Sunday, March 31, 2013

They died for Easter

Re-posted from 2009:

Michael Patton provides an argument for the historicity of the Resurrection in "What Happened to the Twelve Apostles? How Their Deaths Evidence Easter."
.... The martyrdom of some of the Apostles is more certain than others. Historians will have different degrees of certainty concerning the circumstances of their deaths. For instance, unbiased historians will not take issue with the historical credibility of the martyrdom of Peter, Paul, and James the Apostle. Many of the other accounts have decent historic validity as well. Some accounts, however, raise the eyebrow and cause us to remain agnostic.

However, when boiled down to their least common denominator, it is very feasible to believe that all but one of the Apostles suffered and died a martyr’s death, even if we can’t be sure of the exact details.

Amidst some uncertainty, one thing is clear—the reason given for their death was the same in all accounts. They were killed because they proclaimed to have seen Christ die and then to have seen Him alive. They all died because of an unwavering, unrelenting claim that Christ rose from the grave. They died for Easter. ....
Patton then recounts the deaths of the apostles, evaluating each for historical likelihood, for instance:
(2) The Apostle Peter

Although, just before the crucifixion, Peter denied three times that he even knew Christ, after the resurrection he did not do so again. Peter, just as Jesus told him in John 21:18-19, was crucified by Roman executioners because he could not deny his master again. According to Eusebius, he thought himself unworthy to be crucified as his Master, and, therefore, he asked to be crucified “head downward.”

Date of Martyrdom: ca. 64 A.D.

Probability rating: A
This, essentially, is Patton's argument:
People do not die for their own lies, half-truths, or fabrications. If the Apostles truly died proclaiming to have seen Christ dead then alive and ascend into heaven, Christ is who He said He was, God incarnate who came to take away the sins of the world. ....

The disciples...died for something that they claimed to have witnessed firsthand. This carries no “hearsay” but firsthand testimony. .... Here are your three options concerning the Apostles:
  1. They died for a lie and knew it (unsustainable due to lack of any reasonable motive).
  2. They were all delusional and crazy (but this would take more faith than any option since you would have to explain how they all had the same delusion and craziness—many being at different places and different times).
  3. What they said was true. Christ did rise from the grave and is who He said He was.
It seems to me a very strong argument. One eyewitness—a very strange one—might conceivably die for something he knew to be a lie—but many? Each additional martyr to a truth they would personally have witnessed adds to the probability that the event happened. Many witnesses would be persuasive—how much more persuasive a willingness to die because of something they claimed to have witnessed?

There is much more at Patton's site: Parchment and Pen, including a downloadable pdf of the article with some discussion questions.

Thanks to Justin Taylor for the reference.

Parchment and Pen » What Happened to the Twelve Apostles? How Their Deaths Evidence Easter


Re-posted from 2009:

Christ Jesus lay in death’s strong bands

   For our offenses given;
But now at God’s right hand He stands
   And brings us life from heaven.
Therefore let us joyful be
And sing to God right thankfully
   Loud songs of alleluia!

Here the true Paschal Lamb we see,
   Whom God so freely gave us;
He died on the accursèd tree—
   So strong His love—to save us.
See, His blood now marks our door;
Faith points to it; death passes o’er,
   And Satan cannot harm us.

No son of man could conquer death,
   Such ruin sin had wrought us.
No innocence was found on earth,
   And therefore death had brought us
Into bondage from of old
And ever grew more strong and bold
   And held us as its captive.

So let us keep the festival
   To which the Lord invites us;
Christ is Himself the joy of all,
   The sun that warms and light us.
Now His grace to us imparts
Eternal sunshine to our hearts;
   The night of sin is ended.

Christ Jesus, God’s own Son, came down,
   His people to deliver;
Destroying sin, He took the crown
   From Death’s pale brow forever:
Stripped of pow’r, no more he reigns;
An empty form alone remains;
   His sting is lost forever.

Then let us feast this Easter Day
   On Christ, the bread of heaven;
The Word of grace has purged away
   The old and evil leaven.
Christ alone our souls will feed;
He is our meat and drink indeed;
   Faith lives upon no other!

It was a strange and dreadful strife
   When life and death contended;
The victory remained with life,
   The reign of death was ended.
Holy Scripture plainly saith
That death is swallowed up by death,
   Its sting is lost forever.

Martin Luther, 1524

Christ Jesus Lay in Death’s Strong Bands

Risen indeed!

Re-posted from 2011:

'Tis the spring of souls today; Christ has burst His prison,
And from three days’ sleep in death as a sun hath risen;
All the winter of our sins, long and dark, is flying
From His light, to Whom we give laud and praise undying.

“Alleluia!” now we cry to our King immortal,
Who, triumphant, burst the bars of the tomb’s dark portal;
“Alleluia!” with the Son, God the Father praising,
“Alleluia!” yet again to the Spirit raising.

John of Damascus, 8th Century
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. .... And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. .... And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. .... If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead....
I Corinthians 15 [ESV]
O GOD, who for our redemption didst give Thine only-begotten Son to the death of the Cross, and by His glorious resurrection hast delivered us from the power of our enemy; Grant us so to die daily from sin, that we may evermore live with Him in the joy of His resurrection; through the same Thy Son Christ our Lord. Amen. [BCP]

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Is Easter pagan?

Re-posted from 2009

In an article at Christian History, Anthony McRoy systematically refutes the idea that "Easter" has any connection to possible pagan antecedents and concludes:
...The Christian title "Easter" ... reflects its general date in the calendar, rather than the Paschal festival having been re-named in honor of a supposed pagan deity.

Of course, the Christian commemoration of the Paschal festival rests not on the title of the celebration but on its content—namely, the remembrance of Christ's death and resurrection. It is Christ's conquest of sin, death, and Satan that gives us the right to wish everyone "Happy Easter!"
He notes that:
The argument largely rests on the supposed pagan associations of the English and German names for the celebration (Easter in English and Ostern in German). It is important to note, however, that in most other European languages, the name for the Christian celebration is derived from the Greek word Pascha, which comes from pesach, the Hebrew word for Passover. Easter is the Christian Passover festival.
Even if there were some preceding pagan holiday or practice, that wouldn't prove anything — any more than it does for Christmas, or Halloween for that matter. As McRoy points out:
Of course, even if Christians did engage in contextualization—expressing their message and worship in the language or forms of the local people—that in no way implies doctrinal compromise. Christians around the world have sought to redeem the local culture for Christ while purging it of practices antithetical to biblical norms. After all, Christians speak of "Good Friday," but they are in no way honoring the worship of the Norse/Germanic queen of the gods Freya by doing so.

But, in fact, in the case of Easter, the evidence suggests otherwise: that neither the commemoration of Christ's death and resurrection nor its name are derived from paganism. .... (more)
Good history and good sense.

Even the bunny and the egg — like Santa Claus and the Christmas tree — are, at worst, relatively harmless distractions.

Was Easter Borrowed from a Pagan Holiday? | Christian History

"Arise, sad heart"

Re-posted from 2012:

George Herbert: The Dawning:

AWAKE, sad heart, whom sorrow ever drowns ;
Take up thine eyes, which feed on earth ;
Unfold thy forehead, gathered into frowns ;
Thy Saviour comes, and with Him mirth :
Awake, awake,
And with a thankful heart His comforts take.
But thou dost still lament, and pine, and cry,
And feel His death, but not His victory.

Arise, sad heart; if thou dost not withstand,
Christ's resurrection thine may be ;
Do not by hanging down break from the hand
Which, as it riseth, raiseth thee :
Arise, Arise;
And with His burial linen drie thine eyes.
Christ left His grave-clothes, that we might, when grief
Draws tears or blood, not want a handkerchief.

George Herbert, (1593-1633)

George Herbert: The Dawning.

Dead and buried

Re-posted from 2011

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 bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul.
Alexander Means, c. 1830
GRANT, O Lord, that as we are baptized into the death of Thy blessed Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ, so by continual mortifying our corrupt affections we may be buried with Him; and that through the grave, and gate of death, we may pass to our joyful resurrection; for His merits, who died, and was buried, and rose again for us, the same Thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. [BCP]

Friday, March 29, 2013

Worship this Easter

This is the worship service the Madison Seventh Day Baptist Church will be using this Easter Sabbath. One of the interesting problems of using the liturgical calendar for a Sabbath worshiping congregation is that it is designed for Sunday worship. At Easter, Sabbath is in-between – it is an-already-but-not-yet sort of time. Our Lord had been executed but He had not yet risen from the dead. He rested in the tomb on Sabbath – so this time of worship is about what happened on Good Friday with the anticipation of what will happen on Easter.

Worship Theme:
We worship Him who Died to Save Us

Meditation Verses:
…[B]eing found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:8–11

Call to Worship:
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God. Let us consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful people, so that we will not grow weary or lose heart. [from Hebrews 12:2-3]

“He died that we might be forgiven” because “He only could unlock the gate of Heaven”

Isaiah describes the humiliation of the persecuted, anticipating the experience of our Lord, but reminds us that final victory belongs to Lord God:

The Old Testament Reading: Isaiah 50:4–9a
The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary.
Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught.
The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward.
I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard;
I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting. But the Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.
He who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together.
Who is my adversary? Let him come near to me.
Behold, the Lord GOD helps me; who will declare me guilty?
Behold, all of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up.
Call to Confession:
“Remember that our Lord Jesus Christ is able to sympathize with us in our weakness. In every respect he was tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Let us confess our sins to Almighty God as we pray together:

From Friday to Sunday

Paul Manuel considers whether, based on the text, the traditional chronology of Holy Week holds up.  In On the third day" he concludes:
.... The chronological markers in the gospel accounts enable modern readers to establish the day of Jesus' crucifixion and the day of his resurrection. According to those markers, Jesus died on Friday, the preparation day for the weekly Sabbath, and he rose on the third day, which was Sunday, the first day of the week. [more]

"And they brought him to the place..."

Re-posted from 2008:

And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. And it was the third hour when they crucified him. And the inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” [Mark 15:22-26, ESV]

Justin Taylor:
Written over 20 years ago and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, this article goes into graphic detail about the physical pain that Jesus would have endured in his beatings and crucifixion....
Here is an excerpt from that article, "On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ" by William D. Edwards, Wesley J. Gabel, and Floyd E. Hosmer. The article is substantially longer and detailed, with diagrams and ample citation. Our Lord's manner of execution was like that suffered by a great many others in the Roman world:
.... It was customary for the condemned man to carry his own cross from the flogging post to the site of crucifixion outside the city walls. He was usually naked, unless this was prohibited by local customs. Since the weight of the entire cross was probably well over 300 lb (136 kg), only the crossbar was carried. The patibulum, weighing 75 to 125 lb. (34 to 57 kg), was placed across the nape of the victim’s neck and balanced along both shoulders. Usually, the outstretched arms then were tied to the crossbar. The processional to the site of crucifixion was led by a complete Roman military guard, headed by a centurion. One of the soldiers carried a sign (titulus) on which the condemned man’s name and crime were displayed. Later, the titulus would be attached to the top of the cross. The Roman guard would not leave the victim until they were sure of his death.
Outside the city walls was permanently located the heavy upright wooden stipes, on which the patibulum would be secured. In the case of the Tau cross, this was accomplished by means of a mortise and tenon joint, with or without reinforcement by ropes. To prolong the crucifixion process, a horizontal wooden block or plank, serving as a crude seat (sedile or sedulum), often was attached midway down the stipes. Only very rarely, and probably later than the time of Christ, was an additional block (suppedaneum) employed for transfixion of the feet.

At the site of execution, by law, the victim was given a bitter drink of wine mixed with myrrh (gall) as a mild analgesic. The criminal was then thrown to the ground on his back, with his arms outstretched along the patibulum. The hands could be nailed or tied to the crossbar, but nailing apparently was preferred by the Romans. The archaeological remains of a crucified body, found in an ossuary near Jerusalem and dating from the time of Christ, indicate that the nails were tapered iron spikes approximately 5 to 7 in (13 to 18 cm) long with a square shaft 3/8 in (1 cm) across. Furthermore, ossuary findings and the Shroud of Turin have documented that the nails commonly were driven through the wrists rather than the palms.

After both arms were fixed to the crossbar, the patibulum and the victim, together, were lifted onto the stipes. On the low cross, four soldiers could accomplish this relatively easily. However, on the tall cross, the soldiers used either wooden forks or ladders.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

There is evil in the world

Thirty years ago this month President Reagan delivered what may have been his most controversial speech. It was written by the chief of his speech-writing team, Tony Dolan, but Reagan may have been the last President to extensively edit the drafts he was given. He spoke in his own voice and said what he believed. I don't think I had ever read the entire speech before tonight when I was inspired to do so by a program on C-SPAN. The speech contains a great deal more than its most famous [infamous?] phrase and it is very good. From President Reagan's "Evil Empire Speech" on March 8, 1983:
".... Now, obviously, much of this new political and social consensus I've talked about is based on a positive view of American history, one that takes pride in our country's accomplishments and record. But we must never forget that no government schemes are going to perfect man. We know that living in this world means dealing with what philosophers would call the phenomenology of evil or, as theologians would put it, the doctrine of sin.

There is sin and evil in the world, and we're enjoined by Scripture and the Lord Jesus to oppose it with all our might. Our nation, too, has a legacy of evil with which it must deal. The glory of this land has been its capacity for transcending the moral evils of our past. For example, the long struggle of minority citizens for equal rights, once a source of disunity and civil war, is now a point of pride for all Americans. We must never go back. There is no room for racism, anti-Semitism, or other forms of ethnic and racial hatred in this country.

I know that you've been horrified, as have I, by the resurgence of some hate groups preaching bigotry and prejudice. Use the mighty voice of your pulpits and the powerful standing of your churches to denounce and isolate these hate groups in our midst. The commandment given us is clear and simple: "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." But whatever sad episodes exist in our past, any objective observer must hold a positive view of American history, a history that has been the story of hopes fulfilled and dreams made into reality. Especially in this century, America has kept alight the torch of freedom, but not just for ourselves but for millions of others around the world.

And this brings me to my final point today. During my first press conference as President, in answer to a direct question, I pointed out that, as good Marxist-Leninists, the Soviet leaders have openly and publicly declared that the only morality they recognize is that which will further their cause, which is world revolution. I think I should point out I was only quoting Lenin, their guiding spirit, who said in 1920 that they repudiate all morality that proceeds from supernatural ideas — that's their name for religion — or ideas that are outside class conceptions. Morality is entirely subordinate to the interests of class war. And everything is moral that is necessary for the annihilation of the old, exploiting social order and for uniting the proletariat.

Deeper darkness in the darkness

A good essay about "Ben-Hur and its author,  Lew Wallace — the beginning:
Lew Wallace was making conversation with the other gentlemen in his sleeper car when a man in a nightgown appeared in the doorway. The train was bound for Indianapolis and the Third National Soldiers Reunion, where thousands of Union Army veterans planned to rally, reminisce, and march in a parade the New York Times would later describe as "the grandest street display ever seen in the United States." It was Sept. 19, 1876, more than a decade since the Civil War had ended. Wallace had grayed a bit, but still wore the sweeping imperial moustache he'd had at the Battle of Shiloh. "Is that you, General Wallace?" the man in the nightgown asked. "Won't you come to my room? I want to talk."

Robert Ingersoll, also a veteran of Shiloh, was now the nation’s most prominent atheist, a renowned orator who toured the country challenging religious orthodoxy and championing a healthy separation of church and state. Wallace recognized him from earlier that summer, when he'd heard Ingersoll, a fellow Republican, make a rousing speech at the party's nominating convention. Wallace accepted his invitation and suggested they take up a subject near to Ingersoll's heart: the existence of God.

Ingersoll talked until the train reached its destination. "He went over the whole question of the Bible, of the immortality of the soul, of the divinity of God, and of heaven and hell," Wallace later recalled. "He vomited forth ideas and arguments like an intellectual volcano." The arguments had a powerful effect on Wallace. Departing the train, he walked the pre-dawn streets of Indianapolis alone. In the past he had been indifferent to religion, but after his talk with Ingersoll his ignorance struck him as problematic, "a spot of deeper darkness in the darkness." He resolved to devote himself to a study of theology, "if only for the gratification there might be in having convictions of one kind or another."

But how to go about such a study? Wallace knew himself well enough to predict that a syllabus of sermons and Biblical commentaries would fail to hold his interest. He devised instead what he called "an incidental employment," a task that would compel him to complete a thorough investigation of the eternal questions while entertaining his distractible mind. A few years earlier, he'd published a historical romance about the Spanish conquest of Mexico, to modest success. His idea now was to inquire after the divinity of Christ by writing a novel about him.
It took four years, but in 1880, Wallace finished his incidental employment. He called it Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. It's one of the great if little known ironies in the history of American literature: Having set out to win another soul to the side of skepticism, Robert Ingersoll instead inspired a Biblical epic that would rival the actual Bible for influence and popularity in Gilded Age America.... [much more about Lew Wallace, the book, and its protrayal on stage and screen]

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Ayn Rand on C.S. Lewis

From "Ayn Rand Really, Really Hated C.S. Lewis":
Ayn Rand was no fan of C.S. Lewis. She called the famous apologist an "abysmal bastard," a "monstrosity," a "cheap, awful, miserable, touchy, social-metaphysical mediocrity," a "pickpocket of concepts," and a "God-damn, beaten mystic." (I suspect Lewis would have particularly relished the last of these.)

These insults and more can be found in her marginal notes on a copy of Lewis' Abolition of Man, as printed in Ayn Rand's Marginalia: Her critical comments on the writings of over 20 authors, edited by Robert Mayhew. Excerpts appear below, with Lewis' writing (complete with Rand's highlighting and underlining) on the left and Rand's notes on the right.
Two examples:
Either we are rational spirit obliged for ever to obey the absolute values of the Tao, or else we are mere nature to be kneaded and cut into new shapes for the pleasures of masters who must, by hypothesis, have no motive but their own ‘natural’ impulses. Only the Tao provides a common human law of action which can over-arch rulers and ruled alike. A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery. The lousy bastard who is a pickpocket of concepts, not a thief, which is too big a word for him. Either we are mystics of spirit or mystics of muscle – reason? who ever heard of it?– such as in the Middle Ages?
You cannot go on ‘explaining away’ for ever: you will find that you have explained explanation itself away. You cannot go on ‘seeing through’ things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see some­thing through it. It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque. How if you saw through the garden too? It is no use trying to ‘see through’ first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see. The abysmal caricature who postures as a “gentle­man and a scholar” treats sub­jects like these by means of a corner lout’s equivocation on “seeing through.”! By “seeing through,” he means “rational understanding”!

Oh,BS! – and total BS!
Ayn Rand, avatar of Reason!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Christians and reading fiction

Is reading fiction a waste of time?
.... The Bible doesn’t simply address man as a cognitive process but as a complex image-bearer who recognizes truth not only through categorizing syllogisms but through imagination, beauty, wonder, awe. Fiction helps to shape and hone what Russell Kirk called the moral imagination.
My friend David Mills, now executive editor at First Things, wrote a brilliant article in Touchstone several years ago about the role of stories in shaping the moral imagination of children. As he pointed out, moral instruction is not simply about knowing factually what’s right and wrong (though that’s part of it); it’s about learning to feel affection toward certain virtues and revulsion toward others. A child learns to sympathize with the heroism of Jack the Giant Killer, to be repelled by the cruelty of Cinderella’s sisters and so on. ....
I would say that fiction, along with songwriting and personal counseling, are the most constant ways that God teaches me empathy. It’s easy in evangelical Christianity to assume that everyone who opposes us or disagrees with us is simply to be verbally evaporated as an enemy to be destroyed. But no false teaching and no wrong direction has any power unless it appears to someone to be good. Jesus teaches us that those who hand over the disciples to be killed will “think themselves to be doing the will of God.” Almost everyone is the hero in his or her own personal narrative. ....
But, finally, good fiction isn’t a “waste of time” for the same reason good music and good art aren’t wastes of time. They are rooted in an endlessly creative God who has chosen to be imaged by human beings who create. Culture isn’t irrelevant. It’s part of what God commanded us to do in the beginning, and that he declares to be good. When you enjoy truth and beauty, when you are blessed by gifts God has given to a human being, you are enjoying a universe that, though fallen, God delights in as “very good.” [more]

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Hymns I really like

I don't mean to suggest that these are my favorite hymns, but rather that they are hymns I have discovered that I really like. I wasn't an actual discoverer — either I had been oblivious to them before or they were genuinely new to me. I tend to pay more attention to words than music, partly because I don't read music well, but also because Christian hymns need to be Christian. The words are important and as a worship leader they are what I notice first. I think in each of these the words are good and the words and music compliment each other well. [Clicking on the images will bring forth a readable enlarged version.]

My Shepherd Will Supply My Need is a version of the 23rd Psalm. There are many paraphrased versions of that psalm and I like others very much, especially the one often set to Crimond. The words for this one are by Isaac Watts [1674-1748] and the setting for them that I particularly like is one of those "folk hymns" collected in Southern Harmony. I am particularly fond of the words of the last verse which paraphrases KJV's "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever" as:
The sure provisions of my God
Attend me all my days;
O may Thy house be my abode,
And all my work be praise.
There would I find a settled rest,
While others go and come;
No more a stranger, nor a guest,
But like a child at home.

The Sands of Time Are Sinking is a 19th century hymn that I discovered on the 9 Marks site, although it doesn't seem to be there now. It was originally there because Mark Dever's wife, Constance Dever, had written a new setting for the hymn as a present for him. Dever had indicated to her that he wanted it sung at his funeral. I think her music fits the words much better than older efforts. A performance of this version can be found on YouTube. The first verse:
The sands of time are sinking, 
The dawn of Heaven breaks;
The summer morn I’ve sighed for,
The fair, sweet morn awakes:
Dark, dark hath been the midnight,
But dayspring is at hand,
And glory, glory dwelleth in Immanuel’s land.

When I Can Read My Title Clear is another great Isaac Watts hymn with a theme not unrelated to Sands of Time. It is about the assurance of Heaven and the confidence that assurance brings as we face the vicissitudes of this life. "I bid farewell to every fear." The first two verses:
When I can read my title clear 
to mansions in the skies,
I bid farewell to every fear, 
and wipe my weeping eyes.
And wipe my weeping eyes, 
and wipe my weeping eyes
I bid farewell to every fear, 
and wipe my weeping eyes.

Should earth against my soul engage,
and hellish darts be hurled,
Then I can smile at Satan’s rage,
and face a frowning world.
And face a frowning world,
and face a frowning world,
Then I can smile at Satan’s rage,
and face a frowning world.

My Song is Love Unknown is a hymn I discovered at Ray Ortlund's site where he posted a beautiful YouTube performance. The hymn is from the 17th century, the music I like best is from the 20th. The first verse asks "O who am I that for my sake my Lord should take frail flesh and die?" and the last verse

Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine;
Never was love, dear King!
Never was grief like Thine.
This is my friend, in whose sweet praise
I all my days could gladly spend.

Here is Love, Vast as the Ocean I found while planning a worship service that fell near St David's Day. I was looking for Welsh hymns and essentially stumbled across this one. It was written and composed in the late 19th century but became very popular in Wales during the great Welsh revival early in the 20th. I had never heard it before but choose it fairly often now when it appropriately fits the theme of a service. The last two verses:

Let me all Thy love accepting,
Love Thee, ever all my days;
Let me seek Thy kingdom only
And my life be to Thy praise;
Thou alone shalt be my glory,
Nothing in the world I see.
Thou hast cleansed and sanctified me,
Thou Thyself hast set me free.

In Thy truth Thou dost direct me
By Thy Spirit through Thy Word;
And Thy grace my need is meeting,
As I trust in Thee, my Lord.
Of Thy fullness Thou art pouring
Thy great love and power on me,
Without measure, full and boundless,
Drawing out my heart to Thee.

The words for Firmly I Believe and Truly are taken from John Henry Newman's poem "The Dream of Ge­ron­ti­us" and the music is by Ralph Vaughan Williams, my favorite 20th century composer who wrote settings for many hymns and much else besides. The words are a credo:

Firmly I believe and truly
God is Three, and God is One;
And I next acknowledge duly
Manhood taken by the Son.

And I trust and hope most fully
In that manhood crucified;
And each thought and deed unruly
Do to death, as He has died.

Simply to His grace and wholly
Light and life and strength belong,
And I love supremely, solely,
Him the holy, Him the strong.

Finally for now, Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy, another great hymn from the shape-note tradition, like my first selection, from Southern Harmony. A good performance can be found here.

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and power.

I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
O there are ten thousand charms.

Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all.


Let not conscience make you linger,
Not of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness He requireth
Is to feel your need of Him.


Saturday, March 23, 2013

"There is such a thing as conscience"

Ewald-Heinrich von Kleist (1922-2013), the last known surviving member of the plots against Hitler, died last week. From the Washington Post obituary:
.... He was born into an aristocratic Prussian family that had produced a long line of cultural, diplomatic and military leaders. Mr. von Kleist followed in their stead, becoming a Wehrmacht lieutenant while still in his early 20s.
But like his father, a well-placed German professional, Mr. von Kleist became deeply disturbed by Hitler's leadership and the brutality of the Nazi apparatus. The father and son joined a circle of aristocratic and military leaders who mounted an opposition against the Fuehrer.
Operation Valkyrie — the attempt on July 20, 1944, to assassinate Hitler by detonating a bomb-laden briefcase at his eastern headquarters — became their most famous exploit....
Other attempts preceded it, including one in early 1944, after Mr. von Kleist had been wounded on the Eastern Front. He was recuperating when he received a telegram recalling him to his unit. He assumed he would be required to resume his duties, but when he arrived, he received an unexpected request: to carry out a suicide mission to assassinate the Fuehrer.
The telegram had come from von Stauffenberg, an army colonel. Mr. von Kleist asked for 24 hours to think it over. ....
"My father said to me, 'You have to do it. If you fail at such a moment, you'll never be content again in this life.' I decided to do it. I don't think it was a question of courage. There is such a thing as conscience."
According to the plan, Mr. von Kleist would be the officer assigned to model a new uniform at an inspection by Hitler. His uniform, however, would be strapped with explosives. Before the plan could be carried out, Hitler's plane was diverted, and the opportunity passed.
Months later, Mr. von Kleist very nearly became the central figure in Operation Valkyrie. Von Stauffenberg had initially asked Mr. von Kleist to carry the briefcase into the Wolf's Lair, as Hitler's eastern headquarters was known.
In a last-minute change, perhaps because Mr. von Kleist was too low-ranking to plausibly present himself at such a location, von Stauffenberg decided to perform the operation himself. .... (more)

Friday, March 22, 2013

"The whole sad truth"

Via The Inklings, from Screwtape:
The first thing he did was to lower himself and be born as one of "them." We almost got him killed when he was a baby. But he eluded us then. He grew up to be a man. He taught those poor humans about himself, all the while not really spreading around who he was. Then one day he gave himself up to be killed by a bunch of jealous religious leaders. We figured it was a big bluff. Just an excuse to perform a public miracle and escape at the last minute. But he actually went through with it. He let them nail him to a cross and he died. We all thought, "Aha, you're beaten now! You've just made your big mistake!"
All of us were feeling, for a few hours, a big relief from that constant fear we had always felt toward the Enemy. Maybe all those prophecies about our last judgement would never happen after all. Death had claimed the Creator of life. Finally our Lord Satan would be undisputed ruler of all.
Then Sunday morning came. The Enemy reappeared. Suddenly, he was alive. Death could not hold him. But it was even worse than that. He had become an innocent sacrifice for the sins of all those humans. He had paid their penalty. He had died in their place. Now death could not hold them either. They could be forgiven and reunited with the Enemy. They can now live forever. For all practical purposes, death has died.
There has never been a more disastrous day in the history of the universe.
That, my dear Wormwood, is the whole sad truth.
C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Worship and discipleship

During his time in our congregation Paul Manuel convinced me that I had an impoverished and entirely inadequate understanding of formal worship. Since then I have thought much more seriously about what worship is and the ways worship affects our relationship with God. Worship, James K.A. Smith argues here, forms us as disciples. From Trevin Wax's conversation with James K.A. Smith, author of Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works:
.... I think we need to remember that the hub and center of Christian discipleship is worship.

The point is this: a lot of Christians (including pastors and Christian leaders) have implicitly and unwittingly bought into a view of action and behavior that overestimates thinking. This is even true in sectors of evangelicalism that are suspicious of education and intellectual life. ....

But on a gut level, we all know this doesn’t work. My failures to follow Christ in holiness do not stem from a lack of information or knowledge. I know very well what He calls me to. I don’t do it because of bad habits that I’ve acquired. And the fact is, you can’t think yourself out of bad habits. You undo bad habits through “rehabituation”—through practices that inscribe new habits in our gut, as it were.

I think most contemporary evangelical understandings of discipleship have no place to appreciate the power of habit (except perhaps negatively). But that is a very odd scenario since Christians across the ages have long understood habit formation to be at the center of spiritual formation and discipleship. ....

...[W]e have bought into a reductionistic view of worship. When we say “worship,” many of us just think “music” or “singing,” which is already a reduction of historic understandings of worship that comprise the entire service. ....

So historically, worship has been seen as not only expressive, but also formative. When the people of God are gathered by God around his Word and seated at his Table, that sanctuary is the space where God is molding and (re)making us. In that sense, worship is training, is formation.

As I argue in the final chapter of the book, if worship is going to be formative, that means we need to think carefully and intentionally about the form of worship. Not the “style” (this isn’t about pipe organs vs. mandolins), but the narrative form of the Story that is enacted in our communal worship.

...[Y]ou can’t just go pick some “popular” cultural form and insert the Gospel “message” and think you have thereby come up with “relevant” worship. Because it’s more likely that you’ve just imported a secular liturgy into Christian worship. Sure, you might have changed the content, but the very form of the practice is training us to love some other vision of the good life. This is why I think a lot of innovation in worship, while well-intentioned, actually ends up welcoming Trojan horses into the sanctuary.

The response is not to come up with “the next best thing” in worship. It is to find new appreciation for historic Christian wisdom about the form of worship for the sake of discipleship. .... [more]

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

R. Austin Freeman

My enthusiasm for continues as I discover many titles by R. Austin Freeman, all of them earlier than the one I quote from below—no doubt because later ones still have copyright issues. From an earlier post on this site about Freeman's books:
.... Most of these books, by R. Austin Freeman, were what was known as an "inverted" detective story: the book starts with the crime from the criminal's point of view, and then you observe Dr. Thorndyke, as he inexorably moves toward discovering the criminal (although not always exposing him).
I'm reading Mr. Pottermack's Oversight, first published in 1930, and came across the following, reminding me that plot is not the only reason I find Freeman so enjoyable:
Temperamentally, Dr. John Thorndyke presented a peculiarity which, at the first glance, seemed to involve a contradiction. He was an eminently friendly man; courteous, kindly, and even genial in his intercourse with his fellow creatures. Nor was his suave, amicable manner in any way artificial or consciously assumed. To every man his attitude of mind was instinctively friendly; and if he did not suffer fools gladly, he could, on occasion endure them with almost inexhaustible patience.
And yet, with all his pleasant exterior and his really kindly nature, he was at heart a confirmed solitary. Of all company, his own thoughts were to him the most acceptable. After all, his case was not singular. To every intellectual man, solitude is not only a necessity, it is the condition to which his mental qualities are subject, and the man who cannot endure his own sole society has usually excellent reasons for his objection to it. (p. 105)
He is an introvert!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

"My Blessed Savior"

Many of the Puritan reformers were doubtful of any hymn that wasn't the versification of a biblical Psalm. Isaac Watts was one of the first to introduce hymns that weren't, but he was preceded by a Seventh Day Baptist. Dr. Ron Davis calls our attention to Joseph Stennett's "'My Blessed Savior Is Thy Love': a 320 year-old hymn for the Lord's Supper," which is particularly appropriate for this season of the Christian year. Davis:
.... Joseph Stennett was the first Baptist hymnwriter. He was praised by the noted hymnwriter Isaac Watts, who was 13 years younger than Stennett, and who sometimes borrowed a few lines from him. There were no copyright laws in those days. The two hymnwriters were friends.

If you search Wikipedia for "Joseph Stennett"; and click on the link near the bottom of the article, to the hymn "My Blessed Savior is Thy Love," you will hear and can sing along to the melody.... You can also listen to the music of Stennett's "Another Six Days Work is Done" (a hymn with 14 stanzas!).
These hymns were in the hymnal of the great Calvinist Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon. .... [note: Spurgeon's hymnbook is at Google books]

My Blessed Savior is Thy Love
by Joseph Stennett (1663-1713)
My blessed Savior is Thy Love
So great, so full, so free?
Behold I give my love, my heart,
My Life, my all to Thee.
I love Thee for the glorious worth
In Thy great self to see:
I love Thee for that shameful cross
Thou hast endured for me.
No man of greater love can boast
Thou for his friend to die:
But for Thy enemies Thou wast slain:
What love with Thine can vie!
Lord I'll cherish in my soul
The memory of Thy love:
And Thy dear Name shall still to me
A priceless treasure prove.
Joseph Stennett, Hymns in Commemoration of the Sufferings of our Blessed Savior Jesus Christ Composed for the Celebration of his Holy Supper, 1697, 2nd ed revised & expanded 1705, 3rd ed 1709.

"God is holy, we are sinners, and Jesus saves..."

How does the gospel shape our formal worship? Justin Taylor calls our attention to Rhythms of Grace: How the Church's Worship Tells the Story of the Gospel by Mike Cosper of Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky. A portion of what Cosper says in his Preface about his discovery of what Christian worship should be:
.... Why did we gather? Why did we sing? Why did we do it the way we did?

The why haunted me.

Maybe there was a better way. Our service had a general order like many churches’. We played fast songs to start the service, slower songs right before the sermon, and reversed the order at the end—slower songs leading to fast songs to send everyone out. I’d never considered why we did it that way. A worship service, I assumed, was worship (which meant music) and preaching.

Asking why about worship sent me on a long journey.....

Along with some other pastors at Sojourn, I searched high and low, sitting at the feet of spiritual-formation gurus, learning from house-church movements.... The fads and hype piled up around us, and our despair grew. The search for clarity about what it meant to be the church and why we gathered only made the answers cloudier.

Somehow, the story of the gospel broke through the confusion. In the churches where I’d grown up, the gospel was often treated as peripheral—the gateway to Christianity, but not central to ordinary Christian life. You deal with the gospel when you become a Christian, and then you move on to bigger things as you mature.

Like Christians throughout the centuries, the other pastors and I discovered that the gospel is far more than an entrance exam or a gateway; it is the center point for all of the Christian life. This story is the defining fact for all of our past, present, and future, and we needed to live and worship with that in mind.

“You know,” I thought, “if the gospel is supposed to be central to the Christian life, we should craft our worship services in such a way that they rehearse that story. Every week, we should gather and remember that God is holy, we are sinners, and Jesus saves us from our sins. We could do it with Scripture readings and songs and sermons and the Lord’s Supper. Every week is an opportunity to reorient ourselves around the greater story of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation.” I thought I was brilliant and innovative. In truth, I was only rediscovering what many generations of Christians had discovered long, long before.

If you look at almost any historical worship service or worship order, you’ll find that all basically engage in the same dialogue; they all rehearse the gospel story. There is plenty of variation in the details or in the degree of clarity, but the dialogue is generally the same. God is holy. We are sinners. Jesus saves us from our sins. We gather, remember our identity-shaping story, and send one another back into the wider world, allowing that story to shape us as we go.

It’s a rhythm of life, forming our identity as a gospel-shaped people. It’s a gospel rhythm, reminding us of our dependence and Christ’s sufficiency. It’s a rhythm of grace, spurring us on to live in the life-giving outpouring of love and mercy from the God of the universe.

.... Recognizing this revolutionized church, worship, and mission for us because we saw the gospel clearly at the center. It also changed the way we saw worship. .... [more]
Rhythms of Grace: How the Church's Worship Tells the Story of the Gospel

"All have sinned..."

To the churches concerning homosexuals and lesbians:
Many of you believe that we do not exist within your walls, your schools, your neighborhoods. You believe that we are few and easily recognized. I tell you we are many. We are your teachers, doctors, accountants, high school athletes. We are all colors, shapes, sizes. We are single, married, mothers, fathers. We are your sons, your daughters, your nieces, your nephews, your grandchildren. We are in your Sunday School classes, pews, choirs, and pulpits. ....
When the word “homosexual” is mentioned in the church, we hold our breaths and sit in fear. Most often this word is followed with condemnation, laughter, hatred, or jokes. Rarely do we hear any words of hope. At least we recognize our sin. Does the church as a whole see theirs? Do you see the sin of pride, that you are better than or more acceptable to Jesus than we are? Have you been Christ-like in your relationships with us? ....
To those of you who would change the church to accept the gay community and its lifestyle: you give us no hope at all. To those of us who know God's word and will not dilute it to fit our desires, we ask you to read John's letter to the church in Pergamum. “I have a few things against you: You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore! You are willing to compromise the word of God to be politically correct. We are not deceived. If we accept your willingness to compromise, then we must also compromise. We must therefore accept your lying, your adultery, your lust, your idolatry, your addictions, YOUR sins. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
We do not ask for your acceptance of our sins any more than we accept yours. We simply ask for the same support, love, guidance, and most of all hope that is given to the rest of your congregation. .... [more]

Monday, March 18, 2013

More free e-books

More and more at — Ad-free ebooks for your iPad, Kindle, or ebook reader, and they are free as well as "ad-free." A few of my discoveries:
...and more and more. There is non-fiction, too. And it is all free. This is a wonderful time to be a reader.

Empty observance

I recall a conversation with a colleague—a fellow teacher—who, although a member of the choir in a large Lutheran church, was not a believer. I recall asking him something like "You mean you repeat the Creed every Sunday affirming that you believe things you don't?" The liturgies used in the worship of mainline Protestantism affirm the truths every orthodox Christian believes. I like what Thomas Holgrave writes here about the direction he believes younger evangelical Christians are moving — many with a renewed commitment to orthodox doctrine and many attracted to the beauty of traditional forms of worship, and—ideally—both.
Young Christians today are in the middle of a sea change of opinion and practice in the church. The rhetorical tropes and divisions of a previous generation (Spiritual vs. religious? Reformed vs.fundamentalist? Liberal vs. conservative?) are beginning to fade in people’s perceptions, and new categories are taking their place.

With 20th-century theological liberalism faltering, along with the cultural “Christian” consensus, abandoning the faith of your parents no longer means social marginalization. Consequently, those who remain in church are more likely to be those who actually maintain a sincere and heart-felt belief in a real experience of God. ....

.... We begin to see, especially among Gen-Xers, what I would term “evangelical” conservatives, who are primarily concerned with maintaining authentic Christian doctrine; and Millennials who tend to be “liturgical” conservatives concerned with a more authentic way of worshiping than what they experienced growing up.

Both of these are, in a sense, “reactionary” movements. Evangelical conservatives react against a lukewarm, rote “traditional” religion they remember from growing up, or else against a sloppy, undemanding, cheap-grace form of baby-boomer evangelicalism. Liturgical conservatives react against a church that has forgotten the importance of form and beauty in worshiping God, which tries to be relevant by eliminating any and all distinctions between itself and the world, whose deracinated warehouse Starbucks aesthetic has rejected altogether the beauty of historical Christianity.

.... Theological conservatives need to learn to appreciate how the beauty of liturgy and tradition do not distract from authentic Christian belief but rather deepen and confirm it. Similarly, aesthetically-sensible liturgical conservatives need to understand how the beauty they rightly love grows from the same root as traditional Christian theology and ethics. We need young Christians who are both liturgically and theologically conservative. ....

Beauty strengthens faith. No less, then, does true faith preserve beauty. The order and coherence of traditional Christian liturgy and art depends for its strength on the conviction that what it centers on is true; that God exists, that the Bible is his word, and the church is the true manifestation of his kingdom in the world. Without these convictions beauty has no reference point and liturgy is a series of empty observances done for the sake of doing. The reason liturgy is attractive to sensitive people is that it actually reflects what is true and speaks to the listening soul of what is closest to the ground of its being. This is why the mainline churches are in decline. To practice a received liturgy and at the same time deny received Christian truth is eventually a self-defeating occupation. [more]

Sunday, March 17, 2013

"To the higher calling..."

One of the readings for this week's worship was Philippians 3:4-14, which includes this passage:
...this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, 14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. [Phil 3:13b-14 KJV]
Like Sean Curnyn, I was reminded of the refrain of Bob Dylan's song Pressing On. Curnyn:
Well I'm pressing on
Yes, I'm pressing on
Well I'm pressing on
To the higher calling of my Lord
And there's really not much more you can say but that, which is probably why the song is largely just that refrain repeated over and over again.

Killing two birds with one stone on this Day of Saint Patrick, I am embedding a live version via YouTube below from two talented Irishmen, namely Liam O Maonlai and Glen Hansard.

Pressing On | The Cinch Review

"Salvation is of Christ the Lord"

The Celtic poem known as St. Patrick's Breastplate:

I bind unto myself today 
The strong Name of the Trinity, 
By invocation of the same, 
The Three in One and One in Three.
I bind this day to me for ever.
By power of faith, Christ's incarnation;
His baptism in the Jordan river;
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb;
His riding up the heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom;

I bind unto myself today.
Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile men that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In every place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me these holy powers.
I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of the cherubim;
The sweet 'well done' in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors' faith, Apostles' word,
The Patriarchs' prayers, the Prophets' scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord,
And purity of virgin souls.
Against all Satan's spells and wiles,
Against false words of heresy,
Against the knowledge that defiles,
Against the heart's idolatry,
Against the wizard's evil craft,
Against the death wound and the burning,
The choking wave and the poisoned shaft,
Protect me, Christ, till Thy returning.
I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the starlit heaven,
The glorious sun's life-giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind's tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea,
Around the old eternal rocks.
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward,
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.
I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity;
By invocation of the same.
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

St. Patrick's "Breastplate" Prayer (The Prayer Foundation).