I invite you to look at--

My Website where you will find: ordering information and chapter summaries for The Beauty of God for a Broken World; audio sermons; a few poems and hymns; and some other essays.

My Videos where you will find a few two-minute videos on various subjects related to The Beauty of God for a Broken World.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Is the Bible just a beautiful story?

(This is the text of a video by the same title. I guess I shouldn't be frowning. Oh well!)

Hello again. I’m holding a delightful collection of stories called Tales of the Arabian Nights. In order to save her life, the beautiful Sheherazade tells her husband the Sultan a string of wondrous stories including “Sindbad the Sailor,” “Aladdin, or the Wonderful Lamp,” and “Ali Baba and the Forty Robbers.” Is the Bible just a story, like the Arabian Nights? Some people claim that it is.

Sometimes critics of the Bible describe it as a collection of fairy tales. If they want to sound a little more sophisticated, they say the Bible contains the mythology of the Hebrews, and they will point to a few story elements common to the Bible and ancient near-eastern myths. Other critics bypass the mythological accusation and say that Christians are naïve because they choose to believe a story with a happy ending—at least for themselves.

With regard to the first accusation, I have to wonder if these people have actually read many fairy tales and myths. I have read many of the ancient near-eastern myths; I’m familiar with Greek, Roman and Norse mythology, and I can say emphatically that the Bible is different from all of these. It is true that there are some points of comparison between ancient myths and the Bible. For example, the number seven is common to the Bible and to several ancient near-eastern myths. There are a few parallels between ancient near-eastern flood stories and the biblical account of the Noahic flood. That would not be surprising if the flood actually happened and if various peoples retained some memory of the event. But Scripture has no tales of quarrelling, murdering, thieving, sexually immoral gods. If anything, the Bible should be described as an anti-mythology. From the creation account onward, it is deliberately hostile to the kind of worldview that lies behind all ancient mythologies. In The Beauty of God for a Broken World, I argue that Jesus Christ is different from all rival gods ancient and modern.

With regard to the charge that the Bible is just a story, I admit—no insist—that it is a beautiful story. Certainly, there is a seductive kind of beauty that corrupts the heart and destroys the soul. But at the deepest levels beauty truth and goodness belong together and depend on each other. Granted, there are some parts of the biblical narrative that seem ugly, especially to modern and post-modern readers, but that brings to mind a line from The Lord of the Rings. When Frodo decides to trust the rough-looking ranger, Strider, he says, “You have frightened me several times tonight, but never in the way that servants of the Enemy would, or so I imagine. I think one of his spies would—well, seem fairer and feel fouler, if you understand” (Lord of the Rings, chapter 10).

When I wrote The Beauty of God for a Broken World I wanted to show something of the beauty of the Bible’s God and the Bible’s story, even in the parts that, like Strider, don’t seem fair at first glance. Because beauty and truth are not enemies, the deep beauty of the Bible’s story is one of the great evidences of its truth.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The "New Atheism" and the Beauty of God

I’ve been reading another of those books by the “new atheists”—the kind of book that the publisher likes to claim will put Christianity into its grave. About the only thing that is “new” is that their voices are more strident than they were a few years ago. Still, I think it is worthwhile commenting in general terms on one of the approaches they use in their attacks.

One section of 23 pages lists about 36 errors, contradictions and myths supposedly contained in the Bible. Some of the charges are so ludicrous that a careful reader of the English Bible should be able to see through them. However many depend on specialized knowledge of the biblical languages, history and archaeology. In most cases, these “errors” are simply listed as well-known facts without any indication of the careful responses made by conservative Bible scholars.

The average reader of such a catalog is simply not in a position to study every accusation for himself, but the authors couple their hit and run attacks with a diabolically clever insinuation: Anyone who cannot answer all the charges leveled against Christianity is engaging in a blind, foolish faith inherited from his culture. If he is not a moron, he is deliberately deceiving himself.

Then comes the cleverly calculated challenge: Practice pretending that you are not a Christian. Just try looking at the world as if you were an atheist. Try it for an hour at a time. Next work up to a day and then a week of unbelief.

What is the likely result of such an exercise? Consider, by way of comparison, what a counselor is likely to tell a married couple who no longer think that they are in love with each other. He will teach them how to listen to each other. He will help them learn how to express love in ways that their partners can appreciate. In short, as they practice being in love, they may fall in love again. So it is too with practicing unbelief.

I have a suggestion for the “new atheists.” Why not spend an hour then a day then a week doubting your atheism. After all, there are numerous intellectual obstacles that a consistent atheist has to overcome. Practice coming to the Bible with a humble, open mind seeking to see what has gripped the minds and hearts of Christians throughout the centuries.

In spite of what the “new atheists” so brazenly assert, the issue is not a lack of intellectual honesty on the part of Christians. Atheism and Christianity represent diametrically opposed views of the world and the meaning of life. The clash between atheism and Christianity is not really an argument over who has the most “facts” to bolster his case—after all both sides are slinging “facts” at each other all the time. It is rather a conflict between opposing worldviews. Which approach provides the most comprehensive, consistent and compelling view of our world and of ourselves?

In my book, The Beauty of God for a Broken World, I did not engage in classical apologetics. I respect those who have capably defended the historical accuracy of the Bible and who have marshaled philosophical arguments for the existence of God. My task, however, was different. I have attempted to answer the charge that the God of the Bible is ugly by applying a Trinitarian understanding of beauty to some of the perplexities regarding Scripture and to the problems of life. I have tried to show that a Trinitarian worldview is ultimately the only truly satisfying answer for a broken world and for our broken lives.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Essential Doctrine of Original Sin

There is no doctrine so much despised or so much needed by the modern world as the doctrine of original sin. Original sin is well summarized by the first line of a colonial New England primer: "A is for Adam. In Adam's fall, we sinned all."

According to the biblical doctrine of original sin, God made our first parents in a state of untested innocence. Although Eve sinned before Adam, God had appointed Adam to represent the whole human race. Therefore, when Adam sinned, he brought doom on all of his posterity. Just as a king or president can involve his whole country in war, so we are born into this world as enemies of God (Romans 5:10). As a judgment for Adam's sin, God withdrew His Holy Spirit from the human heart, leaving us alone.

The Bible often refers to human nature apart from God as "the flesh," and it tells us that the "deeds of the flesh" are: "immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these" (Galatians 5:19-21). The Bible says that the heart is "more deceitful than all else, and desperately sick" (Jeremiah 17:9).

This, then, is the doctrine that is both despised and needed by the modern world. Moderns have got the problem all wrong, and so cannot find a solution. In the first place, moderns typically exalt "immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry and sorcery" as alternate life-styles or expressions of freedom. In the second place, they assume that the human heart is basically good. The problem is not with the heart, but with educational, economic and social inequalities. If that is the problem, then the solution is obvious. Use the power of government to erase the inequalities, and all will be well.

On the international scene, the problem between warring parties is usually assumed to be a misunderstanding of each other's values. The answer to the problem is therefore diplomacy. When enemies talk to each other, they understand each other; when they understand each other, they become friends.

Let us suppose that on Thursday of next week all inequalities and misunderstandings could be magically erased. The doctrine of original sin says that by the following Thursday the strong would have begun to oppress the weak, and fresh occasions for hatred between races and classes would already have arisen.

Certainly, it is right to help the poor. Certainly, it is right to provide a good education for all of our children. Certainly, it is right to promote dialogue between enemies. These things are right. They are just not enough.

Because the human heart is sinful, there must be sanctions as well as incentives. There must be punishments as well as praise. Governments should exercise their power to protect the weak and to balance the interests of opposing power blocks. For example, many workers are pro-union, because they believe that unions protect the little guy. Many businessmen see unions as evil. The truth is that both big business and big labor, when left to themselves, become greedy for power and profit. Both have shown themselves willing to use ungodly tactics to further their own selfish self-interests.

Therefore, the doctrine of original sin helps us to be realists. We work toward temporary and limited solutions to fundamentally intractable problems, and we thrust aside all dreams of man-made utopias because we see that our social ills have spiritual dimensions.

Finally, the doctrine of original sin sounds the death knell for all forms of self-help religion. Do we want to be better than we are? We need to be rescued by a power beyond ourselves. The Bible says that God forgives our sins when we trust in Jesus Christ. Furthermore, we "receive the promise of the [Holy] Spirit through faith" (Galatians 3:14), and "the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23).

That is what the modern world really needs, and that is what we need as individuals. As I point out in my book The Beauty of God for a Broken World, we must understand the Bible’s teaching on sin if we want our lives to be invaded by the beauty of God.

Monday, October 18, 2010


“The resurrection of Jesus Christ does not make sense,” says the skeptic. “People do not spontaneously rise from the grave. It is contrary to history and to the laws of nature.”

I say that history and nature do not make sense without the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Let us begin with history.

The existence of the Christian Church is an inexplicable riddle apart from the resurrection. Many people suppose that the Church arose because the disciples of Christ wanted to carry on the teachings of their dead Master. Later they invented the resurrection to enhance the Master’s reputation. Such a notion is completely inconsistent with the available evidence.

The whole New Testament was written within seventy years of Christ’s death, and its consistent testimony is that the resurrection of Christ is the central fact of His life. The four Gospels, which record the words and deeds of Christ, all present the resurrection as the climax of His story, and in all of them hints of the resurrection are woven throughout the text. It is not possible to rip the resurrection out from the teaching of the Gospels without destroying the literary unity of those books.

In the book of Acts, which describes the early spread of Christianity, every sermon reported in detail deals with the resurrection of Christ. Most of the rest of the New Testament consists of letters, and throughout this body of literature the death, resurrection and future return of Christ are presented as crucial factors for moral and spiritual wholeness. The modern notion—that the early disciples wanted to spread the ethical teaching of Jesus—is simply false. The only morality of interest to New Testament authors is that which flows from His death and His bodily resurrection.

The detailed historical evidence for the resurrection of Christ is very impressive, but in this article I wish to make only three points. First, the Church would never have arisen without a firm conviction in the supreme importance of Christ’s resurrection. Second, this conviction must rest on some historical event. Third, no proposed event is able to explain the conviction and the explosive energy of the early church as well as the literal resurrection of Christ. The disciples saw Him repeatedly after His crucifixion. They spoke to Him. They touched Him. They were on fire with the certainly that He was alive.

In the same way, nature itself is inexplicable without the resurrection of Christ. Most ancient cosmologies, except those related to the Bible, are cyclical. The whole cosmos, and often individual human beings, go through a great cycle of birth, growth, death and rebirth. Some modern cosmologies are also cyclical, but there seems to be a growing consensus that the universe will continue to expand and cool forever and finally become incapable of supporting life.

None of these worldviews sees any rational end behind nature. The world and its creatures simply exist. That is all. There is no reason for their being and no purposeful direction for their destiny. Ultimately, nature itself does not make sense.

The resurrection of Christ, however, assures us that the God who created the world and framed its laws came to live among His creatures. He died and rose again—shattering the law that sin leads to death—in order to lead His creation out of death into life. He will come again to complete the restoration of His world to Himself. By His resurrection, Jesus declares that nature is not senseless. It has a goal. Furthermore, by His resurrection He heals the senseless brokenness of human nature for all who trust in Him.

“If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, your faith also is in vain. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. ‘O death where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15).

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Downfall of Self-Esteem

February is the month for love, so I want to discuss a biblical text on love that I have heard abused times without number.  It is this: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:39).

The typical abuse of the passage goes something like this.  In order to love others, you must first love yourself.  Loving yourself means having a good self-image.  Positive self-esteem is the secret to happiness and fulfillment in life.  Therefore, the first order of business is to learn to feel good about yourself.

There are several problems with this approach, not the least of which is the fact that pursuing self-esteem is as foreign to the Bible as camels are to Alaska.  What on earth would the modern psycho-babblers do with a verse like Philippians 2:3, "Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves"?

Now don't get me wrong.  Those who obey God's word have plenty of reasons to feel good about themselves.  First, they receive the forgiveness of sin through faith in Christ, so they have no cause to wallow in the pigpen of their guilt feelings.  Second, they become the children of God.  What status could be higher than being the King's kid?  Third, the Bible's prescriptions for life are a blueprint for fulfillment and happiness.

Take, for example, the command to love your neighbor as yourself.  There is, of course, a bad kind of self-love.  Selfish self-love seeks happiness by grabbing whatever it can get without regard for the needs and feelings of others.  The Bible, however, also recognizes a proper self-love, a kind of self-love that every human being necessarily has.

This inescapable self-love is the desire to be happy.  It is impossible for anyone consciously to desire his own misery.  Even when people punish themselves for their own misdeeds, their motive is to ease their sense of guilt, and thus to decrease their misery.

The Bible recognizes that we inevitably want to be happy, and we therefore want the things we believe will make us happy.  Our problem is that we are normally confused about how to find happiness.  The greedy child thinks more toys will make him happy.  The work-a-holic thinks that piling up achievements will make him happy.  The flirtatious woman thinks that the attention of men will make her happy.

The Bible has a different prescription for happiness.  It tells us to love God above of all, and then to love our neighbors as ourselves.  To love God above all means to fall in love with the One whose nature is beauty, truth, goodness and love all wrapped up together.  To love your neighbor as yourself means to desire his happiness as you desire your own.

When you desire your neighbor's happiness, your occasions for happiness are automatically doubled.  If God blesses you, you rejoice.  If God blesses your neighbor, you rejoice.  Therefore, it makes sense to work for your neighbor's good in the same way that you work for your own.

People who love their neighbors as themselves are not out frantically searching for more self-esteem.  They don't have time for that kind of nonsense.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Factors Influencing Our Choices

My friend has a son who hears voices in his head, sometimes several voices at once.  One of the voices speaks a constant string of numbers, and it will not shut up.

This tragedy admits of two very simple explanations.  The first is that the young man has a demon.  Case open; case shut.  The second is that his genetic code is scrambled, and as for demons—bah!  Humbug!

The problem, however, with simple solutions is that they are often simply wrong.  Human beings are very complex, and the Bible recognizes multiple factors at work in our lives.  There are at least five of them.

1.     Our birth.  The wicked are estranged from the womb; These who speak lies go astray from birth” (Psalm 58:3).  There is something morally twisted or broken in all of us from the moment of our birth, but the fact that we have an inborn disposition toward one kind of sin or another does not render us guiltless before God.

2.     Our nurture.  “Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).  The Bible recognizes that the things that are done to us in the formative years have a great effect on our actions.

3.     Our choices.   "If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD" (Joshua 24:15).  People who are capable of making choices (and that includes most of us) are responsible for the direction their lives take, no matter what other influences may bear upon them.

4.     The devil.  “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).  The devil is real; the devil is dangerous, and the devil commands legions of demons.

5.     God.  The Lord works in many ways. Sometimes He gives rebels over to their own sinful choices (Romans 1:24, 26, 28), but whenever Christian people are seeking to serve God, we can say, “it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).

The important thing to realize is that all of these factors may come into play at once.  The devil frequently tempts us in our areas of weakness, whether this weakness is inherited, is caused by childhood experiences or is a result of our previous decisions.  God gives substantial healing to all who come to Him through Christ, but He never completely heals the ravages of sin in this life.  Final healing waits for the resurrection at the last day.

A man who is born with a quick temper may struggle with that disposition all of his life.  The devil will constantly tempt him in that area, but when he receives Christ as Savior and begins to walk in fellowship with God, the Holy Spirit gives him new resources to fight against that particular sin.  In time his temper may even be tamed.

Now let us return to my friend’s son.  There is every reason to believe that he was born with a genetic defect that surfaced when he became a young adult.  The multi-track stereo in his head may have been triggered by unusual stresses when he entered the military, or it may have been hard-wired to turn on at a certain age.  Can the devil get into his head and add a sound-track of his own?  I don’t see why not.  He attacks others in their areas of weakness, so I suppose he can do the same here.

What should this young man do?  Is he helpless before forces that are too strong for him, or does he have some responsible choices to make?  Certainly the latter.

He can gratefully accept the measure of healing afforded by modern medications.  He can refuse to blame himself for the existence of the voices he hears.  He can latch on to God’s promise, “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7), and fight against every suggestion to do evil that comes from the voice of Satan.  He can look with hope for a greater measure of healing through Christ than he would otherwise experience.

Will he ever be completely free of these multiple voices?  I do not know, but if he bravely struggles on, trusting as well as he can in the power and love of the risen Christ, then on the last day the Lord will say to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Friday, September 24, 2010

Why I Wrote The Beauty of God

According to pollster George Barna about one in every eight American adults is an ex-Christian. These are people who once identified themselves as Christians but now call themselves atheists, agnostics, or something else. I wrote The Beauty of God for a Broken World, because of an ex-Christian who sat one day in my office. At one time he was part of a young adults Bible study I led. I baptized the lovely young lady who became his wife, and I married them. Some time after that they moved out of the area. When I caught up with them again, he had become an ex-Christian. He told me that if he ever decided to believe in God, it would not be the God of the Bible because he God of the Bible is ugly. Ex-Christians are frequently troubled by suffering in the world and by specific teachings of the Bible. For example, they object to the idea that a serial rapist and murderer like Ted Bundy might go to heaven, simply by believing in Jesus, while some of his helpless victims might end up in hell. The kinds of questions ex-Christians ask cannot be answered in 30 seconds. They require a thorough, thoughtful response, and that is what I have tried to provide.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Gospel in the Stars

A few years ago, D. James Kennedy, a well-known television preacher promoted and popularized a nineteenth century book, The Gospel in the Stars, by Joseph Seiss. The thesis of the book is that God has left a testimony to the gospel of Christ in the names of the constellations and certain prominent stars. For example, Virgo is the Virgin Mary. Orion is Christ. According to some legends, Orion died when he stepped on a scorpion, which parallels the seed of the woman (Christ) stepping on the head of the serpent (Genesis 3:15). Every detail of the ancient myths is mined for symbols of gospel truths. This idea rests on bad theology, bad astronomy and bad history.

Bad theology
The gospel in its simplest form is that Jesus Christ, the God-man, died for our sins; that he rose again in the same body in which He died; that He is coming back again; and that all who put their trust in Him will be saved (1 Corinthians 15; Romans 10:8-13). The New Testament is quite clear that this message is only available in words—whether written or spoken (Romans 10:14-15). What do the heavens proclaim? Not the gospel, but the glory, beauty and power of God (Psalm 19:1; Romans 1:20). That is all.

Bad astronomy
The Gospel in the Stars assumes, without a shred of evidence, that the classical names of the constellations in western civilization accurately retain the names of those star groupings given by God to Adam and Eve. The tortured philological connections offered to support this thesis are a bunch of baloney. Furthermore, why should our constellation names be privileged over those of the Chinese or the American Indians. If the stars are supposed to make the gospel accessible to all peoples, why don’t all peoples recognize the same star groupings and have the same names for them.

Bad history
I can state this very simply. There is no historical evidence that anybody, anywhere, at any time ever figured out the gospel of Christ simply by looking up at the stars. Nor did anyone before the time of Christ figure out the gospel by pondering the classical myths associated with the constellations.

Anything good?
It is certainly possible to use the stars and the myths associated with them to illustrate spiritual truths. After all, the New Testament uses farming, athletic competitions and business transactions to illustrate spiritual principles. But that is very different from insisting that the constellations are a divinely appointed means for conveying gospel truth.

Monday, July 26, 2010

In Praise of Science Fiction

To judge books and movies by their covers, a great deal of current science fiction seems to rest on two stable pillars—boobs and blasters. This is cheap fodder for the gut, but it often lacks what science fiction is best suited to provide—that, is stimulating food for the mind.

One of the easiest ways to make this point is to compare Isaac Asimov’s I Robot with the movie of the same name. The book is a series of challenging intellectual puzzles based on Asimov’s famous “three laws of robotics.” The movie has more in common with Rambo or Terminator than it does with anything Asimov ever wrote.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy a good action movie. Raiders of the Lost Ark is a classic that is hard to surpass. (Certainly, its sequels are not its equals.) But all action movies typically offer is a temporary escape from the ordinary business of living. There is nothing wrong with that from time to time, as long as we don’t start living for the next escape.

The better science fiction, however, raises the life’s big questions: What does it mean to be human? Are there other intelligent beings in the universe, and what forms might they take? How might human beings behave if placed in an alien environment? Can we change the present by visiting the past? Where are we headed, both as individuals and as a species?

Consider briefly science fiction’s concern for the future. The suggested scenarios vary widely, of course. Will evolution take a negative turn leading to The Planet of the Apes? Will we be dominated by a super-computer that becomes a virtual deity? Will aliens be our friends or our nemesis?

Asimov’s most enduring vision pictures a galactic civilization that is threatened by chaos. His Foundation Trilogy, its sequels and its prequel suggest that the distant future will be guided through the chaos by the force of mind rather than by technology. In these books, he brilliantly unifies his early I Robot with a later series of robot mysteries solved by the detective Lij Bailey.

From a Christian perspective, the important thing about good science fiction is not the specific future it envisions but the fact that it asks us to look ahead. The current furor over global warming and an increasing concern about a devastating collision with a huge chunk of space rock may have a similar effect.

Without something to draw our attention to the future, we easily develop a constricted view of life. We get up, eat breakfast, go to our jobs, fuss at our co-workers, go home, have supper, numb our minds with an hour or two of television, drop into bed and get up the next day to do it all over again.

If science fiction (or even fictional science, which one side or the other of the global warming debate must be) causes us to think about the future, it has done us a service. Certainly, most people think about the future in these ways without ever giving heed to the Bible’s infallible prediction of what is to come. But no one who is oblivious to the future can be saved. One of the essential doctrines of the New Testament is that Jesus, who died, came to life again and will return to judge the living and the dead.

Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead (Acts 17:30-31).

For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9).

Though this future alone is true, other imagined futures do not thereby become irrelevant. Just as the pagan myths of a dying, rising god found their ultimate fulfillment in Christ, so the hopes and fears embodied in the most provocative science fiction find their fulfillment in the twin destines of all human beings. Heaven is more exciting than the best of our dreams; hell is more dreadful than the worst of them.

Monday, July 12, 2010

A Royal Marriage

Psalm 45 celebrates the marriage of an idealized Israelite king. In view of the New Testament’s use of this Psalm (Hebrews 1) and the frequent scriptural use of the marriage metaphor to describe God’s relationship to His people, we read the psalm as a celebration of Christ’s relationship to His church.

Then the King will desire your beauty. Because He is your Lord, bow down to Him (v. 11).

What does it mean for the church to bow before her heavenly husband? An ancient earthly example may help us sense the flavor of this verse. Bathsheba was King David’s favorite wife. God had chosen her son Solomon to be King after David, and David had conveyed this promise to Bathsheba and Solomon. However, in David’s old age, one of his other sons, Adonijah, proclaimed himself king without David’s knowledge. This immediately put the lives of Bathsheba and Solomon in danger. If nothing were done, Adonijah would kill them as soon as David died. So Bathsheba went into the king’s bedroom to ask him to straighten things out (which he did). This is how she came—

So Bathsheba went in to the king in the bedroom. Now the king was very old, and Abishag the Shunammite was ministering to the king. 16 Then Bathsheba bowed and prostrated herself before the king. And the king said, "What do you wish?" (1 Kings 1:15-16).

After David had spoken with Nathan the prophet about the situation, he called for Bathsheba to come back in.

Then Bathsheba bowed with her face to the ground, and prostrated herself before the king and said, “May my lord King David live forever” (v.31).

Think about this. David and Bathsheba might have been married two decades by this time. She was his favorite wife. Her son was the designated heir. But when she comes in before the king, she kneels down and bends over until her face is on the floor. David is her lord. David is her king as well as her husband. That is what Psalm 45:11 means when it says, Because He is your Lord, bow down to Him.

We must never become so familiar with Jesus Christ that we treat Him like one of our buddies. You and your neighbor may just walk into each other’s houses without knocking—there are some people who do that—but you cannot do that with the Lord Jesus Christ. Even though He loves you, and He wants to spend time listening to you and talking to you, He is still too great a king for you to treat Him with casual disrespect. He is never too busy for you. Your smallest troubles or blessings are not beneath His notice. He wants to hear about them. But still, He is the King, and like Bathsheba, when you come into His presence, humble yourself before Him. He is worthy of your worship because He is a glorious husband and He will transform His people by His grace into a glorious bride.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Preaching of Christ

Ephesians 2:17 contains an astounding truth. Jesus Christ “preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near.” Christ is our peace, and He established peace (v. 14). That is wonderful enough, but verse 17 says He preached peace. Those far away were the gentiles at Ephesus. Those who were near were the Jews.

But Christ never went to Ephesus. Paul and several of his associates carried the gospel to that pagan city. How did Christ preach to them? We find the answer in 2 Corinthians 13 where Paul rebuked a group of cantankerous believers for “seeking proof of the Christ who speaks in me” (v. 3). When Paul preached, Christ was preaching in and through him.

But we can go further than that. Jesus said to His disciples, “He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me” (Matthew 10:40). So Paul was not the only representative of Christ through whom Christ spoke. When we look back at Ephesians 2, we see that Paul was not just writing about peace between the Ephesian Christians and the Jewish Christians. He had in mind the whole believing world. Whenever Jews and gentiles come to faith, they have heard Christ preaching through His messengers.

Therefore, when an ordinary pastor like me stands in front of an ordinary congregation and opens his mouth, Christ speaks. That is an astounding truth. There are, as far as I can tell, only two criteria that must be met for Christ to speak through me. First, I must preach the gospel. Ephesians 2:17 says literally that Christ gospelled peace. And the apostle Paul insisted, “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).

Then in the next sentence he provides the second criterion for Christ speaking through His servant. “My message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).

If I preach the gospel in the fullness of the Spirit, Christ speaks through my mouth. This wonderful truth entails several corollaries:

Ø I have no business preaching anything that is not centered on the gospel of Christ. I must present the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27) in all of Scripture as it relates to the gospel.

Ø Before I preach I must earnestly and humbly seek the purity and power of the Spirit.

Ø Those who sit under true gospel preaching ought to be straining their ears to hear the voice of Christ. They ought not come to hear a man putting on a clever performance. They come to hear God.

Great Father in heaven, be merciful to me a weak and sinful preacher of the glorious gospel of Christ. Be merciful to the people who hear me week after week. May I never stand before them to speak my words but only Yours, and when my words intrude into Your message, may the people not hear or heed them, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Till We Have Faces--by C S Lewis

I just finished this amazing book by a master Christian story-teller. I had read it a number of years ago, and I remembered the basic plot line except for the brilliant ending.

One of Lewis’s most fascinating proposals was that the ancient pagan myths, by embodying the deepest fears and longings of the human heart, point toward their perfect fulfillment in Jesus Christ. In Till We Have Faces, Lewis reworks the Greek myth of Psyche to produce a tale that fits into none of the standard categories for novels. It is first interesting, then puzzling, then at the end incredibly and surprisingly beautiful.

Psyche was born divinely beautiful and destined to be married to a god, but this is really the story of her ugly sister, Orual, whose possessive love for Psyche threatens to destroy Psyche’s happiness. When Orual adopts a veil to hide her ugliness, we recall St. Paul’s reference to the veil that covers the faces of people who reject the gospel (2 Corinthians 4). Along the way we see the emptiness of those oh-so-sensible rationalizations that try to provide a psychological explanation for every encounter with the supernatural.

In some passages I sense the same mystery and wonder that I feel when the little otter meets Pan in Wind and the Willows or when Mr. and Mrs. Beaver describe Alsan to the Pevensie children in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

I suppose this is not a book for everybody. (No book is, except the Bible.) But I suspect that there are many who will find that it exposes the ugliness of their own souls without leaving them in despair. We need to see the things in us that must die if we are to see the beauty of our God. Seeing him is the only way we can be transformed from Orual into Psyche.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Having begun this feeble effort at blogging, I feel some obligation (be it however small) to provide something for my devoted (or not-so-devoted) following. Since nothing particularly worthwhile has occurred to me, I decided to opt for a modest effort at entertainment. In 1978 my mother published a cookbook called The Sailor's Wife with recipes for outdoor cooking. Family members were encouraged to submit something, so I sent in the following piece. If you are feeling charitable, you might describe it as a poem. My mother matched it with this family photo of us preparing for a trek in the Sierra Nevada mountains. I'm the bloke on the left.


Sore feet and dirt
And sweat on your shirt
And a rattlesnake under each rock--
It's part of the fun
'Neath the blistering sun
When you go for a twenty-mile walk.

But treasures unknown
Are bought with each groan
As the load wears a hole in your back;
For sumptuous fare
And pure, unbreathed air
Await when you take up a pack.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Burning Books

And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of everyone; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver (Acts 19:19).

My first reaction to this verse is to wince at the lost cultural heritage. It would be fascinating to know what kinds of spells and potions the people of Ephesus were using. Evangelical scholar, John Warwick Montgomery has an extensive collection of medieval texts on magic, which gave him the necessary background to write Principalities and Powers (1973). What would it mean to someone like him to have hundreds of first-century manuscripts on the subject?

My reaction is a thoroughly modern one based, I suppose, on my love of old books, my suspicion of government-sponsored censorship,[1] and Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. In this 1953 book, Bradbury envisioned a bleak future in which television had turned the majority of the populace into mindless, self-centered morons. Wow what prescience! Since most people no longer read books anyway, the government was able to capitalize on their ignorance, and it banned the reading of books. Firemen no longer put out fires; they burned books. Sometimes whole houses full of books. Sometimes with the owner still inside.

But the book-burning at Ephesus was different. In the first place, people brought their magic books voluntarily because they saw that the power of the gospel was greater than the power of the dark side. These people were not at all interested in 21st century anthropological concerns. They knew by experience the great spiritual harm those books had done to them, and they wanted to be free.

The reason we have trouble entering into their mind-set is that most of us have never experienced the fear close contact with evil spirits engenders. At least, we have seldom recognized the presence of spiritual evil. If we had grown up on the island of New Guinea or in certain parts of the Caribbean, Africa, or Asia, we might more easily sympathize with the courage it took for the Ephesian Christians to destroy such talismans of power.

[1] It is not censorship when a public library decides not to purchase a book that offends community standards. Nor is it censorship if a government agency declines to pay for art that is offensive to many citizens. (Oh how I wish that would happen more often!)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Importance of Ending Well

When Heather and I were students at Moody Bible Institute (1967-1970), the president of the school was Dr. William Culbertson. One of the things he stressed in his chapel messages was the importance of ending well. I don’t suppose I thought much about that during the early years of my ministry, but this year I turned sixty-three, and Dr. Culbertson’s exhortation has been echoing in my heart. What does it mean to end well?

William Culbertson

Dr. Culbertson
(He looked older when we knew him.)

First, it means to maintain a good Christian testimony and reputation to the end of my life. Dr. Culbertson was contending with cancer by the time we left Moody. He was too weak to attend our graduation and he died some months later. We were not aware of his illness until very near the end of the year, but I never saw anything in him except Christ-honoring gentleness. I remember one day when I was hanging out one upper stories of Crowell Hall washing windows. My partner accidentally dropped a water soaked sponge that hit Dr. Culbertson as he walked by. I don’t remember if he even looked up as he continued walking, but all of us on the crew were petrified. We assumed that we would be called into his office and raked over the coals. After a few days had passed and nothing had happened, we decided it was better that the sponge had hit Dr. Culbertson than the vice president of the school. That may have been very unfair to the vice-president, but that is what we said.

Second, ending well means to stay at my post. In this too, Dr. Culbertson is my model. Certainly I may have to reduce my workload in a few years, or the Lord may change my assignment, but I don’t believe God will want me to spend the last years before I meet Him in idleness. I have many hobbies that could keep me occupied for a long time—fishing, hunting, hiking, reading, making telescopes, and observing the stars. Sometimes I wish I had more time for these pursuits, but I dare not make that my goal. I want my service to Christ to last as long as He gives me strength and a reasonable portion of mind. Hobbies are for renewing body and soul, not for living.

Third, ending well means pushing myself to keep growing in Christ and acquiring new useful skills, or at least maintaining old ones. For a number of years I have read the Greek New Testament through every year. This year I am reading a chapter a day alternating between Greek, Latin, and German. The goal is to keep my mind sharp and to force myself to notice things I might pass by in the familiar English version. About three evenings a week I read a chapter from the Hebrew Old Testament. This is a new endeavor made possible by the acquisition of A Reader’s Hebrew Bible, which provides vocabulary entries at the bottom of each page for words used fewer than 100 times. I have become more intentional about getting something out of my reading as well. Except on the busiest days, I make sure I write something about what I have read.

Fourth, ending well means staying flexible and being willing to try new things. I don’t know what that might mean, but I pray that the Lord will enable me to hear His quiet voice. Should we be doing something different at church? Does He want me to write another book? How can we reach out more effectively to lost people in our area and around the world? I don’t know the answer to any of these questions, but may God graciously keep my eyes and ears open to His work.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Esse est percipi

Warning. This posting is more philosophical than most of mine. Feel free to skip it.

Esse est percipito be is to be perceived. If you can’t see it, hear it or touch it, either with your senses or with instruments, it doesn’t exist. That is not exactly what idealist philosopher George Berkley meant when he penned those words, but his aphorism has spawned plenty of whimsical offshoots. For example:

If a tree falls in the forest, and there is no one around to hear it, is there any sound?

If a man is in the forest by himself, and there is no woman around, is he still wrong?

I don’t call myself an idealist (in the philosophical sense) for two very good reasons. First, there may be as many kinds of idealism as there are idealist philosophers. Second, many idealists deny that matter really exists. They say that spirit (or Spirit) is the only true substance. The first verse of the Bible says that God created the heavens and the earth; it doesn’t say He just imagined them.

Nevertheless, I am attracted to certain aspects of idealism. Everything that exists outside of God was first an idea in the mind of God, and He is the one who holds all creation together. If He stopped doing that, everything from stars to starfish, including ourselves would cease to exist.

For by Him [Christ] all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-- all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together (Colossians 1:16-17).

How does Jesus Christ hold all things together? Well, by His power, of course, but because He is omniscient and omnipresent, He sees all things (Psalm 139). If it were possible for God to stop seeing His creation, it would no longer be here.

The all seeing eye of God may lie behind one of the greatest mysteries of modern science. According to quantum mechanics, two particles or photons born together out of the same subatomic event are entangled. No matter how far apart they may travel, what happens to one immediately affects the other. Einstein thought that this consequence of quantum mechanics demonstrated that the theory must have a serious flaw. However, the fact of entanglement has been demonstrated in the laboratory.

How can widely separated twins have instantaneous communication with each other? I am not a physicist, but I suspect two factors at work. First, I think it may be possible to devise a theory that provides a suitable explanation for entanglement. I hope so, because that would be very interesting. But second, I believe that God’s perception of all creation—the perception that allows the world to continue existing—is also the perception that enables this entanglement to work. He is always everywhere, so instantaneous communication between widely separated parts of His creation is no problem for Him.

Notice what I am not saying. I am not claiming that God fills in the gaps of our physical knowledge—thunder, for example, used to be God’s voice, now it is just the sound of a big spark passing through the air. No, the biblical picture of God is not that simple. Rather, in every event, certain natural and explicable causes are operating, but at the same time God is at work upholding and sustaining those processes and bringing about His will through them.

As Psalm 104:21 says, “The young lions roar after their prey And seek their food from God.” The lions have to hunt; that is nature. God feeds them; that is His secret work, of which the lions are totally unaware. So God speaks powerfully in the thunder, which is the sound made by a big spark. God sees entangled particles as one and upholds the physical process by which entanglement occurs.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A Word to the Wise

Jesus prayed, “I praise You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight.”

Those with an above average IQ start out with a spiritual disability. There is no spiritual benefit to ignorance because eternal life depends on knowing God the Father and His Son (John 17:3). But neither is there a special spiritual benefit to intelligence. To the contrary, the intelligent may think—like all ancient and modern Gnostics—that they are saved by the strength of their intellects.

The intelligent are given a tool to use for the glory of God, that is, their minds. The physically strong are given their strength; the artistic are given their sense of color, tone, or proportion. All these are to be used for God and by God’s strength.

The weak are given their weakness, which they must present to the strong to be helped by them, neither demanding help, as though it were due them, nor refusing help through fear of being a burden, for both of these responses are forms of pride.

And so all of us must become little children if we want to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

2012 Apocalypse

A buddhist monk standing against a background of the Himalayan mountains while a mega tsunami is surging over them.
Contrary to the wackos, the conspiracy theorists, and a recent movie, the world will not end on December 21, 2012. First, although the thirteenth Baktun cycle of the Mayan calendar does end then, the Mayans did not associate anything special with that date. Second, the sun will not line up with the galactic center on that date. Third, there is no special alignment of the planets on December 21, 2012. All of these issues are clearly explained by E. C. Krupp, chief astronomer at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. Krupp is a frequent contributor to Sky and Telescope, the premier magazine for amateur astronomers, and the astronomy of ancient civilizations is one of his specialties. Here is a link to his article, "The Great 2012 Scare" from the November 2009 issue.

There is also a good theological reason for saying that the world will not end on December 21, 2012 or at any other time that some unbalanced publicity seeker announces. When the disciples asked Jesus to nail down a date, He replied, "It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth" (Acts 1:8-9). Furthermore, Jesus said, "The Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect: (Luke 12:40). So when a group of Christians or atheists or cultists expects Him to come, He's not coming then.

When Jesus talked about His Second Coming, He frequently emphasized three things. (1) You cannot know when He is coming. (2) Keep on doing your duty, so that when He comes He will be pleased with you--preach the gospel, care for the poor, love your neighbor. (3) There will be very hard times throughout this age, but suffering is not a sign of the end. Therefore, endure it without giving up your faith in Christ.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Three Cups of Tea

Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson is one of the most amazing stories I have read in a long time. It is a must read for anyone who wants to understand what is going on in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And it is simply a good, inspiring read. For a longer review, here's a link to a friend's blog.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Whom Does God Love

While handing out tracts at “The Great Allentown Fair,” I have read the slogans of innumerable T-shirts. Among the blasphemies, the beer commercials and the “I’m with stupid” mottos, I saw one T-shirt that sums up the spirit of our age.

Our me-centered culture needs to hear that God’s chief concern is not to give us stress-free, fun-filled lives. You and I are not the focus of His affection. Putting it more bluntly—God loves His eternal Son far more than He loves you.

Since God’s love is infinite, we may suppose that He has an infinite love both for His adopted children and for His eternal Son. This cannot mean, however, that He loves us in exactly the same way and to the same degree as He loves Christ, for if the Father loved any creature exactly as He loves His Son, He would be placing the value of that creature on a par with the value of God. I believe that God’s love for His adopted children is infinite, but Georg Cantor has shown that some infinities are larger than others. For example, there are more points on a line one inch long than there are integers. Therefore, even if the Father’s love for His adopted children is infinite, it is not a contradiction to say that His love for His eternal Son is greater.

Why, then, are we here, if we are not the main attraction? Why did God make us? What in the world is God doing? The thesis of this book is that God’s love for His Son is the reason that He created the world. The bond of love between the Father and the Son is the bedrock on which creation, redemption, judgment, and final glory ultimately rest. This divine love is the primary beauty; all the beauty we experience in the world around us is a secondary kind of beauty that depends on and reflects the beauty of God.

The fact that God loves His Son far more than He loves us has two astonishing corollaries: First, God created us because He loved His Son; second, He loves us because He loves His Son.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Beauty and Glory

The most common Hebrew word for glory is Kavōd. Kavōd is related to an adjective (kavēd­ = heavy) and to a verb (kavēd = to be heavy). Eli is an old man and heavy—kavēd (1 Samuel 4:18). Abraham is also kavēd, not because he is fat, but because he is rich (Genesis 13:2). He is heavy (or we would say loaded) with possessions. In general, the Hebrew language can use kavēd for anything that is heavy or impressive, in a literal or in a figurative sense. Children are commanded to honor (kavēd) their parents (Exodus 20:12). That is, they are to treat them as weighty or impressive people. When we glorify the Lord, the word is again kavēd. Unlike the varied senses of the verb, the noun kavōd always means glory or honor, but the underlying thought is that God is weighty or impressive. In Hebrew, glory is a heavy word. Even though the apostle Paul wrote in Greek, the heaviness of glory in Hebrew was no doubt on his mind when he wrote,

For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

All of God’s attributes are glorious, but when His actions are considered individually, they are not all beautiful. Ezekiel 39 speaks of a great battle in which God destroys the rebellious armies of the earth. At the end of the battle, the Lord invites the birds of the air to come and “eat the flesh of mighty men and drink the blood of the princes of the earth. . . . So you will be glutted at My table with horses and charioteers, with mighty men and all the men of war” (Ezekiel 39:18–20). That is not a pretty picture, but in the next verse the Lord declares, “And I will set My glory among the nations; and all the nations will see My judgment which I have executed and My hand which I have laid on them.” God’s just judgment is impressive; it is an expression of His glorious holiness and wrath, but considered by itself, it is not attractive. God’s judgment is only attractive when we view it in the context of all His perfections.

This, then, is the distinction I wish to point out: God’s glory is what makes Him impressive. His beauty is what makes Him attractive. The sum of all God’s attributes is both glorious and beautiful.