [the deism of Jefferson and Paine, etc.] left various forms of civil religion that believed in one God, in God-sanctioned moral law, in some loose form of providence, and in some kind of rewards and punishments after death...Unfortunately, however, naive Christians often think that these signs of residual civil religion and the Deism on which they are based constitute solid evidence of Christian commitments. Conversely, they see the erosion of civil religion, and the Deism on which it is based, as an erosion of genuinely Christian committments. Neither assessment is realistic...Arguing for morality from the assumption of Deism is a far cry from upholding Christianity...Deism is not a halfway house between secularism and Christianity; it is in fact a form of secularism."

So I don't think we can legitimately say America was a Christian nation, nor do I think we should want to! Saying the nation was a Christian nation brings a lot baggage I don't want - like the US's treatment of Native Americans or it's treatment of Africans, or, for that matter, the British. I believe that such claims - that America is a Christian nation - have done much to discredit the gospel in many places.

Such is the argument offered by Steven Keillor in This Rebellious House
- at least as I remember it. "In the college classrooms of today, Christianity is often considered disproved on the basis of history. The author presents a provocative, compelling and robustly pro-Christian reading of American history. He examines U.S. history from Columbus to Clinton and disabuses us of the notion that our nation has ever been a genuinely "Christian" one." I am looking forward to rereading in the next couple of weeks and unpacking some of these issues as I explore Christ and Culture in our Sunday morning ACG (9am for all those interested).

Second, the movie and the article made me remember how important the doctrine of eternity is. Some wrongs just cannot be undone in this life, this side of eternity. How could we make the dispossession of the land right? Give it back? That would dispossess a whole bunch of other people now who had no hand in the initial evil. As Christians, we look forward to the day when Christ comes and establishes righteousness and justice - all evils punished, all wrongs done to God's people set right. Maranatha.

Health Care Reform

Justin Taylor offered some thoughts on the health care reform bill today on his blog. He summed up his thoughts in a sentence, "Glad to see that the Senate Finance Committee has agreed not to include end-of-life counseling provisions from the Senate's version of the health-care reform bill." He then goes on to quote from Wesley Smith and from an interview with President Obama.

Wesley Smith had explained the provisions as follows:

"We don’t yet know what the final health-care reform bill will look like. But it appears certain that President Obama and his congressional allies hope to establish a centralized board or boards that would be charged with limiting costs by deciding which procedures and drugs would be covered, under what circumstances. The legitimate fear is that such boards, regardless of their benefits, would impose rationing based on invidious categories — such as age, disability, or other “quality of life” measurements. In other words, the boards would deny certain categories of patients treatment available to other categories of patients."

It's not like the President didn't warn us. Check out this interview from April 2009 in the NY Times:

THE PRESIDENT: So that’s where I think you just get into some very difficult moral issues. But that’s also a huge driver of cost, right? I mean, the chronically ill and those toward the end of their lives are accounting for potentially 80 percent of the total health care bill out here.

DAVID LEONHARDT: So how do you — how do we deal with it?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think that there is going to have to be a conversation that is guided by doctors, scientists, ethicists. And then there is going to have to be a very difficult democratic conversation that takes place. It is very difficult to imagine the country making those decisions just through the normal political channels. And that’s part of why you have to have some independent group that can give you guidance. It’s not determinative, but I think has to be able to give you some guidance. And that’s part of what I suspect you’ll see emerging out of the various health care conversations that are taking place on the Hill right now.
Alright, I'll admit that I know less about the Health Care Reform Bill than many, but I can still detect faulty logic. Here is where the argument offered by Taylor and Smith breaks down - and I think we need to own this. Taylor and to Smith seem appalled at the idea of a committee being formed to 'ration' health care or make decisions based on "age, disability, or other “quality of life” measurements". I'm with them. It's disturbing in the extreme. YET, we cannot act as though those kind of decisions aren't being made know. Ok, it's not by a committee and not always on the basis of age or quality of life. Instead of a committee market forces (the cost of procedures/medicines, income levels and availability of health insurance, etc) are in the drivers seat. This, to me, is also appalling.

Again, I'm not for the Health Care Bill (based on what I have heard/understood about it). My mind could be changed (I was wrong once back in 2000). But please, let's not act like decisions about a patients health aren't being made now by people/forces other than the patient themselves.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Thoughts on Marriage, from the Web

Here are a few thoughts on marriage gleaned from a few websites. First up is a thought provoking piece I stumbled upon on Scott McKnight's Jesus Creed blog. He reproduces part of an Christianity Today article by Mark Regnerus (read full article here) in which the author argues that the church should be encouraging people to marry younger. He wrties, "I'm certainly not suggesting that they cannot abstain. I'm suggesting that in the domain of sex, most of them don't and won't...What to do? Intensify the abstinence message even more? No. It won't work. The message must change, because our preoccupation with sex has unwittingly turned our attention away from the damage that Americans--including evangelicals--are doing to the institution of marriage by discouraging it and delaying it...But after years of studying the sexual behavior and family decision-making of young Americans, I've come to the conclusion that Christians have made much ado about sex but are becoming slow and lax about marriage--that more significant, enduring witness to Christ's sacrificial love for his bride. Americans are taking flight from marriage...While our sexual ideals have remained biblical and thus rooted in marriage, our ideas about marriage have changed significantly."

Secondly, Desiring God posted a list of questions to ask before you get married. Questions range from your understanding of marriage to your theological stances, from spending habits/attitudes to entertainment options, etc.

Lastly, also check out these thoughts from CS Lewis, quoted on DG's site at length:

What follows is one of the greatest reasons for a man to get married and stay married: not the rapturous flame of eros, but the refining fires of holiness. No relationship is more clearly commanded to model the death of Christ. No relationship is more costly—in both senses of that word (painful and precious). This quote comes from one of C. S. Lewis’s last books, published in 1960, The Four Loves. In it we hear the wise fruit of a lifetime.

"The husband is the head of the wife just in so far as he is to her what Christ is to the Church. He is to love her as Christ loved the church—read on—and gave his life for her (Ephesians 5:25).

This headship, then, is most fully embodied not in the husband we should all wish to be but in him whose marriage is most like a crucifixion; whose wife receives most and gives least, is most unworthy of him, is—in her own mere nature—least lovable. For the church has no beauty but what the bridegroom gives her; he does not find, but makes her, lovely.

The chrism [anointing, consecration] of this terrible coronation is to be seen not in the joys of any man's marriage but in its sorrows, in the sickness and sufferings of a good wife or the faults of the bad one, in his unwearying (never paraded) care or his inexhaustible forgiveness: forgiveness, not acquiescence.

As Christ sees in the flawed, proud, fanatical or lukewarm Church on earth that bride who will one day be without spot or wrinkle, and labors to produce the latter, so the husband whose headship is Christ-like (and he is allowed no other sort) never despairs. He is a King Cophetua who after twenty years still hopes that the beggar-girl will one day learn to speak the truth and wash behind her ears." (105-106)

Oh wait. I can't post without asking you to check out this new fad making it's way into youth groups and churches- Cuddle Parties. What the hell! One church is calling it "A Hot August Night Cuddle Party" and offers this note (of warning), "Note that this is an evening Cuddle Party and one in which you are welcome to bring pot luck food to share:)". Ok, like cuddling isn't bad enough, but we have to do it on a hot sweaty night with bellies fully of church food. The pressure of keeping the gas in would be way to much!

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Family Worship Recap, week 5-6

I knew we would take two weeks to go through the story of Abraham - he is probably the second most important human being in the Bible. It was a really good two weeks on this story (we've been on the Patriarchs since Monday). We stuck to the Old Testament, covering Genesis 12-22 (I wish we had spent at least some time talking about him from the New Testament).

From Genesis 12 we focused on God's grace in choosing Abram. We thought together about the blessings God has given and how we, like Abram, are called to be a blessing to others. We also thought about Abram's sinfulness - despite being chosen by God and being a man of faith, he lied and was a coward in the face of the Egyptians.

From Genesis 13 we thought about Abraham's faith. Trusting God to provide for him freed Abram to give the choice to Lot of which land he would take. The boys liked the story of Abram rescuing Lot in Genesis 14. We talked a little bit about why Abram refused to accept booty from King of Sodom (he wanted his wealth to come from God alone so only God would get the glory). We talked very briefly about Melchizedek, simply noting that he must be greater than Abram if Abram gave him tithes and offerings.

From Genesis 15 we talked quite a bit about the idea of covenant and how we can trust God's promises, even when we don't understand how he will accomplish them. The self maledictory oath of God in this chapter shows how firm his promises to us are. Despite the solid promises of God, even the best of us find it hard to trust God sometimes, as evidenced by Abram's taking of Hagar. It always has disastrous consequences when we fail to trust God, as we see in the birth of Ishmael and the pain it caused Abram and Sarah and the subsequent history of Ishmael.

We continued to talk about the idea of covenant in Genesis 17 - focusing on the idea that God lays down the terms (so in this sense, it's one sided), yet we have a role to play also (ie. keeping the covenant of circumcision). The boys got a kick out of circumcision - they're in that phase that they like 'gross'. This chapter and chapter 18 also emphasizes that God is the God of the impossible - that's an important lesson to learn early!

We skipped over the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, not because I'm afraid to teach my boys about the content, but because it's not vital to the story line of the Bible. We are trying to stick to those stories that advance the history of redemption significantly. We glance at Genesis 20 and how Abraham's faith falters yet again, then turned quickly to Genesis 21 to see how God is faithful despite Abraham's failures. The birth of Isaac is confirmation of God's faithfulness and commitment to his plans, purposes and people. We also thought about the fate of Hagar and Ishmael. Genesis 21 shows that God shows compassion even to those who are outside his covenant.

We spent a lot of time one evening on Genesis 22 talking about the faith of Abraham and how it has grown as he's seen God's faithfulness, drawing somewhat on Hebrews 11:17-19. We really zoomed in on the fuller meaning of Abraham's statement from Genesis 22:8, "God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering". Added to this is the beautiful reality that God did what Abram ultimately didn't have to do - he offered his only son, whom he loved, up as a sacrifice (see Genesis 22:2 and 22:12). While it's tempting to see Isaac as a parred to Jesus, the real parallel is the ram in the thicket who is sacrificed.

During these two weeks we were not very creative. Unfortunately that's a recurring theme in our family devotions. We did have fun teaching them the song "Father Abraham" and the significance of it. We also sang together 'For all the Saints', 'My Hope is Built on Nothing Less', 'My Jesus I Love Thee, as well as 'Silent Night' (Luke wants to sing this every night - he has since Christmas).

I absolutely love these times of devotion I get with the boys - and I love that at this point in their life they look forward to it and really get upset if we miss it for a day.

For All The Saints [Dan Haseltine] - Indelible Grace Music

Monday, August 03, 2009

Song of the Week

This is a great song. I love it partly because it praises God for attributes we often, in today's evangelical culture, shy away from or seem embarrassed about (ie. "Your enemies rise, your enemies fall, your fire consumes them all").

Lord Of All - Kristian Stanfill

lewis and pleasure

This post from John Piper on the Desiring God's blog ties in nicely with what I was meditating on last week preparing to preach on Moses' decision to leave the treasure of Egypt for a better treasure (Hebrews 11:23-38):

One of the roots of Christian Hedonism as I have pondered it for the last forty years is C. S. Lewis. Reading Alan Jacobs’ biography, The Narnian has underlined the influence Lewis has had on my thinking.

Here is a striking sentence about Lewis’s lifelong pursuit: “Lewis’s perpetual task both as a defender of Christianity and as an advocate of medieval literature is to call people to delight” (p. 190).

One of his paths to this “perpetual task” was his analysis of the devil’s use of pleasure. Screwtape (speaking for the devil—“Our Father”—in The Screwtape Letters) says to one of his under-devils:

Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy's ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which he has forbidden.... An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula.... To get a man's soul and give him nothing in return—that's what really gladdens Our Father's heart. (quoted in The Narnian, 189)

This is an astonishing view of pleasure. Hell has never been able to produce one! It can only misuse the ones that God created—in “times,” “ways,” and “degrees” that God forbids.

This means that all the debased enjoyments of the world are echoes of the joys of heaven. The analysis of this is worth a lifetime. And one effect of such an analysis would be to take the notion of “seeker-sensitive” ten miles deeper into Truth. How to penetrate the soul whose every desire is for Heaven while hating Heaven—that is the task.