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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas from Jesus' POV

Over the years I've read many Christmas articles, and heard many Christmas sermons. (Check out the excellent Christmas series by Glenn, our preaching pastor.) I don't recall ever hearing or reading anything about what it was like for Jesus to come at Christmas. What was Jesus' point of view on his coming into the world and being born?

In my study of the New Testament, and Hebrews in particular, there are six areas that stand out to me.

Heb 10:5-10 is the passage that stood out to me and put me in mind of this topic. I see here that obedience to his Father is what was primary in the thoughts of the Second Person of the Trinity as he took on human flesh and was born in Bethlehem. Throughout his life Jesus stated that he had not come to do his will, but his Father's will. This was most evident in his prayers the night before his crucifixion, when he asked that the cross and its suffering be allowed to pass by him - but, not Jesus' will, but his Father's. And he was obedient to death, even death on a cross. (Matt 26:39; Phil 2:8) I am reminded of the words of the hymn, "Word of the Father, Now in flesh appearing." As God's word (John 1:1), he faithfully states and lives out his Father's thoughts, not his own. My favorite movie and book series, The Lord of the Rings, contains several Christ-figures. Frodo is one of these. At first he is reluctant to take on the ring and the task of its destruction. At last he does, but he would rather not. He is a reluctant savior. At one point, Galadriel tells him, “This task was appointed to you. And if you do not find a way, no one will.” So too for Jesus. If he had not obeyed his Father, then there would have been no way of salvation. But praise God, Jesus was not a relectant savior, but an eager one.

"O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear"
These words capture well the longing that Israel felt at the time that Jesus was born. Herod and Rome were oppressive; people longed for release and freedom. Of course, the central issue that separates Judaism from Christianity is that God's fulfillment was not what the Jews expected and so they rejected Jesus. Yet, God had promised redemption, and Jesus was the fulfillment of that redemptive plan that God had begun centuries before. The sacrifices of the OT were not God’s goal – they were given to prepare the way for God’s people to understand the need for Jesus. Jesus came to set aside the first order of things, so that the second order would come (Look back at Heb 8:8-13).

God’s plan all along had been the Incarnation. The words of the Christmas hymns say it well:
"God of God, Light of Light;
Lo, he abhors not the Virgin’s Womb”
“Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,
Hail th’incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel”

Jesus taking on humanity was not an afterthought with God, it was his only plan all along. Nor did Jesus do so reluctantly, it pleased Jesus that he should be joined with us forever in our humanity. Here’s a link that illustrates well this idea.

I also wrote about a year ago about how Jesus' being born of a woman lifts up women in their reproductive role, so I won’t repeat it again here.

Continuing the previous idea, we see that Jesus identified with us in our humanity. Heb 2:11, 14-18 tells us that those who are being redeemed are one family, and that Jesus took on flesh because we are human. He did this so that he could destroy death and so that he could destroy Satan. He had to be human so that he could be our high priest and be able to be our mediator between us and God.

Phil 2:5-7 is the main passage for this idea. We think of the shame and humiliation brought to Mary, Joseph, their families, and to Jesus himself as he was viewed as illegitimate. (see A Not-So-Silent-Night) We think of the upset of Mary and Joseph's plans for their lives as God's plans took over. And then we should dwell on what it meant for the Lord of Glory to leave heaven and become one of us.
Man’s maker was made man,
that He, Ruler of the stars, might nurse at His mother’s breast;
that the Bread might hunger,
the Fountain thirst,
the Light sleep,
the Way be tired on its journey;
that the Truth might be accused of false witness,
the Teacher be beaten with whips,
the Foundation be suspended on wood;
that Strength might grow weak;
that the Healer might be wounded;
that Life might die.

- Augustine of Hippo (Sermons 191.1) (from Kingdom People)

Jesus shows us what God is like, and we should understand that God is humble. The second person of the trinity did not grasp at his position, but instead took a very low place, both in the grand scheme of things, and on Earth as well. God humiliated himself. And above all, the cross loomed ahead. He knew that he came to be the sacrifice. See Heb 10:10

The book of Hebrews refers to Jesus being perfected. What does this mean? Was Jesus less than perfect? Was he imperfect in a moral state? No, the term can also refer to becoming mature or complete, and that is the sense that the word was used. Jesus was God, but he had to prove himself worthy of being the sacrifice and worthy of being our high priest. As a prince has to mature and grow and prove himself worthy of assuming the kingship, so too Jesus proved himself worthy. How did he do this? He did it by not grasping what was his - the position and prerogatives of deity. He did it by assuming the position of a servant - a lowly human, a Jew (not an educated Greek or a superior Roman), and a peasant at that. He proved himself worthy by being tempted and not giving in. He proved himself worthy by showing himself to be a servant of his own disciples. He proved himself by being obedient to death, even death on a cross. He learned obedience through his suffering. And he has shown himself to be what he always was - God's son.
Because of his obedience, God has given him what he has earned. He has earned the right to be the high priest for his people, and the right to be lord of the universe. The prince has earned his position and earned the respect of everyone.
Praise be to God.

More thoughts on educational motivation

After the one comment on my last blog post where I suggested paying students for learning, I realized that I need to clarify my thoughts.

The problem in education isn't necessarily that students don't want to learn. Often times they do, but they they lack the motivation (for many reasons) to do the work that school asks them to do. Yes, we can (and should) carry out the suggestions that were mentioned in the comments on my last post, but there are times that those suggestions aren't enough. I remember studying for Organic Chemistry, and Calculus 2, and Master's written exams, and Doctoral written and oral exams. I enjoyed the learning part, but the work itself was absolute drudgery. If students receive the message that learning and school work (both) are always relevant to life, and fun - then how will they handle the difficult courses in high school and college that aren't relevant to life, and aren't fun? How and when will they learn to work, to show up on time, and do the assignment as assigned by the teacher (boss), if not in school?

As I see it, schools are in the business of doing two things that pertain to this discussion. (There are a lot of other tasks they are asked to do as well, but those aren't in view here.) The first is teaching knowledge and skills in many different areas. The second is practicing and developing work habits and ethics. We tend to forget that these are two separate issues. Students can learn and never do any work. Students can do the work, and yet not learn. I've seen both. (Nevertheless, there is a correlation between working in school and learning, so I'm not advocating tossing the system.)

Consider this: most of my best students don't work in my classes for the sake of learning - they are motivated by grades. What's the matter with motivating students who aren't motivated by grades with money? Either way, it's an extrinsic motivation.

More comments?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Motivating Students

The American public school system, we are told, is not in good shape. We are not educating students so that they are prepared for their adult lives in a very uncertain world. So what should be done? In my opinion, most of the efforts so far have been spent in areas that do not address the fundamental problem.

There are a lot of places where we can work. Teachers can teach better, schools can do more to encourage learning, and administrations can put resources in the classroom where they will do the most good. These are perhaps the most obvious. Some other suggestions that should be enacted:
  • Legislatures should stop mandating reports and activities that drain teachers of time and energy.
  • National guidelines such as No Child Left Behind should have realistic goals and guidelines. For example, I am qualified to teach certain subjects at a university or college, but not in a public school.
The most fundamental problem is not the teachers, or the schools, but the students. We need to find a way to motivate them, in addition to improving the other parts of the educational system. I think that the most useful reform would be to pay students for learning. I suggest that high school and eighth grade students be paid for a GPA that is a B or above. Students with a C average would not be paid at all, and students below a C average would have to leave school for a grading period (quarter, trimester, semester) and do menial work at very low pay for that grading period.

When I have mentioned this idea to students, they are very enthusiastic. High school students who do their work put in ten and twelve hour days (school and homework) during the week plus more on the weekends. Many of them also have jobs or are involved in sports. And they do it without any compensation for their time and effort. I don't blame them for being tired and unmotivated, especially when many assignments are tedious and meaningless.

One of the most common objections to this proposal is that students should learn for the love of learning. We should, however, note that there are many students who simply aren't motivated by learning itself. Maybe their family or cultural values don't or haven't stressed learning. Maybe they've never "gotten their act together." Perhaps they have difficulties in their personal lives or in learning that have kept them from learning for the sake of learning. Perhaps they are so used to TV, videos, games, cell phones, and other technologies that they find school boring. I know that the ideal is for students to learn for the love of learning. But for many of them, learning is not a love, it's a job. And jobs should be paid. I love my job, but I don't think that I would do it if I weren't paid.

Perhaps we should try this suggestion and see if it or a modification of it would work before we decide that it won't work. What I would hope to see is that students would be more motivated to work and that teachers would find that they can challenge students and that students would respond. Students who weren't motivated would be removed (for a time) and not impede the others. I would hope that the level of education would rise as teachers and students challenge each other.

What do you think? Would paying students a modest amount ($200-300 a year) for having a "B" average or higher motivate students? Is it a good idea to motivate students this way? What do you think about penalizing those who don't learn or do their work?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Are all dreams worth following?

White House Communications Director Anita Dunn recently praised Mao as one of her favorite political philosophers. In the context of quoting from Mao, she stated

In 1947, when Mao Tse-Tung was being challenged within his own party... to take China over, Chiang Kai-Shek [and his soldiers] held the cities, held the armies, held the air force... the people can say can say how you can do this? Mao said, 'You fight your war, I'll fight mine'... you don't have to accept the definition of how to do things... you fight your own war. (
and went on to urge her hearers to follow their dreams in their own way. Aside from her glorifying one of history's most evil murderers and excusing the use of any means to accomplish one's goals, we should ask the question, "are all dreams worth following?"

And the answer should be, "no." Mao's dreams for China, Hitler's for Germany, the Jews, and the world, Stalin's for the USSR were evil and should have been stopped. Evil dreams should not be followed.

But most of us will not be faced with evil that bold. Instead, we face smaller choices. Should I follow a dream if it interferes with promises I've made, and responsibilities that I've acquired in my life? If I abandon my promises and responsibilities in favor of dreams, what kind of person am I?

That's one nice thing about being young. There are fewer responsibilities, fewer promises made, and more freedoms. Dreams can be followed with a clearer conscience.

So, young people, find worthy dreams to follow. Older people, don't abandon your promises and responsibilities for dreams. If you can combine them, then good. Otherwise, keep your promises and fulfill your responsibilities.

Psalm 15:1, 4
Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?
He who keeps his oath even when it hurts.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Limited Government

Part of the philosophy underlying the debate about health care relates to the size of government. Is a larger government better, or is a smaller government better?

Those who founded the country at the time of the Revolution and gave us our Constitution believed that human beings were fallen and likely to misuse power. They devised a government that was limited in scope. Further, every branch of government had checks on the amount of power that the other branches had. Also, the states and the people of the country retain power and rights that the federal government cannot breach (or at least shouldn't).

So, if health care is taken over by the government, isn't that too much power in the hands of the federal government? What about privacy? What if only a government health care option is offered? Again, although not as damaging as if the government took over health care, I would argue that it is still too much power in the hands of the federal government. First, with the power of the government, it is all too likely that the government health care would eventually drive out the private sector. Second, my concerns about privacy and government power remain. Do we want the people in charge of taxes and the courts also in charge of health care?

The reader might object that the insurance companies have a tremendous amount of power. What about the power of the current health care insurance providers? I agree that they have a tremendous amount of power. But there are several important differences.
  1. One can leave a private insurance carrier, although it is not easy and is in fact impractical for most people. (I think that this is the first change that should be made in the current system. Insurance should be decoupled from employment.)
  2. Insurance companies can't put you in jail or confiscate your bank accounts or homes. The government can and does.
  3. You have some recourse against insurance companies, very little against the government.
Other reforms that would be good to see:
  1. More competition, not less. Let people choose their own insurance for what they need.
  2. Encourage people to pay for smaller items out of their own pocket, and purchase their own insurance for large amounts.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Unintended Consequences

I'm concerned about the legislation that is currently being constructed in Washington D.C. I will confess that I'm not sure that all the concerns and claims about the legislation from those on the right are accurate. I've looked at some of them, and they don't seem to be as serious as claimed.

But we would do well to be concerned, no matter which side of the political spectrum we are on. Here are some reasons:
1. The speed with which the government is trying to get this through.
2. The size of the legislation.
3. The lack of time to accurately read and digest it. This is true for the general public, and for Congress as well.

What folly to try and redesign 1/6 of the economy so quickly!
How irresponsible for Congress to rush and not even read it!

4. Will those enrolled in private insurance be forced into the public insurance option as employers seek to cut costs?
5. Loss of privacy. Whatever happened to the pro-abortion rallying cry of "get the government off of my body"?
6. Rationing. If the government option wants to save costs, it is inevitable that rationing will occur. Who will suffer? Will it be those whose lives are really prolonged when there is no good reason, or will the elderly, and those approaching old age be denied care that might prolong their lives, perhaps for years?
7. Loss of research and improvement in new medical techniques. If payments are set, will there be adequate payment to doctors and researchers so that the field attracts the brightest and the best?
8. Can the government really handle something so private well? Think of how well it runs the Post Office, Indian Affairs, Veteran Affairs, and Medicare. Remember that Social Security is headed for the rocks as well. Don't forget the Tuskegee experiments. Or the IRS.

I entitled this blog "unintended consequences." The writers of the new health care may indeed have the best intentions. It's the consequences of their actions that we need to fear. The consequences that they don't foresee because they didn't want to, or they went too quickly. The consequences of a government bureaucracy. Remember, private companies can't put you in jail or take your money or invade your homes with guns. The government can, and has, and does.

The government should be the referee, not the player.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Bodies and everlasting youth

Last week I was flipping through channels and stumbled across Oprah. Dr. Oz was talking about advances in medicine that would allow us to live to 120 or more. My wife would tell you that I take a lot of supplements and fish oil in the hopes of living long and healthy. So I watched the program, until I realized that it was a rereun that I had seen before.

So what do you think about living to be 120 or more? My hero, Gandalf, lived a long time. I used to fantasize about living long and doing many things. But I'm not sure anymore. Here's why.
  • sin All of us have weaknesses, foibles, sins. I used to think that I would get over them as I got older. Ha! Too lazy, too sinful, too weak. I don't want to fight the same weaknesses and sins for another 70 or more years.
  • bodies My knees aren't what they used to be, nor are my eyes. And I'm in fairly good shape for my age. I know of people my age who are dead, or in far worse shape than I am. Do I really want to live in this body another 70 or more years?
  • relationships Do I want to be in the same relationships, sinful and weak as I am, with other people sinful and weak as well, for another 70 or more years? Do I want to outlive my friends and relatives? (Although if we all live that long, then we wouldn't outlive each other by too much.)
  • retirement Could I retire at 70 and then live another 50 years? How would I support myself?
No thanks. I'm really beginning to think that limiting us to 70 to 90 or 100 years is a favor that God has done us.

So what's to think about Dr. Oz? I'm not planning on giving up my supplements or fish oil. I hope to be healthy while I'm here, and enjoy a long life, within the span that most people live now. There's nothing wrong with that. But my hope is in the resurrection. Not this body for 120 or more years, but a new, changed body for eternity.

The hope to live to 120 or more is firmly rooted in the belief that this life is all that there is. I've discussed that in past blogs. The Christian hope is resurrection.

So - why are Christian radio and TV full of medical broadcasts about supplements on the weekends? hmm.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The next generation

The June/July 2009 Focus on the Family magazine contained an article entitled "The Baton of Faith." In it the author describes his father's strongest desire in his last few weeks of life to see the baton of faith passed to his children and grandchildren.

I remember when I was in high school and college. I had the opportunity to live at a boarding school for two years when in high school. From the beginning I had the opportunity to decide whether to continue with Bible reading, prayer, and church attendance. It was not easy getting to church, but from the beginning I did. During the summer between my two years I hitch-hiked through Europe alone for most of the time. My companion was a Gideon's Bible (I still have it). The Psalms especially were a comfort. By the time I returned home, my faith was mine. I never struggled with leaving it, just with how to best express it and where.

Soon my children will be adults, on their own. Will my faith and their mother's faith be theirs? What can I do to move them along in that direction?

I was talking with some young people about this last week, and I was struck by something I hadn't thought of. MY goal is to see them following Jesus Christ, but what if that isn't something important to them? How can I help persuade them that this is a goal worth following? Here are some thoughts:

  • Fire insurance. While this sounds crass, why else did Jesus warn people to repent and trust him?

  • Having a solid base to build one's life on. Jesus' parable of the builders on the rock and the sand comes to mind.

  • Being on the winning side in history.

  • Being with the creator and redeemer forever.

  • Being part of God's plan to redeem humanity and all of creation.

Do you have any others that I should add? Thoughts, comments?

So how do I and other parents encourage our children to follow after us? Obviously we need to live lives that back up what we say we believe. We should also challenge our children. (Check out this article and this one on ten lessons to learn from great Christian minds.)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

My Country 'Tis of Thee

Today is the day before Memorial Day. In church we sang the
Battle Hymn of the Republic and the hymn below. I love it.
But as a Christian, I can only sing it with the last verse.
I love my country, I love this land, but my allegiance
is to God.
My country,' tis of thee,
sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing;
land where my fathers died,
land of the pilgrims' pride,
from every mountainside let freedom ring!

I'm thankful to live in this land. I'm proud of
the accomplishments of my ancestors from the
landing of the Mayflower through their settlements
in this country. One of my ancestors was in
the Continental Congress and a general in the
Revolutionary War. Others fought in that war.
Three ancestors died because of the Civil War.
My native country, thee,
land of the noble free, thy name I love;
I love thy rocks and rills,
thy woods and templed hills;
my heart with rapture thrills, like that above.
I love to travel and would love to see more of Europe.
But there is much to love here. I've not seen
New England nor the South
Let music swell the breeze,
and ring from all the trees sweet freedom's song;
let mortal tongues awake;
let all that breathe partake;
let rocks their silence break, the sound prolong.

Our fathers' God, to thee,
author of liberty, to thee we sing;
long may our land be bright
with freedom's holy light;
protect us by thy might, great God, our King.
This last verse brought tears to my eyes this morning.
We sing of our land with love and allegiance.
But it is to God that we sing and give our allegiance.
Our freedoms come from the hand of our God, through
the sacrifices of many men and women. To all of
them I give my thanks.

But I worry. As we lose sight of the great God,
our King, will we also lose our liberty that
we have enjoyed for so long? Pray God no.
Pray to God that we remember him and that he
will give us many years of liberty so that our
sons and daughters may continue to enjoy the
freedoms that we enjoy.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Education thoughts

I'm a little short of original thoughts at the moment. End of the school year, and all that! Here are some interesting quotes about education I thought I would share with you.
"We must remember that intelligence is not enough. Intelligence plus character--that is the goal of true education. The complete education gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate." (--Martin Luther King, Jr.)
I teach in a school for the gifted - all the students are above average in intelligence. Unfortunately, not all of them have the self-discipline to use their abilities. Also, sometimes we see some of the students misuse their abilities - their characters are not good, in at least some of their decisions. They are children, so we understand that they are still growing and maturing. The goals for our students include becoming better people, as well as more skilled and knowledgeable. Simply making people more knowledgeable may lead to smarter bad people!

Howard Hendricks tells us,
“All true learning only occurs after you are thoroughly confused.”

I think this is a bit of an overstatement - a little confusion is probably all that is needed!! When you or I think that we know something, then there is little incentive to learn. On the other hand, if I know that I don't know something, or if I am uncertain as to details about the material, then I have more incentive to learn and to remember the material. When I teach my students I try to raise a healthy amount of confusion or uncertainty.

And lastly, a link to an interesting blog on giftedness and hard work. (Read it and then come back!!)
One of the amazing (and discouraging) things that I deal with is the idea that some my students (fortunately not all of them) have that learning must always be fun and interesting. If something isn't immediately interesting and easily learned, they lose interest in it. This especially tends to be a problem for gifted students, who on the plus side are often interested in learning for its own sake.

In the sports and music worlds we recognize that those who are good in those areas must work hard so that they can use their gifts to their fullest. Those who aren't naturally talented in those areas can still increase their abilities with hard work and practice. We must develop this same attitude in academics. Hard work and study from an average person will probably contribute more toward success in life and contributions toward society than laziness and lack of focus from a genius.

Success is 90% perspiration.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Don't know. I'll hope for the best.

A few weeks ago I mentioned this option as the last in the list of what happens after we die. Actually, it's not really an option, it's an attitude. If God will judge us after we die, then he will judge us, whether we do anything or not about it.

Surely it is important to decide what you think about what happens after death. If nothing happens, and death is all that awaits us, then doesn't this direct us to live in a certain way? If we are reincarnated, then shouldn't we again live in a certain way?

And again, if judgment awaits us, then we should live in a certain way because we know that what we have done will affect the life that we have after this one.

So why do people not think about what happens after death? I think that it is because the possible outcomes are unpleasant. This Spring I faced the possibility of not returning next year to the school where I teach. The wise thing to do would be to look for new jobs, update my contacts and resume and network. Naturally, I did a few of those things, but I kept putting the rest of them off in the hopes that things would work out and I wouldn't need to do anything. (Things turned out just fine.) Don't we do this a lot in our lives? And what is more unpleasant than death and judgment? (Here's another article on how we live our lives in denial of what's to come.)

But how irresponsible to not address the one fact that will affect us all! Death will come, and what awaits us? I urge my readers to examine the inevitability of your death and to decide what you think will happen. Examine the claims I made (brief though they are) in the previous posts.

Lastly, I will restate the claim that I believe is the most likely to be valid. That is, after death we will answer for what we have done in this life. To believe otherwise ultimately makes a mockery of morality and of the deep longing that every human has to be loved, cherished, and recognized. If I am correct, then you need to decide how you will answer on that day.

Here's my hope:
Romans 8:1
"There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."

Saturday, April 11, 2009


Over the last few weeks I've been commenting on various answers to what happens after people die. And now, by sheer coincidence this weekend, we come to the Christian hope. A few weeks ago I wrote:
Resurrection. We receive new bodies, similar to, but better than our old ones. Life is lived in God's presence with others who are acceptable to him.
This is the hope of Christians in the New Testament and in the nearly two thousand years since. This is the theme of 1 Corinthians 15, that great chapter on the importance of Jesus' resurrection. Tomorrow we celebrate Easter - Resurrection Sunday, if you prefer.

So why is resurrection the hope of Christians? As I have said in the last few posts, humans long for significance, and not to be forgotten. And yet death destroys both. All of us will die, and people will forget about us, and we will become insignificance.

Resurrection restores us to what we believe we should have been. No second chance at life to do it better (reincarnation), but the destruction of death and sin themselves. New bodies, that lack the shortcomings and difficulties of this life. Forgiveness of sins. No more death and decay. And best of all will be the company of like minded others in the presence of God himself.

Isn't this the option that we would choose if we could? (of the various ones I outlined earlier?) Doesn't this option ring the truest? Of course, that doesn't make it true. (Check out this for some good evidence to think about.)

It all hangs on the resurrection of Jesus. If Jesus did not come back from the dead, then there is no resurrection for us. But he did come back from the dead, and promises victory over death for those who follow him.

So, consider the claims of Jesus and consider this: What happens to YOU after you die? (Check out the Sermon on death and dying)

Next time: I'll hope for the best.

Sunday, March 29, 2009


Two posts ago I mentioned one of the major beliefs about our fate after death.
Reincarnation. We come back in some form, usually tied to how we've lived in this life.
Reincarnation is the belief that souls are re-embodied after death, based on how well one's lived one's life. This belief is a core belief of Hinduism, and I believe, Buddhism as well.

I presume that for the individual who is reincarnated there is no memory of one's previous life. Nor is there a re-unification with friends and loved ones from the previous life.

This is horrible! All the wisdom and knowledge that have been gathered in one life are gone and cannot be used in the next life. There is no reconnection with family and friends from the previous life. This doesn't fill me with any hope, rather with despair.

How can one do better the next time? Why would the next time be better than this time? Am I different, or is it just that my circumstances have changed? If it is just the circumstances, then why am I responsible for what seems to be my circumstances and not my own actions? Furthermore, what is karma, and how does it work to balance out who goes where? What is the mechanism for karma?

Lastly, how does one evaluate evil and good in this system? If people are working off poor decisions or bad things that they have done in previous lives, then why should I try and help them? It might just get in the way of what they need to do. Is there room for compassion and mercy? It doesn't seem so.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Death and That's It

The following is from a blog I follow:

Last April I had occasion to speak in Zurich, where I made some of these same points. After the speech, a few of the twenty-something members of the audience approached and said plainly that the phrase “a life well-lived” did not have meaning for them. They were having a great time with their current sex partner and new BMW and the vacation home in Majorca, and saw no voids in their lives that needed filling.

It was fascinating to hear it said to my face, but not surprising. It conformed to both journalistic and scholarly accounts of a spreading European mentality. Let me emphasize “spreading.” I’m not talking about all Europeans, by any means. That mentality goes something like this: Human beings are a collection of chemicals that activate and, after a period of time, deactivate. The purpose of life is to while away the intervening time as pleasantly as possible.

To my way of thinking this is the "eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die" mentality. If there is nothing after we die, then why not? But are we really here to simply enjoy life and its pleasures and then die? Is this all it means to be human? What about those who have little or nothing to enjoy in this life? What about the millions who endure poverty, violence, hunger, disease, and a premature death? It's one thing for wealthy and comfortable Americans and Europeans to enjoy this life and then die. At least we got to enjoy this one. But many people haven't had anything to enjoy in this life, and won't.

Furthermore, I believe that this kind of mentality strikes against the core of what it means to be human. In Jewish and Christian tradition, humans are created in God's image. That means that we bear marks of some sort that are like God. This includes, but isn't limited to creativity. To be truly human we should not be mere consumers of the pleasures of life, but we should be creative in our jobs, in the arts, in seeking justice and aid for the oppressed and poor of the world. This life isn't about my pleasures. If this "European" mentality is true, then why should I care about other "collections of chemicals" that don't have it as good as I do?

Lastly (for this post at least), what about the injustices of life? Isn't there something in each of us that cries out against violence against myself and about violence, rape, and murder against other people? If this life is all that there is, then there will be no justice for these people. How sad. Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Genghis Khan, Mugabe, Saddam Hussein, and many others will cease to exist, but they end up the same as all the people who have done good in this life. What's the point? If you want to leave a legacy, do bad things. You will be remembered for longer, and by more people than if you did good things.

But there is another option. God promises true justice, not just for history's "really bad boys," but for everyone. That includes the bad things that I've done as well. But if there is no life after this one, then the evil in this life, well, it just is.

Listen to Dennis Prager on this topic:

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Death and After

In my last post I said:
Our greatest evangelistic tool may (should?) be the fact of death and what happens after. What happens to the human after death? There aren't many options, and most of them deny ultimate human significance.
So what are the options?
  1. That's it. When we die, we die. We bury (or otherwise dispose of) the remains. Any living on is the legacy and whatever we leave behind, for good or bad.
  2. Reincarnation. We come back in some form, usually tied to how we've lived in this life.
  3. Some sort of spirit life. I'm not sure what to make of this, as I've not heard much about it.
  4. Resurrection. We receive new bodies, similar to, but better than our old ones. Life is lived in God's presence with others who are acceptable to him.
  5. Don't know. I'll hope for the best.
Did I miss any? If so, please leave comments and I'll add them for future discussion. For those of you who are following this on some level, how do you react to these options? If you are a believer/follower of Jesus Christ, which are options that you believe? If you are not a believer/follower, which options do you believe? Why?

Next post - start talking about each of these options in more detail.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Dying without God

I just finished reading Albert Mohler's blog for today - Dying without God, The Absence of Belief at Life's End.

I highly recommend that you read it, especially in the light of recent polls that show that more and more America is becoming a non-religious country. I see this trend more and more in my students.

I'm filling in for my pastor in a couple of weeks, preaching on a few verses from the middle of Psalm 103. These verses speak of the shortness of human life. Without giving away my sermon (come back in a few weeks for that), human life is short and all of us will soon be forgotten. My hobby is family history - unearthing the details of the live of people who are long gone. It's exciting to find the details, yet most of the information about people will never be remembered. Nor does it even exist. The knowledge of all those people simply doesn't exist anymore. Only the bare bones about them is left - death, wills, locations, marriages, children, birth or christening. Many times these are gone as well. We know nothing of their hopes, dreams, aspirations, desires, personalities or even their looks.

So what does this have to do with death - mine, or yours? Simply this. Our greatest evangelistic tool may (should?) be the fact of death and what happens after. What happens to the human after death? There aren't many options, and most of them deny ultimate human significance. I'll be exploring this more in the near future. My thesis will be that if there is no God to meet after death, then there is no ultimate human significance.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Rock of Ages

Another favorite hymn, again by Augustus Toplady. (What a name!) Here's a link to a nice rendition of it, again by the Celebration Choir.

And the final selection on that CD which has a part of the hymn at the end of the song "When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder"

And the lyrics.

And now for the commentary on the hymn itself. The first two lines (repeated at the end) are a play on the word "cleft." "Cleft" can be both a noun and the past participle of the verb "cleave." Thus, Jesus is both the place where we hide and he is broken for me.
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee;
Then these words:
be of sin the double cure;
save from wrath and make me pure.
(Or, save me from its guilt and power)
The author has neatly captured our need. We need to be saved from sin twice, if you will. We need to be saved from the guilt of sin, from the wrath of God, and we need now and in the future to be saved from the power of sin so that we can live pure and holy lives for our God.

The next stanza underscores strongly our helpless position before God (Toplady was a strong Calvinist.)
Not the labors of my hands
can fulfill thy law's commands;
could my zeal no respite know,
could my tears forever flow,
all for sin could not atone;
thou must save, and thou alone.

Nothing that we do can atone for our sins. We are completely and truly helpless before God. Only he can save us. So the next stanza continues. We bring nothing but sin and rebellion to God. He does all the work.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to the cross I cling;
naked, come to thee for dress;
helpless, look to thee for grace;
foul, I to the fountain fly;
wash me, Savior, or I die.

While I draw this fleeting breath,
when mine eyes shall close in death,
when I soar to worlds unknown,
see thee on thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee.

Jesus is our hope not only for this life, but also for the life and world to come. As Romans 8 states, Jesus intercedes for us and nothing can separate us from his love.

Hide yourself in Jesus, cleft for me, cleft for you. Hide yourself in him both now and in the life to come.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Debtor to Mercy Alone

A hymn I have not heard for ages is the title of this blog. The lyrics can be found here:

This is a great hymn. It speaks of our relationship with God - a covenant that God has made with us, an eternal covenant based on and centered in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Jesus has removed the terrors of God, failure, and death from us.

The work which His goodness began,
The arm of His strength will complete;
His promise is yea and amen,
And never was forfeited yet.

God's promise to us will be completed. Not because of anything that we have done, but because HE guarantees it. Salvation is HIS work, not ours.

Things future, nor things that are now,
Not all things below nor above
Can make Him His purpose forego,
Or sever my soul from His love.

Because our salvation and glorification are God's work, and even his priority, He will not abandon that purpose. The image in this last stanza is especially precious.

My name from the palms of His hands
Eternity will not erase;
Impressed on His heart it remains
In marks of indelible grace.

We are, as it were, engraved on the very palms of the hands of God himself. The palms of the hands are very sensitive, and in view of their owner. The palms of the hands are a place that you may gaze when engaged in deep thought. We are central to the thoughts and the life of God.

Yes, I to the end shall endure,
As sure as the earnest is given
More happy, but not more secure,
The glorified spirits in heaven.

And lastly, we are as safe and secure in the love of God as if we were in heaven itself.

Not all the old hymns are great, but they are often full of theology and truth that we miss and that we could use. They taught as well as praised.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

True joys, simple joys

When I was a teenager, I didn't like John Denver's music. It was probably because everyone else did, and I was a bit of a rebel. As an adult, I have come to like many of his songs. One of my favorites is "It's good to be back home again." You can find a recording of the song with beautiful pictures and the lyrics at

Our family listened to this song several times as we went to California two years ago. What struck me about the song is the celebration of home life and the simple joys of life.

There's a fire softly burnin', supper's on the stove,
It's the light in your eyes that makes him warm.

Hey, it's good to be back home again.
Sometimes this old farm,
feels like a long-lost friend.
Yes! Hey, it's good to be back home again.

Oh, the time that I can lay
this tired old body down,
And feel your fingers feather soft upon me.
The kisses that I live for,
The love that lights my way,
The happiness that livin' with you brings me.

It's the joys of love between people, satisfaction in a job well done, a well prepared meal, a sunset or sunrise and so on that fill our lives with joy and happiness. Or these things should. If we spend our lives waiting for the "big joys" - the trip to Europe, the new house, retirement then we will miss the great satisfactions that God has placed in our lives. And the "big joys" may never come. My father always wanted to take our entire family to Europe. I am the only one who has made it there. But they enjoy their lives, the travel that they have been able to do, and the service for others that God has given them to do. Others wait their whole lives to enjoy their golden years only to find that finances or health don't allow them to do what they had hoped. I'm not saying that the "big joys" don't have a place in life, but that we shouldn't spend our time waiting for them to enjoy life.

So, check out the words to the song. Bless God for the simple joys that he has placed in your life and enjoy them. Enjoy the "big joys," but don't spend all your time waiting for them.
There's a fire soft

Monday, February 16, 2009

2009 Stimulus & Presidents' Day

From a blog I follow,
The current financial crisis would, economists tell us, have eventually resolved itself on its own. If Washington gave us a nation and Lincoln preserved the Union, then Obama has rendered future generations of Americans mere serfs, born with a vast debt the moment they first draw breath.

Change and hope, indeed.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Greed or improvement?

Several months ago before the financial meltdown, I was thinking about what drives our economy. Many people believe that it is greed. While human greed is a factor, (and has been a huge factor in the crisis we are currently in), I believe that capitalism is better described as being driven by the desire for improvement.

We all desire to improve our lives - to live in more comfort and convenience. We want to be able to do things that we could not do before. My desire for a computer with more memory, for example, isn't greed, but a desire for a better tool.

Doctors try to improve medical techniques so that the quality of their medical care will improve. Engineers look for better materials and ways of building and designing so that their products will be safer, more efficient or be done in new and interesting ways.

These are only a few examples. There is a financial reward for all of these efforts, as well. Or at least there is the hope for that reward. When the financial reward is realized, the lives of those who have earned the reward is improved.

There is a fine line between the desire for improvement and greed and I'm not sure where it is. It may well depend on the individual and how God has directed that person.

The desire for improvement is part of our creativity as human beings, part of our being made in the image of God. From this, can we conclude that a form of capitalism is more in tune with our being made in the image of God than other economic systems?

I await your comments.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


In keeping with the last blog, "It is Well with my Soul", I would like to again repeat that in times of economic or personal turmoil if "Christ has shed his own blood for my soul", then no matter how hard life becomes life is good.

At the school where I teach there is currently a lot of unrest, but things are settling down. Still, with the economy and the unrest we are uneasy about our jobs. Friends are unemployed. My son has a hard time with his Chemistry class.

One of my friends looks at her family's unemployment as an adventure. She waits to see how God will provide for them. And he has. Pray that we continue to honor our Lord and wait in great hope to see how God will provide for us and for those whom we love.