31 March 2010

For the Love of Books

I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves. ~Anna Quindlen

Recently, I have thought a great deal about the format for books. Electronic books, which are seemingly appearing everywhere, are simple to use, environmental
ly friendly, and convenient. Nearly any "book" can be downloaded within a matter of moments and for less money than traditional formats. Many e-readers can even read to you. They represent progress.

On the other hand, books are cumbersome. Each time I fly, I ask myself again why I felt it necessary to bring so many books, yet I often find myself in the possession of more for the return trip, further burdening my already tired briefcase.

By most accounts, I suppose, electronic books should be preferable. For me, though, I lament the advent of electronic books.

I love books. I am happily surrounded by them. As Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote, "No man can be called friendless who has God and the companionship of good books." In our home, books are everywhere. Some are found standing shoulder to shoulder. Others ascend in vertical stacks. Still others form lazy, disorganized piles. Each room contains a world of ideas.

As a reader, there is satisfaction in hearing the binding of a new book crackle to life, as you smell the ink for the first time and feel the pages between your fingers. As an author, there is a much deeper sense of fulfillment and finality when you see your name on a printed page.

I suppose that in the end, progress typically wins out. People become more interested in quickness than contemplation, ease than aesthetics, information than experience. I suspect I will come along slowly, but in the mean time, you will find me in a comfortable chair with a hot cup of coffee and a good book.

Psalm 46

Wondering what to make of health care? Global warming? War in the Middle East? Earthquakes in the Caribbean?

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
God will help her when morning dawns.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Come, behold the works of the Lord,
how he has brought desolations on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the chariots with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

28 March 2010

Almost April Showers

Our friend Gen wrote this today. I truly appreciate her friendship. Go, if no other reason than for her pictures.

23 March 2010

Christianity and Psychology: 5 views

This weekend, I attended an excellent symposium, Christianity and Psychology: Five Views. Representatives from each of five major schools of thought in “Christian psychology” shared their approach. Although billed as a psychology conference, it was really more of philosophy of science, or even philosophy of religion and science, conference. Diverse perspectives were offered by Warren Brown of Fuller Seminary (levels-of-explanation), Stanton Jones of Wheaton College (integration), Paul Watson of UT Chattanooga (Christian Psychology), John Coe of Rosemead School of Psychology (Transformational Psychology), and Dave Powlison of Westminster Theological Seminary (Biblical Counseling). A panel discussion between them concluded the weekend.

I took something away from each of the presenters. Dr Brown, for example, spoke of a “compassionate ministry,” a great model for his work in neuropsychology and something I hope to bring to my practice. John Coe pointed back to the history of science and asked whether what is currently being done in psychology is “science” in the historic sense of the word. Dave Powlison was, well, Dave Powlison. If I were to pick someone from the group as my counselor, Powlison would be the guy. Hands down.

As the men each had different views about interpreting psychology, they also had different views on interpreting scripture. Perhaps why I liked Dr Powlison so much (and Drs Jones and Coe, to an extent) was his high view of scripture. It was apparent that to them, scripture was supreme.

Conversely, Dr Brown seemed to hold a high view of science and a low view of scripture. From this perspective, science is supreme in understanding people and scripture offers little. Dr Brown stated that exegesis faces many obstacles and that people may arrive at different interpretations based upon history, faith tradition, and so forth. I am not sure he would apply the same standard to science.

I believe that the Bible is God’s word to his people, not only historically to the nation of Israel, but throughout the ages. I believe that His word is inspired, sufficient, and inerrant. If there are difficulties to be dealt with in exegesis, I think there is no more important task that we can undertake. Saying that Biblical interpretation is fraught with difficulties and then not engaging in it because it is not a part of science seems counterintuitive in working with people. Knowing God, through his general and special revelation, is supremely important. We should desire to understand the Bible in its original context and how it applies to us today.

22 March 2010

Jonah's Lesson in Mercy

The story of Jonah is not about a man being eaten by a large fish, despite what children's Bibles would have us believe. Yes, Jonah was eaten by a large fish, but frankly, that is beside the point. Rather, the theme of this short book is that God is sovereign and He is compassionate, not just to "us" but to "them," as the ESV Study Bible puts it.

Jonah was commanded to prophesy to the Ninevites, an evil pagan nation. Rather than obeying God, he boarded a ship sailing in the opposite direction. Have you ever caught why Jonah was running? It was not because he was scared of the Ninevites. Jonah 1:3 says that Jonah was going "away from the presence of the Lord." He did not want to follow God's command. What I find most unusual is that Jonah did not want to do what God told him not because He believed the Ninevites would ignore God but rather because he knew that they would repent! Jonah 4:1-2 reads, "But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said, 'O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.'" Jonah believed wholeheartedly that the Ninevites deserved divine judgment, not a second chance, and it made him mad.

The great irony of course, is that the Ninevites were repentant while Jonah was not. The man of God was judgmental and self-righteous, while the pagans were broken, "calling out mightily to God" (3:8). Jonah 3:10 says that God saw what the Ninevites did and relented of bringing disaster, just as Jonah feared.

Ninevah's repentance, God's desired outcome, should have been cause for much celebration, but Jonah could find no joy in it. In fact, he was so mad, he asked God to take his life. Jonah's "us versus them" mentality was crumbling around him. His worldview, strongly steeped in justice, was in a tailspin. Jonah went to sit at the edge of the town to see what would happen, perhaps still wishing their destruction. God, in His mercy, caused a plant to grow up over Jonah to provide him shade, but the next day, when God caused the plant to die, Jonah again became mad because the plant died. Mad enough to desire death. The final 2 verses of Jonah (4:10-11), are profound and sum up the book. "And the Lord said, 'You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”

How often Christians wish God's justice upon "them", the outsiders--be they Muslims, democrats, or "the new atheists." Pick your group. Because of our God-given sense of justice, I think we sometimes want to see His destruction come forth. However, in Romans 9:15, we are reminded that God told Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." We don't get to decide.

The reality is that we all deserve God's justice. Let us adopt the perspective of I John 4:19, "we love because he first loved us" and pray for God's mercy to be poured out on those who do not deserve it--like us.

18 March 2010

Scopes in reverse

I am sitting in a hotel room in Dayton, Tennessee where I will be attending a conference tomorrow. In 1925, Dayton provided the backdrop for the Scopes Monkey Trial. In March of that year, the Tennessee legislature made it illegal to teach evolution in the school. John Scopes, Dayton's biology teacher at the time, was convinced by two local leaders to challenge the law by teaching evolution. Apparently, the plan was initially hatched as a publicity stunt, to bring some attention to Rhea County. The case ended up becoming one of the most well-known trials in American history. Scopes was prosecuted by former presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan and was defended by Clarence Darrow. The defense was funded by the American Civil Liberties Union. The media coverage reportedly exceeded any event up to that time. Scopes was convicted and fined, though the fine was overturned by the supreme court on a technicality.

The Scopes case was, in many ways, about academic freedom. The restrictions on academic freedom were set forth by a government relying upon distinctly Christian values. After Scopes, however, American society gradually switched to an increasingly secular approach to education. Over time, several landmark court cases made teaching creation or intelligent design either difficult or illegal.

The freedoms that the ACLU were trying to protect have now come full circle. Individuals who even allow for the possibility of intelligent design are excluded from academia. For example, Richard Sternberg, former editor of the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, authorized an article authored by Stephen Meyer that had been favorably peer reviewed. Because this article discussed intelligent design, Sternberg was marginalized and defamed by his colleagues--not based upon the merits of the article, but rather, because it allowed for a supernatural explanation.

I heard of a recent similar example of limiting academic freedom. Greg Koukl was recently asked to give a talk entitled, "Is it intolerant to say Jesus is the only way?", as part of a sanctioned event at a college in Calgary. The posters were removed by the university and not allowed to be re-posted because the title was considered divisive and negative. Even more striking was the fact that administrators concluded the posters had racial overtones because a subtitle read, "Is choosing a religion merely a matter of preference, like chocolate vs. vanilla? Or is it about something much more serious?" This line of reasoning (claiming racism) is inane. One does not need to look far to identify many more examples of this sort of academic exclusion.

The groups that were once fighting to be heard are now employing the same restrictions that were once leveled against them. Now that their voice dominates, they refuse to allow dissenting voices to be heard. So much for civil liberty.

10 March 2010

Oostburg, Islam, and the Woman at the Well

This is a hard post for me to write. I want to share some recent observations about my hometown, Oostburg, a place I still love and cherish. Much of my family lives there and so do many fond memories. The people of that town love one another fiercely.

Oostburg is a small town on the Western shore of Lake Michigan that was established by Dutch settlers in the 1840s. The community retains its Dutch identity and with that identity comes a strong Calvinistic base. Indeed, all of the churches within the village limits represent various branches of Calvinism. No Catholic churches. No Baptist. No Methodist. It has been this way as long as I remember.

From my perspective, the lack of diversity has often led to suspicion about outsiders. There seems to be a sense that people who do not fit the mold will ruin utopia. People different from the norm have felt marginalized and often judged. As a child growing up there, I was one of the few kids whose parents were divorced. After she divorced my dad, my mom was given the message in no uncertain terms, that she was no longer welcome in the church. She needed compassion... she got judgment. She needed Jesus...she got the Pharisees.

While I was completing my residency, Heather, Grace, and I moved to Oostburg. I was one of Oostburg's sons returning home and was welcomed with open arms. Heather, on the other hand, was an outsider. People looked at her with suspicion. Where did she come from? Who was she? With whom was she connected? Once the connection with me was made, she too was welcomed.

I share these back stories because I want to write about some recent developments in Oostburg. There have been discussions in the works to establish a mosque near Oostburg and the response has been unfortunate, if not predictable. In a story from the Sheboygan Press, they quoted a local pastor from his church's website:
  • "Does this group of Muslims denounce violence against Jews, Christians, and other non-Muslims? If so, how much of a paper trail in English and Arabic has the group already written about such matters as 9-11 or the treatment of Jews and Christians in Muslim-majority countries? How much is presently written about these issues on their website? Even more importantly, what kind of accountability will be in place? Will there be a non-Muslim county or village official (that fluently reads and speaks Arabic) who will certify annually that this group is not teaching fundamentalist /terrorist ideologies? If so, who will be paying for this service? Will they seek to have legal exemptions for or special treatment because of their Muslim faith?"
Then follows 28 pages of comments. People from Oostburg defending their way. Others criticizing Oostburg's status quo. Some writers were civil, others were vitriolic. As I read the article and the comments, I wanted to weep. Where was Jesus in these comments? Was all of this bickering what He died for? Was this an example of the great commission?

I think that the story of the woman at the well has much application here (John 4). Jesus was passing through Samaria and stopped at Jacob's well. A Samaritan woman approached and Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink." She was taken aback because Jews did not talk to Samaritans--it was simply not done. She was also a woman, which was another strike against her. It turns out she had been married 5 times and was now living with a man who was not her husband. Another strike. She said to Jesus, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?"

Then Jesus switched from asking to offering. He told her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." In the next paragraph, he revealed himself as the Messiah and offered her salvation. She ran off to tell her people about Christ, leaving behind her water jar in the process. Verse 39 reads, "Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony". Jesus broke tradition. He loved the marginalized.

When Jesus called us to go and make disciples of all nations, he didn't mean countries, he meant people groups. That includes Dutch settlers in Wisconsin and Islamic doctors working in the US. We all need Jesus. Do not refuse a drink to others because of fear. I John 4:18 says, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear."

If you get a chance, read these passages in their entirety:
John 4
I John 4

Take some time and watch this video as well.

08 March 2010

Uncompromising Men

I shared this at Men Who Pray tonight:

Yesterday, I watched Braveheart, my all-time favorite movie. William Wallace was described at one point in the movie as “uncompromising.” I want to share 2 more stories about uncompromising men.

First, in Daniel 3, we read of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednigo--3 of the young Hebrew men brought into King Nebuchadnezzar’s palace when he seiged Israel. These 3 young men, probably in their teens or early 20s, were commanded to bow down to the golden image created by the King just like everyone else in the kingdom, but they refused. The king was furious and told them they would be tossed into a furnace if they didn’t comply. In verses 16-18, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, 'O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.'” The furnace was kindled 7 times hotter. The men who carried these three to the furnace were consumed by the heat and died. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednigo were delivered. They were uncompromising.

Second, there was an early church father named Polycarp who fought for the truth of scripture, rejecting early church heresies. He managed to live into his 80s when he was finally apprehended by the Roman government. The Roman proconsul asked him to proclaim “Cesar is Lord”. He refused. Polycarp was subsequently burned at the stake and when his captors were going to nail him to the stake to secure him, he said, “Leave me as I am. For He who grants me to endure the fire will enable me also to remain on the pyre unmoved, without the security you desire from nails." Though he died, Polycarp was uncompromising.

There are a few differences between these stories. In the first, the men were young, in the second he was old. In the first, they lived, in the second he died. There were also similarities between them. In both cases, men were unabashedly committed to following God. In both cases, an oppressive ruler was commanding them to worship someone else. In both cases, the men were offered a final way out. In both cases, the men refused. They weren’t concerned about following the social order. They weren’t looking around to see how other guys were handling it. They didn’t care what other people thought of them. They were uncompromising.

Gentlemen, we live in a society where men who compromise are not only accepted but celebrated. We are allowed to proclaim staunch commitment (in other words worship) to football, NASCAR, or hunting, but when we say that Jesus is the only way to salvation, we are cast aside as insensitive. Relativism rules. Even American churches, we are encouraged to compromise. We are told, "You have your idea of God, I’ll have mine." Men, God calls us to step up. God calls us to follow Him wholeheartedly. We are told to lead (I cor 11). We are told to pray (I Timothy 2:8). We are called to be uncompromising.

In Luke 9:62, Jesus says “no one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” These men above, did not look back. They kept their focus right.

One of my favorite quotes comes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor who was also killed by the Nazis. He said, “Besides Jesus, nothing has any significance. He alone matters.” Men, be uncompromising about the only thing that matters, Jesus Christ.

02 March 2010

I Corinthians 13-remixed

Elyse Fitzpatrick and Dennis Johnson have written what is turning out to be an excellent book entitled, Counsel from the Cross: Connecting Broken People to the Love of Christ (2009). I am quite certain that I will have more to say about this book in upcoming days and weeks, but today I read a few paragraphs of theirs that I wanted to reproduce here. The authors suggest that we view the very familiar love passage from I Corinthian 13 from a different perspective. Rather than seeing it as a template for how we can be more loving, we should view it as a "sneak preview of what we'll see when we finally gaze upon him 'face-to-face'" (p. 62).

"As the author of language and as God’s Living Word, Jesus can speak in the tongues of men and angels, and yet he condescends to speak simple words that nourish, soothe, and delight our souls. He knows the past and the future, understands all mysteries and knowledge; has all faith and reigns as Ruler over all; and yet, his love caused him to humble himself and remove our mountain of sin. Because of his love, we who are nothing have become “beloved.” He gave away what was rightfully his, humbled himself, and delivered up his body to be burned in the scorching furnace of the wrath of his Father.

"Jesus is patient and kind; he doesn’t envy or boast. When faced with Satan’s temptation to prove his Godhood in the wilderness and on the cross, he never showed off his power. He was utterly humble. He wasn’t arrogant or rude, railing on the disciples, deserting them because of their selfish ambition. He isn’t arrogant or rude with us either. When standing before his accusers he didn’t insist that they treat him with respect, nor did he proudly demand their accolades. He was silent, like a lamb before the shearers. The humble King of heaven wore a crown of thorns and a purple cloak. He is never irritable or resentful, picking away at every little foible he sees. In love, his blood covers our multitudinous sins.

"He doesn’t gleefully rejoice when you sin, glad to finally have an opportunity to give you your comeuppance. He rejoices when you believe the truth, not simply the truth about you—that you are sinful and flawed—but also the truth about him—that he loves you and welcomes you. Out of love for you, he bears all things. He has unflinching faith and hope in your transformation because he knows the power of his love. He knows that one day he will bring you to be with himself. He has endured and continues to endure all things out of love for you. His love never ends. Never.

"Ten zillion years from now, when he has had time to really see what sort of person you are, his love won’t have worn out. In fact, he knows you through and through right now and loves you all the same. Your shameful secrets cannot shock or repel him. His love never ends. One day we will see him face-to-face and then we will fully understand, for the first time, what real love looks like." (p. 63).