Better late than never. Okay, I’m rationalizing.

December 30, 2007

A qualifying mea culpa:  This post is way overdue.  I had planned to do it at least three weeks ago and never got around to it.  And that, in spite of the fact that my dear wife reminded me to do it several times.  So, in a post-modern translation of “mea culpa”… My Bad!

Fall, or more specifically the “color of fall,” comes late to the Texas Hill Country.  And it probably lasts about three weeks.  The peak of our “color” is right around Thanksgiving give or take a week or two.  We are blessed where we live because we have a variety of oaks that really do a great job of providing the appearance of fall.  So, late or not, I wanted to post these pictures for a couple of reasons.

The first reason is that a certain friend of mine who attends seminary in Kentucky took some pictures of the fall colors in the area around Louisville.  He and his wife own a photography business, so they know what they are doing when it comes to taking pictures.  And it shows, the pictures are spectacular.  You can see their pictures by clicking here (read the blog post too, don’t just look at the picture), and here.  

So, I wanted to enlighten that certain friend that we DO have a colorful fall, at least in our part of Texas.  Here are my contribution to the scrapbook of fall scenery taken with a good, not great camera and by a hack photographer (yours truly).




The second reason that I wanted to post these pictures is that I know that certain friend has a heart for church planting.  And because he and his wife have an apparent appreciation for fall colors, I might suggest that they consider their church plant somewhere in the Texas Hill Country.  I know graduation is a few years away, but the oaks will still be here.   


If you don’t nod in agreement, it will at least make you think.

December 29, 2007

Last night, Justin Taylor posted an essay (adapted from a lecture) by Robert P. George who is professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University.  Justin, who is a publisher and editor by profession, has taken the essay and put it into an “interview” format with questions he poses as headings, with the answers being the text of George’s essay.  It is a very helpful way of reading what is otherwise a pretty lengthy body of writing.

I was not previously familiar with Robert George.  But, I am deeply impressed with the way in which he is able to distill complex matters of law, culture, and morality into beautifully stated and reasoned conclusions.  They are well worth the read using Justin’s format.  And if you want to read the essay in its original format, Justin has a link to the appropriate site.  The “interviews” out of the essay are divided into four parts, the links for which are found below.  This is really good stuff!

Part 1               Part 2               Part 3               Part 4

So, you say you’re a Christian? Tell me more.

December 27, 2007

Many people in the U.S. claim to be “Christians.”  One figure I have read said that the number is something like 70-80%.  But by observation, I think it is safe to say, and I think most would agree, the definition of “Christian” is broad.  And it would not be unfair to say, too broad.

A survey of 1,000 people 18 years and older, claiming to be “Christians” was conducted several months ago to try to draw out some distinctions among those claiming to be of the faith.  The researchers categorized their findings into five distinct groups.  The titles for each group are those given by the researchers.  The defining characteristics are fairly thin, but directionally descriptive.

Active Christians, represent 19% of those claiming to follow the faith.

Committed churchgoers
Believe salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ
Seek to grow in their faith by reading the Bible
Seek opportunities to serve in leadership positions
Share their faith with others

Professing Christians, represent 20% of those claiming to be “Christian”

Focus on a personal relationship with Christ
Have fewer actions to back up or evidence their faith
Weaker commitment to Bible study and church involvement

Liturgical Christians, make up 16% of those claiming to be of the faith

Go to church regularly
Express their faith through service
Primarily members of Catholic or Lutheran churches
Express an importance of faith in God
Focus is on the authority of the church

Private Christians, are 24% of the U.S. “Christian” population

Tend to be younger
Believe in God and in “doing good”
Seldom read the Bible
Only about one third attend church

Cultural Christians, 21%

Profess a belief in God, but don’t interact with Him personally
Virtually never involved in any sort of religious activity
Think that Jesus is NOT essential to salvation
Believe that there are many paths to God

It would have been interesting if the researchers had drilled down a bit deeper to ask respondents specific details about the formation of their faith, however they define it, and to determine the extent to which their “Christianity” is a relationship they consciousy entered into, or if they somehow perceive it as having been bestowed upon them by family or tradition, almost as an inheritance.

My friend Brandon Rogers wrote an article recently that dealt in part with a need for the term “Christian” to be more narrowly and, in the process, more accurately defined.  Here are three excerpts from his article (the entirety of which can be read by clicking here).

“I think the term “Christian” needs to have specific meaning once again. It meant something much different in Antioch than what it does currently.”

“For instance, is there a need to qualify a man who abstains from sex until marriage from a man who abstains only on Tuesdays? Are they both abstainers? Or is one a virgin and one a fornicator? In the same way, I think it’s unreasonable to qualify a Christian who believes in the central tenets of the faith and a Christian who does not. It does violence to the meaning of Christianity.”

“If the culture has modified the understanding of what a Christian is, then I think our job would be to define it for them (Biblically), as opposed to recognizing a dual definition. If we fail to draw hard lines where it matters, I think we can expect that it will effect eternity for some people.” (emphasis, mine. CT)

That last line in the quotations from Brandon Rogers’ article is the real heart of the issue.  Some who identify with the Christian faith are missing the boat now and run the risk of doing so for eternity.  For some who are off the mark, it may be a simple matter of education and clarification.  For others, it may be a matter of simply needing encouragement and accountability to spur growth.

But what is certain, under the overarching construct of the doctrine of election, is a real need for the word of Christ to be presented, and in-turn heard, so that genuine faith can be given birth.  (Romans 10: 17)

The Dawn of Redeeming Grace

December 23, 2007

Perhaps the world’s most popular Christmas carol is Silent Night!  It will be sung by millions of people tomorrow night during Christmas Eve worship services.

Silent Night, originally Stille Nacht, was a collaboration of an Austrian priest named Joseph Mohr, and the music director of his parish, Franz X. Gruber.  In late 1818, Mohr’s parish in Oberndorf, Austria had an organ that was in need of repair due to a flood earlier that year.  In anticipation of the need for music at the Christmas Eve mass, Mohr asked Gruber to create a melody that could be played on a guitar, and be used with lyrics Mohr had already written.  Those lyrics were the words to a six verse poem Mohr had penned a couple of years earlier.  Supposedly Gruber composed the melody in a matter of hours.

Here is a direct translation of Stille Nacht into English.  The result is considerably different from the more familiar English lyrics that we know and use today.

Stille Nacht (Source: Lisa Yunnucci )
Silent night, holy night,
All’s asleep, alone awake
Only that faithful, holy couple.
The nice boy with curly hair,
Sleeps in heavenly peace,
Sleeps in heavenly peace!

Silent night, holy night,
O Son of God, lovingly laughs,
From your divine mouth!
Now, the hour of salvation rings for us,
Jesus, in thy birth,
Jesus, in thy birth!

Silent night, holy night,
That brought the world salvation,
From the golden heights of Heaven,
Let us see the abundance of grace,
Jesus in human form,
Jesus in human form.

Silent night, holy night,
When all power today,
Of Fatherly love has overflowed,
And Jesus, as brother, humbly embraced,
The people of the world,
The people of the world.

Silent night, holy night,
Long since intended for us,
When the Lord, freed of wrath,
In the father’s “old grey” time,
Promised all the world protection,
Promised all the world protection

Silent night, holy night,
To the shepherds first announced,
By the angels’ Alleluia,
Is sounding aloud from far and near:
“Jesus the Savior is here.”
“Jesus the Savior is here.”

The lyrics to Silent Night most familiar to English speaking people, are credited to John F. Young, an Episcopal Bishop from Florida.  He wrote them in 1863.  Young is known to be the author of the first three verses shown below, while the author of the fourth is not known.

Silent Night!
Silent night, holy night,
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon’ virgin mother and Child.
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight,
Glories stream from Heaven afar,
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ, the Savior, is born,
Christ, the Savior, is born!

Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love’s pure light,
Radiant beams from Thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.

Silent night, holy night
Wondrous star, lend thy light;
With the angels let us sing,
Alleluia to our King;
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born!

Silent Night is my favorite Christmas carol.  I have great memories of it as a child.  And the memories of Christmas Eves past and the singing of this song are also significant.  But apart from those personal sentiments, this year I have been drawn to a particular line in the song that has served to create a rich restatement and reinforcement of the meaning of Christmas.

Christmas is quite literally and appropriately, the celebration of the incarnation of God in Christ, Immanuel, and a celebration of the long anticipated, but mostly misunderstood arrival of Messiah.  But in Young’s lyric “the dawn of redeeming grace“, he captures something else that is incredibly important to understand and appropriate.

The concepts of creation, fall, redemption and consummation are certainly not new.  But they have received some helpful coverage in a couple of books that I read this fall.  Out of that reading, I am, no doubt, reflecting on Young’s lyrics with fresh eyes.  And with those fresh eyes, the significance of “the dawn of redeeming grace” has not been lost on me this Christmas.  Because the essence of Christmas really is the literal arrival of the grace of God in Jesus Christ, that brings redemption to fallen man.  And with the dawn of that first Christmas morning in Bethlehem, it had become a reality.

“If any one of you is without sin,

December 22, 2007

let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”  (John 8: 7)

The account of Jesus’ dealing with the woman caught in adultery is a lesson that our culture, and perhaps many Christians, need to be reminded of. 

Earlier this week, the media revealed that Jamie Lynn Spears, who is 16 years old, is pregnant by her 18 or 19 year old “long time” boyfriend.  The coverage on the television tabloids and even legitimate news organizations like Fox News has been frequent and consistent, with both updates on the story and interviews and panels of “experts.”  But the greatest revelation may be the exposure of the character of our culture that consumes and apparently revels in this kind of story.  We ought to be ashamed of ourselves for any reaction that we have, apart from a humble introspection of our fallen nature and ceaseless gratitude for the forgiveness of our own sins.

At its core, the fact that Jamie Lynn is pregnant and not married is an indication of the presence of sin.  But being pregnant and unmarried makes her no worse a sinner than anyone else who has engaged in any form of sexual activity outside the bounds of a heterosexual, covenantal (that is, married) relationship.  So, Jamie Lynn’s premarital sex is no greater sin than extramarital sex, co-habitational sex, homosexual sex, friends-with-benefits sex, and so on and so on.  Nor is Jamie Lynn’s sin any greater, according to Jesus, than LUST  (Matt 5: 28).  Oops, that last one covers a lot of ground and envelopes, dare I say, ALL mankind?

The hypocrisy surrounding this story has been almost breathtaking.  The media have certainly done their part to fan the flames.  But they are just an easy target to lay blame on for the fact that this story still has legs.  The media is just a reflection of the culture it serves.  Yes, the media often times has an agenda they try to advance, but ultimately, they are suppliers of a product and service that is being consumed.  If consumers stop buying it, the media will stop supplying it.  So, by that reasoning, our culture is really the center-ground of the hypocrisy.

Our culture is voyeuristic and unsympathetic.  How about a little concern for a young girl who finds herself in a very difficult situation, made even more so by the fact that it is being played out, literally, on a world-wide stage.  How many of us would like for our life’s difficulties (and our sins) to be exposed to the judgment and criticism of the entire planet?  The fact that a righteous God is aware of our misconduct and misdeeds ought to be the chief source of our grieving over personal sin.  But would any of us like for our failures to be reported on and analyzed ad nauseum by people around the globe?  I suspect the answer is no.

So rather than clucking our indignation (and even condemnation), perhaps we should be praying for Jamie Lynn on a number of fronts.  First that she find redemption and forgiveness not just for this incident, but for all of her fallen nature.  Secondly, that she have a complication-free pregnancy and a healthy baby.  Thirdly, for patience and wisdom in dealing with a culture that is all too quick to judge and way too slow to support.  And finally, a prayer of thanksgiving.  Not for the disobedience that has resulted in her current situation, but rather by the appearance that she has chosen LIFE for her baby rather than death.  It is more than just a little ironic that by going public, she is being subjected to the level of scrutiny and criticism she is facing, when had she chosen privately to have an abortion, it is entirely possible that no one in the public would have ever known about it.

So, is anyone really prepared to throw a stone at her?

Why am I suprised? After all it is Time Magazine.

December 19, 2007

(Updated 12/20)
I don’t know why it always comes as something of a surprise when Time Magazine selects some outrageous character for its “Person of the Year.”  They have done so again for 2007.  The awards are as follows:

Vladimir Putin – Person of the Year for 2007
Al Gore – 1st Runner-up
J.K. Rowling – 2nd Runner-up
Hu Jintao – 3rd Runner-up
Gen. David Petraeus – 4th Runner-up

When I think of the winners I am reminded of the old Kevin Nealon “Subliminal Man” bits from Saturday Night Live and Miller Lite commercials.  I can imagine him (apart from the fact that he might be quite pleased with these results) making the announcement like this. 

Time Magazine’s persons of the year include the Russian president (hard line communist and former KGB officer), a Nobel Peace prize winner (creation- worshipping environmentalist and global warming hypocrite), a best selling novelist (pagan-glorifying author), and Chinese leader (another communist).  

I suppose given the left-leaning inclination of Time Magazine and its corporate partner CNN, it is perfectly reasonable that these would be their selections.  It is unfortunate that the winner would be the man who is doing his dead level best to kick the legs out from under the still relatively young democracy in Russia.  Many of his moves have a backward looking feel to them, and the chill in the news accounts of his manuvering could unfortunately signal the very beginning of another cold war with that country in the not too distant future.

That said, my hat is off to Time for recognizing Gen. Petraeus, albeit as 4th runner-up.  Too bad they couldn’t find the decency to write a supportive article.  At its end, Time suggests defeat in Iraq is the likely outcome and Petraeus will be regarded as the fall guy.

For those who are unfamiliar with Kevin Nealon, I was not able to find any of his SNL bits, but here is a piece from “The View” (a show I am proud to say I have NEVER watched) where he does a little of his Subliminal Man.

Better answers than the answers themselves

December 18, 2007

In spite of Mitt Romney’s efforts to try to deflect further discussion of his Mormonism with his “Faith in America” speech on December 6, curiosity about the tenets of his church continue, as I suspected they would in my post on December 8th.  Case in point, Fox News recently sent 21 questions to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints for their response.  To their credit, the LDS leaders did send a reply.

Christian author and expert in apologetics, Robert Bowman, who works for the North American Mission Board, has taken the LDS answers to Fox News’ 21 questions, and has provided some VERY helpful commentary and elaboration.  For those who adhere to orthodox Christianity and who are left scratching their heads over the LDS answers, Bowman really has provided better answers than the answers themselves

For those who may have embraced Romney’s apparent confession of faith in Jesus Christ in his December 6th speech, you really owe it to yourself to read Bowman’s article.  Everyone who would like to be better informed about a few of the peculiarities of the Mormon church should read the article.  You may do so by clicking here