Monday, April 27, 2009

I'm wondering how the apostles would deal with the subject of "a day off?" Would Paul play golf? Would Bartholemew go to a library and then take a nap and then mow the grass? Would Peter go fishing? (Probably not.) Can we imagine any of the apostles actually doing nothing for a full 24 hours? Or since they were now New Testament guys, would they be completely freed up from any vestiges of Sabbatharianism, in which most of them grew up? I can imagine Paul, when he was not in jail, sipping a cappacino in a sidewalk café, reading one of his scrolls. For an hour or so. But did the apostles each take a full 24 hours off each week? I have never heard anyone speak or speculate about this. Perhaps because none of the apostles say too much about it, and in Acts, Luke says nothing that would evidence such a practice. If we could bring one of them down into Today, what would they do with our hyper-connectivity, our all-the-time being in communication? Would they get sucked into it or would they shut off their cell phones, turn off their computers and stay away from radio, TV, iPod etc. for a full day each week. Hey--I really wanna know!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Today I preached on The Call of God. Big deal, eh? It is when you consider the theological idea of what I preached. First, I did a thorough study of how the Bible uses the word "call" and how it is used with respect to God. It was striking. In the Old Testament the idea is limited almost exclusively to Isaiah but there it is frequent. In the New Testament, Paul, Peter and Jude speak of a God who has called His people out of darkness into light. There is nothing "participatory" in the calling itself. It is the act of God. Most of the people listening to me today were attentive. None objected, and a few new Christians were like, "Well duh." I remember feeling that way as a new Christian. It appears to me that a person more often would need to be taught not to believe in the sovereign call of God than they would naturally object. The recipient of God's grace seems to get it pretty plainly. God woke me up. A.W. Tozer's classic book The Pursuit of God begins with this sentence: "Christian theology teaches the doctrine of prevenient grace, which briefly stated means this, that before a man can seek God, God must first have sought the man." Amen, A.W. Let's have a root beer!

Friday, April 24, 2009

What if I suggested that sometimes we content ourselves with a low-level of sin? What if I said I am comfortable with small dosages or imbibings of sin. As long as it doesn't get out of control... What if I said I don't really want to become a monitor of every sin in my brother, that his heart indulges and I also don't want to BE monitored for every sin by someone, and call it "accountability." Isn't it OK to indulge small amounts of sin, like a tolerable level of toxin or bacteria and so long as I keep my spiritual "immune" system functioning against MAJOR pathologies by reading my Bible, praying, somewhat accessing good sermons and Christian music, remaining civil and pleasant with my brethren in Christ, going to church most of the time and maintaining a certain mid-level RPM rate in my Christian life? (That was one question.) What if I am happy enough keeping some heat in my Christian life and just not growing cold? I don't have the energy to get too intense with my Christian friendships. I am weary of hen-pecking my own life with guilt and The Law. I want to live and let live. Wouldn't it be OK with Jonathan Edwards or Charles Spurgeon or Elisabeth Eliot for me to just be content with a slow, reasonable, not-crazy pace in my Christian life?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

I have been watching "Fringe" at my daughter's suggestion. It is a fascinating and well done show. There are many interesting ideas played with. But I cannot help but evaluate, toy with and imagine each idea from a biblical world view. I am a little surprised that few of the ideas (mostly paranormal but scientifically explicable) do not offend my sense of cosmology or God's sovereignty. Just because we don't know everything, even with Bible in hand, doesn't mean that things which might or can happen are inherently evil. So screenplay writers who imagine phenonena outside of our knowledge actually stimulate my thinking and from there, I drift into fantasy about how the Lord Himself would explain these things to me. And I think He would. For instance, an episode about a boy found living beneath the city who does not talk but who is an empath gets me imagining about if this is how angels are? Sin has limited human capability, there is no doubt. Without sin, would the senses and even unknown abilities be free to feel and "see" more fully? I dunno. Just thinking...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The 7th commandment states, "You shall not commit adultery." I would have thought that most people would at least intellectually agree with the goodness of that prohibition. Until today. Today I had a chance to be a guest lecturer on campus in a 300 level philosophy class on the Hebrew Bible. I was illustrating the "feel" of biblical inspiration for the canonical books, using the 10 Commandments from Exodus in the suggestion that "most people" (I said) would probably believe the appropriateness and the wisdom of that commandment. So I asked the 17 students there today, how many of them thought that the commandment was good and true? Six students agreed--five women and one man. I was surprised more would not at least in principle, agree. My O my how we have evolved...

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Again, thoughts to my Dad. Today is the 64th anniversary of the liberation of Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar, Germany, into which my Dad walked as one of the first liberators. He told me the SS had evancuated about 30 min. before they arrived. If someone could have told him he would live another 49 years exactly (yesterday was the 15th anniversary of his death), how would he have reacted? No man knows the years that are given to him. On that evening before Buchenwald, which would mark my Dad I believe, he could not have known that he would survive another month of combat (he narrowly escaped death in Aachen), view the inside of Hitler's bunker in Berlin, be exempted from transfer to the Pacific theatre by Hiroshima, come home, marry his beloved Jo, work for the Army for the rest of his career in Washington D.C., have a son, retire to watch the President go down (Watergate--Dad spent his first year of retirement glued to the television for the hearings), move to St. Petersburg where he lived as a young teen for a year, and die of kidney failure in that town in 1997? He was given a good life, while those in Buchenwald were deprived of it.

Friday, April 10, 2009

So I was in the coffee shop yesterday, with my laptop and working on my Easter sermon. These two women come in and sit at the table next to mine. They seem very plainly to me to be sisters, and they have a little girl with them. The two women were very striking. And I could not help but watch them for the 20 minutes they were there (I accomplished little on my sermon in those minutes.) The little girl did not resemble--to my eye--either of the women. Each of them appeared to be 40ish. Each had long, fluffy and very huge blonde hair. I wouldn't say either woman was pretty, but each possessed the same kind of fierce beauty. One had a neck brace on. But each had a very, very tired and old look in their eyes. As they had their refreshments, I noticed each hovered over the little girl (who was maybe 8 or 9) very closely. At one point one of the women took the girl to the bathroom, and hugged her close leaving and returning to the table. I was fascinated at this threesome. The thing that fascinated me, was how they generated in my mind the desire to know their story. I wrote several imaginary scripts, none of which were very happy. Then, it occurred to me to just pray for them. After 20 minutes, off they went, in a huge black SUV. O how our minds can write stories about people. I guess I am a natural people-watcher. They never cease to interest me... and I always imagine what it would be like to talk about my Savior with them.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

So I've been in "negotiations" with a very nationally known Name to come to our church to speak some time. He is so known that I would never have even imagined the possibility of him coming to Dartmouth to speak in his area of expertise. Did I mention he is Known, man, Known. Last week I heard from his scheduler that a price of $5000 would be needed, as it turns out, for him to come. Plus expenses. My reactions to this were somewhat scrambled. While I understand, I guess, that Known Names like this tend to "Get" that kind of honorarium--he's in the big leagues. And while I understand that Known Names like his "need" big honoraria (cool word, eh?) because they fund their ministry organizations by their income, I guess. And while I understood that it was a long shot anyway, still I was kind of stunned. Five G's, whoa. So while I could probably pull it off if my life depended on it--it does not--I just couldn't bring myself into betrayal of my own sense of New Testament servanthood to play the game. So I have graciously declined further negotiations, unless at some point (and I'm not sure I have the energy for this) we can "put ogether" a coalition of local churches who want to put up 5 G's on the expectation that this Name would make that much different in people's lives for a weekend of speaking. I felt better about it all today, when after my sharing about this in my area pastors' group (which includes Not One Known Name--but which DOES include several hard-working, long-suffering, enduring and biblically articulate men--some of which hold earned doctorates) one of them said to me--"Neil, I think you should call him up and ask him what HE would be willing to pay you, for the privilege of coming and speaking the truth in a dark place (See this week's Newsweek article by John Meecham.) I laughed and the confusion in my emotions cleared. God bless my brothers.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

I am wondering how age changes our theology? Or does it? Take me, for instance. Since I came to know Christ I have been a Calvinist, premillenialist, soft-cessationist, believer's baptism, presbyterian-government, complementarian kind of guy. ALl of that was in place in my head by the end of 1972. Since then--two theological degrees, 37 years, four states, three churches and two daughters grown up later, all of that is still in place. I have seen no reason--though I have listened carefully--to change any of those core descriptions of my theology. This means that either a) I am pig-headed, b) I was trained well and in a balanced fashion early, c) my nature resists change in core-thinking, d) I remain unconvinced of the alternative systems of theology enough to alter mine. Does theology change with age? Of maybe it changes with circumstances which sometimes, coincides with aging. If I become old and sick and alone, will I abandon my Calvinism? If Israel gets pushed into the sea by the Arabs, will I decide amillenialism is more reasonable? If I come down with a mental illness, will I suddenly become charismatic? Does aging automatically induce change in theological convictions?

Friday, April 03, 2009

Such a joy, when the good news was presented so elegantly by two older Christians, in a memorial service before about 50 university people. All heard the hope of the gospel in the going-home of Myja Parviainen tragically on January 23rd in a terrible auto accident. But as her two pastors shared the hope belongs to all who embrace Christ, I was full of joy. The most senior university administrators were all there, and I was so humbled as a bystander as the family's pastors gently and capably but plainly explained why this family is sad but by no means in despair.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

When a man says to his wife, or a wife says to her husband, "I don't love you any more" it is a crushing thing to hear. And I understand I think, the vacuum of feeling that has become current. Or even loathing for that person. And if we give into that pit, we will be spiritually ruined, I believe. So when we come to feel that way, tragically, about our spouse, and we admit it, then I think comes the Lord's voice to us, "So what?" Since when is loving based on feelings, at the most important and day-to-day level? Why do my decisions and major choices depend on how I feel? Jesus loved us when we were QUITE unlovely. He DID what love compelled Him to do. I never recover from that. I never graduate from that. I must always, always, remember that and insist to myself that my own decisions and choices are constrained by what He has done for me. And if I have covenanted with someone to be faithful to them and to love them, it shall be so. Until I breathe my last. It must be so. As it is said in Fireproof, for many "for better or for worse" really only means "for better."