Posted by: William | July 29, 2008

My Brand New Website!

Thought I’d post this here too:

After about two months of long days and (seemingly) endless tweaking and troubleshooting, I’ve finally finished new website! I have to admit, I love WordPress & Zenphoto who provided such an excellent platform to build my website on!

Petruzzo Photography

I kept a familiar layout, but upgraded to a formal status with khaki colors! I also added a ton of new information. I now have a section for regular updates which I’ll use for introducing new albums and images. I also have a more robust section for pricing, as well as a fairly comprehensive FAQ section, answering a lot of questions people might have.

I’ve also tweaked the way that images display, making navigation easier, and hopefully accessible from lower screen resolutions.

All in all, I’m pleased with the new website. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to check it out and maybe drop me some feedback!

Posted by: William | June 19, 2008

Just a reminder: I’VE MOVED!

Wanted to drop everyone a quick reminder that I’ve moved to my own server! I’d love to see some of you all there!

http://william.petruzzo.com

ALSO, don’t forget to

UPDATE YOUR RSS FEED!

Posted by: William | June 9, 2008

I’m Leaving WordPress.com For a New Home!

I’ve been blogging here on WordPress.com for about eight months now; in fact, if my memory serves me correctly, I haven’t yet missed day. In that time I’ve accumulated a healthy daily visit from regular readers. Gotten some good feedback, and some bad feedback as well. I’ve made some new friends and been reprimanded by old friends. I’ve learned a great deal about blogging and the blogosphere. It’s been quite an exciting learning experience here on WordPress.com. However, now will repeat readers beginning to mount and grow and beginning to see substantial traffic, I’ve decided that I need to make a move before it’s too late.

See, what many people (who just stumble in from Google) don’t realize, is that those little sections there to the right are actually called “widgets” and they’re controlled by an administrator. We only have a certain set of these cool little gadgets to use and that’s it. But out in the open water of the Internet, there are literally thousands of cool little gadgets to use and enhance the blogging experience. So, for me, it is time to leave the WordPress.com nest and go out on my own.

As of today, this WordPress.com blog will no longer be updated. However, this blog will continue just as it always has, at its new home.

The new web address is here:

http://william.petruzzo.com

I know unfortunately this is going to mean a sharp drop off in regular readers, but hopefully, with time, I will win you back in my own realestate.

So don’t forget to update your RSS feeds and bookmarks and I’ll see you soon!

Posted by: William | June 8, 2008

The Gift of Staying Alive

I think it might be that we take the ability to exist for granted. Can we really be blamed for that? We’ve been doing it, indiscriminately since we were born. If there’s one thing that’s pretty thoroughly ingrained in us it’s that we exist. Barring a few exceptions, there aren’t many places on earth that we won’t continue to exist. Our atmosphere is perfectly suited for us. We breath in and out and it keeps us alive. Even if we fall into a nasty or dangerous situation, there is the plain and simple confidence, that if no one kills us and if our organs keep working, we’ll live. It’s fascinating actually. It’s what causes people to run from dangerous situations; hope that if no one kills us, we’ll still be living. If we don’t crash the car, we won’t die. If we take our medications, and go to the doctor, our life will go on. The bear minimum is taken for granted, but the bear minimum isn’t nothing. It’s still something.

I watched a documentary on the Discovery Channel this evening entitled When We Left Earth. It’s about the development of the space program and NASA. But what I kept thinking about was the complete and total despair of space. Unlike earth, space holds no guarantees. If a person were left to space, existence could no longer be taken for granted; no matter how well the person’s body actually works or the absence of immediate dangers, space simple does not sustain life.

It’s fascinating to me that the thing perhaps most taken for granted by people, is also perhaps the greatest gift from God. The simple ability to not die. Sort of brings some new life to that weird Matt Redman song, Breathing the Breath.

Lord, we’re breathing the breath
That You gave us to breath
To worship You, to worship You
And we’re singing these songs
With the very same breath
To worship You, to worship You

Posted by: William | June 7, 2008

A Thunder Storm

There’s something I really love about thunder storms. One of my favorite things to do is to sit on my front porch during a really active, noisy thunderstorm. I always seem to forget ho much I love it until the opportunity arises and I’m reminded. I could sit out there for hours if the storm would permit. I think it’s got something to do with a sense of totally detached chaos. I have absolutely no control over a storm. It will happen regardless of what I do or do not do. That is fascinating to me.

Tonight was a storm, right in the vein that I love. The lightening was almost continuous and the thunder was that kind that you’re uncertain of which direction it’s coming from. The kind that has not so many cracks, but far more rumblings that you can feel in your chest. I imagine it was like Moses in the cleft of the rock. Just beautiful.

Grant me fear that I should be
Humble before such as thee.
Thee complete, I cannot see,
But in thy works, behold, majesty.

Make for me a heart of flesh
And place it here inside mine breast
Ever more to know mine Lord
For upon the cross I hath been blessed.

Posted by: William | June 6, 2008

Seven Sayings – Chapter Six

For more information on this edition of Reading Classics Together, swing by Challies.com or pick up the book, The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross by Arthur W. Pink.

This week Pink discussed Jesus’ “Word of Victory”. Namely, John 19:30.

“When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”

One of the most profound things that Pink said, toward the end of this chapter, was the crushing defeat that Satan suffered, indicated by these words, “it is finished”. While once Satan had a legal claim on us, as sinners with unpaid debt, he no longer does. Believers have been purchased outright and there is nothing more to be done to make satisfaction. It is finished. In fact, if indeed we did want to add something to Jesus’ work, not only would it be foolish and arrogant, it would also muddy up and defile so already perfect a work.

To that effect, Pink shares an excellent illustration:

Some years ago a Christian farmer was deeply concerned over an unsaved carpenter. The farmer sought to set before his neighbour the gospel of God’s grace, and to explain how that the finished work of Christ was sufficient for his soul to rest upon. But the carpenter persisted in the belief that he must do something himself. One day the farmer asked the carpenter to make for him a gate, and when the gate was ready he carried it away to his wagon. He arranged for the carpenter to call on him the next morning and see the gate as it hung in the field. At the appointed hour the carpenter arrived and was surprised to find the farmer standing by with a sharp axe in his hand. “What are you going to do?” he asked. “I am going to add a few cuts and strokes to your work,” was the response. “But there is no need for it,” replied the carpenter, “the gate is all right as it is. I did all that was necessary to it.” The farmer took no notice, but lifting his axe he slashed and hacked at the gate until it was completely spoiled. “Look what you have done!” cried the carpenter. “You have ruined my work! “Yes,” said the farmer, “and that is exactly what you are trying to do. You are seeking to nullify the finished work of Christ by your own miserable additions to it!” God used this forceful object lesson to show the carpenter his mistake, and he was led to cast himself by faith upon what Christ had done for sinners. Reader, will you do the same?

Posted by: William | June 5, 2008

We Only Have Today

Do you ever think about the vanity of life? I mean the extreme brevity of it all. When I was a little kid I always used to groan at the idea of having to wait a whole year for something. A year seamed like such a long time. But as you get older, and I don’t mean to claim too much wisdom, time seems to move more quickly. Or maybe time doesn’t move more quickly, you just realize that time, in general, isn’t as long as it seems.

 

When you think about how short a person’s life really is, eighty, ninety years, it’s almost frighteningly short. If you’re a fundamentalist, we’ve been around eight or nine thousand years. If you’re into the science thing, it’s more like millions of years. Think about money, if you had a million dollars, you wouldn’t give so much regard to how you used five or ten dollars here or there. But if you only had eighty dollars, you’d sweat every time you had to spend a buck. But that’s our lives. Eighty years, and we’re spent.

 

Solomon got it; all of life is vanity. Short. Fleeting. We have little or no control over it. It was written about it Psalm 91. “As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, Or if due to strength, eighty years, Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; For soon it is gone and we fly away.” (Psalm 90:10). It’s perplexing how little normal people actually consider thoughts like these. I mean, even without any kind of spirituality, it still might be among the most glaring philosophical challenges. One day we aren’t. The next day we are. The next day we aren’t again. It’s twisted really.

 

3kids Earlier this afternoon I was doing some research for a blog network I’m starting up called Under the Sun. I searched to see whether the domain name was available, but found that it wasn’t. What I found instead was a webspace occupied by Sharon Hundt. About nine years ago, Sharon lost her son Greg, at age 17, to cancer. He’d fought hard against the illness for three years before his body finally gave in during surgery to remove a tumor. Therapeutically, Sharon decided to construct a website for her family and in the remembrance of Greg. You can read through stories and thoughts and memories at underthesun.com. I’m sure that Sharon would be glad to know that in some way people were still finding ways to meet her son.

 

Reading Sharon’s grief, and in some ways sharing in the experience of losing her son, it has reminded me that our lives aren’t guaranteed to us. It’s a wonder that we’re born in the first place, let alone continue to live day by day. The story of Greg’s fight and death, even at a young age, has reminded me of the vanity of life. The only decisions that I can be sure of are the ones that are made right now. I cannot be sure of next year, next month, even ten minutes from now. So in light of that, I agree with the author of Hebrews in saying that a certain day has been fixed, “Today.” (Hebrews 4:7).

Posted by: William | June 4, 2008

"Christian" Dating Site Ad

I was working on some other blogs this afternoon and one of the weirdest, funniest, saddest, most perplexing ads popped up from my own Google Adsense account. Take a gander:

imgad

I’m not even exactly sure where to start here. Am I supposed to be enticed? Offended? Angered?… Aroused? The fact that this ad was even presented holds some evidence of the mounting problem of sexual sin within the church. Look at her face. She’s definitely not saying, “Let’s get really kinky and wait for marriage”. Her expression and body language is clearly a sexual enticement.

“Certified Christian”? I don’t remember getting my certification. “Safe Christian Community”, seriously?

But here’s the kicker, “Christians Join for FREE”. What’s that supposed to mean? Does that mean that there are folks on that website who aren’t Christians, but they made up for it by paying the registration fees? Or does it mean that there’s only Christians but during the sign up process they make sure they get a good look at your membership card. You know, come to think of it, I’m not sure I know where my membership card is.

I make light of it, but there is not business where there isn’t market. This is a reflection of the greater condition of the church and it isn’t too pretty. Let’s pray.

Posted by: William | June 3, 2008

Forgotten Movies: The Basketball Diaries

1800234414p I watched The Basketball Diaries tonight; a drug culture drama from early on in Leonardo DiCaprio’s career. Also, a film adaptation of a series of journal entries from the true story of well known and respected Jim Carroll. Since the movie came in 1995, you might not even remember it. It wasn’t exactly a blockbuster smash hit then either, but to date, it’s still one of my favorites.

For those who haven’t seen the movie, the story follows Jim (Leo) as he transforms from reckless, but fun loving middle-lower class kid, quickly gaining the attention of basketball recruiters, to a full fledged homeless junkie willing to do absolutely anything for a fix. There’s very little about this movie that doesn’t scream “mid-90’s!”. The acting. The lighting. The setting. The lingo. But what is unusual is a really stunning performance from Leo. By today’s standards, a lot falls as far as dramas go. But Leo’s acting, even today, is still rarely matched.

While the movie is good as it is, it’s not especially entertaining. But that’s alright. Entertainment here doesn’t seem to be chiefly the point. It’s one of those few films that you watch and don’t enjoy and on some level never want to watch again, but at the same time you can’t turn it off and you won’t bad mouth it when it’s over. At some points, the gruesome sobriety on screen will make even a person sitting alone feel awkward or queasy inside.

I’ve never been a rock bottom drug addict in New York City before, so it’s hard for me to say just how realistic the culture portrayed is. But it seems to me that regardless of that, the point is clear and the culture has little to do with it. Jim gave himself, foolishly, to a dangerous bride. Like so many of us here and now, he was bewitched and intoxicated by what he’d surrendered himself to and he couldn’t walk away. Of course, we might hide it better than a junkie.

If you haven’t seen The Basketball Diaries, go grab it. And if you haven’t seen it in a while, maybe you’d like a refresher. Just remember, it’s not exactly a popcorn flick.

Posted by: William | June 2, 2008

Kill it Before it Kills You

Let me not forget the sober truth that sin is a murderer and let’s all remember together the sentiments of Richard Baxter:

“Use sin as it will use you; spare it not, for it will not spare you; it is your murderer, and the murderer of the whole world. Use it, therefore, as a murderer should be used; kill it before it kills you; and though it brings you to the grave, as it did your head, it shall not be able to keep you there. You love not death; love not the cause of death.”

What a chilling reminder to receive whenever we quietly court so dangerous a mistress.

Posted by: William | June 1, 2008

Splitting Wood

One of my favorite televisions shows is Malcom in the Middle. It went off the air a few years back, but I always record the syndicated airings of it on our DVR box. One of the episodes I watched a few days ago featured the show’s three youngest brothers visiting their oldest brother at a ranch where he works. In the episode, the youngest of the crew, Dewey, is asked by kindly and naive owner’s wife not to touch some antique native American toys. Of course he does anyway and ends up breaking it. The woman is heartbroken and yells at Dewey. Of course, Dewey then feels bad and later goes to apologize to the woman, who then feels bad for yelling at him. She tells him that the best medicine for guilt is to work your body to the bone until you’re sore all over. So, the two of them go off and clean every inch of the ranch until they both feel better.

Of course, we know that the woman’s advice to Dewey is technically bad advice. Working hard is about as good a medicine for guilt as Aspirin is for cancer. But, I think there is a shaft of truth in her sentiments.

firewood

I have a small fire pit in my back yard which, a few times a week, friends like to gather a round and enjoy each other’s company. Well, as it is, firewood quickly becomes a pressing commodity. Yesterday, I happened upon a apple tree being cut down, so I collected most of the wood and hauled it off to my house. I ended up with a couple dozen huge sections of freshly cut tree that wasn’t going to season very well in its gigantic condition. So, a friend and I spent a few hours this afternoon splitting wood.

In several hours, we worked through about half of the pile and managed to keep all of our fingers and toes (usually I lose one appendage or another when swinging an axe). I have to say that it’s interesting how similar the feelings are following a strong devotion and swinging a fifteen pound axe for three hours. It sheds experiential light on the old proverb:

“From the fruit of his lips a man is filled with good things as surely as the work of his hands rewards him.” (Proverbs 12:14)

I believe I will enjoy this opportunity over the next few days to hack up the rest of this wood and experience what kind of physical and spiritual rewards the work of these hands might bring.

Posted by: William | May 31, 2008

eMusic Downloading Service

I’m a big fan of music. When Napster came around I was all over it, when that got shut down and Grockser and Limewire emerged, I quickly joined the fun. In high school I downloaded loads of music, most of which I never listened much to, but occasionally enjoyed perusing my own collection yet unheard music. After I became a Christian, it wasn’t long before I stopped downloading music from the free programs and moved to more law-friendly services—such as itunes.

Unfortunately, itunes and its contemporaries aren’t too friendly on the pocketbook. But what’s more important than that, it’s difficult to sift through and find really good music. It’s easy to peruse the itunes libraries, but it’s hard to feel confident enough about some unknown artist to drop $10 – $15 on an album which very well may disappoint. Most of the editors picks are new or rising stars on major labels, with tons of production money thrown at them. If there’s one thing music lovers can really agree on, it’s that popular doesn’t necessarily equal good. The bottom line is, the popular music download providers are too expensive to really explore new music and discover really good music, and their heavy affiliation with major labels makes it difficult to find the rare gems of the little known music universe.

25966-hi-emusic Well, this week I discovered something outstanding. It’s a yet little-known company called eMusic. They deal only in independent labels. So if Beyonce is your thing, this probably won’t be for you. But if you’re like me and really love to explore new music and especially the lesser known stuff, eMusic is dream come true!

eMusic is a download service, fully legal and based in New York. They offer downloads at a fraction of the price you’d find them in their major competitors. A single song can be purchased for as low as about $0.25. However, unlike itunes or Amazon.com, eMusic is a subscription service. Which means that you fill up an account balance each month, then use it to download songs. $20 will get you 75 downloads. Spend the $20 up front, and download whatever you want until you’re out.

So, the pricing is right, but frankly great prices don’t mean squat if there isn’t also a great selection. Lucky for us, there’s an excellent selection! eMusic has a library of over 3 Million songs, all from artists signed to independent labels from all over the world. There is great music in every genre and editor picks from almost every genre.

Because of the vast number of songs and the likelihood that you’ll be exploring a lot of stuff you’ve never heard of before, eMusic has an excellent system for refining searching and browsing options. You can brows by genre, record label, artist, year, even what instruments are used. For someone who can usually describe what they’d like to hear, but not necessarily know who exactly it is that fits the bill, the browsing options are indispensable.

I signed up and have been having an excellent time browsing and downloading new music and I recommend you do the same. Here are just a few of the artists I’ve come to enjoy, thanks to eMusic.

 

11061961_155_155 Jah Cure

True Reflections… A New Beginning

Jah Cure is a combination of interesting Reggae, with some clear Indian influence. Most notable about the album is the vocals. While clearly fitting in the Reggae genre, there is also a unique tone or inflection in the vocals that bring something really fresh to the sound.

 

 

10814559_155_155 Jan Davis

Concert by the Sea

An entirely instrumental set of Latin tango guitar melodies. The rhythms are smooth and crisp. Every track proves excellent. I’m enjoying it even now, as I’m writing.

 

 

 

11008267_155_155 The Duhks

Migrations

Bluegrass in the same vein as Nickel Creek. The instrumentals have a traditional and often upbeat sound, but the vocals are contemporary enough to keep the less bluegrass-inclined crowd interested.

Posted by: William | May 30, 2008

Seven Sayings – Chapter Five

For more information on this edition of Reading Classics Together, swing by Challies.com or pick up the book, The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross by Arthur W. Pink.

This week in Seven Sayings, Pink explored Jesus’ declaration of thirst in John 19:28:

“After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), ‘I thirst.’ “

Pink spends a considerable time talking about the display of Christ’s humanity in the statement, “I thirst” as well as a considerable amount of time discussing the fulfillment of prophecy in his statement. But I thought what was most interesting was in his bringing up the idea that Jesus is not a priest who cannot relate to our own sufferings. It was the briefest of sections in the chapter, so I decided I’d just share the whole section.

The problem of suffering has ever been a perplexing one. Why should suffering be necessary in a world that is governed by a perfect God? A God who not only has the power to prevent evil, but who is love. Why should there be pain and wretchedness, sickness and death? As we look out on the world and take cognizance of its countless sufferers, we are bewildered. This world is but a vale of tears. A thin veneer of gaiety scarcely succeeds in hiding the drab facts of life. Philosophizing about the problem of suffering brings scant relief. After all our reasonings we ask, Does God see? Is there knowledge with the Most High? Does he really care? Like all questions, these must be taken to the cross. While they do not find there a complete answer, nevertheless they do meet that which satisfies the anxious heart. While the problem of suffering is not fully solved there, yet the cross does throw sufficient light upon it to relieve the tension. The cross shows us that God is not ignorant of our sorrows, for in the person of his Son he has himself “borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isa. 53:4)! The cross shows us God is not unmindful of our distress and anguish, for becoming incarnate, he suffered himself! The cross tells us God is not indifferent to pain for in the Saviour he experienced it!

What then is the value of these facts? This: “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted (or tried) like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). Our Redeemer is not one so removed from us that he is unable to enter, sympathetically, into our sorrows, for he was himself “the Man of Sorrows”. Here then is comfort for the aching heart. No matter how despondent you maybe, no matter how rugged your path and sad your lot, you are invited to spread it all before the Lord Jesus and cast all your care upon him, knowing that “he careth for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Is your body wracked with pain? So was his! Are you misunderstood, misjudged, misrepresented? So was he! Have those who are nearest and dearest turned away from you? They did from him! Are you in the darkness? So was he for three hours! “Wherefore in all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest” (Heb. 2:17).

Posted by: William | May 29, 2008

A "Stand By Me" Adventure

A crew of friends took a trip across the Bay Bridge today to go on an adventure into the woods. I thought it would be fun to bring everyone along with me today. Six minutes of excitement awaits you! Enjoy!

On a secondary note, I’ve never realized just how bad YouTube compression is, especially compared to the superior but yet unsupported blip.tv. Oh well, make well with what I’ve got, right?

Posted by: William | May 28, 2008

Quickly Forgotten

I was thinking about sin today. Well, I guess I’m usually thinking about sin—circumstance is really the definer. In any case, I was reminded of one of the most important sentiments a person can receive; it comes from the Scriptures, through the puritan, John Owen’s great discernment.

“Do you mortify? Do you make it your daily work? Be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

I forget this often. Daily. It’s funny how regularly a person can court sin openly; or abandon one sin only and think well of themselves, but all the while silently picking up some other sin. But the truth remains that all sin is out to kill us. All sin will see us dead, if given its way. And all men are prone at all times to give themselves to this well adorned mistress.

Through the work of Christ on the cross it is every Christian’s duty and joy to put to death the deeds of the body. Because Owen is right in his noting: “Be killing sin or sin will be killing you.”

Posted by: William | May 27, 2008

Gollum & Me

Over the past three days, my mother and I have watched the whole Lord of the Rings trilogy, extended versions, on DVD. I’d seen the first one several times and the second one two or three times, but the third one I hadn’t seen since the theaters, and hence never seen the extra footage from the extended DVD. My mother had never seen any of them, and after recently watching the new Indiana Jones movie and Prince Caspian, felt like she wanted to catch up some.

gollum Most everyone is familiar with the movies, and the creature Gollum. The skinny, big eyed, schizophrenic, ring-of-power withdraw patient. Now, I’m sure that many have made this comparison before me, perhaps that was even the original intention in designing such a character—but of all the characters in the entire set of movies, I think that I identified with Gollum the most closely. Of course there are plenty of other characters anyone would rather see themselves as, but in the soberest of realities, Gollum is the closest comparison.

There are some times when my own conversations with myself, about sin, mirror the creature’s debates over how to get back his beloved ring. It’s a striking parallel sometimes.

I can see, again, Paul’s inner struggle in Romans 7:14-24:

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

However, unlike Gollum, who’s divided person met his end in flames, clutching his ring in hand, I can say with Paul, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:25) I will not share in Gollum’s fate.

Posted by: William | May 26, 2008

When I Don’t Desire God

BWDD_large John Piper’s When I Don’t Desire God is hands down one of the best, most well balanced, theologically on-point books I have ever read. It is my opinion that most Christians, especially in America, especially who deal day in-day out, with a stale spiritual life, should read this book.

Although I am a subscriber to the Desiring God blog, on which Piper is a regular author, and besides having seen Piper speak on several occasion, this is only the second book from Piper that I’ve read all the way through. He has a somewhat peculiar writing style that takes a chapter or two to adjust to and I hadn’t managed to do it in the past. But this time I did and it was well worth it.

Piper sets out in the beginning of the book to relay some ground work for folks who aren’t already in tune with the idea of Christian Hedonism. It’s essentially the idea that a person should do absolutely whatever is necessary to make themselves happy. So, to be a Christian Hedonist would be to believe that knowing God and enjoying God is essentially the only real way to be happy. He relays the foundation of biblical truth spoken of extensively in other works that “God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in him”. The ideas are laced together to create a framework to teach the weary and the bored that we must “rejoice always in the Lord”. (Philippians 4:4).

Throughout his text, he stays strikingly well balanced. Teaching, from the scripture, many profound spiritual truths—however abstract they may be. But scarcely does he introduce a spiritual truth without pairing it with a practical implementation. The best example of Piper’s skill here is during his discussion of the word of God and it’s place in our lives. He spends one chapter discussing the spiritual truths and implications of the word of God, but then follows immediately with an entire chapter of helpful, time tested ideas of how to live out those truths.

Finally the last chapter focuses on the occasion that a person seeks hard to enjoy God and be satisfied by Him, but is not. In that discussion I found great encouragement and strength for my own soul. That chapter alone perhaps was worth the entire book.

When I Don’t Desire God finishes out at 234 pages and spans across 12 chapters. In addition to that, each chapter is broken up into a dozen or so subsections that make picking it up and putting it down very easy. It effectively removes excuses for not reading by making sure that you don’t necessarily have to read for more than just a few minutes, if that’s all you’ve got available to you.

All in all, I recommend this book to all believers. It’s affordable and valuable and is likely to stir you in unexpected ways.

Posted by: William | May 25, 2008

Who Is Pleased

Perhaps
At the game;
For the man in the stands with the Handycam.

Maybe
The classroom;
For the man when he stands with his belt in hand.

Certainly
In the home;
For the man understands that life must go as planned.

But caution:
For likely a burden
To heavy to bear,
When energies down here,
And not up there.

Forever
Pay attention;
For while father may be pleased—Father may be grieved.

Posted by: William | May 24, 2008

We’re All Master Conspirators

Just a thought:

Apparent connections don’t necessarily imply connections. Conspiracy theorists and evolutionists alike seem to confuse the idea. Simply because we can draw a line between one thing in our minds to another, doesn’t necessarily mean the line is actually there. But it’s not just evolutionists and political nut jobs who tend to that kind of thinking—Everyone tends to that kind of thinking. Especially when God is involved. “I am suffering, and therefore God does not love me,” or “I remember putting my faith in God and therefore, I am responsible for my faith.” We do that kind of thing regularly and don’t usually notice it. At least I don’t.

Check out poet (or comedian, I’m not exactly sure which one) Rives demonstration of the idea. This was the inspiration for the thought.

Posted by: William | May 23, 2008

Seven Sayings – Chapter Four

For more information on this edition of Reading Classics Together, swing by Challies.com or pick up the book, The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross by Arthur W. Pink.

This week in Seven Sayings Arthur W. Pink expounds on Jesus’ word of Anguish taken from Matthew 27:46:

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Pink makes plenty of poignant observations and cutting admonishments to the unbeliever and believer alike, but what I decided that I’d like to mention, was his reminder that the cross of Christ was not only Jesus’ demonstration of love, but of God’s demonstration of holiness and totally inflexible justice.

He says it like this:

The tragedy of Calvary must be viewed from at least four different viewpoints. At the Cross man did a work: he displayed his depravity by taking the Perfect One and with “wicked hands” nailing him to the Tree. At the cross Satan did a work: he manifested his insatiable enmity against the woman’s seed by bruising His heel. At the Cross the Lord Jesus did a work: He died, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God. At the Cross God did a work: He exhibited His holiness and satisfied His justice by pouring out his wrath on the One who was made sin for us.

In Jesus’ cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” we meet the climax of the testimony of his sacrifice. It was at that moment that all of the wrath of God against sinful people was diverted onto the Perfect One.

That is more than noteworthy. It’s mindblowing.

Posted by: William | May 22, 2008

The Possibilities of Life

Have you ever been swept up in the possibilities of life? I mean, like the vast possibilities. People occupy the entire array of possible lifestyles and esteem. Globally, I mean. Kings; princes; government officials; wealthy business men; executives; movie stars; rock stars; upper management; lower management; blue collar workers; hard laborers; retail workers; public servants; children; the poor; the homeless; the dying; the sick. We’ve got people minutes from being born, and people minutes from dying. All the different things that could happen, in all the different situations and circumstances that arise throughout a person’s life, cascade out to what seems like an almost endless set of possibilities of where a person can end up.

Here in America we’re sort of bred into a kind of ‘you can do whatever you put your mind to’ ideology; which, for a number of reasons isn’t true—and probably destructive. Most folks in America will grow up with their hands in one thing but their eyes on another altogether. Most will pass without a trace; forgotten by people within a few decades at most. Some will have a longer run; entertainers and servants, whose work will exceed their life span. A very select few will make it into history books on account of their great leadership or massive blunders. But none will enjoy these comforts and joys; none will be able to enjoy his status with any real longevity, instead, folks he’ll never meet will. “…A person who has toiled with wisdom and knowledge and skill must leave everything to be enjoyed by someone who did not toil for it” (Ecclesiastes 2:21).

There are some times when I forget the big picture. I look so closely at this life—what I’d like to achieve, who I’d like to be, the statuses I’d like to enjoy, the relationships I’d like to have—and forget how truly fleeting they are. I sometimes foolishly give my heart to these things and grieve that I do not now enjoy them. But all the while, if my gaze would be upon the big picture, I would see the grandness of what is to be enjoyed and the triviality of what I feign for.

May the Lord grant mercy to me and my brothers and sisters in this. And may he give strength to place our hearts in heaven, and so there we may also find our treasure.

Tragic,
To miss
To see
What way deep down
We’d like
To be.
Believe,
If here
It fails
A test of taste
To move
These scales.

Posted by: William | May 21, 2008

A Piece of Cake

If I may, I’d like to say a few short words about chocolate cake and sin— but mostly cake.

You know boxed cake? Like the kind that comes all prepared, you just add a few things and go? You know how it’s always good, but never really great? Yeah, I know. I mean, it’s alright, but never astounding. Well, I’ve discovered the solution to this little problem. It comes by way of non-traditional preparation.

I made a cake like this a few nights ago; it was gone within a few hours. The next day, I got ambitious and thought I’d try it again with some different ingredients. Well, it didn’t work. I overestimated the cake’s resilience against fresh berries. To my dismay, it collapsed and I had something that looked like a big soggy pancake.

After discovering my error, and the giant wasted cake, things started going wrong left and right or at least it seemed that way. Just little annoying things and it reminded me sort of the way sin works too. I don’t mean to trivialize sin by comparing it to cake preparation, but bear with me for a moment. It seemed to me that once I botched the cake, my consciousness slipped into some irritable state in which I began botching more things until I eventually just said “Agh!” and retreated to my bedroom where I sat quietly for some time while regaining a positive frame of mind. In the same way, one sin primes the heart and hands for more sins—at least that has been my experience. I suppose that’s why sin is such a dangerous thing and vastly more grievous that botching a cake. In fact, it might have been a stupid comparison, come to think of it. But it really was the first thing that came to mind.

In any case, I’m now going to give you the recipe for the best chocolate cake you’re ever going to eat. Just don’t botch it, like I did.

- Dark Chocolate Cake Mix

- 3.9 oz box of instant chocolate pudding

- 16 oz container of sour cream

- Three eggs

- ½ cup coffee liqueur

- 1/3 cup vegetable oil

- 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

  1. Preheat over to 350 degrees and grease your pan real good. I use a 10 inch bundt pan (you know, the kind that looks like a big donut) but you could probably use two smaller circle pans or a big square one.
  2. Mix all that crap together in a mixer, or by hand if you want. If you can’t get the coffee liqueur, you can probably just omit it or you could try using just regular sweetened coffee.
  3. Empty everything into your pan. The batter’s going to be thick, so get out a spatula. If you’re using the bundt pan, you can cook it for 1 hour. If you’re using a different kind of pan, cook for about 45 minutes, then test it with a toothpick. If it comes out clean, you’re good to go. Otherwise, give it some more time, then try again.
  4. Let the cake cool completely before you eat it. You don’t really need icing, but if you want to, more sugar can’t possibly hurt.
Posted by: William | May 20, 2008

I Am & I Will

I am the king;
I am the prince;
And I am the jester;

I will be succeeded;
I will be entertained;
And I will do whatever it takes;

I am the General;
I am the Lieutenant;
And I am the sword;

I will give commands;
I will do as told;
And I will stop at nothing;

I am the guard;
I am the prison;
And I am the shackles;

I will keep careful watch;
I will seal every exit;
And I will stay tightly fastened;

I am the thief;
I am the prisoner;
And I am the weary, tired and sick;

I will hold the blame;
I will remain in chains;
And I will withhold the cure;

Who shall rescue us from this body of death?

Posted by: William | May 19, 2008

Prayer Acronym

While reading When I Don’t Desire God this afternoon, I came across John Piper’s acronym IOUS which he uses to help him stay on track through his morning prayers. It seems really insightful and helpful and so I thought about summarizing it. But it also seems unlikely that I’d do a better job than Mr. Piper, so I decided to leave things in his own words.

I—(Incline!) The first thing my soul needs is an inclination toward God and his Word. Without that, nothing else will happen of any value in my life. I must want to know God and read his Word and draw near to him. Where does that “want to” come from? It comes from God. So Psalm 119:36 teaches us to pray, “Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!” Very simply we ask God to take our hearts, which are more inclined to breakfast and the newspaper, and change that inclination. We are asking that God create desires that are not there.

O—(Open!) Next I need to have the eyes of my heart opened so that when my inclination leads me to the Word, I see what is really there, and not just my own ideas. Who opens the eyes of the heart? God does. So Psalm 119:18 teaches us to pray, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” So many times we read the Bible and see nothing wonderful. Its reading does not produce joy. So what can we do? We can cry to God: “Open the eyes of my heart, O Lord, to see what it says about you as wonderful.”

U—(Unite!) Then I am concerned that my heart is badly fragmented. Parts of it are inclined, and parts of it are not. Parts see wonder, and parts say, “That’s not so wonderful.” What I long for is a united heart where all the parts say a joyful Yes! to what God reveals in his Word. Where does that wholeness and unity come from? It comes from God. So Psalm 86:11 teaches us to pray, “Unite my heart to fear your name” Don’t stumble over the word fear when you were seeking joy. The fear of the Lord is a joyful experience when you renounce all sin. A Thunderstorm can be a trembling joy when know you can’t be destroyed by lightning “O Lord, let your ear be attentive to… the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name” (Neh. 1:11). “His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD” (Isa. 11:3) There fore pray that God would unite your heart to joyfully fear the Lord.

S—(Satisfy!) What I really want from all this engagement with the Word of God and the work of his Spirit in answer to my prayers is for my heart to be satisfied with God and not with the world. Where does that satisfaction come from? It comes from God. So Psalm 90:14 teaches us to pray, “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.”

Posted by: William | May 18, 2008

Darwin on Trial

A few things before I get started. I’ve disabled comments on this post. Not for fear of disagreement, but because the general sway of critics on this topic is to to respond with no first hand knowledge of the book in discussion here. My suggestion to all will be that they pick up this book and read it, but that is especially my suggestion to you who vehemently disagree with my praise of this book. Please read the book before emailing me with criticisms.

darwinontrial I recently finished Phillip E. Johnson’s Darwin on Trial. And I will state outright, that this book should be read by many who accept Darwinian evolution simply on the bases that it is “widely accepted” or from the limited exposure we have received in grade school.

Simply for his skepticism, most serious supporters of Darwinism will chalk Johnson off as a creationist fundamentalist bent on mind control, without giving very much heed to his own testimony. Johnson is a “philosophical theist and a Christian. [He believes] that a God exists who could create out of nothing if He wanted to do so, but who might have chosen to work through a natural evolutionary process instead.” Through the rest of his text, Johnson makes little reference to intelligent design of any kind, except where discussing the scientific communities own actions. However, he makes no argument for another theory at all, simply a criticism of the existing one.

In the conclusion of his first chapter, Johnson describes himself as “not a scientist,” he states, “but an academic lawyer by profession, with a specialty in analyzing the logic of arguments and identifying the assumptions that lie behind those arguments.” This is the skill most clearly employed through the course of his book. Beginning with a linguistic discussion of the word “science” and what exactly it means according to various official statements. Johnson makes a compelling argument about the legal setting of scientific terms which reveal a bias that actually limits scientific integrity more than supporting it.

Johnson doesn’t shy away from the very specific discussion of the evidence supporting Darwinism. He spends about the first half of his book discussing natural selection, fossil records, mutations, molecular evidence and more, peppered throughout. But the other half of the book begins a critique of the scientific community at large; with Darwinism as a centerpiece.

Some of Johnson’s most compelling discussion involves the difference between empirical science and philosophical science—Darwinism falls largely in the latter. However, we have a difference here that the general public knows nothing about and because of philosophical reasoning, shouldn’t know anything about.

Johnson writes clearly and effectively and so that everyone can understand. The book is divided into 154 pages and twelve chapters. That leaves each chapter short enough that you don’t need a great commitment to the book to work through it. Johnson has a manner of writing that, although he is discussion relatively dry material, we never find ourselves especially bored.

Most Americans view the scientific community remembering the scientific method from back in grade school. Remember? Problem, research, hypothesis, experimentation, hypothesis test, analysis, conclusions. This is not big science; it is sometimes, but not all the time, but we don’t see the difference—it all gets labeled science. Perhaps the populous shouldn’t rely so heavily on the science community for its truth.

Because the book speaks clearly for itself, and for fear of misrepresenting it, I’ve intentionally stayed away from Johnson’s specific critiques of the science community and of Darwinism. I recommend this book to all. It’s easy to read, easy to understand, and affordably priced.

Posted by: William | May 17, 2008

A Rich Wife

I just got home from a long day of wedding photography. A family friend hired me last minute to photograph their daughter’s wedding. The family is devoutly catholic with a very large extended family which makes for a unique shooting experience from start to finish. This wedding only hosted about 350 guests, but the last one I shot for them hosted about 700. Needless to say, it’s always a learning experience, but also an enjoyable one.

To add to everything else, the ceremony and reception are both a good two hours from my base of operations (i.e., my bedroom). Phew. Regardless, I’m grateful for work.

map1

I’ve been driving for four hours today, and on my feet and in my camera the rest of the day, so I’m beat. But I did want to share a brief thought. When I got home, I decided to dig a tad and see what words of wisdom our deceased puritan brothers might have concerning marriage; considering that I spent all day at a wedding and all. What I found was Thomas Bridges’ exhortation to godly men to seek diligently for women of spiritual beauty and riches. Enjoy!

“If thou art a man of holiness, thou must look more for a portion of grace in thy wife, than for a portion of gold with a wife; thou must look more for righteousness than riches; more after piety than money; more after the inheritance she hath in heaven, than the inheritance she hath on earth; more at her being new born, than at her being high born.”

I suppose presumably, in Bridges day it wouldn’t be uncommon for a man to seek his spouse based on her father’s bank account. But his words remain applicable—even if we’re not talking about monetary wealth any more.

Amen, Bridges.

Posted by: William | May 16, 2008

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

This movie gets four diamonds. Whatever that means.

prince-caspian I guess today’s post is going to be a very early one. I just got home from seeing the first possible showing of The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. Well of course, what else could one expect? I’m a Christian and I guess I do things like that. That’s exactly what Disney and Walden Media are banking on. Literally.

I will say up front that Narnia is an obvious, shameless attempt to capitalize on the growing population of Americans who proactively call themselves Christians. I’m certain that many fans of the original C.S. Lewis works will have grievances with the film adaptation of this installment in the series, but there’s something important to note here. Between C.S. Lewis and Disney/Walden Media, there is a very important difference. C.S. Lewis was a writer to the glory of God, with the end hope that those who didn’t know Jesus would, and those who did know Jesus would fall more deeply in love with him. His articulate and inspiring allegories and non-fiction works have done this for a vast number of people. Walden Media and Disney, on the other hand, have one thing in mind. Money. They are businesses and it’s what they do, it’s what they exist for and it would be silly for us to expect otherwise.

However more shallow the purpose in producing this series may be, it does not change that an excellent job was done.

For those who are unfamiliar with this installment of the Narnia series, Peter, Edmund, Lucy and Susan have been back in the real world for a year since they’re first trip to Narnia when suddenly they are whisked back. In Narnia times, somewhere around 1000 years have passed and the whimsical creatures of the ancient land have been forced into hiding by a line of corrupt kings of the “son’s of Adam”. When the gang arrives on the scene, they discover things to be quite different than they remember and a lot rougher (also a quality of the film, clearly contrasting the last installment). Alongside Prince Caspian, the rightful heir to the throne, the crew must lead the Narnians in a fight against the army’s of men.

When compared to the story’s close relative The Lord of the Rings, Narnia is child’s play. In the whole film there is next to no graphic violence at all. In fact, the only blood shown is when one character cuts his hand. But let’s remember, this is a family film. And even being such, the lack of graphic violence didn’t take away from the intensity of the action or the story. Unlike the first film, which ultimately felt a bit anticlimactic, this installment pushed the audience’s limits at pretty much every turn. The fight sequences were intense enough to be believed and the characters deep enough to be cared about. The combination made for an extremely enjoyable viewing experience.

The movie’s pacing should also be noted. While nearly everything in the first installment of Narnia felt rushed and crowded, the second installment clearly resolved this problem for the most part. Although the opening sequence involving the children did feel a bit hasty, the rest of the story unfolded with grace and clarity. A friend appropriately described it saying that they fully committed to nearly every sequence. No fight was rushed, no argument skimmed over, no dialogue irrationally assumed. They took their time on every opportunity and it paid off well.

The visual effects in this installment were stellar. One particular sequence involving a water creature stands out as possibly being the best visual effects I have ever seen to date. The music score was also excellent. It never distracted from the movie; in fact, I rarely explicitly noticed it at all.

While it seems that much of the movie stayed true to the book, there are a number of events in the movie which I know for sure were added; likely for commercial appeal. Those who have read the book will probably grumble at them because the additions added little and often threatened what was already there; one quite notably so. I agree that the additions were frivolous and ultimately useless, but let’s remember, Disney and Walden aren’t trying to make disciples here, they’re trying to make money. Once again, this installment also closed with an extremely poor choice in soundtrack. However, the error is easily forgiven, and who can blame them for wanting to sell a few extra copies of the soundtrack album?

One thing that should be noted and praised in this movie adaptation is that glory in this movie is not relinquished to our heroes. They are consistently shown to be failures and incapable of fighting the fight before them. The glory is consistently shifted to Aslan; no doubt Lewis’ original intention.

From an entertainment standpoint, I highly enjoyed this installment; much more than the first one—for sure. But on a personal level, there were many nuggets of C.S. Lewis insight for us to consider. But I don’t want to say too much. For me personally, even some prospects that challenge my own heart and mind when evaluating myself and my desires. One such occasion, Peter has run valiantly into a noble and stubborn fight which he cannot win; in the midst of his stubbornness, Susan rebukes him saying:

“Who are you fighting this for?” Good question, Susan.

Posted by: William | May 15, 2008

Seven Sayings – Chapter Three

For more information on this edition of Reading Classics Together, swing by Challies.com or pick up the book, The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross by Arthur W. Pink.

This week in Arthur Pink’s Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross Pink talked about Jesus’ “word of affection”. Namely John 19:25-27.

“but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.”

The very first segment of this chapter was so powerful in its discussion of Mary standing by silently as Jesus was crucified. I shared that piece of the text earlier this week on Mother’s Day, so I won’t say too much today about the chapter. But there are a few things that I wanted to remark on.

Pink noted that in this picture, as throughout the rest of Jesus’ ministry leading up to this event, Joseph, Jesus’ legal father, is nowhere to be found. It can safely be speculated that he must have died some time before his ministry began. Mary was very much in the care of her son and that’s where the remarkable thing lies. Here’s Jesus, in the midst of doing the very thing that the whole world was created for. All of created history was in the midst of discovering its whole reason for being, its point, and Jesus sees fit to arrange temporal provisions for his mother.

Pink makes the point that we see the importance of honoring our parents in Jesus’ actions here. Regardless of how old we become, or how important our work is, there is always honor due to our parents and Jesus exemplifies that here.

To me, that is a remarkable thing—although I’m not yet sure what to actually do with it.

Posted by: William | May 14, 2008

Before the Throne of God Above

When does despair set in? When there is no hope. When there is no chance of recovery. When terminal patients are in the hospital, doctors attempt to keep them hopeful for as long as possible or else they may give up fighting their disease and secure their death. Sometimes, it is a daily battle in my walk with the Lord to keep from despair.

I sometimes picture that I am walking through a dark place with Jesus a few steps behind me. As if he was saying, “keep walking, I’m right here,” continually nudging me foreword. But at every step my knees weaken and I become convinced that there’s no way I’ll be able to make the next step and will have to stop walking.

Shane & Shane have a recording of Before the Throne of God Above that is continually used by way of reminder to bring strength to my knees.

Before the throne of God above
I have a strong and perfect plea
A great high Priest who’s name is Love
Who ever lives and pleads for me

My name is graven on His hand
My name is written on His heart
I know that while in heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart

When satan tempts me to despair
and tells me of the guilt within
upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin

Because a sinless Savior died
my sinful soul is counted free
For God the just is satisfied
to look on Him and pardon me

Hallelujah
Praise the One Risen Son of God.

Behold Him there, the risen Lamb
My perfect spotless righteousness
The great unchangeable I AM
The King of Glory and of grace

One in Himself, I cannot die
My soul is purchased by His blood
My life is hid with Christ on high
With Christ my Savior and my God

In the legal court of heaven, I have been declared just. Despair is now a logical and realistic irrationality. It is altogether inconsistent with a situation which is characterized entirely by hope! May the God of all comfort bring strength to the knees of his children.

Posted by: William | May 13, 2008

Joy on the Titanic

John Piper’s shtick is joy. His zeal for the topic is beautiful and spreading as people read his literature. The topic for me is challenging as well, as I read through When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight For Joy. I want to glorify God, I know that and so the truth that “God is most glorified, when we are most satisfied in Him” is challenging to the very core of my walk. It has been ever since I heard Piper speak several years back at a conference. Sometimes it almost seems that it would be easier if I could simply take a deep breath and do the things I really don’t want to do, not like the outcome and have receive no personal fulfillment at all from my actions but all the while “know” that God was glorified. To truly glorify God would fly in the face of that. Piper says at first it seems to “lower the bar”, in terms of the demands of our walk with God. But in truth, it’s just an illusion. It’s not long before it’s obvious that the bar has been raised way above our heads.

In an interesting segment in When I Don’t Desire God, Piper describes joy and the essence of it in Jesus, with images of the Titanic in mind. I’d like to share the picture.

“Nothing is more foundational for the joy of undeserving people than the cross of Jesus Christ. The fight for joy is a fight to grasp and marvel at what happened in the death of Christ—and what it reveals about our suffering savior. If it were not for the death of Jesus in our place, the only possible joy would be the joy of delusion—like the joy on the Titanic just before it hit the iceberg, Without the cross, joy could be sustained only by denying (consciously or subconsciously) the inevitability of divine judgment. In fact, that’s the kind of joy that drives most of the world—a joy that preserves the power of its pleasures but being oblivious to the peril just ahead. If the passengers were suddenly made aware that in a matter of hours most of them would drown in the icy ocean, all their merrymaking would cease. Their joy depends on their ignorance.

However, if the passengers knew that the ocean liner would sink, but that a great armada of utterly dependable ships and sailors was already on the way and would arrive and save everyone who followed their instructions, something very different would happen. To be sure, the lighthearted merrymaking would cease, and a great seriousness would spread over the Titanic; but there would be a different kind of joy—a deep sense of gratitude for the rescuers, and a deep sense of hope that, though much would be lost, life would be saved. Some may panic in unbelief, doubting the promise of rescue. But others would rise in strength and hope and do great acts of love in preparation for the coming destruction.”

Posted by: William | May 12, 2008

Life… in a Musical

Guilty pleasures. We’ve all got them. Not necessarily moral guilt, although I’m sure many have those also. I’m talking about cultural guilt. Like secretly getting really excited about Project Runway or singing at the top of your lungs to Fall Out Boy songs in the car. Well, for me, it’s musicals. There are others. But musicals make up a big part of the guilty pie. There’s something about life and ordinary discourse happening in strange choreographed song and dance—I just wish it worked that way in real life. I know, it’s weird.

Throughout high school, I had this fantasy of coordinating a huge troop of people to break into song and dance somewhere in public. Maybe in a mall, or a coffee shop or something. At times, it even seemed like it could actually happen. I was friends with some a handful of people in the performing arts department and my crew was always into doing weird things in public. To my dismay, but my ultimate peace of mind, I discovered that a troop, Improv Everywhere, saw my vision to fruition.

So there it was folks. The end of a dream… *sigh*

Posted by: William | May 11, 2008

The Mother of Jesus on Mother’s Day

Today is Mother’s day, and never in history has there been a mother quite as remarkable as Jesus’ mother. So remarkable that some have come close to deifying her. Some have gone all the way. Although we know that she, in her self, was no different from you and I, she was blessed above other women and experienced a greater mercy than all other women in all of history. She was beloved as the mother of our Savior. She experienced greater joy than all other women, but at the onset of her son’s execution, she also experienced deeper sorrow than any woman. In an extended quotation from A.W. Pink’s Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross, we see the glory of Christ in his mother’s sorrow. This quotation is worth the read.

In accordance with the requirements of the Mosaic law, the parents of the child Jesus brought him to the temple to present him to the Lord. Then it was that old Simeon, who waited for the Consolation of Israel, took him into his arms and blessed God. After saying: “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32) he now turned to Mary and said: “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:34, 35). A strange word was that! Could it be that hers, the greatest of all privileges was to bring with it the greatest of all sorrows? It seemed most unlikely at the time Simeon spoke. Yet how truly and how tragically did it come to pass! Here at the cross was this prophecy of Simeon fulfilled.

“Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother” (John 19:25). After the days of his infancy and childhood, and during all the public ministry of Christ, we see and hear so little of Mary. Her life was lived in the background, among the shadows. But now, when the supreme hour strikes of her Son’s agony, when the world has cast out the child of her womb, she stands there by the cross! Who can fitly portray such a picture? Mary was nearest to the cruel tree! Bereft of faith and hope, baffled and paralyzed by the strange scene, yet bound with the golden chain of love to the dying one, there she stands! Try and read the thoughts and emotions of that mother’s heart. O what a sword it was that pierced her soul then! Never such bliss at a human birth, never such sorrow at an inhuman death.

Here we see displayed the Mother-heart. She is the dying man’s mother. The one who agonizes their on the cross is her child. She it was who first planted kisses on that brow now crowned with thorns. She it was who guided those hands and feet in their first infantile movements. No mother ever suffered as she did. His disciples may desert him, his friends may forsake him, his nation may despise him, but his mother stands there at the foot of his cross. Oh, who can fathom or analyze the Mother-heart.

Who can measure those hours of sorrow and suffering as the sword was slowly drawn through Mary’s soul! Hers was no hysterical or demonstrative sorrow. There was no show of feminine weakness; no wild outcry of uncontrollable anguish; no fainting. Not a word that fell from her lips has been recorded by either of the four evangelists: apparently she suffered in unbroken silence. Yet her sorrow was none the less real and acute. Still waters run deep. She saw that brow pierced with cruel thorns, but she could not smooth it with her tender touch. She watched his pierced hands and feet grow numb and livid, but she might not chafe them. She marks his need of a drink, but she is not allowed to slake his thirst. She suffered in profound desolation of spirit.

“There stood by the Cross of Jesus his mother” (John 19:25). The crowds are mocking, the thieves are taunting, the priests are jeering, the soldiers are callous and indifferent, the Saviour is bleeding, dying – and there is his mother beholding the horrible mockery. What wonder if she had swooned at such a sight! What wonder if she had turned away from such a spectacle! What wonder if she had fled from such a scene!

But no! There she is: she does not crouch away, she does not faint, she does not even sink to the ground in her grief – she stands. Her action and attitude are unique. In all the annals of history of our race there is no parallel. What transcendent courage. She stood by the cross of Jesus – what marvellous fortitude. She represses her grief, and stands there silent. Was it not reverence for the Lord which kept her from disturbing his last moments?

Posted by: William | May 10, 2008

The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment

burroughs_rare-jewel-contentment In Philippians 4:11, Paul says, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am”; he will not be swayed by the afflictions of living with much, or living with little—giving note to the fact that there are heavy afflictions in both circumstances. This is the subject and the work of Jeremiah Burroughs in his classic text, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. Originally published in 1648, Contentment later underwent some language modernization and was most recently republished by Banner of Truth as a part of their Puritan Paperbacks series.

I finished the text today and have some mixed feelings regarding Burroughs’ thoughts on the topic. Burroughs’ text focuses on attempting to unpack Paul’s words to the Philippians. What does it mean to be “content”? How can that be achieved? What are the implications upon a content person’s life? What if we’re not content? Burroughs answers all of these questions quite clearly—sometimes too clearly. Unfortunately, at times his answers, well, just aren’t really satisfactory considering the evidence.

Burroughs begins by defining contentment. After reading the first chapter (slowly), there was still a bit of ambiguity concerning what exactly it means for a person to be “content”. I ended up attempting to draw conclusions of Burroughs’ definition from the coming context of the book. Unfortunately, it still wasn’t especially clear. It seems after finishing the book that Burroughs’ means to say that contentment is a sense of being okay with, satisfied in, not needing more than, whatever physical circumstance we may find ourselves in. This seems to be a relatively obvious interpretation of Paul’s words to the Philippians, however, Burroughs doesn’t always sound like that’s what he means when talking about contentment. Perhaps its generational.

Burroughs flows through a kind of rocky path of exploration. He begins with a definition of contentment, flows into how mysterious and miraculous a thing it is (although, doesn’t seem to designate it as something Christians can exclusively enjoy), then moves into the modes of teaching Christ employs when instructing his people. Following that, he goes on to explain the ‘excellence’ of being content. Up until this point, I tracked quite well and often added audible “hmm” noises to my reading. Following his bit on contentment’s excellence, he moves into the sin of not being content, or as he puts it, the sin of a ‘murmuring’ spirit. It’s at this point that things began to swing a bit out of balance—at least in terms of the whole of scripture.

Burroughs makes the point well that contentment is a duty. We ought to fight for it, seek it, labor to attain it. It is also convincing that to be discontented is sinful and we should not be okay with that kind of ingratitude. Unfortunately though, Burroughs’ bit on sin, unlike many of his contemporaries, seems never to really call back to the work of Christ on the cross. Frankly, I was a bit astonished. He had a great deal to say about God’s wrath and his wrath poured out on the discontented, worldly heart. But strikingly little to say about the great ocean of wrath poured out on the dying Jesus on behalf of his bride, who would undoubtedly struggle to achieve contentment all her days.

His definition of ‘murmuring’ is also a bit unclear. At times it seems that he means some deeper heart condition that is out of rest and ungrateful toward God. However, at other times, it seems that his definition might mean something more like complaining. At times of the latter, it’s hard not to call to memory David’s psalms, which are flooded with complaints.

When finally emerging from those chapters on the evils of discontent, Burroughs’ returns to more useful discourse. Namely a conversation about how people regularly will excuse themselves from guilt in discontentment, followed by a clear and practical discussion of how to achieve contentment.

Much of Burroughs’ text was convicting and inspiring. Some of it was discouraging and frankly, out of balance. However, while I disagree with a good chunk of his thoughts, even in the midst of questionable things, there are to be found nuggets of really good insights. I think unlike some of the other books in the Puritan Paperbacks collection, this one may be written more directly to its specific time period. Not that contentment isn’t ageless duty, but rather his method and tone may not be suited well for all time periods.

Because of my own reservations, I don’t recommend this book unless your up for the challenge of discerning and scrutinizing the text. If that is something you’re up for, there’s some excellent insight to be gained here. If you’re not up for that, may I recommend anything written by John Piper; God willing, the intended effect will be much the same.

Posted by: William | May 9, 2008

Seven Sayings – Chapter Two

For more information on this edition of Reading Classics Together, swing by Challies.com or pick up the book, The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross by Arthur W. Pink.

This week’s chapter of Seven Sayings by Arthur W. Pink focused on Jesus’ word of salvation on the cross; most specifically, his brief but profound discourse with the repentant thief on the cross next to him.

And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:42-43)

While reading this, if as if every other line held something that struck me and I wanted to mention. Pink point’s out the beautiful display of God’s sovereign choice of one thief and not the other. He points out the lowliness, humility and shame of the spotless Jesus’ crucifixion between two criminals; that Jesus was “numbered with transgressors”. He points out Jesus’ provision above and beyond what the criminal requested. He points out the representative nature of that criminal in every one of our lives. But I think perhaps what struck me more than other things was Pink’s observation of Jesus’ own desires in that moment and every moment.

The criminal’s request was humble and simple. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He simple requested that when Jesus was finished with this work he was doing, that he would not forget the criminal who hung beside him. Jesus promises to grant this request, but doesn’t stop there. He is unsatisfied to simply snatch the thief from the flames. “Truly,” say’s Jesus, “today you will be with me in Paradise.” Jesus primarily desires, not that the criminal will be saved from hell (although that is part of it), but that will be with him. He desires our fellowship.

Pink puts it this way:

“That which makes heaven superlatively attractive to the heart of the saints is not that heaven is a place where we shall be delivered from all sorrow and suffering, nor is it that heaven is the place where we shall meet again those we loved in the Lord, nor is it that heaven is the place of golden streets and pearly gates and jasper walls—no; blessed as these things are, heaven without Christ would not be heaven. It is Christ the heart of the believer longs for and pants after—‘Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee’ (Ps. 73:25). And the most amazing thing is that heaven will not be heaven to Christ in the highest sense until His redeemed are gathered around Him. It is His saints that His heart longs for. To come again and ‘receive us unto himself’ is the joyous expectation set before Him. Not until He sees of the travail of His soul will He be fully satisfied.”

Those are some pretty remarkable claims from Pink’s pen, but they rest insightfully well with Jesus’ own ministry and the whole of scripture.

This is a comfort. It is coals on the fire of pleasure that I can take in the thought of Jesus’ awesome work of salvation on my behalf. The thought of his affection and desire for me, is magnified when I consider how great a desire it was that he would stop at nothing to get it. And it’s supremely comforting to consider that no man, not even me, could have stopped him from getting what he wanted, even before the foundation of the world.

Posted by: William | May 8, 2008

Why I Write

I post to this blog every single day. I’ve resolved to stick with it diligently. I sometimes will give up other plans to be sure that I can post. You’d be surprised how often folks passively attempt to dissuade me from posting here or there. I’ve been accused of being legalistic, of being hypocritical, of being misdirected, of having some hidden agenda. I’ve even (sort of) been accused of being a part of the massive Christian conspiracy to cover up scientific “truth”.

So today, I was going to post some thoughts on chapter two of Seven Sayings, but decided that I’d take the opportunity to write about why I write. Perhaps to present my reasons in a manner that will qualm people’s suspicions of me and maybe even inspire you to take up writing also.

I write, essentially, for three reasons.

1. The first and the most important, by far, is consistency. On an emotional level, I’m an inconsistent person. Historically, this has commandeered my life. Some days I may wake with a great deal of tenacity and unction, but on another day, I may not have the ambition to get out of bed. Writing helps provide some consistency not found elsewhere and helps to provide stability necessary for me to function from day to day.

Writing is not the only thing that will fall into this category either. Also in this category is diligent daily reading of scripture. Long before I was writing, I found that consistency in reading, regardless of emotional condition, helped to provide a broader sense of consistency in my emotions and ultimately my spiritual life. While in the same vain, writing has proven more demanding and ultimately more rewarding in consistency.

2. The second reason has to do with helping to arrange and organize thoughts. When I led a small group a while back, I found that I would often need to teach about things that I didn’t fully understand, or didn’t understand in an organized fashion. Ultimately, teaching helped to curb that problem. Having a need to organize my thoughts and understandings, proved beneficial, because in the end I would end up having those understandings and being able to apply them to myself.

Now, writing is not exactly like that. However, in a similar way, writing does provide a need to seek understanding in an organized way. More than once this has provided an avenue through which I’ve come to powerful, deeply affecting truths that I likely wouldn’t have sought otherwise.

3. Finally, I think that sharing thoughts is good. More than a few times I’ve been encouraged or impacted by reading other’s online material and since I began writing, I’ve been told that others have been similarly affected reading mine.

This is all a relatively brief overview of why I choose to write and why, for me, it’s important to do it consistently. For me, it’s not legalism, it’s not hypocritical and I don’t have a hidden agenda. It’s just a good habit and a multifaceted benefit to my mental, spiritual and emotional health.

Posted by: William | May 7, 2008

Music of the Week – Nickel Creek

It’s been some time since I gave some set of music its week, but sitting this morning listening to some randomly selected music, I decided today was the day. I’d like to mention one of my favorite groups, Nickel Creek.

I happened upon Nickel Creek years ago when a friend burned me a CD of a few hundred mp3s, few of which actually produced lasting interest. However, in the mix was a single Nickel Creek song, A Lighthouse Tale. The tragic love ballad of two people told from the perspective of a lighthouse. The acoustic mingling of mandolin and fiddle set underneath some really stunning vocal harmonies was enough to hook me. Of course, it’s not what most would consider the manliest music in the world, so it was some time before I felt confident enough to really get into the group’s music.

self-titled While the group recorded a couple of independent albums, the first of the group’s albums I snagged was their first major release, Self-titled; the album from which A Lighthouse Tale came. It took almost no time at all for me to discover that the group really has some deep roots in bluegrass, with the introductory song Ode to a Butterfly. About four minutes of intricate instrumental maze-work akin to something you’d likely hear in your head while trying to escape from an angry mob, down a dirt road, in a stolen hoopty pick-up truck. By the time the song had finished playing through my speakers for the first time, I’d also discovered my own, yet unknown, affection for bluegrass music. Of course, Nickel Creek’s music didn’t stop there. While the album sports a couple other instrumental pieces, it’s not where the group shines.

It wasn’t long before I was introduced to the group’s second major album This Side. Although I was highly preoccupiedthis side with the Self- titled album, the follow-up record was just as good. The bluegrass roots are slightly more subtle, the melodies, music and harmonies lack nothing. The first song to catch my ear from the album was a cover of Pavement’s single, Spit on a Stranger, although I didn’t know the song was a cover until later. Listening to the original later, I discovered that Nickel Creek truly did the original justice. They didn’t butcher or mangle the original’s work, but tweaked and adapted it. Coming shortly after Spit on a Stranger was the song’s title track This Side, then the chronicles of a man’s hidden affections for a woman in Green and Grey.

why-should-the-fire-die Then, the most recent album, Why Should the Fire Die, hit the charts. I think that it appears that the group hit the mark of its musical vision in this record. They didn’t forsake their past expressions, or attempt some strange reinvention, but they introduced to their narrative a kind of pop-bluegrass that hadn’t shown itself yet and frankly I think can scarcely be seen elsewhere. The introduction is especially noted with Somebody More Like You and Helena. The group also debuted a kind of strange teen-angst that you wouldn’t expect to hear along side a fiddle; “I hope you meet someone your height So you can see eye-to-eye, With someone as small as you”.

There are some tracks where the groups obvious Christian affiliation can be seen. Most notably in the masterpiece Doubting Thomas, which has since (unfortunately) been covered by a number of Christian recording artists. Also, to a lesser extent, The Hand Song is also an interesting pseudo spiritual-political piece. While in a number of songs the faith connection is clear, there are other songs where the connection is evident but significantly more subtle. The group definitely doesn’t tout themselves as a Christian group.

Unfortunately for all of us, the group has said farewell to recording. Their final tour was this past year, which is truly a shame. In the single live performance I managed to attend, they earned a spot as one of my favorite live acts. Although all three permanent members, front-man Chris Thile (world class mandolin player and vocals), Sara Watkins (fiddle player), and Sean Watkins (vocals and guitar), all have solo-acts, none of them measure up to the masterful work of their collective.

So, to summarize, go get acquainted with Nickel Creek for yourself. I’m confident you won’t be disappointed.

Posted by: William | May 6, 2008

YouVersion Online Bible Software & Community

image I was keyed into an interesting online bible resource project, YouVersion, by a good friend. I’ve spent much of the day in and out of the software, tinkering with different features and just spending a little bit of time with the currently available “beta” version. After getting a little exposure, I decided it was worth writing a little about.

In short, YouVersion is an online bible and study resource with a focus on community and various types of media contributions. The site is currently being developed by LifeChurch.tv, an online church community. Besides having some reservations about gathering for church meetings online, I am always a proponent of enhancing free bible study tools in order to help all people grow deeper in their faith. Unfortunately, based on what is currently available, it appears the project is walking a dangerous line between relativism and truth. In any case, explore this with me for a bit if you will.

At my absolute first impression, I really hate the name. “YouVersion” smacks of a self-centeredness that people already have a hard enough time shaking, it certainly doesn’t need to be encouraged during their bible study. However, my hunch is that the “You” in the title, is echoing the YouTube generation’s desire to contribute and incorporate their own ideas and efforts into things and so in that sense, the title is apt.

Much like the LifeChurch.tv website, the design is slick. It’s easy to navigate and clearly laid out. You won’t find much in the way of clutter, although due to it’s early development, you might stumble across some bugs. I’m sure they’ll be ironing those out in coming releases.

The site is laid out in two columns. The left column displays the bible text. You can navigate the bible with a collapsible panel on the left, or switch between an array of different translations. Most of the popular translations are available (NIV, ESV, NASB, N/KJV, etc.), as well as some Spanish translations. Switching between them is easy enough and any highlights or notations you’ve made in one translation carry over to others. On the right hand side you’ll find all the extra-biblical content. It’s broken into three tabs: Community, My Content and My Journal. The journal section will allow you to quickly jot down thoughts, although the entries will not be associated with any specific verse. Under the “My Content” heading, you’ll have the opportunity to add your own notations, or link all kinds of various media to specific verses or sets of verses. You’re able to pull in videos from YouTube, images from Flikr, or links to external resources. It appears that eventually, the opportunity to link in your web cam and your own audio will also be possible.

Under the “Community” heading is where things become interesting. Highlight any specific verse in the bible text and you’ll find under the community heading a slew of user submitted information and media. Any time that someone makes a notation or submits a piece of media and marks it public, there it shows up for everyone to see. While sifting through different submissions associated with Genesis chapter one, I came across a Chris Tomlin video, a Matthew Henry and Scofield commentaries and a handful of perplexed bible reader’s thoughts. Also, as of right now, some parts of the bible are extremely scarce as far as user input is concerned. For example, associated with John 3:16, you’ll find a couple dozen entries. But associated with Romans 8:3 you’ll only find a few. This will certainly change in time.

The community section will also allow you to save other people’s comments and submissions for quick reference under you “My Content” section. There is a rating system for comments, as well as a “is this post relevant” link, although it’s not entirely clear what they actually do.

Toward the top of the page, you’ll find some ordinary links: profile, invite, help, and sign out. They’re all self explanatory, but the profile link I believe deserves mentioning. If you click on profile, you’ll find a quick snapshot of your activity as well as six tabs: profile, following, followers, contributions, tagged and starred. Things becoming notably hairy between tabs two and three. Following and followers essentially just mean “folks your watching,” and “folks who are watching you.” However, in the current church climate of widely accepted heresy, there’s something ominously foreshadowing about labeling them “following” and “followers”.

At the very top of the page, you’ll find other sections of the site: bible reader, favorites, contacts, history and groups. None but “bible reader” is currently available for use.

Last year, Bobby Gruenewald, a pastor with LifeChurch.tv, described the project as “[providing] a platform to learn from the experiences and perspectives of others from around the world in a non-threatening and easily navigated environment.” This may very well be the greatest danger of this software. Gruenewald explains that “the application can be used both as a personal study tool and a public expression of user-generated commentary.” While the possibilities really are extraordinary and the idea relatively innovative, man’s heart is desperately wicked and with no actual accountability, the project may simply be a minefield for folks trying to navigate biblical waters.

Truth is not decided by democracy. There are plenty of biblical examples of times when the majority was just dead wrong and often, they paid for it.

I think that the software behind this project has some incredible potential in terms of bible study resources. Perhaps with a qualified staff of content editors or with a huge database of classic and contemporary resources from the well trained saints, it could not only be highly useful but also highly trustworthy. The notations and media linking is clever, even privately useful, but publicly, I believe probably a novelty at best and possibly a dangerous one. We are not dealing with humorous YouTube videos here. We’re not trying to figure out the best way to spackle dry-wall. We’re talking about the word of God and it must be honored.

Only time will tell where this is going to go. Because of the massive emphasis on similar online communities, the potential here is enormous. But will it be a blessing, or a curse? Go ahead and sign up. It’ll only take a few minutes. Maybe you’ll find a very useful tool for your study, or maybe you’ll find a vein of study you really need to stay away from.

Posted by: William | May 5, 2008

The Best Answer in Brevity

Reading in Philip Johnson’s Darwin on Trial today, he went over some pretty interesting insights. This is unconventional for me, but I’d like to share an extended, but ultimately brief segment of Johnson’s text from chapter two discussing natural selection. Johnson makes an interesting point. In a field which places limits on the plausibility of its options, they may have chosen the only option—however weak at some points its answers may become.

Natural Selection as a Philosophical Necessity

“The National Academy of Sciences told the Supreme Court that the most basic characteristic of science is “reliance upon the naturalistic explanations,” as opposed to “supernatural means inaccessible to human understanding.” In the latter, unacceptable category contemporary scientists place not only God, but also any non-material vital force that supposedly drives evolution in the direction of greater complexity, consciousness, or whatever. If science is to have any explanation for biological complexity at all it has to make do with what is left when the unacceptable has been excluded. Natural selection is the best of the remaining alternatives, probably the only alternative.

In this situation some may decide that Darwinism simply must be true, and for such persons the purpose of any further investigation will be merely to explain how natural selection works and to solve the mysteries created by apparent anomalies. For them there is no need to test the theory itself, for there is no respectable alternative to test it against. Any persons who say the theory itself is inadequately supported can be vanquished by the question “Darwin’s Bulldog” T.H. Huxley used to ask the doubters in Darwin’s time: What is your alternative?

I do not think that many scientists would be comfortable accepting Darwinism solely as a philosophical principle, without seeking to find at least some empirical evidence that it is true. But there is an important difference between going to the empirical evidence to test a doubtful theory against some plausible alternative, and going to test the evidence to look for confirmation of the only theory that one is willing to tolerate. We have already seen that the distinguished scientists have accepted uncritically the questionable analogy between natural and artificial selection, and that they often been undisturbed by the fallacies of the “tautology” and “deductive logic” formulations. Such illogic survived and reproduced itself for the same reason that an apparently incompetent species sometimes avoids extinction; there was no effective competition in its ecological niche.”

Posted by: William | May 4, 2008

When I’ve Acted Very Stupidly

How should we respond to ourselves when we do very stupid things?

I read a book recently that discussed some of the philosophies concerning decision making. The author was discussing the idea that people always make decisions based on their greatest desire—always, without any exceptions. That seems to make sense to me. You figure, when we do things we don’t want to do it’s almost always to the end of either avoiding a less desirable circumstance, or a more desirable reward. When it comes to Christians, it’s a mix of that but also of shifting our desires to match God’s. So theoretically, in any given situation, our greatest desire would be for God, or more specifically, God’s will and so even temporal pleasures or displeasures would fall by the wayside.

Although I reckon there’s more to that discussion than what I’ve just summed up right there, I think the principle is true. And I can clearly see that I exhibit that in my day to day life. Here is the trouble, sometimes when I make decisions it’s obvious that my greatest desire isn’t for God, or his will. It usually isn’t long before I figure out that I’ve acted foolishly and gone off wishing for things of the world instead of God.

And so the question stands. Upon discovering my own foolish desire and subsequent sin, what is the correct response? I know that in an ideal sense, I am to run headlong to the cross. Take my sin and my foolishness to Christ and let him mend the wrongs I’ve committed. His work is already done; I couldn’t add to it, even if I wanted to. It’s for that reason that there can be no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. But that still begs the question what am I to do? If you act as stupid and as often as I do, you’ll know the predicament. I don’t want to wake up tomorrow morning and act very stupidly again, but historically speaking, I likely will. This perplexity stands to stunt my growth in Christ.

Because of this indecision, every moronic step I take sets me back. Despite plenty of fodder directing otherwise, it often takes hours, sometimes even days, to re-approach God in his word or in prayer. In this way, the Catholic practice of penance seems appealing. As if I could somehow work my way back onto God’s good side. Once penance is done, I once again have a right to commune with God. Of course, I know that I never, in and of myself, have a right to commune with God and to think I could work for it is preposterous.

So I’m left without an answer to this question. What is the right thing to do when you’ve acted very stupidly and you know it? I haven’t a clue. But I’m glad that my hope doesn’t hinge on my getting it right.

Posted by: William | May 3, 2008

English Standard Version Mp3-Audio Bible

ESV-mp3-bible Last week, I wrote this article detailing some ideas for better study and devotion time. In the article, one of my suggestions was to listen to an audio bible. Unfortunately, most of the time, audio bibles are sold at an outrageous price and I wouldn’t blame you for not jumping on board. However, on Amazon, I managed to come across this one; an mp3 bible in the ESV version, read by Stephen Johnston. Well, when I made the recommendation, I hadn’t received my copy in the mail yet. Well, now I have, and thought it might be useful to say a few words about it.

First of all, I have some major reservations about the price of Christian resources. I once worked in a Christian bookstore and it wasn’t too long before it made my stomach churn seeing how expensive some of the bibles were. (as a side note, a sound financial policy is just another reason that I love the Desiring God ministries so much; check this out). So as far as money is concerned, this audio bible is hits the mark perfectly. Brand new, it’s under $20 and if you’re willing to take a second-hand copy, which I highly recommend, you’ll get one in hand for about $10. Not too bad.

This version of the bible comes on standard compact discs, but these probably aren’t going to play on your ordinary shelf CD player. On each of the three CD’s are mp3 files. If you haven’t been living under a rock for the past three or four years, you should already know what an mp3 is and what to do with it. If you don’t, you might want to google-it-up, or wade through this article and get your feet wet. In any case, this bible will easily fit onto any decent size mp3 player and obviously, you’re free to burn these files onto as many CD’s for car listening as you want. Compared to The Listener’s Bible in the NIV version, this bible will take up less than half the amount of the space on your computer and thus, on your mp3 player.

Any audio bible is pretty much made or broken by the reader. If the reader is too theatrical, he’s going to read inflection into the text which might lead listeners to the wrong conclusion. Of course, the inverse, if the reader is too dry and calm, is also possible. In this instance, Stephen Johnston does a good job communicating the text without adding to what’s there. His voice is deep, clear and well pronounced. He is not monotone, but also is not so inflected that we’re distracted from the actual text.

Some audio bibles are accompanied by sound effects or background music. Personally, I find these additions distracting. This version has no accompaniment whatsoever. It is only Johnston’s voice.

So far, I really only have two criticism for this audio bible. At times, Johnston’s pronunciation can be mildly comical. At times, his voice resembles a television commercial narrator. Don’t take this too far though. It’s only on occasion and never dominant. My other criticism is that at some times Johnston reads only a tad too quickly. I noticed this most clearly at the beginning of the book of Romans and at some parts of the poetic literature, such as Psalms. Again, I wouldn’t give too much attention to these deficiencies.

I definitely recommend this audio bible. For the money, it’s an excellent value. The reading, by and large, is good. Go ahead and pick one up on Amazon, before they’re all gone!

Posted by: William | May 2, 2008

Seven Sayings – Chapter One

For more information on this edition of Reading Classics Together, swing by Challies.com or pick up the book, The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross by Arthur W. Pink.

This week in the Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross Arthur Pink begins his discussion on Jesus’ dying words. The first chapter focuses on Jesus’ “word of forgiveness”. In Luke 23:34, some of Jesus’ dying words are “Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.”

Something that really stuck out to me was to point out that as Jesus was dying, as he was ending his life, some of the last duties that he performed was to pray for his enemies. That’s a heavy word about prayer and about love. As Jesus is in the process of being executed, he prays for the very people who are bringing about the deed.

Pink’s observation is one that strikes home, because fervent prayer is something I’m constantly desiring and often attempting to achieve, but rarely actually attain to.

At a conference a while back a speaker made a statement about prayer that has always stuck with me and I’ve often repeated to groups that are trying to pray. He pointed out Luke 22:31-32, where Jesus says, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat…” Satan had asked to send Peter through turmoil. If the statement were left at that, Peter might be left shaking in his boots. But Jesus doesn’t leave it there, he continues and reassures Peter saying, “but I have prayed for you…”. Jesus is fully assured in his prayer’s effectiveness. He believes that God will answer his prayer for Peter and as scripture confirms, he did.

Jesus’ prayer for his executioner’s forgiveness is not unlike his effective prayer for Peter. As Pink points out, it isn’t but a short while later when Peter is standing before the crowd on Pentecost and exclaiming that this Jesus they crucified God had made both “Lord and Christ.” It was following that sermon that God answered Jesus’ prayer and saved the 3000.

Pink’s observation is yet another coal in the fire urging me to prayer, urging all of us to prayer. As strange as it sounds, I pray now for a heart to pray more. If we can’t muster the strength or mind to pray, perhaps we can pray for just that.

Posted by: William | May 1, 2008

Horton Hears a Who

horton_hears_a_who It’s a bit late, I know, but this afternoon I was invited by my mother to go and see Horton Hears a Who in the theaters. I imagine it’ll be showing up on DVD in the next couple of months, so if you’re not pressed, I wouldn’t rush out to see it. However, I would like to recommend that you do eventually.

If you don’t know already, Horton Hears a Who is the adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ classic children’s story about an elephant (Horton) who accidentally comes in contact with a tiny speck of dust, home to an entire race of microscopic people (Who’s). In Horton’s world, being an elephant with giant ears, he’s the only one equipped to hear these tiny people, and in the Who world, only the mayor, with his accidental pipe horn, is able to hear Horton. So in both of our main characters are surrounded by folks who do not believe in these unseen worlds. But naturally, our main characters stay true to their invisible companions.

Horton sets out to make the Who colony safe. He heads for a high up mountain safely protected from the dangers of jungle. A nosey kangaroo makes it her business to see Horton’s nonsense put to and end. In the Who world, the mayor is not taken seriously and constantly underminded by the city counsel, especially when he presents them with the preposterous idea of an “invisible elephant in the sky”.

It’s pretty difficult to miss the glaring political and spiritual undertones in this film. For a child, it will only be the simple and good lesson of “a person is a person, no matter how small.” But for adults, a far more profound commentary might be observed. There is no clear “God” figure, nor does it seem that any is intended to be one. But rather, the discussion seems more about faith and whether or not it legitimizes serious action in life. Horton’s actions to protect the Who people on the speck are set in stark contrast to the kangaroo’s attacks saying, “If you can’t see it, hear it, or feel it, it’s not there.” A sentiment that isn’t too far from some scholar’s claim that if you can’t test it or measure it, it’s not real.

Meanwhile, in the Who world, the mayor fights a similar battle. He knows the dangers that the Who people are in, yet when bringing these claims to the people, his ideas are met with great skepticism and unbelief. Not unlike many of the prophets.

There are also political implications, especially concerning the abortion debate. My mother (very active in the earlier Maryland pro-life movement) pointed out that the kangaroo’s sentiments were not unlike early feminist attempts to persuade the public that a growing fetus is not a person; a point to which Horton says, “a person is a person, no matter how small.”

I remarked to my mother after the movie that they don’t really write stories like this one any more. The morals were simple and clear. The humor was genuine and clean. Things were wrapped up very well and without any need for vengeance. I really enjoyed this movie, and I think you will too. Even if you don’t have kids, I recommend you pick this one up from the video store when it’s available. The kids will enjoy it and I think you’ll enjoy it too.

Posted by: William | April 30, 2008

A Vessel of Liquor

Allow me to share a quotation from Jeremiah Burroughs’ The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment.

“As it is with a vessel that’s full of liquor, if you strike it, it will make not great noise, but if it is empty then it makes a great noise; so it is with the heart, a heart that is full of grace and goodness within will bear a great many strokes, and never make any noise, but if an empty heart is struck it will make a noise.”

Burroughs is talking about a Christian’s contentment in the midst of affliction, both long standing and sudden. This is a text that is continually proving to be difficult for me to wrestle though. It’s something like picking a scab—it feels uncomfortable and sometimes painful, but for some reason you just can’t help but do it. That’s the way I feel about this book. Burroughs’ observation here is yet another that resounds in my ear and won’t go quietly. A person, when filled with affection for God and grace from God, bears up under all kinds of difficult circumstances peacefully. Without complaining. In fact, not only not complaining, but rejoicing.

These are difficult words to digest. These are difficult concepts to digest. That is not my manner in the midst of trials. How can we come by the affection for God and the grace from God that Burroughs mentions here?

Posted by: William | April 29, 2008

Arise & Be Comforted

I nearly didn’t post today, but decided that I should. As I was driving this afternoon, I was reminded of another song that’s been a deep encouragement to me and has often been a vessel of strength when I’m weak. The song is Watermark’s Arise and Be Comforted as found on their recent live album, A Grateful People.

Arise and be comforted
For the Lord, He is good to the weary
And even the young heart can tire and fall
But He knows them all
For the Lord, He will renew their strength
And they will soar on wings as eagles
And they will run and never grow weary
They will walk and not grow faint

For the Lord, He is good

Lift your eyes to the heavens
For the creator is living in you
Come surrender as you are
And know that you’ll never stray too far
Let His power within you heal your heart
Lift your eyes to spacious skies
Let Him chart your way to flight
Spread your wings and fly

For the Lord, He is good

I find encouragement in the reminder that all Christians will face trials that at times may be enough for them to crumble underneath, but we can never fall too far for the Lord to renew us. The truth is that the blood of Jesus was a payment and now no further payment can be required; there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. I have been purchased and I will by no means be lost; God protects his investments.

“And this is the will of Him Who sent Me, that I should not lose any of all that He has given Me, but that I should give new life and raise [them all] up at the last day.” (John 6:39)

Posted by: William | April 28, 2008

80′s Songs of Tomorrow

20 years ago, people were taking some weird things seriously. Music I mean. Like, I Just Died in Your Arms Tonight, by the Cutting Crew, The Boys of Summer by Don Henley or Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing. By today’s standards these all rest as lame relics from a lame period in music history. For me though, these and many, many others from their period are juicy treats of melodious cheese. Seriously, I can’t get enough of the stuff. People make fun of me all the time. Sometimes I might be driving with a new friend or something and my ipod’s shuffling will land on something like How Am I Supposed to Live Without You by Michael Bolton and I happily let it play through enjoying each and every synthesized note. Usually my passenger gaze at me in disbelief. But I can’t help it. I just think the era produced so much cool music. I know it’s cheesy, I know. But I’m alright with that.

Yesterday, I was driving, listening to the radio. That’s not something I normally do. I’m usually listening to a CD, or the ipod or nothing at all. The radio and I just usually don’t really get along. Well, on this occasion, I’d left the ipod at home, the only CD I had was a sermon from church I’d already listened to and frankly, I was getting tired of listening to my own thoughts. That really only leaves one option: the radio.

On the radio, through a poor reception, came Blink 182’s First Date. Easily a high school favorite of mine, although by today’s standards its already starting to show heavy signs of wear and tear. The aging of one of my favorites got me thinking, 20 years from now what will be the morsels of lame music history that I hold on to as nostalgic gems? So, I decided today to present my hypothesized list of 10 songs, in no particular order, that I believe will age well. The songs that will become the 80’s of tomorrow.

  1. All the Small Things by Blink 182
  2. How to Save a Life by The Fray
  3. You’re Beautiful by James Blunt
  4. California by Phantom Planet
  5. At Your Funeral by Saves the Day
  6. Hotel Yorba by the White Stripes
  7. My Love by Justin Timberlake
  8. Somebody Told Me by The Killers
  9. Sweet Escape by Gwen Stefani
  10. Hands Down by Dashboard Confessional

I have to admit, that was more difficult list to compile that I thought it would be and there were some really near misses. I probably could have made that a much longer list, but in the interest of brevity, it’ll stay at 10 for right now. So what are your 80’s songs of tomorrow?

Posted by: William | April 27, 2008

Church History in Plain Language

Shelley_Church-History I read Bruce Shelley’s Church History in Plain Language before I started keeping this website, so I never wrote a review for it. Late last night I was recalling how much I enjoyed the book and decided that I should share my thoughts.

Among the first things that should be noted in writing about Church History is Shelley’s purpose in this work. Shelley states clearly that this book is an “introduction” to church history and is designed for the everyday Christian; layman and congregant alike. If we were to evaluate this book with the same rubric as collegiate books on the topic, we’d find this book severely lacking. But if we grade this book according to its own claims, we’ll find a rich source of encouragement to further understand the earlier branches of our faith.

In the interest of readability, no references are found anywhere throughout the text, however recommendations for more scholarly reading can be found at the end of each chapter. For me, this helped keep the reading liquid. It helped me to engage the history as a story that I was interested in hearing and on some level felt a part of, as opposed to something dry and sterile.

I began reading Church History before I had become more confident and consistent with my extra-biblical reading, so coming at about 550 pages this endeavor was an ambitious one for me. However, besides being a novice at reading anything this scale, the writing made it easy to glide through while still understanding the text.

In Church History Shelley takes us though 2000 years of church operation, starting right after the ascension of Christ all the way through to 1996. Church history can become a sticky subject, with heresy after heresy, then division after division. Things can quickly become confusion. Any writer planning to take on 2000 years ecclesial webs is either going to have a very, very long book when their done, or is going to need excellent organizational skills to scale so vast a wall. In this instance, Shelley just so happens to be a well organized writer. In the text, after the first four centuries of history things began to get a little bit confusing. Simple the sheer madness of political and religious shifts could send anyone’s head spinning. But Shelley does a better job than many at keeping things straight.

The practical organization of the text is such that it helps a reader forget the size the literature he’s taking in. The book is broken down into “ages” (i.e., The Age of Jesus and the Apostles, The Age of Ideologies, etc.), each one coming in at around 50 – 75 pages. Each age is broken into much smaller, more digestible chapters of around 8 pages. In the interest of clarity, not all chapters are strung together in perfect chronological order.

Throughout history, there have been many disagreements in the church. The most notable probably being during the time of the reformation. In that context, it is easy for folks to fall to one side of theological lines or the other. In this instance, most of Shelley’s words read unbiased, simply retelling the history, with little of his own commentary.

Here’s the skinny on this book: you’re not going to finish this book and be a church history genius (well, maybe you will, I don’t know). But what likely will happen is when you put this book down you will most likely have a more cohesive snapshot of church’s history. It will probably help you to understand how we got from the time of the Apostles and the church in Acts, to today. For me, it helped to challenge my ideals as far as church organization and methods are concerned. Seeing, quickly, how things were spread out helped me not to see myself as being the first to try and figure this stuff out, but in a way, knit me together with the people who have gone before me.

This book was encouraging, and enriching. I recommend it to anyone desiring to enrich their faith and more specifically, anyone interested in the subject.

Posted by: William | April 26, 2008

My Fickle Fruits of the Spirit

Between my house and my church stands one access road that is only one lane the whole way. At no point does the law provide any opportunities to pass, so if you get stuck behind some out-of-towner, you’re going to be going 30 miles an hour for about 20 minutes. It’s unbelievably annoying and frankly, among the few times in my car that I drive as annoyed as I feel.

Well, on one particular occasion I was driving to the evening church service with a friend, when just such an annoying driver pulled out in front of me at the last second. Besides having to slow down quickly, the prospect of driving so slowly the whole way weighed down on me and I voiced my frustration. My friend had some interesting thoughts to share. She reminded me of the fruits of the Spirit. But here’s the thing, my sad confession, I don’t think I’ve ever given much honest ear to the fruits of the Spirit. Then again, I don’t give much honest ear to anything that’s reproduced millions of times on a novelty gift plaque. Well, incidentally, this also happens to be the word of God and so at once I needed to consider it.

So what are the fruits of the Spirit? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. There it is, patience, staring me in the face.

So that’s stuck with me ever since. Patience is a fruit of the Spirit, and when I act impatiently, I’m acting out of “step” with the Spirit and eventually will find myself in some manner of trouble.

So, yesterday I had a small bit of traveling to do. I had a job about 40 miles away on the other side of the city and it just so happed to be taking place right at the end of rush hour. So I left my house about two hours early with the intention of just finding a coffee shop to sit and read it until my job started. Unfortunately, things didn’t go so smoothly. My trip around the Beltway was easy enough, but once I headed into Virginia a poorly marked set of interchanges threw me off course by about 15 miles. When I finally discovered the problem, I was annoyed, but like a boy scout, I pulled out my maps and found a shortcut ultimately losing me almost no time at all.

The job went well, the couple and their children were delightful to work with and I got paid on the spot, which was another pleasant surprise. Leaving the job, I felt confident in my trip home because of my loss of direction the first time and my original need to orient myself to my surroundings. Things didn’t go well.

A series of three incorrectly marked exits put me onto rout 66, which apparently doesn’t believe in giving drivers any kind of opportunity to turn around. Again, I ended up roughly eight miles off course and unable to turn around. Eventually, an exit ramp presented itself. I took the exit, which ended up being a bad move. I got to the end of the off ramp and drove into a labyrinth of wrongly or completely unmarked roads. I drove back and forth looking for a way back onto the highway for about 10 minutes, which eventually erupted into my verbally abusing the proverbial road designer who wasn’t actually in my car to take my insults. Eventually, I found my way back onto the highway, inconspicuously about two miles away through a maze of roads.

From there, I finally did end up back on the Beltway where I didn’t encounter any more hang-ups, aside from the condition of my own bitter heart.

When I got home, the fruits of the Spirit came to my mind. I had effectively pushed them out during my drive. For about two hours in my car, I had a completely unbroken record of exhibiting not a single one of the fruits of the Spirit. What a terrible place to be. How awfully discontent I was. It’s times like that where I’d like to find myself clinging to the Spirit, and even in the midst of raw frustration, still somehow manage to be loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled.

I’ll keep working on that and surely Jesus will keep sanctifying me.

Posted by: William | April 25, 2008

Reading Classics Together

A few months back I decided to read The Mortification of Sin in Believers by John Owen, along with Challies.com. I eventually trailed off from the group, but regardless, the structure offered some sense of stability in helping me get through a very difficult text. In addition to that, it was also encouraging to read other’s thoughts as they were going through the same piece of intense literature. Well, the folks over at Challies are doing it again, this time with Arthur W. Pink’s classic, The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross. I’ve decided to join them again.

If you’d like to join the party, I encourage you to do so. Just snag a copy of the book from Amazon, they’re pretty cheap, less than 10 bucks. Then, read one chapter a week and post your thoughts either on the Challies.com Thursday posts, or on your own blog. I can say from experience, that it’s a beneficial process.

I started Seven Sayings this morning with Pink’s quick introduction to the rest of his text. He hasn’t even said anything yet and he’s already packing a punch. He explains that Jesus’ death was natural, in that he was a real person who really died, it was unnatural, in that it wasn’t at all ordinary, it was preter-natural, in that it was decided long before the foundations of the world and finally it was super-natural, in that it was different from all other deaths that had ever happened and would ever happen again.

Pink spread out an extremely interesting expose, especially concerning Christ’s death as supernatural. But something that really jumped off the page to me as I read it was the preternatural nature of his death. I’m not a stranger to the idea of Christ’s work on the cross having been long predetermined. But what I found especially interesting was how beautifully this aspect of Christ’s work knit God’s righteousness and love into all created history. God was perfectly just in forgiving David’s sin because of the impending, unshakable, unstoppable, work of Christ. God was perfectly just in forgiving all of the true Old Testament saints their sins, in the same manner as he is just in forgiving ours. While now, Christ’s work is finished and we look back at it in hope of our future glory, the saints of before Christ looked foreword, in faith, to the promise of that same one. It was in this way, as Pink points out, that God justly “passed over former sins.” (Romans 3:25).

The repetition of that truth offers strength to my spirit, knowing that even before Christ’s work was done, the effect was so sure and the action so decided, that God could safely and justly forgive sins in light of that work. If it was so sure then, how about now? Mind blowing. Praise Jesus!

Posted by: William | April 24, 2008

10 Ideas for Better Study & Devotion

Not that I’m an expert, but I thought it good to share some practical ideas to help improve your study, or devotion time. These are all things that I have found useful in my own experience. Of course there are no real rules to study and devotion preparation, but I think there are some things that can help. I sometimes use all of these together, but more often just employ some of them, depending on my situation. Almost none of these are my idea; most of them came from folks far my qualified than myself to instruct. Consider each carefully, perhaps you will find good fruit in them just as I have.

1.Devotion is a lifestyle, not an activity.

Among the first mistakes I made when learning to spend time with the Lord was to think that I could section my time with him off into some portion, which is then defined as a “devotion”. But as a Christian, than makes little sense. I have been brought back to life, and my whole life is now in Christ. I cannot consecrate only a thirty-minute portion of my day to the Lord, but all day and every day. When I am in that mindset, I am best suited to tangibly spend time in a devotion. If I have only a short time to go deep into God in his Word, then I will not get very far. But if I have all time to go deep, then the time I spend specifically with his Word, I will go very deep.

2.First thing in the morning is best.

I’ve gone back and forth and I definitely don’t always do this, but I think that the church fathers throughout history were onto something with this one. “I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning” (Psalm 59:16). I’m convinced that this is not just an antiquated idea that it is good to be up early in the morning and bad to be up late at night, but I think there is an important principal embedded here.

Some of my most fruitful days begin with my mind and heart in the Word. To begin my day, first thing, with the Word of God helps set things on a course of godliness. It helps to ripen conviction for sin and helps me to notice approaching sin before it has passed and guilt can set in. In addition to that, my comprehension of the Word is improved. I, like many, am generally not a morning person. I’ve said many times before, that if I read first thing wouldn’t get much out of it. But therein lies a mystery, because I do. Almost always.

3.Consistency is key.

I’m a pretty firm believer in that we sabotage ourselves when we are convinced that every time we sit down to study or devotion that our minds and hearts must be blown away. I think this expectation mostly just breeds discouragement. While we should always attempt to approach scripture with a tender heart ready to be impacted, the fact is, sometimes (for some, even often) we just won’t. If this fear, or expectation, prevents us from even beginning to sit and read, or pray, then the enemy has already gained a foothold.

When folks who are discouraged or struggling with their spiritual life come to me, or around me, with complaints like that, my advice is always the same. I tell them to read the Word consistently, regardless of the way they feel. Even if that is only as much as one chapter per day. Just don’t miss a single day, keep reading the Word. Feel no further obligation beyond whatever has been decided. In my own walk, in times of struggle and discouragement, this has frequently helped to bring me back to good spiritual health.

Always read the Word every single day.

4.Stay organized.

I know a lot of folks who have very little organization in their study and devotion. In study I think this is more important, but the principal works in devotions too. Many jump around, or use the close-your-eyes-and-flip-to-page approach. You’re not going to go too deep into scripture if you’re just randomly picking stuff to read. It’s unlikely that you’re going to get too much out of what you’re reading, or even worse, you might string together the wrong set of verses and come to the wrong conclusion about scripture and God altogether. I used this approach at one time and it was rarely, if ever, fruitful.

Develop a pattern of some kind. It doesn’t mean you can’t break out of the pattern sometimes, but something general to keep you organized. Maybe it’s one chapter per day, from the same book, until the book is done. Then move onto another book. I know some people who read one whole new testament book every day for a week, then move onto another book. Some people go through a bible reading plan, like bible-in-a-year, or a chronological plan. One of my favorite methods I call A-B Days is reading through the Old Testament on “A” days, then reading through the New Testament on “B” days. It’s all good stuff, just stay organized.

5.Keep a journal.

Some people feel like keeping a reading journal means writing down insightful, inspiring, or profound thoughts based on what you’re reading. That’s just not true. You might sometimes write things like that down, but that’s not always the point. Sometimes when reading scripture, you’ll come across something that just doesn’t make sense to you. That’s okay. You shouldn’t feel obligated to understand right then and there. But you do a disservice to yourself by just forgetting about it. Keep a journal that will allow you to jot down questions, or scripture that doesn’t quite make sense to you. Even if you don’t actively seek out answers, you’ll be surprised how many questions are answered just by continuing to read scripture. Keeping a journal can also help you stay consistent, even if every entry is something as simple as “4/24/08 – Today I read Ephesians 4:1-11”.

6.Get a grasp on theology.

Theology is not something man-made. It’s not a box that people put God into. Theology, good theology, comes from scripture, it is the whole of scripture. It is some understanding of God, and for hundreds of years the Church has learned about it and taught it. Today, it stands to help you learn. Time may simply not permit you to read huge chucks of scripture every day and because of that, many biblical concepts may seem muddy to you. Do you want to know what scripture says about suffering? Learn something about the theology of suffering, and it will help make reading the bible and seeing for yourself what it says about suffering much easier.

You can find trustworthy theological resources at Monergism, Banner of Truth and Desiring God, just to name a few.

7.If your environment is too loud, use white noise.

People make fun of me for this one one all the time. But it really is useful. If you can’t go somewhere quiet, use white noise. After a few minutes of listening to it, it’ll blend into the background and you won’t even notice it anymore—you also won’t notice the TV in the other room, or the radio on in the kitchen.

Here are a few you can download for free. You just need a way you can loop them; like an ipod or windows media player. Each one of these mp3′s is about 30 – 45 seconds long and is set up to loop seamlessly.

(right click, save-as to download)

8.Read out-loud, or listen.

In very long texts, like Old Testament stories, or long winded treaties, such as Romans or the Corinthian letters, hearing what is written may help you to connect larger ideas in the text. For example, in the book of Ephesians, you’ll find many intricate and beautiful ideas. However, in reading quietly and slowly, you may miss the larger theme of encouragement. I have found in listening to the bible on CD or reading it out-loud to myself, it’s much easier to pick up on the larger themes.

I’ve found this highly affording MP3 bible in the ESV version, under 20 bucks.

9.Use study tools!

There are tons of awesome resources available for free, or very inexpensive. When there’s something you need some help understanding or grasping more clearly, make use of the tools that some good organizations make available for free. Here are just a few that you ought to give a shot.

  • Commentaries: Well studied men of God have gone before you, and much like asking your pastor today, they can help to give insight into the meaning of a verse or several verses. While no one person can be the end all of all understanding—except for Jesus—they can help. If you want printed material, check out Monergism for some good printed stuff.

    Try: bibleclassics.com, bible.org for some free commentaries.

  • Bible Dictionary: Some stuff we’re not going to understand as well unless we can grasp some of the cultural stuff surrounding it. Want to know why John is always talking about “vines”, it might help to know something about ancient Roman agriculture. A bible dictionary can help. In print, I have the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, under 20 bucks.

    Try: NETBible for a free online bible dictionary.

  • Online Bibles: Using a digital bible can make study much easier. Especially when it comes to cross references. You might find yourself reading something that reminds you of another passage you read recently. Using a keyword search will make it easier to find the verse you’re looking for. Plus, some digital bibles have a vast number of translations available making it easy to line them up next to each other.

    Try: biblegateway.com on the internet, or e-sword for your desktop. You can also check out this article on making biblegateway even esier to use with firefox!

  • Interlinear Bible/Lexicon: Sometimes the depth of meaning of scripture is diminished in translation. The Greek language has way more words than English does. I’m not a Greek scholar and you probably aren’t either. But that’s alright, to help us out with that are Lexicons and Interlinear bibles. They can help us to understand the original language without having to know it. It won’t replace actually learning Greek or Hebrew, but it will help the rest of us. In print Lexicons can get pretty expensive.

    Try: Crosswalk.com for a free interlinear bible and lexicon.

10.Under no circumstances should you be without your bible.

I had a friend a while back who I really admired. He always carried a backpack, even if he was just going to 7-11 or something. Sometimes all that he would have in it was a notebook and a bible. Eventually I adopted the practice. You’d be surprised how often you end up having to wait in line somewhere, or sitting at a red light and think of a verse you need to look up. For these occasions and more, it’s indispensable to carry a bible with you everywhere. Think about it, of all the things you won’t leave your house without: cell phone, wallet, keys, ipod, whatever, and yet you leave home the sword of the Spirit? (Ephesians 6:17). So my advice is to carry it with you everywhere, at all times. Even if it’s not often used, it will you keep a mindset of constant readiness, and that is of ultimate importance.

Posted by: William | April 23, 2008

Let the Broken Bones Rejoice

Every morning the very first thing I do before getting out of bed is read a psalm to myself out loud. Then, in the evening, the very last thing I do is read that same psalm again. Yesterday morning, it was psalm 51. One brief verse, number eight, caught my attention and I’ve been thinking about it sense.

“Make me to hear joy and gladness,
Let the bones which you have broken
Rejoice.”

It reminded me of some of some thoughts that Jeremiah Burroughs had provoked in his work The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment. In his work, Burroughs endeavors to help teach the church Paul’s meaning in saying that he had “learned” the secret to contentment, in hopes that other believers would follow in Paul’s footsteps.

Burroughs explains that contentment (true Christian contentment that is) always submits to God’s disposal. This of course makes sense. We are to be obedient to God, and who are we to ever talk back to God and say, “why have you made me like this?” In our troubles and our afflictions we should always submit quietly to God, regardless of the difficulty. No big deal, I get that, it’s hard most of the time, but I understand it. But then, he built on top of that with something a lot more difficult for me to stomach.

Burroughs claims next that a truly content Christian must not only submit under whatever God would choose to afflict us with, but we should in fact appreciate it. Wait, hold up. I’ve got a problem with that. Historically, that isn’t something that I’ve probably ever pulled off. My afflictions and difficulties, in hindsight, usually produce a submissive joy, looking at all the good that God had done through my difficulty, but in the moment, no way. Burroughs claim was almost insulting. How am I supposed to sit in the midst of my difficulty, and say, “thank you Jesus that things are difficult”? Well it’s easy, I understand. Just believe that Jesus can see and perceive more than I can and that whatever I’m in is exponentially better than the alternative. Ah, good, case closed. I’ll do that from here on out and everything will be peaches and cream.

Ok, that was sarcastic. But the truth is, that’s the goal we ought to be working toward. James 1:2, “consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds.” When you face trials of many kinds. Not, after you face trials, or before you face trials, but when you face trials. But how come? “Because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (James 1:3). Historically, I know the trials and afflictions that I face are allowed, sometimes produced, by God. Always, they have turned out for the deepening of my faith and the increasing of my satisfaction and joy. God is doing something when I’m hurting and it’s going to be really awesome.

Jesus, I pray that you would increase my faith. Give me joy in the midst of affliction. Not aside from pain, but because of pain. Remind me that whatever you are working is for my good and your glory. Jesus, speak this peace over your Church across the globe; especially to your children who are hurting much worse than I have. Teach us faith, teach us perseverance. God, for the sake of your glory and our joy, sanctify your Church!

Older Posts »

Categories

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.