Sunday, December 31, 2006

A Blessed New Year!

Bless the LORD, O my soul:
And all that is within me, bless His holy name.
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And forget not all His benefits:
Who forgiveth all thine iniquities;
Who healeth all thy diseases;
Who redeemeth thy life from destruction;
Who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies;
Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things;
So that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Biblical Art

The Reluctant Puritan has found a site named Biblical Art on the WWW. It has links to paintings, engravings, illustrated manuscripts, and much more. There are, however, no links to, as he put it, "Thomas Kinkaide 'art'." The image above was one of my happy discoveries.

Biblical Art on the WWW

Repentance

At Mere Comments, Lee Podles discusses Catholic reaction to the execution of Saddam, and, more generally, the Catholic attitude about punishment, vengeance and the appropriate role of the state:
Repentance is the first word of the gospel message, but it has been strangely absent from Catholic discourse for many decades. The gentle way in which sexual abusers were handled, the desire to protect criminals from their just punishment by the state, the strong sympathy for universal salvation which John Paul II evinced, all reveal a fundamental change in the Catholic attitude to sin and repentance, crime and punishment. Forgiveness is impossible without repentance, and repentance must include a desire to set right the evil that we have done, if only by accepting punishment for it. [the post can be found here]
The Roman Catholics are not the only Christians who seem to dismiss the necessity of repentance before forgiveness, or to confuse individual responsibility with the responsibilities of government to do justice and protect us all.

Paul Manuel's discussion of Forgiveness is relevant to this issue.

Source: Touchstone Magazine - Mere Comments

Fifteen Refusals for 2007

Instead of the usual New Year's resolutions, The Constructive Curmudgeon, Douglas Groothuis, offers "refusals, negations, denials." Read them here.

Source: The Constructive Curmudgeon: Fifteen Refusals for 2007

Friday, December 29, 2006

"Half-hearted creatures"

Alex Chediak directs me toward Denny Burk's blog and a post titled "C.S. Lewis and 'The Weight of Glory.'" Burk has discovered that Lewis' sermon is available online here [as a .pdf]. Burk writes:
In “The Weight of Glory” Lewis takes on Immanuel Kant and the Stoics and the idea that self-denial is the ultimate Christian virtue. Lewis argues that “glory” and human desire are not at odds. Here is one of the many quotable quotes:
“The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire. If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
The "Weight of Glory" was delivered in Oxford in 1942 during World War II. It is a great sermon which also included (among many others) this famous passage:
"There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously...."
The complete sermon.

January, 2007 Sabbath Recorder Online


The January, 2007, Sabbath Recorder is available online here. The articles this month emphasize the work of Seventh Day Baptist conferences abroad and mission work both overseas and in the United States.

"How Firm a Foundation"

How Firm A Foundation is my favorite hymn, especially when sung to the tune known as "Foundation" or "Protection." It first appeared in John Rippon's A Selection of Hymns in 1787, and was well-known and often sung in 19th century America. As with any good hymn, the words are all-important - and the words of this hymn are an affirmation of confidence in God and His promises. The verses affirm that God has more than sufficiently proven His reliability to us through His Word. What more could He possibly do or say than He has already said and done? The verses are based on passages from Scripture, especially from Isaiah. If we trust in His Word, everything that may happen to us will be for our good. It concludes with a paraphrase of Hebrews 13:5-6:
"...be content with what you have, because God has said 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.' So we say with confidence, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?'"
I
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?
Isaiah 28:16; I Corinthians 3:11

II
"Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed;
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
I'll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by My gracious omnipotent hand."
Isaiah 41:10

III
"When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress."
Isaiah 43:2a; Romans 8:28

IV
"When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine."
Isaiah 43:2b; II Corinthians 2:9; Zechariah 13:9

V
"The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I'll never, no, never, no, never forsake!"
Deuteronomy 31:6,8; Hebrews 13:5b-6

The rest of the verses can be found here.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Two new Bible reading plans

The English Standard Version [ESV] site has made available several ways to read through the Bible. Two new ones, which are available as RSS feeds, are described here. I've incorporated one of them into this site over on the right, as well as another of their offerings - the Lectionary readings according to the Book of Common Prayer.

Link to ESV Bible Blog » Two New Bible Reading Plans for 2007

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Christian Classics Ethereal Library

Calvin College hosts a website that is invaluable. Just about any classic Christian text can be found here, as well as tools to study the Bible and an extensive database for hymns.

Christian Classics Ethereal Library

Vote by churches

At General Conference next summer Seventh Day Baptists will vote to decide whether to remain a member of the Baptist Joint Committee. The vote will be a "vote by churches" - a procedure reserved for controversial or especially important business. It is also something we haven't done in decades. In the 1970s and '80s there were several such votes on issues like abortion, SDB memberships in the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches, and adoption of our current Statement of Belief.

I have sometimes served as parliamentarian for the Conference sessions and, upon request, prepared the following explanation of the process:
The relevant Bylaw provision is found at Article IV. Delegates to General Conference
Delegates to meetings of the corporation shall be determined as follows: two delegates for each member church, as a church, and one additional delegate for each ten members of the church or major fraction of ten members. Churches not able to represent themselves by their own members may appoint, in writing, delegates from other member churches to represent them. Seventy-five delegates representing at least ten churches shall constitute a quorum.

Only delegates to General Conference are authorized to vote. They shall cast their votes on all questions as individuals, except when a vote by churches has been called. A vote by churches is an important vote in which each church casts the total number of votes to which it is entitled. A vote by churches shall occur only when General Conference votes to call one. General Conference shall frame the question to be voted upon and shall then refer it to the churches. General Conference may instruct that the churches vote by mail to the General Conference office, or that the vote be cast at the next Conference session. In either case, the question as framed is not amendable. Local churches shall determine how their votes are cast and may vote as a block or may split their votes.
Conference 2006 has set a “vote by churches” on the issue of denominational membership in the Baptist Joint Committee for Conference 2007. Churches are entitled to delegates based on this formula: “two delegates for each member church, as a church, and one additional delegate for each ten members of the church or major fraction of ten members.” The Conference will allocate delegates based on the statistics your church submits to General Conference Office, so it is especially important this year to submit accurate numbers. A church which has not submitted membership numbers will be allowed to cast only the minimum number of votes to which a church can be entitled, that is, three.

Your church will be entitled to cast all of the votes to which it is entitled, regardless of the number of delegates attending General Conference next year.

The question to be voted upon cannot be amended or modified in any way, so the only issue before you is how your church’s votes will be cast.

According to the Bylaws, past practice, or the action of Conference in 2006, your church has the following options:
  • It may cast a unanimous [“block”] vote either “aye” or “nay” or it may divide its vote.
  • It may send its delegates with instructions about how to vote or it may send its delegates uninstructed, allowing them to caucus at Conference to decide how the church’s votes will be cast.
  • In the event that your church will not have delegates at General Conference next year, you may [by action of Conference 2006] mail your church’s vote to the General Conference Office or you may authorize, in writing, a delegate from another member church to cast your church’s vote [see Bylaw, Art. IV, par. 1].
The General Conference Office has announced that "The Conference will allocate delegates based on the statistics your church submits to General Conference Office by the end of February 2007...."

Theology

Fred Sanders provides links to many internet sites concerned with theology in an article at Catalyst - Surfing the Sites: Theology on the Web.

Why We Need Fairy Tales

"Professor Tolkien asked me this simple question,
'What class of men would you expect to be most preoccupied with and most hostile to,
the idea of escape?’ and gave the obvious answer: 'jailers.'"
C.S. Lewis

At Between Two Worlds, there is a fine post about the role of fantasy in the life of a child. It links [see below] to Tolkien's essay "On Fairy Stories" that contains his well-known description of the relationship of story and Gospel.
In Faerie Gold: Treasures From The Land Of Enchantment (a collection of classics for young readers), Kathryn Lindskoog and Ranelda Mack Hunsicker include a message to parents and teacher entitled "Why Do We Need Fairy Tales and Fantasy?" [...] The classic case for fairy tales is J.R.R. Tolkien's On Fairy Stories (PDF). Highly recommended reading.

And here's a quotation from C.S. Lewis on why he preferred fairy tales to "realism":
By confining your child to blameless stories of child life in which nothing at all alarming ever happened, you would fail to banish the terrors, and would succeed in banishing all that can ennoble them or make them endurable. For in the fairy tales, side by side with the terrible figures, we find the immemorial comforters and protectors, the radiant ones; and the terrible figures are not merely terrible, but sublime. It would be nice if no little boy in bed, hearing or thinking he hears, a sound, were ever at all frightened. But if he is going to be frightened, I think it better that he should think of giants and dragons than merely of burglars. And I think St. George, or any bright champion in armour, is a better comfort than the idea of police.
"On Three Ways of Writing for Children" 
In the Tolkien essay mentioned above is found his famous description of "eucatastrophe" - the good turn characteristic of a good fairy story - and the relationship of such stories to the true Eucatastrophe found in history:
The Gospels contain a fairystory, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories. They contain many marvels—peculiarly artistic, beautiful, and moving: “mythical” in their perfect, selfcontained significance; and among the marvels is the greatest and most complete conceivable eucatastrophe. But this story has entered History and the primary world; the desire and aspiration of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man's history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has preeminently the “inner consistency of reality.” There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many sceptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. For the Art of it has the supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation. To reject it leads either to sadness or to wrath.

It is not difficult to imagine the peculiar excitement and joy that one would feel, if any specially beautiful fairy-story were found to be “primarily” true, its narrative to be history, without thereby necessarily losing the mythical or allegorical significance that it had possessed. It is not difficult, for one is not called upon to try and conceive anything of a quality unknown. The joy would have exactly the same quality, if not the same degree, as the joy which the “turn” in a fairy-story gives: such joy has the very taste of primary truth. (Otherwise its name would not be joy.) It looks forward (or backward: the direction in this regard is unimportant) to the Great Eucatastrophe. The Christian joy, the Gloria, is of the same kind; but it is preeminently (infinitely, if our capacity were not finite) high and joyous. But this story is supreme; and it is true. Art has been verified. God is the Lord, of angels, and of men—and of elves. Legend and History have met and fused.
Between Two Worlds: Why We Need Fairy Tales and Fantasy

History does not move in a straight line

Unexpected trends in the Netherlands:
When the "corporate prayer" movement first started in 1996, few people in Holland took any notice. Why should they have done so? After all, Holland's manifest destiny was to become a fully secularized country, in which prayer was considered at best an irrational but harmless pastime. That was then. Cue forward to 2006, when prayer in the workplace is fast becoming a universally accepted phenomenon. More than 100 companies participate. Government ministries, universities, multinational companies like Philips, KLM, and ABN AMRO--all allow groups of employees to organize regular prayer meetings at their premises. Trade unions have even started lobbying the government for recognition of workers' right to prayer in the workplace.

The idea that secularization is the irreversible wave of the future is still the conventional wisdom in intellectual circles here. They would be bemused, to say the least, at a Dutch relapse into religiosity. But as the authors of a recently published study called De Toekomst van God (The Future of God) point out, organized prayer in the workplace is just one among several pieces of evidence suggesting that Holland is on the threshold of a new era - one we might call the age of "post-secularization." [more]
Source: Holland's Post-Secular Future

Saturday, December 23, 2006

"For God so loved...."


And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
[John 1:14 (ESV)]

Jennifer Roback Morse at NRO:
Christians believe God is love. They hold that God is a communion of three persons: the one who loves, the one who receives love, and the love itself. That union is so intense that it is One God, just as the Hebrews had already insisted. What other religion has ever invented such a god?

Christians believe that in the fullness of time, God, the one who loves, sent His only Son, whom he loves, to live on earth among human beings. And God did not choose to flaunt his power over his creatures, nor did He demand adulation. Instead, He humbled Himself and allowed Himself to take on the most vulnerable and dependent form. Christians believe that the Holy Spirit, Love Itself, came upon a humble girl from Nazareth, and that "the Power of the Most High overshadowed" her. The creator of the universe allowed himself to be formed within a woman's womb, carried for nine months, and then born as a helpless child to impoverished parents, weary from travel, who had only a stable for shelter....

And was that humble origin simply a staging ground for a massive display of power or pique as we might expect from some of the other gods humanity has invented for itself? Jesus never took over anything, or even bossed anybody around. He didn’t defend himself when unjustly condemned. He accepted an ignominious and painful death. His claim to divinity is that he was seen alive after his very public and very thorough execution. His followers claimed that they touched him, talked with him, and saw him eat. None them could ever be talked out of their story, despite some fairly aggressive attempts to do so. Peter and Andrew were crucified. Bartholomew is said to have been flayed alive. But none of them changed their account....

I am not ashamed to believe that. I do not find it degrading to believe that at the center of the universe is a deep and abiding love, and that I am invited to participate in it and partake of it. I am not embarrassed to believe that my life is a gift from God. All my talents are given by Him to be placed at the service of love. I am proud to be a follower of Jesus. [more]
Source: Jennifer Roback Morse on Christmas at NRO

Friday, December 22, 2006

Dorothy L. Sayers on doctrinal ignorance

In a review of a book about Dorothy L. Sayers' writings about Christianity and Christian doctrine: Creed without Chaos: Exploring Theology in the Writings of Dorothy L. Sayers, Fred Sanders summarizes her view that most theologians were "lousy communicators" and that their potential audience was also a problem:
But even if every working theologian were suddenly granted the gift of eloquence, the second problem identified by Sayers would still stand in the way of communicating the Christian faith: the average person has a boundless ignorance of Christianity, rooted in their laziness and thoughtlessness. "Nine people out of ten in this country are ignorant heathens," she said in 1939. "I do not so much mind the heathendom, but the ignorance is really alarming." And a few years later, when a broadcaster asked her to write a short letter explaining Christianity for the average person, Sayers spat back:
"The only letter I ever want to address to 'average people' is one that says - I do not care whether you believe in Christianity or not, but I do resent your being so ignorant, lazy, and unintelligent. Why don't you take the trouble to find out what is Christianity and what isn't? Why, when you can bestir yourself to mug up technical terms about electricity, won't you do as much for theology before you begin to argue about it? ... You would be ashamed to know as little about internal combustion as you do about the Nicene Creed."
Sayers was unsparing in her criticism of modern people who let themselves fall into such abysmal ignorance of Christian doctrine.
Americans in 2006 suffer from doctrinal ignorance at least as serious - and that includes a great many who consider themselves Christians. Dorothy Sayers' essays and plays (e.g. Creed or Chaos? Why Christians Must Choose Either Dogma or Disaster) clearly explain orthodox Christian doctrine and can help anyone who wishes to become more doctrinally literate.

Middlebrow: Dorothy Sayers Advertises the Faith

"With All Due Modesty . . ."

S.M. Hutchens, at Mere Comments, on humility:
"...it was my niece, or perhaps one of my daughters, who once asked me if I was a famous man....

"If I had been thinking in a truly humble way... I would have answered, 'I don't know, and it doesn't matter, for the only one whose opinion counts is God - he's the only person one should care about being famous with. And I already know his opinion of me: he's not impressed.' That's also true, but on a higher level, bidding fair to keep those who believe it truly humble."
Source: Touchstone Magazine - Mere Comments: With All Due Modesty . . .

Alliance of Baptists

The Alliance of Baptists is one of the affiliates of the Baptist Joint Committee - apparently representative of the "Southern Baptists" who wished to remain in the BJC. Albert Mohler's blog reports on some of its other affiliations:
In 2003, the Alliance of Baptists (formerly known as the Southern Baptist Alliance) and the UCC entered into a "partnership in mission and ministry." The groups recognize each other's ministers, etc.

Interestingly, the report of the UCC growth among liberal congregations disaffected from the SBC came just days after Andover Newton Theological School announced an October 25, 2006 "dialogue" between UCC representatives and officials of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

As the school announced:
Rev. John Thomas, General Minister and President of the UCC and Rev. William Sinkford, President, of the UUA, will reflect on the historical affinities and divisions between their denominations, and then go on to explore current realities and future possibilities. This exchange is of interest to clergy and congregants in both denominations because, despite theological differences and the historical controversy that led to their split, in recent years there has been a growing solidarity of the two groups. On a number of issues of progressive religious conviction and social justice the two share common perspectives, and in some communities there are some churches that have become aligned with both denominations.
Keep in mind the fact that the UUA does not even claim to be a Christian denomination. By definition, it is committed to Unitarianism and Universalism.
Source: Conventional Thinking

Seventh Day Baptists are still affiliated with the BJC.

Wondrous love

Filippo Lippi, Medici Nativity, 1455-59
From Redstate: "Christmas picture of the day"
And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
[Luke 2:6-7]
What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
To lay aside His crown for my soul, for my soul,
To lay aside His crown for my soul.
What Wondrous Love is This

St. Nicholas

Cranach on the real Santa Claus:
...[T]here is more to the story of Nicholas of Myra. He was also a delegate to the Council of Nicea in a.d. 325, which battled the heretics who denied the deity of Christ. He was thus one of the authors of the Nicene Creed, which affirms that Jesus Christ is both true God and true man. And unlike his later manifestation, Nicholas was particularly zealous in standing up for Christ.

During the Council of Nicea, jolly old St. Nicholas got so fed up with Arius, who taught that Jesus was just a man, that he walked up and slapped him! That unbishoplike behavior got him in trouble. The council almost stripped him of his office, but Nicholas said he was sorry, so he was forgiven.

The point is, the original Santa Claus was someone who flew off the handle when he heard someone minimizing Christ....
Source: The true meaning of Santa Claus: Slapping heretics

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Which "Messiah"?

Handel's Messiah is perhaps the most perfect combination of music and the text of Scripture yet composed. From prophesy, to incarnation, to death and resurrection, it magnificently recounts the story of Our Lord. It is traditionally associated with Christmas but is appropriate for any point in the Christian year. At this moment I'm listening to Handel's: Messiah, directed by Trevor Pinnock with the English Concert and Choir. It's one of the performances recommended by Michael Linton in this post from On the Square:
Which Messiah? It's not a theological question; it's a question about what to listen to when hanging the tinsel. No piece of music is so linked with Christmas as Handel's great oratorio, and there are lots of choices (I stopped counting the Amazon list at one hundred)... [the rest]
Source: On the Square: Which Messiah?

"Amazing Grace" again


The trailer for "Amazing Grace," coming to theaters in February.

N.T. Wright: "What is this Word?"

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. ... And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.
from John 1 (ESV)
...John's view of the Incarnation, of the Word becoming flesh, strikes at the very root of the liberal denial which characterized mainstream theology thirty years ago and whose long-term effects are still with us. I grew up hearing lectures and sermons declaring that the idea of God becoming human was a categorical error. No human being could be divine; Jesus must therefore have been simply a human being, albeit (here the headmaster pats the little boy on the head) a very brilliant one. Jesus points to God, but he isn't actually God. A generation later, growing straight out of that school of thought, a clergyman wrote to me saying that the church doesn't know anything for certain. Remove the enfleshed and speaking Word from the center of your theology, and gradually the whole thing unravels, until all you're left with is the theological equivalent of the grin on the Cheshire Cat: a relativism whose only moral principle is that there are no moral principles, no words of judgment (because nothing is really wrong, except saying that things are wrong), no words of mercy (because you're all right as you are, so all you need is affirmation).

That's where our society stands right now, and John's Christmas message issues a sharp and timely reminder to relearn the difference between mercy and affirmation, between a Jesus who both embodies and speaks God's word of judgment and grace and a homemade Jesus who gives us good advice about discovering who we really are. No wonder John's Gospel has been so unfashionable in many circles.
[the rest of the sermon]
N.T. Wright is bishop of Durham. This article is adapted from Wright's Christmas 2005 sermon.

Source: What Is This Word? Christianity Today

"Evermore and evermore"

Of the Father’s love begotten, ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega, He the source, the ending He,
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see, evermore and evermore!

He is found in human fashion, death and sorrow here to know,
That the race of Adam’s children doomed by law to endless woe,
May not henceforth die and perish
In the dreadful gulf below, evermore and evermore!

O that birth forever blessèd, when the virgin, full of grace,
By the Holy Ghost conceiving, bare the Savior of our race;
And the Babe, the world’s Redeemer,
First revealed His sacred face, evermore and evermore!

O ye heights of heaven adore Him; angel hosts, His praises sing;
Powers, dominions, bow before Him, and extol our God and King!
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Every voice in concert sing, evermore and evermore!

Christ, to Thee with God the Father, and, O Holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant with high thanksgiving, and unwearied praises be:
Honor, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory, evermore and evermore!
[Prudentius, 5th Century]

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

SDB Exec: BJC "Vote by churches"


The issue of SDB affiliation with the Baptist Joint Committee will come to a head at General Conference next summer. From the SDB Exec blog:
Every few years an issue will arise that is so controversial or so important, or both, that churches are asked to send their delegates to the General Conference session with instructions about how to cast that church's vote. This process is called a "vote by churches" and when it occurs it takes two years to complete. One Conference session will send the issue to the churches for a vote at Conference the following year. During the Conference session in 2006 such a vote was set for...the Conference 2007 session.

In a couple of weeks your church will receive a packet with info on the Baptist Joint Committee. In this packet there will be pro and con opinions on whether we should remain affiliated with the BJC.

Source: SDB Exec: December 2006

Bob Dylan

Well I'm pressing on
Yes, I'm pressing on
Well I'm pressing on
To the higher calling of my Lord.

Shake the dust off of your feet, don't look back.
Nothing now can hold you down, nothing that you lack.
Temptation's not an easy thing, Adam given the devil reign
Because he sinned I got no choice, it runs in my vein.

Well I'm pressing on
Yes, I'm pressing on
Well I'm pressing on
To the higher calling of my Lord.
RightWingBob links to an interview with the author of a new book about Bob Dylan and Christianity, Dylan Redeemed: From Highway 61 to Saved. The author, Stephen Webb, a professor at Wabash College, challenges the stereotype of a "radical" Dylan and argues that his conversion to Christianity was not unrelated to his immersion in American traditional music, including gospel. From the interview:
I'm always amazed by how homogenized our view of radicals is," Webb says. "People can be radical without being liberal. You challenge status quo from the right as well as the left. But somehow, beginning in the '70s and '80s, cultural and political liberals began monopolizing this idea that conservatives are bland, supporters of everything in the past. It's only liberals who are forward-thinking and willing to question things. So you have people like Dylan being put in a liberal box because people can't imagine that a conservative could be challenging. People just assumed since he was a provocative and challenging figure, and very much a kind of moralistic poet, that he must've been liberal and progressive on social and political issues. But he wasn't. He was always out of time, someone who lived in the past. And always someone who was very skeptical of social/political progress. Very skeptical of Utopian solutions to intractable social problems. So on all the major political issues, it seemed to me he could be more accurately labeled conservative than liberal. Although in the book I try not to take him out of one box just to put him in another."

"And he's someone who doesn't think human nature changes much. That's a conservative position. If you think human nature stays the same - that we can't solve the problems of human nature; we have to endure them, live with them, and politics aren't going to save us from human sin - in general terms that's what it means to be conservative."

If you think of Dylan this way, it's easier to understand his religious conversion.

"If you begin with that image of Dylan as a man on the left, then you're inevitably going to say what happened when he became a Christian. Why would a man on the political left become a devout Christian?" Webb says. "But if you begin with Dylan as someone who was always immersed in the religious music of America, (particularly) gospel, and someone who was always quoting from the Bible, always thinking about the end of the world in religious terms, then it makes more sense that he finally reached the end of his road and converted to Christianity." [the rest of the interview]

Source: The Journal Review Bob Dylan: Another side of the rock legend

Update on 12/21 - Again from RightWingBob, an article from Australia about Dylan's faith.

Wesley vs Hinn


Via HolyCoast:
"It is interesting to compare the lives of two well known preachers; Benny Hinn and John Wesley...."

Link to HolyCoast.com: Wesley vs Hinn

Monday, December 18, 2006

Baptism

The distinctive doctrine that gave Baptists our name is "believer's baptism" - the idea that baptism should occur when a person is old enough to affirm his or her own profession of faith. Most Christians baptize infants. Some have tried to compromise - allowing both. At Between Two Worlds, Wayne Grudem is quoted describing his views in a post titled "On rethinking his compromise on baptism.":
But now I'm beginning to realize that admitting to church membership someone who has not been baptized upon profession of faith, and telling the person that he or she never has to be baptized as a believer, is really giving up one's view on the proper nature of baptism, what it really is. It is saying that infant baptism really is valid baptism! If we didn't think it was valid baptism, we should be telling people who were baptized as infants that their "baptism" was not valid baptism and they should be baptized now, after their personal profession of faith. They would need to do this in obedience to Christ's command. [the rest]
Source: Between Two Worlds: Grudem on Rethinking His Compromise on Baptism
Source: Adrian Warnock: Interview with Wayne Grudem, Part Seven

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Miracles and Science

Tom Gilson at Thinking Christian provides a good introduction to the arguments about the possibility of miracles. There are those, after all, who argue against the Virgin Birth because - they say - such things just don't ever happen.

He refers to a couple of additional sites on the same subject. One of them is a paper by John Warwick Montgomery. Of course a very good book on the subject, one quoted by Thinking Christian, is by C.S. Lewis:

Link to Miracles and Science

Amazing Grace

In February, 2007, the film Amazing Grace: The Story of William Wilberforce will be released. It is a great and true story of the campaign to abolish slavery in the British Empire, led by people like Wilberforce and John Newton, author of the hymn which is the title of the film. At the film's website, one of the links leads to the Olney Hymns, the hymnbook in which "Amazing Grace" was first published - all of the hymns in that book were written either by Newton or by the great poet and hymnwriter William Cowper.

Link to Amazing Grace: The Official Movie Website

Friday, December 15, 2006

Original sin*


"How in blazes do you know all these horrors?" cried Flambeau.

The shadow of a smile crossed the round, simple face of his clerical opponent.

"Oh, by being a celibate simpleton, I suppose," he said. "Has it never struck you that a man who does next to nothing but hear men's real sins is not likely to be wholly unaware of human evil? But, as a matter of fact, another part of my trade, too, made me sure you weren't a priest."

"What?" asked the thief, almost gaping.

"You attacked reason," said Father Brown. "It's bad theology."
[G.K. Chesterton]
I have always enjoyed reading mysteries. I began with Conan Doyle, and soon progressed to Agatha Christie, and then to Chesterton, Marjorie Allingham, Dorothy L. Sayers, etc. I still enjoy those authors - whether in print or in the many film and television versions. A part of the pleasure is that justice always [or almost always] triumphs. Some great evil, usually murder, is committed, peace and order is disrupted, anarchy threatens, but then order is re-established, tranquility restored and justice done.

Later, I started reading the so-called "hard-boiled" authors like Chandler and Hammett and their many successors. The moral issues tended to be much less clearly drawn and the victory of good much less complete. No one, in these books, is unambiguously good.

A sense of evil is central to all of them. It is much easier to be drawn into the books if you possess a firm belief in the reality of original sin - the flaw in every person. The "hard-boiled" stories were more realistic about evil, though, since the dividing line between good and evil passes - not between us - but through each of us; and - in this life - there are no final victories for good.

For many years, now, P.D. James has been one of the best practitioners of the art of the mystery story. From a review by Ralph C. Wood of P.D. James' most recent Dalgliesh mystery novel The Lighthouse:
IN HIS CELEBRATED 1948 essay on detective fiction, "The Guilty Vicarage," W.H. Auden argued that the appeal of crime novels lies in their "dialectic of innocence and guilt." A seemingly edenic community is discovered to have a murderer in its midst. Various false clues and secondary murders cast suspicion on nearly everyone and thus reveal the falseness of the community's innocence. With the almost miraculous aid of a detective who possesses superior powers of perception, the true criminal is caught and punished, as the community undergoes a catharsis that cleanses its partial guilt and restores its innocence. Hence Auden's conclusion that the detective story, though a worthy genre, is a peculiarly Protestant form of magic: a "fantasy of escape," built on the Socratic daydream that "sin is ignorance."

Auden rightly describes the pattern that obtains in the huge preponderance of crime novels- though there have always been some that elude the easy escapist comfort. The novels of P.D. James, for instance, mainly because her victims are not entirely innocent nor her villains entirely guilty. A complex admixture of good and evil lies at the moral and religious center of her work....

Either mushiness or hardness of heart prompts nearly all personal sins, James suggests, from the great to the small, from murder to gossip. The only antidote lies in the pity that seeks firm justice while acknowledging that everyone, even the worst, suffers irremediably. What we do with our suffering is what matters. Our sins most often spring not from mere ignorance, James teaches, but from false innocence. Despite Auden’s salutary warning, therefore, such detective fiction as hers enables us to confront our real guilt.
Source: First Things November 2006: Books in Review

*one of P.D. James' books is titled Original Sin.

If God does not exist, everything is lawful.

Jeff Jacoby:
"... What society loses when it discards Judeo-Christian faith and belief in G-d is something far more difficult to replace: the value system most likely to promote ethical behavior and sustain a decent society. That is because without G-d, the difference between good and evil becomes purely subjective. What makes murder inherently wrong is not that it feels wrong, but that a transcendent Creator to whom we are answerable commands: "Thou shalt not murder." What makes kindness to others inherently right is not that human reason says so, but that G-d does: "Love thy neighbor as thyself; I am the Lord."

Obviously this doesn't mean that religious people are always good, or that religion itself cannot lead to cruelty. Nor does it mean that atheists cannot be beautiful, ethical human beings. Belief in G-d alone does not guarantee goodness. But belief tethered to clear ethical values - Judeo-Christian monotheism - is society's best bet for restraining our worst moral impulses and encouraging our best ones.

The atheist alternative is a world in which right and wrong are ultimately matters of opinion, and in which we are finally accountable to no one but ourselves. That is anything but a tiding of comfort and joy."
Source: Jeff Jacoby

Thursday, December 14, 2006

"Looking Good"

S.M. Hutchens at Mere Comments, on trying to seem better than you are:

"...I believe that to avoid hypocrisy and sanctimoniousness one should not try over-hard to look saintly (the great saints rarely do), nor am I being facetious in saying that while we should attempt for the glory and the dread fear of God to be good, we should never try to appear so damn good that anyone who, as a result of coming to know us better, is put in danger of losing his faith."

Source: Mere Comments: Looking Good

"Freedom and the moral life"

At Christianity Today, a review of The Freedom of a Christian by Gilbert Meilaender:
Meilaender advocates "the obedience of faith within a life of Christian freedom." He also examines the freedom inherent in God's call: "For large stretches of life, vocation becomes permission to determine the person we will be, and even our duties are transformed."

Meilaender reminds us that the moral life at its best is a natural response to a loving God: "Beyond principles, beyond law, beyond reason, lies a Person." [emphasis added]
Source: Freedom and the Moral Life | Christianity Today

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

His favorite Christmas book

Mark D. Roberts' favorite Christmas book is also mine. He begins a series of of postings about A Christmas Carol:
A Christmas Carol still wins the prize for my favorite book.

Notice, I didn't say "best book." Here Les Misérables would get the nod, I think. I wouldn't even contend that A Christmas Carol is Charles Dickens's finest book. A Tale of Two Cities or David Copperfield would get my vote in this category. But, still, A Christmas Carol is my favorite book, favorite in the sense of most beloved.

And favorite also in the sense of most frequently read. For several years now I've made it part of my Christmas tradition to read A Christmas Carol in its entirety. Now, as you probably know, that's not as impressive as it sounds, because the book is relatively short. One can read it in less than two hours. When Dickens himself used to do public, oral readings of the book, he'd take only three hours or so. In truth, A Christmas Carol really isn't a novel. It's more of a novella, or, as Dickens himself labels it, "Ghost Story of Christmas."

Why do I love A Christmas Carol as much as I do? It has many things going for it. It's short enough to be read and re-read with ease. Its main theme is Christmas, one of my favorite events of the year. It's filled with mouthwatering descriptions of luscious food and drink. It's got lots of suspense and lots of humor. And, of course, it's a salient example of Dickens's inimitable narrative style, a kind of "I'm-your-friend" storytelling that draws the reader into the tale. But none of this accounts adequately for my love of A Christmas Carol. It ranks as my favorite book because of what happens in the heart of Ebenezer Scrooge...and because of what happens in my heart through his experience.... [read more]
Source: Christmas according to Dickens

Bibles

Via Between Two Worlds, an article from The New Yorker titled "The Good News Business" about the Bible publishing business in this country:
The familiar observation that the Bible is the best-selling book of all time obscures a more startling fact: the Bible is the best-selling book of the year, every year. Calculating how many Bibles are sold in the United States is a virtually impossible task, but a conservative estimate is that in 2005 Americans purchased some twenty-five million Bibles - twice as many as the most recent Harry Potter book. The amount spent annually on Bibles has been put at more than half a billion dollars.

In some ways, this should not be surprising. According to the Barna Group, an evangelical polling firm, forty-seven per cent of Americans read the Bible every week. But other research has found that ninety-one per cent of American households own at least one Bible - the average household owns four - which means that Bible publishers manage to sell twenty-five million copies a year of a book that almost everybody already has.
The New Yorker slideshow illustrating some of the Bibles on the market.

Source: The New Yorker: The Good News Business

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

"Darwin's Graveyards"

In the usual version of the Scopes Trial, William Jennings Bryan is portrayed as a Fundamentalist believer in a literal interpretation of the Genesis creation story. In fact, Bryan believed Darwinism was an attack on human dignity which resulted in oppression and exploitation.

Darwin got some very big things right, but as Richard Weikart argues in a new book, his ideas also spawned some great evils - Social Darwinism among them - and some much worse than laissez-faire capitalism.

The Social Darwinists justified an unfettered capitalism — the poor deserved to be poor because they were feckless and weak, the rich were reaping the rewards of their superior qualities. "Survival of the fittest" applied to politics and social policy resulted in everything Bryan hated and had fought his entire political career. It seems that he interpreted Darwin correctly:
One of the most pernicious and widespread fictions ever foisted on an unsuspecting public claims that Charles Darwin was not a social Darwinist. Not so. For example, in a letter to one William Graham dated July 3, 1881, Darwin wrote:
I could show fight on natural selection having done and doing more for the progress of civilization than you seem inclined to admit. Remember what risk the nations of Europe ran, not so many centuries ago, of being overwhelmed by the Turk, and how ridiculous such an idea now is! The more civilized so-called Caucasian races have beaten the Turkish hollow in the struggle for existence. Looking to the world at no very distant date, what an endless number of the lower races will have been eliminated by the higher civilized races throughout the world.
According to the myths of standard historiography, Darwin confined himself strictly to matters biological — even in The Descent of Man, when he finally came, late in life, to apply his theory to man's place in the evolutionary tree. So whatever damage came to the poor and downtrodden from Darwin's theory is due to others, above all Herbert Spencer. Here, in Spencer, can be found the villain of the piece: that second-rate thinker ruined a perfectly good biological theory by hijacking it for cutthroat capitalism, contempt for the poor, laissez-faire lassitude about social legislation, and so forth. Spencer, the claim goes, was the first to transpose ethics into evolutionary terms, defining as good whatever promoted the "progress" of evolution and as bad whatever hindered it.

Unfortunately for Darwin's own reputation, this thesis does not bear scrutiny. Spencer might well have been the first to coin the phrase "survival of the fittest." But Darwin enthusiastically adopted it in the 6th edition of his Origin of Species as a substitute term for "natural selection." Nor did he ever demur when other advocates of evolution's social application came pleading their case. Karl Marx asked if he might dedicate Das Kapital to Darwin, which request Darwin declined only because he did not want to offend the religious sensibilities of his deeply Christian wife.

Nor were Darwin's own musings on the social implications of his theory limited to private correspondence. In one particularly chilling passage in Descent of Man he asserted, "At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace throughout the world the savage races." [emphasis added] [more of the review]
Source: Darwin's Graveyards - Books & Culture

"The dogmatic atheists of my youth"

From Mere Comments, David Mills reflects on why the confident atheists he encountered while growing up were ultimately unconvincing:
"....It was the secularist's dogmatism that put me off, and gave me some sympathy for the religious, as odd as I found them.

When the secularist declared that God did not exist or that a particular belief was incredible, I always wondered how they could be so sure. Friends and teachers would sweep away the supernatural with all the confidence of the Fundamentalists they laughed at, and with fewer arguments than the Fundamentalists offered. Beyond that old staple, the problem of evil, that is.

They would declare, for example, that Christianity was a myth based on the ridiculous claim that a man rose from the dead. When you're dead, you're dead. But since lesser men than we can't live with this reality, they invent the idea of an eternal paradise, and in the first century this wish was attached to a particularly popular preacher and was developed into what we know as Christianity.

This seemed to me likely, but still, I always wondered, how could they know? How could they be so sure that they knew the universe so intimately that they could rule out life after death? How could they know that the idea of an Incarnation was intrinsically impossible? How could they be so confident that the religious didn't sense something they didn't sense, like the possibility that we hope for a next world because we were made for that world?

I saw, as did many of my friends, that if God existed, he might not make himself known in the ways they required. How could we predict what God would offer us and why? If he existed, he didn't come to you on your terms. He came on his, and he might prove somewhat indifferent to your demands.

And even then I saw that he might make himself known in ways the secularist would refuse to see, and that the atheist may have made himself unable to see the evidence, no matter how clear it is. I had no confidence that my atheist friends and teachers wanted to meet God, because God was likely to prove excessively disruptive.
Source: Mere Comments: The Dogmatic Atheists of My Youth

Moral framework for cultural issues

The tothesource website describes itself as "challenging hardcore secularism with principled pluralism." The link is to their archives where over two hundred articles by such authors as Dinesh D'Souza, Wesley J. Smith and Ramesh Ponnuru can be found.

An example is D'Souza's column referenced below, and found here at tothesource. The site will provide the columns by email to anyone who asks and encourages their use on other websites.

Link to tothesource - Moral framework for cultural issues

Friday, December 8, 2006

"Sacred Harp"

Jesus, my all to heav'n has gone,
Glory Hallelujah;
He whom I fix my hopes upon!
Glory Hallelujah!

I want a seat in Paradise,
Glory Hallelujah!
I love that union never dies,
Glory Hallelujah!

North Port, 1743
Awake, My Soul is a documentary about Sacred Harp singing [resources]. To the contemporary ear, this tradition of hymn singing will probably sound a bit strange. Some of the hymns are familiar, by authors like Cowper, Stennett and Watts, but even the familiar tunes are sung in a way not common since the 19th century. [Click here or on the picture to the right for a sample of the music.] The DVD is called Awake, My Soul and can be purchased from Dust to Digital, a company that specializes in restoring old recordings, especially of blues, country and gospel music. A CD related to the documentary is I Belong to This Band, containing recordings from as long ago as the 1920s and as recently as 2006 [track listing]. It is remarkable stuff. Dust to Digital has also produced a large, multi-disc collection, called Goodbye, Babylon, of southern and country gospel [black and white], including a disc of vintage radio sermons.

The description on the DVD:
This documentary is about Sacred Harp singing, a haunting form of a cappella, shape-note singing with deep roots in the American south. Shape-note singing has survived over 200 years tucked away from notice in the rural deep south, where in old country churches, singers break open The Sacred Harp, a 160 year old shape-note hymnal which has preserved these fiercely beautiful songss which are some of the oldest in America. And so they, like singers from centuries past, begin each song by singing syllables that are represented by each shaped note in their hymnal: fa, sol, la, mi. ....

Thursday, December 7, 2006

"As a believer..."

In the Midst of It All, Peace?
Rev. Ken Burdick
Excerpted from a sermon delivered on December 2, 2006

Snowflakes falling gently from the sky, a candle glowing bright, “Fear not!” and, “on earth, peace!” That’s how we like to think of Christmas, but how we actually experience the holidays is as something a lot more hectic, stressful and exhausting.

Those who find peace “in the midst of it all” are those who had it before the holidays even began. And it’s not that their lives are any less busy, stressful or problem-free than anyone else’s. It’s that they have found an inner peace with which to face all that life throws at them. I thought this might be a good time to think about such “inner” peace - not just peace for the holidays, but peace for your life.

As a believer I know I can have inner peace in my life (no matter what is going on around me), because:

I. Jesus promised it to those who are “in Him.”
Consider what the Lord told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid" [John 14:27]. This was in the context of a long talk when He told them, “I will be with you only a little longer” [John 13:33]. He was about to die on the cross, be raised from the dead, and ascend into heaven, leaving his disciples behind. Being left on their own was anything but what they wished to hear. But Jesus was leaving something with them - peace - “my peace,” He calls it. To say something like, “peace be with you,” was a common way of greeting or saying farewell to someone at that time. But, says Jesus, “I do not give to you as the world gives.” In other words, He is not just being polite and conventional, nor is He simply wishing them the best. He’s promising a real peace - based on which, He can say to them, “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” This is a kind of peace that only Jesus can give.

In John 16:32-33, at the end of this talk, Jesus speaks of peace, again -
"A time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
So the peace Jesus offers is not freedom from troubles. He tells them plainly, “In this world you will have trouble.” In John 16:1 He had even said to them, “a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God.” But yet, with such a threat facing them, Jesus still promises peace.

Can you and I have that same kind of peace, today? Yes, but we must understand some things about it:
  • First, it’s not for everyone, but only for those who are “in Jesus”; that is, for those who belong to Jesus because they have put saving faith in him. The peace does not come from following self-help plans, but from Jesus himself, who promised “in me you may have peace.”
  • Second, it’s an inner, not an outer, peace. It’s not peace in terms of an end to our worldly problems. It’s an inner peace that counter-balances anxieties, threats and troubles in the life we live in an unpeaceful world. The formula is: “In this world, trouble - in me, peace.”
  • Third, it’s a means of refusing to be overcome by problems, not for disposing of them. Some have taken Jesus’ words “I have overcome the world” to imply that believers can overcome their problems by calling on supernatural power to make them go away. But that is precisely what Jesus himself did not do when He overcame the world. He did so by enduring the cross, not making it go away. In fact, when they came to arrest him, He told his disciples, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?" [Matthew 26:53-54] No, Jesus is not promising power to make our troubles go away. He’s promising peace in the midst of them, and on the basis that He himself has overcome the evil powers of this world that lie behind it’s troubles and hostility toward his followers.
  • Fourth, this inner peace is apparently the work of the Holy Spirit within the believer. Jesus promises his peace in the context of his promise to send the Spirit [John 14:16-18, 25-26; John 16:7-15].
As a believer I know I can have inner peace in my life (no matter what is going on around me), because Jesus promised it to those who are in him.
II. God and his Son will always be with me.
The statement from God, “I will be with you” is the classic statement of reassurance and help to God’s people found in both Testaments. He doesn’t say, “I’ll fix things,“ but something greater. “I’ll go with you.” “Do not be afraid,” He tells Isaac, “for I am with you.” [Gen. 26:24]

The closeness and constant fellowship we have with God is another solid foundation for inner peace in the life of the believer. And what’s true of the Father is also true of his Son, who left us the promise in Matthew 28:20, “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." This promise is also reflected in the extended talk Jesus has with his disciples in John. He says they will see him again (meaning, after his resurrection), then adds, “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you” [John 14:20]. This is describing a closeness and intimacy the believer has with the Father and the Son. Jesus repeats the idea in John 15:4, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.”

David spoke of God’s closeness in Psalm 139:
O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. You hem me in - behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me," even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you… How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you. [Psalm 139:1-12, 17-18]
As a believer I know I can have inner peace in my life (no matter what is going on around me), because God and his Son will always be with me.

III. I am loved and greatly valued by God.
Again, this is one of the underlying themes in Jesus’ talk with his disciples, reported in John. In John 16:27, He tells them, “The Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” This would be important for the disciples to know in the midst of the coming persecutions. Does God care about me? That’s a question we might still have today when things in our lives are rough. I don’t need outer peace to have inner peace, but I must know that I matter to God - and that’s what Jesus reassures his followers. He says more directly, in Matthew 10:29-30,
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
As a believer no matter what happens, I can have inner peace because I know how much I matter to my God.

IV. There’s nothing I can’t safely rest in God’s hands through prayer.
Prayer comes up in the John chapters in the context of completing our mission as believers by bringing glory to God [John. 14:13], and bearing spiritual fruit [John. 15:16-17]. Through prayer, we can be confident of God’s help in our efforts to live for Christ, which gives us inner peace even in the face of the world’s hostility and persecution. The New Testament later expands the scope of this confidence and inner peace, speaking of prayer as a means for finding peace “in everything,” not just the issues we face in living for Christ. Paul writes
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” [Phil. 4:6-7]
Here I am invited, as a believer, to rest every cause of anxiety in God’s hands, expressing my thanks for the answer He will give, even before I know what it is. This is a prayer of faith, trusting in the goodness and power and love of God to see me through whatever is troubling me, rather than coming to God with everything all worked out (according to my own understanding) and just asking Him to rubber-stamp it, and make it all happen. But inner peace does not come from attempts to manipulate God. It comes from resting in God, trusting in God, calling on God, and then finding a peace that “transcends all understanding.” Such peace guards the hearts and minds of those “in Christ Jesus.” It’s in a peaceful and quiet inner place that God’s peace is found - whatever the circumstances, whatever the season of the year. David’s call for Israel to hope in God expresses it well:
My heart is not proud, O LORD, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, put your hope in the LORD both now and forevermore. [Psalm 131]
Let us put our hope in the Lord, and let us know His peace!

Rev. Ken Burdick is the pastor of the Seattle Area Seventh Day Baptist Church.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

When being against discrimination is being for it

Phi Beta Cons at NRO note the increasing institutional hostility to campus Christian groups. It would be nice if the universities' commitment to diversity included a commitment to diversity of viewpoint.
Yesterday, the Christian Legal Society and the Alliance Defense Fund filed a lawsuit against officials at the University of Georgia challenging the university's refusal to recognize a Christian fraternity because - yes, you guessed it - the fraternity requires that its members be Christian....

Universities insist that the wave of derecognitions has nothing to do with anti-Christian animus and has everything to do with "defending students from discrimination." ....

Yet who is suffering when Christian groups reserve leadership and membership for Christian students? Are there thousands (or hundreds or dozens or even a couple) of Hindu and Muslim students who are frustrated in their efforts to join Christian groups? Of course not. In reality, universities are not interested in protecting students from religious discrimination.... Instead, they are striking at the heart of what these Christian groups teach and believe. The universities want to "protect" their student bodies from dissent - especially on matters of personal morality. And it is so much easier to silence dissent when that speech and the groups that support that speech are branded as "discriminators."
Source: Phi Beta Cons on National Review Online

Update: 12/8/06, from Phi Beta Cons:
Within a day after the Christian Legal Society and the Alliance Defense Fund filed suit to protect the rights of a Christian fraternity at the University of Georgia, the school reversed course, recognized the fraternity, and pledged to study its policies.

Sabbath


Why Do Seventh Day Baptists Observe the Sabbath?
by Dr. Paul Manuel

Seventh Day Baptists keep a day for worship different from that of most other Christians. Instead of gathering on the first day of the week, Seventh Day Baptists meet on the seventh day of the week, the biblical Sabbath. Why would they choose to separate themselves in this way? What scriptural reasons are there for worshipping and resting on the seventh day rather than on the first day? Seventh Day Baptists keep the Sabbath because…

1. They note God's example, for He observed it at creation.
By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. [Gen 2:2]

For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth…and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy. [Exod 20:11]
2. They recall God's deliverance, for He instituted it after the exodus.
See, the Lord has given you the sabbath; therefore He gives you bread for two days on the sixth day. Remain every man in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day. [Exod 16:29]

You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out of there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to observe the sabbath day. [Deut 5:15]
3. They obey God's precept, for He commanded it on Sinai.
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. [Exod 20:8]

Observe the sabbath day to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. [Deut 5:12]
4. They recognize God's designation, for He appointed it for worship.
For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a sabbath of complete rest, a holy convocation. [Lev 23:3a]
5. They accept God's invitation, for He opened it to gentiles.
Also the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord…every one who keeps from profaning the Sabbath…I will bring to My holy mountain and make them joyful in My house of prayer….for My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples. [Isa 56:6-7]
6. They join God's people, for He gave it to Israel.
…speak to the sons of Israel, saying, “You shall surely observe My sabbaths; for [this] is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you.” [Exod 31:13]

…you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree [Rom 11:17]
7. They seek God's approval, for He linked it to reward.
If because of the sabbath, you turn your foot from doing your [own] pleasure on My holy day, and call the sabbath a delight, the holy [day] of the Lord honorable, and honor it, desisting from your [own] ways, from seeking your [own] pleasure and speaking [your own] word, then you will take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth; and I will feed you [with] the heritage of Jacob your father, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. [Isa 58:13-14]

How blessed is the man…who keeps from profaning the Sabbath…. [Isa 56:2]
8. They anticipate God's kingdom, for He demands it in tribute.
“And it shall be from new moon to new moon and from sabbath to sabbath, all mankind will come to bow down before Me,” says the Lord. [Isa 66:23]
9. They follow God's son, for he kept it on earth and expected it from disciples.
…as was his custom, he entered the synagogue on the Sabbath…. [Luke 4:16]

Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others [to do] the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches [them], he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. [Matt 5:19]

…teaching them to observe all that I commanded you…. [Matt 28:20a]
10. They copy God’s church, for early believers, Jews and gentiles, continued to keep it.
It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God…. For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath. [Acts 15:19, 21]
11. They await God’s heaven, for it is the ultimate release from their labor.
So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. [Heb 4:9]
Seventh Day Baptists do not keep Sunday because there is no biblical evidence that God changed His appointed day or that the earliest believers observed another day. In fact, there are only three New Testament references to Sunday, none of which gives that day priority over the Sabbath.

Jesus rose on the first day, but only after he rested in the tomb on the seventh day.
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. [Luke 24:1; cf. v v. 13, 21, 46]
Paul preached on the first day, but it was a final [not a regular] meeting before he left the area.
On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul [began] talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight. [Acts 20:7]
Corinthians set aside money on the first day, but it was a private savings not a public collection.
On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come. [1 Cor 16:2]
The shift from Sabbath to Sunday followed an influx of gentile converts that changed the demographic makeup of the church, leaving Jewish believers a marginalized minority. Because the law did not have the same status among non-Jews as it did among Jews, there was less concern for keeping it. Sunday, the day of Jesus’ resurrection, became the preferred day of worship, a practice the Emperor Constantine promoted in the 4th century and subsequent church councils prescribed.

Although some Jewish believers [those who managed to avoid assimilation] continued to keep the Sabbath, gentile Christians generally did not. Seventh Day Baptists arose in the mid-17th century with a renewed recognition of the Sabbath’s importance.

The primary difference between the two days is that Sabbath observance is based on biblical teaching, whereas Sunday observance is based on church tradition.

"How blessed is the man… who keeps from profaning the sabbath."

Rev. Paul Manuel is a member of the Madison Seventh Day Baptist Church and pastor of the German Seventh-Day Baptist Church in Salemville, PA. His Ph.D. is in Hebrew and Semitic Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.