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What Shall We Say?

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Thoughts on Genesis 22 – Part II – God’s Promise Revealed

Part I is here.

The other thing I noticed in my study of this episode in Abraham’s life is an interesting cycle. It is this cycle that brings the faithfulness of God into focus here in the offering of Isaac, but it is a cycle begins back at the beginning of our encounter with Abraham (then Abram, for God had not yet changed his name) in Genesis 12. The cycle looks like this:

God reveals His promise
God’s promise is threatened
God’s promise is protected.

The threats to the promise of God are varied but they climax in the ultimate threat, the one that really makes us scratch our heads in Genesis 22 – but I am getting ahead of myself. In each case, it is God Himself that protects the promise, and this to highlight His absolute faithfulness, which I think is the main point of this story. The bottom line is that God’s promise is inescapable, undefeatable, and irrefutable because He is absolutely faithful.

Take a look at God revealing His promise, a promise which looks impossible to keep from a human perspective.

The first statement of God’s promise to Abram (who’s name means “exalted father”) is found in Genesis 12:1-3 and also verse 7. The promise is that He will make a nation of him, that all peoples on the earth will be blessed through him, and that his offspring will inherit the land of Canaan. This, of course, implies that Abram will have some offspring – the problem is that he is 75 years old and his wife, Sarai is now 65. Most folks are looking to be retired in comfort at that age, settled down and enjoying the good life they worked their whole lives for, not begin new adventure in nation building.

The second affirmation of the promise is in Genesis 13:14-17. God promises Abram all the land of Canaan that he sees and reiterates his promise of countless offspring “like the dust of the earth.”

When we next encounter God’s promise to Abram in Genesis 15:1-21, the chapter begins with a simple “After this,” which refers to the events of the preceding episode in chapter 14, but which seems like a dismissive wave to the passage of time in Abram’s life. You see, in this chapter we encounter an Abram that is now 85 years old, which means, of course, that his wife Sarai is now 75. It has been a full 10 years since God’s first statement of promise to Abram, and Abram still has not a single offspring, let alone descendents as innumerable as the dust of the earth. We see the passage of time taking its toll on Abram’s faith in God’s promise as he begins to question God’s word. God’s response is to formalize His promise to Abram by cutting a covenant with him. The blazing torch and smoking pot passing between the animal carcasses an expression of God’s one-sided self malediction should He not be faithful to do what He was promising. He was saying to Abram, in essence, let it be done to Me as was done to these animals if I am not faithful to the covenant I am making with you.

The next time God confirms His covenant with Abram, in Genesis 17:1-22, is not until 14 years later, now a full 24 years after His initial promise. Abram, an old man of 99 years, has his name changed from Abram, exalted father, to Abraham, which means father of many nations. And this while Abraham still has no offspring! Well, he does have one child, his son Ishmael, the product of a misguided union with Sarah’s handmaid, Hagar. In fact, Abraham pleads Ishmael’s case with God, but God has another plan and another son in mind, the one God calls Abraham’s only son.

But, again, how does commanding Abraham to offer his beloved only son Isaac highlight the faithfulness of God? That is the rest of the story and for that we have to roll back to the beginning of Abraham’s story, back in Genesis 12 to see how God’s promise was repeatedly threatened…

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Greatest Love

It constantly amazes me how much unselfishness being a mother requires.

My wife could be doing any number of things with her life other than raising five children. She spends her days clothing, feeding, educating, changing, cleaning, wiping, cooking, and doing so many other tedious things. Her work is truly the work of Sisyphus – just when the last mess has been cleaned (is there ever a last mess?) another breaks out in the next room. Just when the two year old gets finished on the potty, the baby has a blow out in his crib. Just when the dishes are cleaned and put away from lunch, it is time to get dinner on the table. And on it goes…

Amy is an intelligent and educated woman. She could have been an excellent prosecuting attorney, full time real estate investor, or “professional” educator. Instead of any of those things, or myriad others, she has chosen to stay home with our five little ones and spend her time nurturing them through the seemingly endless days of their childhood.

Some have said that she is misusing her time and talents. Many in today’s world would look at her life and shake their heads with disapproval thinking that what she is doing is a real waste of potential.

Aside from the fact that there isn’t much that is more important than shaping the next generation of servants of Christ Jesus, there is this truth from Jesus:

Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Thoughts on Genesis 22 – Part I

Yesterday morning I had another chance to preach at a sister church about an hour and a half south of where we live. I love these opportunities whenever they arise because I really love to preach and because I get to spend a little more time focused on a particular passage of scripture in a way that I do not normally do in preparation for teaching or in my own reading.

For the text, I chose Genesis 22, the chapter about God commanding Abraham to offer Isaac as a burnt offering. These thoughts are things beyond what I was able to cover in my single message, but they are thoughts which have richly blessed me over the past week as I have reflected on this portion of the Word.

Whenever I’ve dealt with this passage in the past, I’ve always approached it as a myopic on Abraham’s faith. The main character in the story is Abraham, and this passage is a tribute to Abraham’s absolute faith in God and God’s provision of a lamb for the sacrifice. The applications I’ve heard and given myself could be boiled down to “we should have faith like Abraham” and there is the typical nod to Jesus, the ultimate Lamb that God would provide, who is foreshadowed by the ram caught in the thicket.

Certainly, these are valid themes and right applications of the text – but I am convinced that there is far more here than that and to focus on Abraham as the main character in the story is a superficial reading of the text. The main character in the story is not Abraham, it is God. The main theme of the story is not Abraham’s faith, but God’s faithfulness.

Consider the situation, as if we ever could fully conceive of what this was like for Abraham. But try to put yourself in Abraham’s shoes for a minute. God says to him, “Offer your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac.” Each of the four phrases in the command had to be like a dagger right through Abraham’s heart as each builds on the one before and makes the magnitude of the command more and more acute. “Offer your son.” But just so it’s clear, as if Abraham needed to be reminded, God points out that this is, “your only son.” Not only is this his only son, but this is the son whom he loves. And God doesn’t stop there, he calls him by name, Isaac – laughter - to call to Abraham’s mind all that this precious child meant to him and to his wife, Sarah. Laughter, joy, delight and how great was that joy that this child brought to a 90 year old woman and her 100 year old husband!

And God commands Abraham to kill him, to take a knife and plunge it into his chest, on an altar of sacrifice to his God.

What is going on here? Should this lead us to cringe that the God of love and compassion commands this brutality? Is this barbaric on God’s part? Is this some sort of cruel joke being played on Abraham? Is God like the mean kid next door in Toy Story who takes apart toys and puts them back together as monstrosities or just blows them up on a whim, just because he can?

It is all that, and more, if you throw out all that God has already done in Abraham’s life - if you forget what God has taught Abraham over the 35 or so years leading up to the point that he commands this sacrifice.

However, if I approach this story with the conviction that God is good and all that God does is good, if I have that already established in my mind as Abraham did, I can move past trying to interpret His motives or questioning His love. If I know, as Abraham did, that God is absolutely faithful and He always keeps His promises, I don’t cringe in embarrassment at what I interpret as brutality on God’s part, I rejoice in God’s faithfulness and I am free to see the grace of God and the glory of God in this episode.

If you are always throwing out “absolutism,” if nothing about God remains knowable, you will spend a lot of time in very uncomfortable territory and you will eventually slide over the edge into something that might be called generous, but the something will not be orthodoxy.

Which brings me full circle back to the point. What you believe IN matters more than the fact that you believe because your belief is only as good as the object on which it is fixed. Abraham’s faith, as great as it was, was nothing without the One-Who-Is-Faithful to back it up. The main character in the story is not Abraham, it is God and the main point in the passage is not Abraham’s faith but God’s faithfulness.

How does commanding Abraham to offer his beloved only son Isaac highlight the faithfulness of God? That is the rest of the story and for that we have to roll back to the beginning of Abraham’s story, back in Genesis 12…

Friday, December 01, 2006

Florida Living

Living in Florida is unique.

I’ve been to and through enough states (41 so far – though I have only lived in three) to know that every state has their peculiarities. Every state has those little trinkets and souvenirs that you have to bring back to all your friends to prove that you were there – like Moose droppings from Alaska. Every state has those places you have to go to so you can say you’ve been there and done that – like Mount Rushmore in South Dakota.

Not Florida.

In Florida, there are so many things to see and do and so many places to go you cannot summarize it with one little emblematic trinket. There’s so much here that our license plates don’t just come in one variety with a picture of, say, Crater Lake or a buffalo on the open plain. OK, so we’re not the only state with specialty plates, but I know we were the first to make it big business and we have the most designs to choose from – exactly 100. Everything from one celebrating the “Everglades River of Grass,” to “Kids Deserve Justice” (what does that mean?), to “Save the Manatee,” to one for the “Ringling School of Art and Design.” Our state legislature spends their entire session just voting on new plate designs. (I’m going to see if I can get them to make one to “Save the Endangered Blog of the Humble Muse’s Husband.”)

When I say living in Florida is like living nowhere else, this is not just state pride because, well, I don’t have any. How can you when your state song is “Old Folks At Home”. Anyway, what made me begin to think about this today is the fact that I woke up to the sound of the A/C running. A couple of weeks ago I was freezing in Alaska in sub-zero weather and wind chills of 30 below. Today, December 1, in Florida, my A/C is running, it is expected to get up to the mid 80’s this afternoon, and the kids were swimming yesterday. I didn’t even see water in it’s liquid state in Alaska.

Now, to be fair, I was told that last week there were actually snow flurries in Orlando, but I think this just makes my point. Where else can you have flurries one day and be swimming in 80 degree weather a couple of days later?

Of course everyone knows that Florida has hurricanes, but why is this a big surprise? Look on a map – the state sticks out into the warmest waters of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean like a big proboscis that just dares every tropical system that passes by, “Hit me!” The storms come, wipe out expensive, ocean front houses, and everyone moans, “Why did this have to happen?” I’ve got news for you, you’re living on a big sand bar in the most active tropical waters on the planet, and you built your house 10 feet from the breaking waves on the beach. Go figure!

Everyone fears hurricanes - except for people who live in Key West. They throw big hurricane parties out on the exposed decks of all the beach front bars. (Then again, Key West seceded from the state a long time ago and became the Conch Republic). But worse than hurricanes by far are the afternoon thunderstorms that hit every day. In fact, if you live in the middle of the state you can pretty much set your clock by their arrival at about 4:30 every afternoon.

Furthermore, to say it’s raining in Florida is like saying the Grand Canyon is a nice little hole in the ground. When it rains here, it doesn’t just rain. It’s like someone transported Niagara Falls from New York to your back yard. I say your back yard, because while you are sand bagging your doors against the rising tide, your neighbor next door can stand in his back yard with his arms folded across his chest and remain perfectly dry while providing helpful weather observations – something like “Boy, it sure is coming down, isn’t it?” Mercifully, you know that the rain will stop after exactly 30 minutes; otherwise we would have to change the state’s motto to “Water World.”

With the thunderstorms, of course, comes the lightning. Florida is the lightning capital of the country. From 1959 to 2003 lightning killed 3,696 people in the United States. Of those, 425 were in the Sunshine State. 424 of them were golfers, I’m sure of it. (By the way, take heart frozen friends from the north, Alaska was the only state that did not record a lightning death in that period. The bad news is that during the same period 652 people were killed by slipping on frozen moose droppings).

But really, weather is not the most deadly thing about Florida - Tourists are.

It’s true. If you live in certain areas of Central Florida, your auto insurance rates are a lot higher simply because you live in a tourist area. Driving in tourist areas is especially hazardous because people on vacation here think that Florida is just one big Disney World and they’re driving down Main Street USA and that all the other cars are just props. They can make right turns from the left most lane, left turns from the right most lane, u-turns from any lane they choose, and sudden and complete stops in the middle of the intersection to check their map for directions. Add to that the fact that half of them come from countries where they already drive on the wrong side of the road and you begin to get the picture.

Florida also has unique geography. Down here we are prone to have sinkholes. You see, much of Florida’s landscape is comprised of what’s known as "karst." A karst terrain is a land surface produced by water dissolving the limestone bedrock. Basically what this means is that the state sits on a thin piece of brittle rock and sand with nothing under it. Well, nothing but ground water. Problem is, when my neighbor decides to turn on their well pump so they can soak their new impatiens (because impatiens will die in exactly 4 seconds in the Florida heat unless provided with constant hydration) there goes the neighborhood – literally. Sinkholes have swallowed houses, municipal swimming pools, Porsches, trees, streets, pick-up campers, auto shops, ball fields, end even entire lakes, including all the fish and alligators. They are like earth-bound black holes, but without the promise of instant transport to the other side of the galaxy.

Speaking of geography, did you know that the highest point in Florida is Britton Hill at a whopping 345 feet above sea level? This means that if Al Gore is correct, you folks in southern Alabama and Georgia are sitting one some prime ocean front real estate. Of course, Britton Hill is in the panhandle – which really isn’t Florida anyway.

How many states claim a living dinosaur as their state reptile? OK, so there’s a few that lay claim on the American Alligator, but only one state has an airport with an alligator filled moat surrounding it. Not kidding – just try to sneak into Orlando International Airport without going through security. TSA has nothing on this.

There’s all kinds of other oddities about Florida. We have a tall building known as the Citrus Tower which was once a highlight for tourists visiting Central Florida’s vast citrus country in the rolling hills of Clermont. Now it overlooks nothing but houses as far as the eye can see. I think they’re going to rename it the subdivision overdevelopment overpriced home paved over countryside tower.

The county where I live was once named Mosquito County. No kidding. They finally figured this was probably not good for tourism so they changed it to something else far less interesting.

From Florida we launch probes to Pluto and shuttles into earth orbit yet people really do still put pink flamingos in their front yard. We have a whole city (population 9) whose only residents are genuine mermaids.

And, yes, people do decorate their palm trees with Christmas lights. I’ll put up some pictures of my favorites soon.

If I don’t get run over by a tourist on the way…

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Alaska and Travel Part Two

Molly Moosekiller put up some pictures of my recent visit. I really have no comment on her comments - the pictures speak for themselves.

(I think people in Alaska need to get out more in the winter time.)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

If it were Brian McLaren at the Diet of Worms and not Martin Luther…?

Unless I am convinced of error through a conversation with liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, catholic, incarnational emergent Christians, Jews, Mormons, Muslims and Buddhists, in which these folks all come to consensus, since I put no trust in a conservative reading of the Scriptures, I stand unconvinced by my narrative to which I have appealed, and my conscience is taken captive by my experience and that of everyone else that I meet, for to act against our emergent conversation is neither safe for us, nor open to us.

On this I take absolutely no stand whatsoever. I am moving forward, I can do no other. God help me, if he/she can.


Definately room for improvement here. I'm just glad it was a modern on trial at Worms and not a postmodern emergent.


I love bedtime with my kids.

It is one of my favorite parts of the day. After we finish reading the Bible together and praying together, we send the kids upstairs to bed, usually with a gruff, but playful, “to bed with ya’!” as the prompt for them to scramble. My daughter, #4 in line – our “not so terrible two”, will usually look up at me with her big brown eyes and say, “Carry me like sakapatatos” (read that: sack of potatoes). This is our little ritual wherein I toss her over my shoulder like a sack of potatoes and tickle her little feet all the way up the steps until she says, “Please stop Daddy!” That is my cue to pat her little bottom, tell her I love her, and bring her down off my shoulder. During this time, I am usually also chasing one of the older three up the steps with little pats on their bottoms and lots of giggles as they pretend to try to outrun me but somehow seeming to always remain within reach.

Way back when #1 was born I decided that I wanted to sing to each child at night when I tuck them in. The desire came from fond memories of being a little guy of 3 or 4, sitting on my mother’s lap on the rocking chair in my room with my legs around her waist while she sang Grandfather’s Clock, the Little Brown Church, Bye, Baby Bunting, Jesus Loves Me, Jesus Loves the Little Children, and other songs. Those times, separated from me now by what is pushing four decades, are some of the most vivid and powerful memories from my childhood. My mother passed away over 13 years ago now, but her voice is imprinted in my memories as if I just heard her today, and I think that is because of those many hours with her lips close to my ear in those quiet and tender times right before she tucked me in.

I think that ritual and routine are very important in raising faithful children. It is far from boring and it cements good memories in them of what life was like in the household growing up. Just try to do it differently one night and you will see how important routine is to my kids.

You might gather that the stair climbing ritual that I described above is not quite as calming and quiet as what I experienced with my bedtimes as a kid. It’s not, but it is our thing. The great thing is that I can tickle and chase them up stairs and they can calm right down when I tuck them in. They know the routine and they love it.

I decided early on that I would like to pick a special song for each of my kids and sing one verse of that song to them when I tuck them in. I wanted to have something that was uniquely them, something that fit their personalities and temperaments, and something they could draw on in future years as a meaningful reminder of what Amy and I worked so hard to instill in them while they were under our care.

For my oldest, I choose A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. He is the big brother and the strength of God, the power of the Word, and the gift of the Spirit as described in the song is an impression I want him to carry for the rest of his life. It seemed very appropriate for his personality and for his place in the family.

For #2, the choice was Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee. She is my double joy, as that is what her name means. She was also born on Christmas morning. I like to think of her as double joy not only to me, but joy that will one day go out from our home into the world. I want joy and satisfaction in God and Christ to be evident in her at all times – that is why we named her as we did - so the song is a natural choice for her.

My #3 was a little more difficult because she is the quiet and more reflective one of the bunch. After some amount of thinking, I finally settled on Be Thou My Vision as a fitting reflection both of her personality and of what I pray for her life. The gentle and melodic ancient tune seems to resonate with her personality and the contemplative nature and specific focus of the words seem to capture exactly what she is like.

Little #4 was easier for me and I think I picked her song sooner than any of the others. I chose This Is My Father’s World because she is thoroughly Daddy’s girl. Everyone at church calls her my shadow because she is always within 10 feet of me. She has a sincere desire to please and expresses a unique delight when she knows she has done so. I pray that her affections naturally move from her fallen earthly father to her perfect heavenly father as she grows in maturity. I pray that she always takes delight in the world around her that her Father created and that she knows the security that He provides in His world as much as she feels the security of the world that I provide for her.

Baby #5 does not have his own song yet. I usually try to wait until something in their personality strikes me before I decide. I’m getting closer to a decision, but like all the others before him, for now he gets tucked in with Jesus Loves Me or Jesus Loves the Little Children. That is always sung with him cradled in my arms held tightly against my chest and it is always accompanied with the biggest grins you could imagine on his face. It thrills my heart to look down into those delighted eyes and big smile as I sing before laying him down in the crib.

After singing and tucking in each one of the girls just so and collecting my big hugs and kisses from each of them (sometimes there is a butterfly kiss or Eskimo kiss thrown in) I tell them, “I love you girls” which is answered with a chorus of “I love you Daddy”. This is very precious to me.

My #1 son and I will give robust hugs with firm pats on the back and whispered “I love yous” and usually there is a kiss. I asked him a couple of years ago how long he was going to keep kissing me goodnight to which he replied “One hundred million times”. So, after we kiss he will recite what number we are on (we’re up to 534) and then I will turn out the light and close the door.

Later on I will often sneak into their rooms while they are sleeping to pray over each of them and to pray for Amy and myself as we work to be faithful in the care of these five souls that God has given us.

I love bedtime.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Alaska and Travel

I recently had to spend a week in Alaska on business. I’ve been to Alaska several times before. Well, I’ve been inside the airport in Anchorage on layovers several times, but this was the first time I actually got to set foot on real Alaskan soil.

The truth is I didn’t see much soil because it was mostly covered with snow and ice.

I had to go to the hotel gift shop to purchase a cap to keep my ears warm since I didn’t have one to bring with me. The only one in the shop was a bright blue color with “Alaska” embroidered across the front in the shape of the state of Alaska. But it did come with a matching pair of gloves, also with “Alaska” embroidered across the back of each hand. Can you say, “tourist”?

Anyway, I was talking with the lady in the gift shop and she told me that it was cold for her and she had lived in Alaska for 40 years. I told her I was from Florida, secretly hoping she might feel sorry enough for me to just give me the cap and gloves. She felt sorry for me, but I didn’t score a discount.

Whenever I travel I like to bring home gifts for the family - something special from wherever I visit. I had a hard time in Alaska just because of the number of unique gifts to be found. I mean, when you consider the variety of applications you folks up there have come up with to sell moose droppings (I’m not kidding – someone back me up here), it just makes the deciding hard. Hmm, would Amy prefer the moose dropping lip balm or the moose dropping paper weight.

In the end it was a pair of warm wool slippers for her perpetually cold feet. For the kids I found Polar Bars, which is just an over-priced chocolate bar with a touristy name.

Despite being quite busy while there, I did get one afternoon to drive down the Kenai peninsula to visit long time online friend Molly, her husband Jeff, and their five little ones who are almost exactly the same ages as our five. The kids were just a delight and the fellowship with Jeff and Molly was certainly refreshing. The dinner was pretty good too, down to the organic oreos (???) we ate for desert while playing games, sipping coffee, and talking.

The drive down was absolutely beautiful with a new vista around every turn of the road. The drive back, in the dark, was spectacular as well. I had to stop several times to get out of the car and look up at the stars in the perfectly clear sky. To make what sounds like an impossibly trite understatement, it was the most beautiful night sky that I have ever seen in my life.

Listen, you folks in Alaska are just plain spoiled for all the beauty of creation all around you. I told Amy that we are going to buy an Alaskan summer home (she’ll never go there in the winter) when we find a little extra money.

Anyway, one of the things that I most look forward to in traveling is coming home. And one of the things I look forward to in coming home is receiving nice cards like this from the kids:

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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Why do the wicked prosper?

Why do the wicked prosper?

Is one answer because God hates them?

Consider the general principle behind discipline

He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.
- Proverbs 13:24

And consider the application of this principle in the church:

And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons:
"My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?
- Hebrews 12:5-7
And this:
Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent.
– Revelation 3:19

The fact that the righteous sometimes do not prosper is God’s grace toward them and often it is God’s grace calling them to repent. The fact that the wicked sometimes prosper seems to be a withholding of God’s grace that would lead them to repentance.


On Umpires (Reprise)

I’ve been doing a little thinking about the umpires that I talked about in a previous post. You don’t have to go there – it went like this…

The pre-modern umpire says, “There’s balls and there’s strikes, and I calls ‘em what they are.”

The modern umpire says, “There’s balls and there’s strikes, and I calls ‘em as I sees ‘em.”

The post-modern umpire says, “They ain’t nothin’ ‘till I calls ‘em.”

I’ve been processing some thoughts on post-modernism as it relates to the emergent movement because I had someone tell me recently (much to my surprise) that I sounded emergent. I protested strongly at the time that that was not the case. I think I realize now what they heard in what I said that sounded “emergent” and why they may have misinterpreted me. But that is a story for another time.

Back to the umpires though. My #1 son’s baseball season wound down last week. My wife has never shown much of an interest in being a sports spectator. Now, I don’t watch sports on TV at all and it’s not because I don’t enjoy sports. I’ve been a jack of all trades in when it comes to sports (and consequently a master of none I shall hasten to add). I love playing whenever I can, and I also enjoy attending a sporting event every now and then. Not Amy. Not that she’s not competitive, but that’s another story.

Anyway, during the last few games I watched with no little amusement as my wife really got in to the action, to the point where she expressed some strong opinions, to the umpires, on the quality and consistency of the calling of balls and strikes. There were some really terrible calls, to be sure. During one particularly bad bout she even got up and stood behind the backstop at home plate, holding #5 in her arms, so she could be sure that the umpire heard her helpful commentary. It was a beautiful sight, I was so proud - and the great thing about baseball is that it is all part of the game.

Which brings me back to rethink the illustration. The question that I want to re-address more explicitly is, which umpire is correct? Is it true that they are balls and strikes objectively? Or is it true that the umpire simply calls them as he sees them? Or is it true that they aren’t anything until the umpire calls them?

In one sense, all three umpires are right.

Objectively, the rules define the strike zone clearly with specific boundaries, and one could draw a box defining the strike zone and plot out with a computer exactly where each pitch crossed the plate in relation to that box. In that way we could identify precisely and absent human interpretation which pitches are balls and which are strikes. The pre-modern umpire would call them what they are.

The modern umpire is right as well, he calls them as he sees them. Absent the computer analysis of each pitch, the umpire does his best to call it a strike if it is a strike and not to allow his subjective interpretation of the flow of the game (or the fact that his son is playing for the opposing team) to get in the way.

The postmodern umpire is right as well – the pitch is nothing until he interprets what happened. If he decides to call it a strike even if the ball is 12 inches over the batter’s head (an event which is sure to provoke some protestation from the Humble Muse – ask me how I know) then that pitch is a strike and it is counted as such in the official scoring of the game. If that pitch happens to be the third such, then the batter is out, regardless of the parental outrage in the bleachers.

However, there is a bigger picture in all of this that must be taken into account by our postmodern umpire (i.e. the metanarrative) and he denies it's existence to his detrement. It comes down to a question of authority. You see, the post-modern umpire can gleefully call balls, strikes and strikes, balls all day long (assuming he is wearing his ear plugs and thick skin) if he wants to. His interpretation of the events will hold sway for that game. However, I can guarantee you that if he keeps up this dangerous habit of reinterpreting objective reality, before long there will be a league meeting, the final authority will speak, and that umpire will be looking for a new line of work.

Jesus answered, "You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me."
- John 8:37

Friday, November 24, 2006

On the Pilgrims - Part I

I’ve been reading off and on again for some time Of Plymouth Plantation, the journal of William Bradford which documents the journeys of the Pilgrims from their homes in England to Holland and then on to the New World. It is an interesting read for me as I contemplate the direction the Lord is taking our family in the months and years to come.

Just to fill in a little background on us, I’ve recently started a new job which should allow me to work from anywhere for the foreseeable future. How foreseeable that future is is still a bit unclear and this is a factor in our plans. However, with this change, we are seriously considering relocating to another area of the country. There are a number of reasons behind this potential relocation and I will not spell them all out here and now. One summary of some of our thinking can be found at my wife’s blog here and here if you are interested in more. There is more to the story than just that, and as I have been reading Mr. Bradford’s journal I find my thinking being shaped even more.

Which brings me back to the Pilgrims and the reasons for their relocation from their home to foreign countries and cultures. Why did they willingly undertake such a difficult path?

To go into a country they knew not but by hearsay, where they must learn a new language and get their livings they knew not how, it being a dear place and subject to the miseries of war, it was by many thought an adventure almost desperate; a cause intolerable and a misery worse than death.

It was a move larger than any we could possibly comprehend today in our much smaller world. We are far removed from the burdens and hardships these Pilgrims were taking on themselves and so we will never fully appreciate the consequences of their actions.

But these things did not dismay them, though they did sometimes trouble them; for their desires were set on the ways of God and to enjoy His ordinances; but they rested on His providence, and knew Whom they had believed.

The answer as to why they made the journey from England to Holland is the answer that I was taught in school as their reason for coming to the New World, to flee religious persecution. They moved to Holland because,

The Lord had touched [them] with heavenly zeal for His truth, they shook off this yoke of antichristian bondage, and as the Lord’s free people joined themselves (by a covenant of the Lord) into a church estate, in the fellowship of the gospel, to walk in all His ways made known, or to be made known unto them, according to their best endeavours, whatsoever it should cost them, the Lord assisting them.

Because of their zeal for God’s Word, which put them in direct opposition to the established church, they were continually persecuted. And as Bradford adds, with what to my thinking is a hyperbolic understatement, “and that it cost them something this ensuing history will declare.” This original move took place in the year 1608, after over 50 years of living with the persecution in England. But the story of their momentous move from the relative familiarity and safety of the civilized world of Europe to the untamed wilderness of the New World is more complex than just a monolithic desire for freedom to worship as they chose.

The Pilgrims lived in Holland for some 11 or 12 years, but living there was taking a toll on them. Many of them were dying under the harsh conditions and poverty. Their leaders realized that they were all becoming older and the time to change something of their circumstances was upon them. Apparently, they were not making inroads into their new community and there were very few that joined their ranks to increase their numbers. There were many who admitted “of bondage with danger of conscience” rather than to endure the hardships they saw their brothers and sisters enduring. Some even willingly chose to be imprisoned in England instead of facing the trials of life in Holland.

In the agitation of their thoughts, and much discourse of things thereabout, at length they began to incline to this conclusion: of removal to some other place. Not out of and newfangledness or other such like giddy humor by which men are oftentimes transported to their great hurt and danger, but for sundry weighty and solid reasons.

Bradford gives four reasons for their decision to move to the New World:

  1. If a better and easier place of living could be had, it would draw many and take away the discouragements of continuing with or of joining with the Pilgrims.
  2. The toils, trials, and strict labors were bringing on premature old age and severely weakening their numbers
  3. Their children were being adversely affected by these trials as well, in addition to being drawn away by the temptations and they saw “their posterity would be in danger to degenerate and be corrupted”
  4. They had a great hope and zeal “for the propagating and advancing of the gospel of the kingdom of Christ in those remote parts of the world”
This is not what I was taught in school.

I have been reflecting on these points in regard to how they relate to my family and our plans for the future, because I do see some similarities, especially with the second two points as they are both very dear to me. The Pilgrims were enormously successful, their influence holding sway in this country for over 300 years. What made them succeed? What is different in their approach to the gospel and culture from other “separatist” groups such as the Amish that made them so successful? What can I take from their experiences and use to inform my journey? I hope to explore this more in days to come.

A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.
- Proverbs 16:9

Thanksgiving Post

It’s been a long time – but I want to give this a go once again, not because I suppose that anyone will ever read what I write, but because I have felt the need to spend some time journaling recent thoughts that God has been bringing to me. I would also just like to record some events in the life of our family for future reference and I would like to practice my writing to improve my skills.

There is a potential for much to change over the next year and I would like to have a record of the journey for future reference. Why go public with this? Well, again, not because I think multitudes will want to read what I write. But, perhaps there are some who would like to comment with their insights. However, the prime motivation is to provide some measure of accountability for me to process these thoughts. We will see how this goes.

Thanksgiving Day was a very slow paced and relaxing day around the house. We started the morning with mom sleeping in (a rare blessing for her) while I put on the Thanksgiving Day Parade for this kids. This was a rare “treat” for them as the TV hasn’t been on for days around here. I put it on because I remember it always being on in the background at my Aunt’s house when the turkey dinner was being prepared. I figured I’d turn it on so that I could explain to my kids what so-and-so the pop star performing her latest single has to do with Thanksgiving – which is to say nothing. (One advantage of this parade, as I remarked to Amy, is that since it is in New York in November, all of the pop stars are well clothed, so my controlled exposure exercise has one negative variable removed). It was interesting to watch their reaction as they were lounging around with books while the parade was on in the background. The tuned out whenever one of these pop stars come on to croon or when a big bunch of dancers took the stage, but when there were children performing and when the big balloons floated by, they became mildly interested. All in all, I think they would give it a 2 on a scale of 1 to 5, though I don’t think they understood the overall concept. I’m not sure I do either.

We put on a “fake fire” (my term for those store bought fire logs) after lunch to provide a little ambiance. Outside, it was in the high 60’s and low 70’s so the “fire” wasn’t really necessary, but it was enjoyable. I called them together to talk about why we celebrate Thanksgiving and what God says about giving thanks. We read Psalm 100 and discussed our attitudes as we come together at our church to worship together on Sundays.

So much to be thankful for. This year I am just brimming over with a sense of God’s blessing, so undeserved! As I am typing this, my oldest four are sitting stair step fashion on the couch each reading a book or being read to while the baby is exploring all over the floor and eating whatever he can get his hands on. What a blessing and reward to have been entrusted with the care of these five precious souls. Humanly, it is more than I could ever handle, but I know that God has given me exactly what He wants me to have. On top of these blessings, God has given me a wife who fears the Lord and whose worth is far above rubies. She and I walk hand in hand on all of the important issues and that is a tremendous blessing. We have always agreed on the core issues in politics, money, children, parenting philosophy, etc. We have our discussions on the finer points of application and faithfulness and purpose and these are welcome and enjoyable, but we are so equally yoked that it is a tremendous blessing beyond description.

Since our extended families were all traveling out of the area this year for Thanksgiving, dinner was at our friends’ house from Church. It was a small gathering, but very pleasant. I am very thankful for their hospitality in having us over.

As we drove home last night, my heart was overflowing with gratitude for the undeserved blessings of God in my life.

How can I repay the LORD for all his goodness to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD.

- Psalm 116:12-13

Before dinner, Dad and #3 play a good old fashined game of Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots

Look at the concentration!

The Humble Muse gets schooled in a game of billiards

The ubiquitous kids' table

Ahh! That's a full tummy and a happy girl!

Thursday, June 23, 2005

God and Evil

The following flows out of a discussion taking place over at Evangelical Update. Chris opened a good discussion on the problem of evil in a universe created and governed by a good God. I started to post there but, after reviewing the length of what I wrote, I decided it would be more prudent to post here and invite folks over.

First the declarative: Understanding this question is really a simple matter of taking God at His word. It is our lack of faith (or non-faith as the case may be) that causes us to question God's relationship to evil. What God says about it is pretty clear - what we do with what He said is where the waters get all muddied up.

Now the subjective: It is easy for me to say this right now because times are relatively peaceful in my life. It will not be as easy to keep this perspective when pain and evil enters in a more tangible way and it is at that time I will need my brothers and sisters to remind me of the clear word and the sure promises of God.

Back to the declarative: The Christian does not hope that the omnipotent God can turn all these bad things into good in the end. In other words, we don't say, "God did not have anything to do with this evil that happened, but He can use it for good." Our hope is in the fact that even the bad things that happen are fully under His control and therefore even the bad things, not just the end results, have a purpose. If we say that God is not in control of all things, including the bad, that God is just responding to the bad and making it good, we destroy any hope that they are purposeful and we diminish the glory of God. If there is anything in all of creation that happens outside of God's control we destroy any hope that we may have in the word of God because we cannot be sure that He can bring it about.

We need to step back and let God be God. He is big enough to take care of himself without our helping Him to get out of a jam. And He doesn't shrink back from telling it like it is regarding His sovereignty over:

Plants and animals:

  • Jonah 1:17; 2:10 - And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights... Then the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah up onto the dry land.
  • Jonah 4:6-7 - So the LORD God appointed a plant and it grew up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to deliver him from his discomfort. But God appointed a worm when dawn came the next day and it attacked the plant and it withered.
  • Matthew 10:29-29 "Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will. "

Weather, natural disaster, etc:

  • Job 37:9-14 - Out of the south comes the storm. . . . [God] disperses the cloud of His lightning. It changes direction, turning around by His guidance, that it may do whatever He commands it on the face of the inhabited earth. Whether for a rod . . . or for lovingkindness, He causes it to happen. . . . Stand and consider the wonders of God!
  • Psalm 135:5-7 - The LORD is great. . . . Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth. . . . He makes lightnings for the rain, and brings forth the wind from His treasuries.
  • Psalm 148:7 - Praise the LORD from the earth, sea monsters and all deeps; fire and hail, snow and clouds; stormy wind, fulfilling His word
  • Job 37:6-13 - For He says to the snow, 'Fall on the earth'; Likewise to the gentle rain and the heavy rain of His strength. He seals the hand of every man, That all men may know His work. The beasts go into dens, And remain in their lairs. From the chamber of the south comes the whirlwind, And cold from the scattering winds of the north. By the breath of God ice is given, And the broad waters are frozen. Also with moisture He saturates the thick clouds; He scatters His bright clouds. And they swirl about, being turned by His guidance, That they may do whatever He commands them On the face of the whole earth. He causes it to come, Whether for correction, Or for His land, Or for mercy.

Physical suffering, sickness, etc:

  • Exodus 4:11 - The LORD said to him, "Who has made man's mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? "
  • John 9:1-3 - As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?" Jesus answered, "It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him."

All things:

  • Job 42:1-2 - Then Job answered the LORD and said, "I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted."
  • Isaiah 46:9-10 - Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, "My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure . . ."
  • Lamentations 3:37-38 - Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both good and ill go forth?
  • Proverbs 16:33-33 The lot is cast into the lap, But its every decision is from the LORD.

Human action:

  • Acts 4:27-28 - For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.

General calamity and prosperity:

  • Amos 3:6 - If a trumpet is blown in a city will not the people tremble? If a calamity occurs in a city has not the LORD done it?
  • Ecclesiastes 7:14 - In the day of prosperity be happy, but in the day of adversity consider - God has made the one as well as the other so that man will not discover anything that will be after him.

Kings, kingdoms, presidents, republics, despots, nations etc:

  • Romans 13:1 - Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.
  • Daniel 2:20-21 - Daniel said, "Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, for wisdom and power belong to Him. It is He who changes the times and the epochs; he removes kings and establishes kings."
  • Proverbs 21:1 - The king's heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever He wishes.
  • Acts 17:26-26 "And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings"

Satan and his minions:

  • Mark 1:27 - They were all amazed, so that they debated among themselves, saying, "What is this? A new teaching with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey Him."
  • Matthew 8:29, 32 - And they cried out, saying, "What business do we have with each other, Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?" . . . And He said to them, "Go!" And they came out and went into the swine.

Life and death:

  • Deuteronomy 32:39 - See now that I, I am He, and there is no god besides Me; it is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal, and there is no one who can deliver from My hand.
  • 1 Samuel 2:6 - The LORD kills and makes alive; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.

Monday, June 20, 2005

On Being Berean

Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men. But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was preached by Paul at Berea, they came there also and stirred up the crowds. Acts 17:10-13

It is easy to fancy one self a noble Berean by nature of searching for and finding some flaw, some imprecision, some logical defect (however small) in what some Christian says or writes and then taking them to task for it.

It is particularly ungracious when it is done without consideration for the author’s or speaker’s cultural setting and without deference for their position within the body of Christ. We are the only army in the history of the world, so far as I know, which makes a sport out of taking out its own generals in the course of the battle.

The ever expanding popularity, prevalence, and pervasiveness of the media of which you are now partaking further amplifies this tendency in our human nature. Never before in the history of the world, so far as I know, has it been so easy to publish one’s thoughts for mass consumption. Let’s face it; what I write would never make the grade for publication in any other forum. But here you are – and you’re reading it.

The impersonal nature of this media (after all, it is very unlikely that we will ever meet each other this side of heaven) contributes to our tendency for presumptuous self-assurance. We are always more bold with the antagonist we fancy verses the antagonist we face.

Recent on-line “conversations” have caused me to think once again about those noble Bereans, what they were noted for, and what they were commended for. It boils down to one thing - they were “fair-minded.” Their fair-mindedness found its expression in that they received the word with all readiness and they searched the Scriptures to find out whether “these things were so.”

We do the second part well, maybe too well. What I mean by that is that we tend toward personal preference above what the Scriptures actually say. We eisegete Scripture to speak for those things we like and to speak against those things we dislike.

It is the first part which we are less inclined to do – receive the word with all readiness. We cannot consider ourselves noble Bereans unless we are likewise “fair-minded.” Unfortunately, it seems like much of what we engage in on-line resembles more of the Jews from Thessalonica, who “stirred up the crowds.”

Monday, June 13, 2005


YES! She is getting it.

I know that the apostle John was speaking of his spiritual children in 3 John 4, but my covenant children are my principal spiritual children. So much so, that if I cannot raise them to be faithful, I cannot expect a prominent role of leadership as an overseer of spiritual children in Christ’s Church.

I say with the beloved apostle, I have no greater joy than to hear [and see] that my children walk in the truth.

That is why I am so thrilled with the small conversations I frequently have with my children in which I get to be a part of God’s turning on the little light bulbs in their heads.

The other night we were reading a passage from Hebrews 10 in connection with our family reading through Leviticus. Did I mention that my children complain when we don’t read Leviticus? It’s true.

Anyway, we came to verse 14, which says, “For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.” I literally saw the synaptic connection made before my very eyes as my 5 year old daughter put propositional truth in apposition to personal experience. “But, but,” she said with a thoughtful stammer, “But, but, how come we’re not perfect?”

Of my four children, my 5 year old daughter is probably most in tune with her own sinfulness. She confronts it daily with Romans 7 passion. The expressions on her face and the sincere repentance and humble acceptance of discipline tell it all: “The things I want to do I don’t do and the things I don’t want to do I wind up doing. Who will deliver me from this body of death?” She has even echoed these words at times past with her own 5 year old vocabulary.

Her question about Hebrews 10:14 was an earnest plea as much as it was a desire for theological information. Oh, I communicated the truth of progressive verses positional sanctification. I made sure she understood the blessed hope we cling to as the bride of Christ, that we will enjoy the consummation of our marriage to our Groom adorned in the perfect garments that He secured for us on the cross. I explained the concept of the “already” and the “not yet.” And she got it – in her 5 year old way of understanding such things.

But more than just propositional truth, I pray that I pointed her to the One who does have the answer for the dilemma she will live out for the rest of her life in this body of death: “I thank God, through Jesus Christ my Lord!”

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Another Milestone

The other day we reached another milestone in our family. My five-year-old daughter is finally riding her two-wheeler.

I say finally because my son was riding his little blue bike on two wheels at the ripe old age of three. For him it was all about speed. He realized that to achieve maximum velocity he would have to reduce overall friction. (Ok, he didn't quite get the idea of friction at three - but he was all about the speed). He achieved top speed by riding with his training wheels never touching the ground. When I saw this, I asked him if he wanted me to take them off. Realizing that this would enable him to race down to the end of the street and back even faster, and giving no thought for his personal safety, he said, "Yes!" The rest is history.

Not so for my daughter. I've been asking her since she was three if she wanted to try riding without the training wheels. Her answer, always, was a resounding "No!" For her, training wheels represented security and as long as they were firmly attached to her rear wheel, she was as happy as a lark. Even with her big brother doing circles around her in the street, she would just cruise along with her oversized helmet hanging down over her eyes and a big smile on her face.

I had pretty much given up asking her about the training wheels until the other day. On a whim, I asked her if she wanted me to take them off. Much to my surprise she said, "OK". As I was taking the wheels off and as I put her on the seat for the first spin I continuously assured her that I would hang on to her seat to get her started, that I would be right by her side, and that I would not let her fall. Once she got going and I let go, she never looked back. It was as if she had been riding that way for years.

What was interesting to me was the difference in motivation between my two children. My son just wanted to go. My daughter wanted to be safe. My son was ready to take on the world at age three regardless of the potential consequences. My daughter had no desire to get away from what kept her safe for the sake of being a “big girl” or keeping up with her brother.

My prayer is that God will enable me to instill in my son a zeal for truth as strong as his need for speed and that He will use my son to take on the world with the good news regardless of the potential consequences. In addition, I pray that He will keep my daughter free from the need to violate her convictions in order to perform for others and that she will always cling to the safety she finds in her Savior.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Pass it on

It happened today.

Finally. I've waited for this day for seven years now and it is here.

I had my first "catch" with my son.

No, it's not the first time I've played catch with him. It's not the first time that we've tossed a ball back and forth in the yard. But, it is the first time that we've thrown a real hardball, wearing real baseball gloves. It was our first "real" catch.

It took me way back to the days of doing the same with my Dad right there in the middle of Plymouth Drive in Cherry Hill. I remember so well the times after dinner when Dad would say, "Do you want to have a catch?" What a thrill it was.

We would grab our gloves and head for the street. Start with some short, soft tosses. Gradually work up to longer and harder throws. Soon Dad would be mixing it up with grounders and pop flies. I remember teasing the bats by making them swarm around the ball when we tossed it up high. I remember my bad throws that Dad would chase down the street without an expression of complaint. We would throw until we couldn't see any more because it was too dark.

Now, I get to do that with my son. I couldn't have imagined that back in those days some 30 years ago. But here I am. A daddy, with my own son, teaching him to throw a baseball just like my Dad taught me.

But baseball is one thing. Loving God is another altogether. I'm grateful that my Dad taught me that too.

As I stood by my son's bunk tucking him in tonight and he asked me the deep questions rolling around in his seven year old mind, questions about heaven and God and sin and truth, I thanked God for my Dad who taught me so much more than baseball. And I thanked God that I have the privilege to pass this awesome heritage on to my son with the prayer that he will one day do the same with his.

The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me. - Psalm 16:6

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Clueless Mommies

Something that I heard a speaker say recently struck me in that way that makes you stop listening to what is being said while you go off down a rabbit trail in your own mind.

He referred to the good works of the saints and the fact that they do not do their works for recognition or the applause of men. In fact, he said, they are even clueless about their own deeds done in service to God. Matthew 25:37ff:

Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You? And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’

Clueless! I’ve read this passage a million times, but the Holy Spirit finally got through to me this time (I’m a little slow) that the saints were absolutely clueless about their works done in service to Christ.

Isn’t that funny. You see, I know my good works. I can keep track of them. I remember them and I pin them on my chest to remind myself that I am doing a decent job in my obedience to Christ. I even point them out to my wife so she will recognize what a spiritual and obedient man that I am.

But it isn’t those “good” works that the Good King commends; it is the works that the sheep were clueless about, the works they had no idea they were doing, that He recognizes.

Which brings me to this conclusion: Perhaps the most clueless saints of all are our faithful wives who labor daily, without recognition (ours or theirs), to serve the “least of these,” our covenant children.

How many good deeds of feeding, clothing, thirst quenching, diaper changing, spilled milk cleaning, boo boo kissing, room straightening, laundry folding, all-night sick child comforting, nose wiping, mud-track mopping, book reading, and bed making are done by our wives every day? And they’re clueless!

In fact, there is more good done for Jesus in faithfully raising and nurturing these precious “least ones” than is done in the most public and visible works of service we can think of.

Mothers – doing these things you do every day is significant because doing them is serving the least of these – and serving the least of these is serving Christ.

Remember, as you pour orange juice and change diapers, your daily labor is of eternal significance!

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Umpires and the Resurrection

The pre-modern umpire says, “There’s balls and there’s strikes, and I calls ‘em what they are.”

The modern umpire says, “There’s balls and there’s strikes, and I calls ‘em as I sees ‘em.”

The post-modern umpire says, “They ain’t nothin’ ‘till I calls ‘em.”

I’ve been reflecting on this illustration that I first heard from Ravi Zecharias many years ago. It came back to me as I sat in church on Easter Sunday morning listening to the pastor talk about the truth of the resurrection of Christ.

Now, I’ve always been firmly planted in the camp of the pre-modern umpire. Truth is unchanging and absolute. It exists apart from me and whether I like it or not. But this Easter, as I was reflecting on the resurrection of Christ, it struck me that there is truth in each of these umpires’ views of the world as evidenced by the impact that the resurrection has for various people.

The pre-modern umpire is right – The resurrection happened. It is a fact that stands alone. It is a real event of history. It doesn’t really matter what I think of it - it happened, and what I think of it does not change that fact. Now, what he does with that truth is another matter.

The modern umpire looks at the resurrection of Christ and the facts surrounding it and decides the implications of it, based on his own independent evaluation of the facts (empty tomb, fulfilled prophecies, 500 witnesses, the official “cover-up” and bribes, the changed lives of the apostles, etc). He calls it as he sees it. He can reject it or accept it depending on what his evaluation of the facts determines to be the case.

For the post-modern, the resurrection has no meaning at all (right now), until he declares it to have meaning for him. Thus, it may be a nice thing for you if it helps you in life, but since it has no meaning for him, it really means nothing.

Right now…

But then, there is the reminder that “every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Then, we will all call the resurrection what it is.

The resurrection happened. God said it did.

I pray that you see it for what it is.

Laundry Lessons

The other day I got in big trouble…

In my ongoing effort to help my wife with some of the daily domestic duties, I took it upon myself to do the laundry. Now, this is not the first time I’ve ever done laundry, though after you learn what I did you may think so.

You see, apparently I placed one of my daughter’s red shirts in the load with the light colors. You can visualize the results. Suffice it to say that my wife’s wardrobe now has a decidedly pink leaning trend. Now, I’m not real hip on the latest color trends for spring, but I gather that pink is not popular right now based on her reaction.

Are there such things as Mulligans for laundry mistakes?

Our family has been reading through the book of Leviticus for the last week or so. When I first began, my strategy was going to be to present an abridged version by reading representative passages. After all, Leviticus (as anyone who has decided to read through the Bible in a year knows) is that place where we have given up so many times despite our best intentions.

You know how it is, Genesis is action packed, covering thousands of years from creation all the way to the Israelites in Egypt. You have murder, war, covenants, flood, angels with flaming swords, and such. No trouble getting through that. Then the unfolding drama of Exodus with God wiping out the most powerful nation on earth, rescuing a rag-tag bunch of desert dwellers, and then giving them His special revelation complete with lightenings and thunderings and smoke and fire. Pretty awesome!

Then there’s Leviticus.

Now understand that our children are only 6, 5, 3, and 10 months old. How could I possibly maintain their interest for 20 minutes or so of reading through Leviticus each night? I mean, the repetition, the detail, the stuff about wave offerings, sin offerings, sprinkling with blood, showbread, and clothes for the priests. You know what I mean.

But, they listen. Not only that, they eat it up.

It is so much fun re-discovering EVERY word of the book of Leviticus and seeing it with the child-faith of my kids and finding my “faith as a little child” stirred once again.

But back to the clothes – specifically those made for and worn by Aaron and his sons as they served God in the Tabernacle. I’ve seen those pictures, perhaps you have too, of Aaron all decked out in his robes with his breastplate, ephod, and turban. In all those pictures he is wearing the most spotless, clean, white, and brightly colorful robes you have ever seen.

Perhaps because of my recent laundry debacle, it struck me tonight that that cannot at all be how Aaron’s clothes really looked. Hmmm, God inspires fresh insight in a variety of ways doesn’t He? (See honey, it’s not all bad).

From the very start, those garments were stained with the anointing oil and the blood from the altar. Chapter 8 says, “Then Moses took some of the anointing oil and some of the blood which was on the altar, and sprinkled it on Aaron, on his garments, on his sons, and on his sons’ garments.”

Aaron’s clothes were not just tinted pink because of a laundry mistake. His garments were a bloody mess from day one. And day after day, as they offered sacrifice after sacrifice, those robes would be stained deeper and darker with the blood of the lambs, bulls, doves, and goats offered for their own sins and the sins of the people.

One lesson we have learned and re-learned as a family is that the work of atoning for sins is a bloody, awful, nasty mess. But, our prayers have been filled with thanksgiving to God for the clean clothes of Christ’s righteousness that we now wear because He endured that bloody, awful, nasty mess so that we would not have to.

Thank you, Father, for big lessons learned in the small details of life!

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Dear Not-Crunchy, (part II)

Dear Not-Crunchy,

I so much appreciate the on-going dialogue. I am glad that we have had the chance to dive into these things a little deeper and I appreciate your granting me the privilege of getting to know you better as we have. Please indulge me further as I deal with a few comments you made in our last exchange and present another challenge.

You challenged my assertion regarding knowledge by saying, "I do not understand how ruling out the existence of God can affect one's ability to conduct good science. It is not a scientist's job to find moral meaning in his observations." The point I am making about knowledge is that there is no such thing as "brute facts." Maybe it is not the scientist's job to find moral meanings, but if he stops with mere observation, he is entirely superficial. We have defined the job of the scientist in such a way as to make it superficial. The illustration of the boy and his father at the baseball game fits well here. The boy may be able to "scientifically" describe the homerun he witnessed, but that misses the real meaning behind the event; his knowledge is entirely superficial. The boy may be perfectly content with his knowledge, but the father wants him to understand the meaning knowing that his "knowledge" is not complete. (I have had this experience with my own son and felt the frustration with him not being able to experience what I do with such an event). Ruling out the existence of God does not prevent "good science" but it does prevent true knowledge.

You said,
"Yes, I find that first sentence HIGHLY subjective. Your quotes from [Van] Til do not convince me - still completely subjective and completely faith based. And Notaro's comment, "The more explanation he [the scientist] gives, the more it will be seen that this interpretation runs counter to God’s." Says who? Unless you are speaking of the universal monotheistic God."

Yes, I am speaking of the God who has revealed Himself in the Bible. That is why I stated my presuppositions clearly, so that my starting point would be clear. Everything I say is based on my fundamental commitment to Him and my confessed dependence upon Him and His Word. That is precisely what makes my statements non-subjective. My answer to your question, "says who?" is, "Says the One-Who-Defines-Meaning." Any other approach is subjective in a fatal way.

You said, "I simply do not claim to have any ability to begin to understand what God may be." I don't either. I have absolutely no ability to begin to understand who or what God may be. Fortunately, He has revealed Himself through His written Word to us, the Bible, and he has made it possible for us to know Him through His living Word revealed to us, His Son, Jesus. Without that it would be impossible to truly know Him. Without that it would be impossible to have any true knowledge.

Finally, when you say, "I'm sure that these same moral truths are found in every religion's sacred texts," I am not so sure as you are on this point. I'll quote Ravi Zacharias again, "In some cultures they love their neighbors, in others they eat them - which do you prefer?" Sure, there are a lot of similarities in moral truths, but none are identical and none claim to be THE truth as does the Bible. Besides, only the Bible, as far as I know, claims that it is God who wrote those "moral truths" within each of us as a sort of "fingerprint" of His creative work and a testament to His existence. Thus, it is no surprise that there should be similarities across cultures and continents.

The challenge I leave you with is the same one that you issued to me: Says who? Keep asking that question of any of the assertions that you make regarding science, knowledge, God, etc. I think that one question reveals that our assumptions do come from different directions.

Take care, my new friend, and please keep posting your beautiful photos for us to enjoy!

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Dear Not-Crunchy,

OK, sit back, grab a cup of coffee, and enjoy my first REAL post to my blog.

In the dual interests of not clogging someone else’s blog and of slogging on my blog, I want to discuss some things that my new friend, Not-Crunchy brings up when she questions evangelical Christians regarding science (the original is HERE). It dovetails nicely into a previous conversation that I had with her regarding the possibility of independent thought and the self-defeating nature of all affirmations made outside of the context of submission to God (HERE). So, here is an “open letter” response to Not-Crunchy.

Not-Crunchy, you said,
“As a scientist, I can say that only a really crappy scientist would do that [“discover” evidence for preconceived beliefs], and would not have any credibility in the science community.”

Everyone, even a scientist, brings something to the table in the form of their presuppositions. Scientists are really no more or less credible than the rest of the world. All science is built on, and inextricably linked to, the presuppositions of the individual scientists. This is inescapable. It is critical that we be honest regarding the presuppositions we embrace as we carry out our science (or thought, or enjoyment of creation, or whatever). A scientist who a priori rules out the existence of the God of the Bible can never have true knowledge about the creation that the God of the Bible made and the meaning He has given to that creation.

I approach all of life based upon my fundamental commitment to Jesus Christ, God’s Word, and His position as the creator and sustainer of all that is. As the creator, He has given meaning to all that is and all truth belongs to Him and comes from Him. That is the requisite starting point for all true knowledge. I realize that is a bold statement and I’m sure it sounds outrageous at first hearing, but allow me to elaborate some more.

Cornelius Van Til, a noted 20th century Christian apologist and professor, affirmed that “the world may discover much truth without owning Christ as Truth,” but all such truth is borrowed truth because “it is lifted out of its proper context and emptied of its intended meaning.” “It is knowledge cut away from its source and framework, emptied of its full significance, and confined to a distorted intellectual realm.”

Thom Notaro writes concerning Van Til’s thought on the matter:
“To know something is to know how it relates to other things – to know what it is for, where it is from, what obligations I have concerning it, what it is worth, what it signifies. The non-Christian scientist will give intellectual assent to all kinds of truth statements. But he will not be able to provide any ultimate explanation of the facts in terms of these relationships. The more explanation he gives, the more it will be seen that this interpretation runs counter to God’s.”

He goes on to illustrate,
“For example, as any scientist knows, apples come from trees and are normally good for eating. But where do apple trees come from? Ultimately, the secular scientist will say that trees are a product of evolution, that is, chance. In other words, apple trees are not designed by God. Thus, for the nonbeliever, apples are Creator-denying apples: to really understand apples is to deny the biblical concept of God; apples prove that the God of Scripture does not exist, and each apple is an evidence against such a God. Ultimately, the nonexistence of God becomes part of the definition of apples.”

The point here is that knowledge and science can never be an ethically neutral matter. Evangelicals, (well, at least this one) have no problem with science, or the scientific method. No true science will ever contradict what the Bible affirms; after all, it was written by the One Who is True and it is His revelation of what is REALLY true. Again, all truth is God’s truth. We do have a problem with the wrong conclusions, driven by false presuppositions, at which science arrives.

One of my professors, Ron Nash, explains, “There is no such thing as a fact apart from some interpretation and some imputed significance.” He illustrates this way: A father takes his young son to a baseball game in which a player hits a timely home run. The father is ecstatic, whereas the son, who is puzzled by all the excitement asks, “What happened?” Do both the father and son witness the same act? Yes and no. They both witness the same series of events, a hanging curve ball travels from the pitcher to the batter and then into the right field stands. But only the father perceives the home run. The son does not understand the rules of the game or the game’s significance in the team’s schedule. In order to re-cognize the fact of the homerun, he must first cognize the significance of the visual phenomena, integrating it into meaningful whole.

Not-Crunchy, your own response to what you have observed in the world testifies that you recognize something more there – but your presuppositions do not allow you to affirm the Creator. “How did they do this?” As such, you borrow enjoyment from a sublime view of the high Sierras, but you miss out on the true meaning of what that sublime panorama says.

You said, “I agree that there are fundamental moral truths, as those reflected in the Ten Commandments, that most humans abide by - otherwise our world would be complete chaos. All developed societies have some sort of moral code along these lines, no matter what their base religion is.” But, how can you possibly escape chaos when you do not recognize the God of the Bible who is the author of that moral code? In order to preserve sanity, you are forced to salvage some of the benefits of the Christian world view – stripped of their obligations – or else all of life would be chaotic and meaningless. Also, without the God of the Bible, the moral code is a constantly moving target and right and wrong are continually re-defined to suit the spirit of the age. In 1940 Germany it was right to persecute Jews. In 21st century America it is right to kill babies in their mother’s wombs. In Ancient Rome sexual relations between men and boys was a perfectly acceptable thing. In the 18th and 19th century, it was acceptable for Africans to sell other Africans into slavery and for others to profit on their labor.

I’ll wrap it up with a favorite quote from Ravi Zacharias along these lines: “In some societies they love their neighbors in others they eat them – which do you prefer?”