Archive for October, 2014

He Went West

October 30th, 2014 No comments

In studying the book of Genesis preparing for my men’s group I analyzed and considered the story of the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9). Two things I didn’t know about the story: that it is linked to the story of Nimrod and the establishment of Babylon and the earthly (and wicked) city (vs. Jerusalem as the righteous City of God). The other thing I didn’t know is that it is significant that Babylon is in the east and Jerusalem in the west. Not significant geographically but symbolically because Genesis sets the east as the place that is removed from God and his “good.” When Adam and Eve were expelled from the garden they went into the east. When Cain was banished he went into the east. And when Nimrod goes out to build his kingdom he goes to the east. So the east represents humans trying to create a “good” for themselves apart from God. And it always leads to misery, wickedness, and failure. It is also significant that God calls hie people back to good. When Abram obeyed the call, he went west (Gen. 12:1-6).

jump at the sun

October 29th, 2014 No comments

Mama exhorted her children at every opportunity to ‘jump at the sun.’ We might not land on the sun, but at least we would get off the ground. – Zora Neale Hurston

Broadcasting Stupidity?

October 26th, 2014 No comments

“What if we have many advantages in our lives but not wisdom? If we have love but not wisdom, we will harm people with the best of intentions. If we have courage without wisdom, we will blunder boldly…. If we have technology without wisdom, we will use the best communications ever to broadcast stupidity.” – Raymond Ortlund

I Don’t Mind Dyin’

October 24th, 2014 No comments

Ebola is a pretty nasty disease and I don’t think I want to experience it but God has numbered my days and seen the outcome of my life and what is is. I am going to continue to live my life as if there was no Ebola. I’m not going to give in to fear. Because I’m going to live until I die and that’s it.

I am always amazed that people who claim not to believe in God or an afterlife are afraid of dying. What are you afraid of? If there is no afterlife then there will be no one around to suffer death. Just nothing. It’s all over baby blue.

I think people are really afraid of dying because deep down they know that God is real and they know his laws and they know his wrath and they know they have missed the mark. But, oddly enough, when your eyes are opened by the Spirit you suddenly know that even though you’ve fallen short and you can’t make it up the one who loves you the most will not hold it against you. And when you know that you don’t fear death.

You can cast your scorn at my faith from the high walls of your intellectual fortress. But I am not afraid of dying.

Rejecting God is the Punishment

October 20th, 2014 No comments

A Samaritan Village Rejects Jesus

When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. And they went on to another village. (Luke 9:51-56 ESV)

Jesus doesn’t rebuke those who refuse to receive him. He rebukes his followers who want to bring down fire from heaven on them. This is a demonstration of the distance between human and divine wrath. Human wrath seeks to punish and avenge. Divine wrath acquiesces to free will (Ro. 1:24, Ro. 1:26, Ro. 1:28). Rejecting God is the punishment, it is hell, not fire and brimstone.

“There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, ‘All right, then, have it your way.'” – C.S. Lewis

Going the Distance with Tim Keller

October 18th, 2014 No comments

[Here Tim Keller is writing about discipline in what we call  in Christian-ese “spiritual formation.” What it means in plain English is opening ourselves to an intimate relationship with the one who wants to love us the most.]

In 1836, Charles Simeon retired after 54 years of ministry at the Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge, UK. There he had been engaged in a ministry of expository preaching that had sent several generations of young Christian leaders out into British society. He had accomplished far more than 99.99 percent of ministers ever do. Yet a friend discovered that this elderly man was still rising at 4:00 a.m. every morning to light his own fire and to spend time reading the Bible, praying, repenting and spending time with God. His friend thought this was overkill. “Mr. Simeon,” he pleaded, “Do you not think that, now that you are retired, you might take things more easily?” “What?!” replied the old Charles Simeon, “Shall I not now run with all my might when the winning-post is in sight?”

I am neither of advanced age nor a young man, but I know why Simeon could not imagine taking things “more easily.” It was because the praising, the hoping and the resting becomes better and better if you are willing to give it daily attention for years and years. The one-hundredth time through the Psalms or the Proverbs will yield astonishingly sweet, comforting and convicting insights, because the more you know the Bible as a whole, the more sense its particular parts make. And the more you know your own heart, the more you know how to work on it, how to move past your discouragement, your peevishness and your self-pity. But it takes years of relentless discipline. It is similar to how it takes years of practice to enjoy the power of playing the piano beautifully, but what we are talking about goes beyond even that in complexity and depth.

When it comes to the spiritual disciplines, don’t be a sprinter. Be a long-distance runner.

Quoted from

Luke 9:13 “You give them something to eat.”

October 15th, 2014 No comments

Imagine how it must have felt to be one of Jesus’ disciples who, thinking they were acting quite sensibly, suggested to Jesus that he ought to send the crowds away so that they could get something to eat. “You give them something to eat,” he told them.

The disciples were aware of their poverty. Among the twelve apostles and whoever else might have been following Jesus at the time they could only scrounge up five loaves and two fishes. It was probably a meager ration even for them, let along the utterly ridiculous proposition of feeding five thousand.

What choice did they have but to follow Jesus’ instructions? But they must have felt pretty silly, secretly believing that the provision would run out while serving the first group of fifty, wondering what kind of trick Jesus was going to pull. I’m guessing they didn’t really believe he was going to feed the people, that this was going to be some kind of an object lesson that in the end they would be able to reasonably understand.

But it was not so. Jesus blessed the bread and fish and allowed the disciples to distribute it to the people, and when all was said and done, after everyone was fed and satisfied, there was more left over than there had been to begin with. The disciples had little to give, but Jesus had in abundance. And there was no rational explanation, only awe.

There are many lessons we could draw from this episode but the thing that strikes me today is that we, like the disciples, are poor, and we are aware of our poverty. Jesus tells us to go and make disciples, to love as he loves, and we go to him with our pockets hanging out and reason with him: “You can’t seriously expect me to show the love of God to my fellows. I don’t have it. See? I am empty.”

And so we are. But Jesus has love in abundance, and when we surrender to his crazy will, when we are in Christ, we are able to share that love with others. Jesus takes what little we have, and makes it a blessing for the world.

Columbus Day Redux

October 14th, 2014 No comments

There was a time not too long ago when Columbus Day was celebrated in this country. The reason it was celebrated, just to make it clear, was because Columbus discovered America, and one result of that was that we are here, and not only are we here but we have built the greatest monument to liberty the world has ever known. And so Columbus’ “discovery” was celebrated as a seminal event pointing to our own greatness.

For some time but especially since the quincentennial there has been a growing critique of this narrative. More and more the pendulum has swung from ignoring the tragic outcomes of the Columbus event to vilifying Columbus, and, consequently, ourselves. As if our breast beating will erase the sins that have been committed. And so I was not surprised to see many expressions of cultural self-loathing surrounding the commemoration of Columbus Day this year.

We often hear, when we commemorate one or another outrage, that we should “never forget.” Never forget 9/11. Never forget Pearl Harbor. Remember the Alamo. And we don’t forget. We nurse the wounds and injustices of the past until they become integral to our identity. And of course it is not wise to forget that certain circumstances can lead to certain outcomes and that we ought to be diligent not to repeat the mistakes of the past. The problem is that our refusal to forget comes with the corollary that we ought also not forgive. And so our remembrance serves as a vehicle to perpetuate distrust and even hatred between groups. Our refusal to forget, far from preventing further tragedies, actually leads to more tragedy. Is that why we remember?

Michel Rolph Trouillot was a black Haitian historian who taught at the University of Chicago. He wrote an excellent book about historical malpractice titled Silencing the Past. There he tells the story about once offering a class on the slave experience in America. He recounts that the majority of the students were African-American, and that he assigned a number of books that were written by white authors. One of his students challenged him openly about assigning readings by white authors. “Where were they when we were jumping off ships?” To which he responded, “What ship did you jump off of?”

Isn’t that it? We carry the burdens of histories that are not ours. We nurse the wounds of injustices we did not experience. And consequently we carry resentment and hatred against people who did us no wrong. And so the cycle of violence and hatred continues.

As a historian and professor of history I know better than most the uses of history. For the most part history is used as a tool to fashion a political outcome. History is used by the state to try to mold citizens. History is used by partisans as a weapon to wield for political gain. This approach to history does more harm than good. The value in studying history is only evident when it is used as a tool for understanding. But let me offer some observations about history that I think we should know.

1. History is a long tragic story punctuated by sublime episodes.
2. No group is excluded from guilt.
3. Almost no one alive today participated in the atrocities of the past.
4. We are nevertheless left with the legacies of those atrocities which we must deal with in a real way today.

The way the study of history can help us to deal with this tragic legacy is:

1. Inform and remind us that we are all capable of the same atrocities.
2. Inform and remind us that we are all brothers and sisters.

This is in fact the proper aim of the study of history. We keep telling ourselves that we should “never forget.” Yet our God forgets our trespasses against him and forgives out of unwarranted favor (He. 8:12 and many other places) – just because he loves us. And he strives for peace and reconciliation. Maybe we should do the same. Breast beating and finger pointing do not bring justice. Only acting justly toward our brothers and sisters brings justice.

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