Saturday March 20th 2021

8:49AM | Serendipitous Bible References

hat I am about to describe happens at least a couple times every year, and every time it happens I feel like telling people about it because I find it neat.

It is delightful when reading the Bible - not following a set plan but some pattern of my own choosing - when I read a chapter in, let's say, some book of the Old Testament and then I read a chapter in a gospel that references a verse in that Old Testament chapter that I had just read. There is nothing of significance about this; I just, as I said, find it delightful.

An example from this week is that on Thursday I was reading Jeremiah 51. On this day, a storm of rare severity was forecast for the area where I live. Therefore, verse 16 stood out:

When He utters His voice--
There is a multitude of waters in the heavens.
He causes the vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth;
He makes lightnings for the rain;
He brings the wind out of His treasuries.
I found it striking that the NKJV uses the word "treasuries" to describe the source of the winds that God causes to blow on the Earth. The connotation provides an unusual perspective on thinking about wind of the stormy intensity.

Today, two days after Thursday, I read Psalm 135. Verse 7 says:

He causes the vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth;
He makes lightnings for the rain;
He brings the wind out of His treasuries.
I felt like I had read that recently: did I glance ahead when reading previous psalms, did someone refer to this passage in a blog article I read this week? No, I remembered that this was quoted in Jeremiah.

The storm never arrived where I live: it passed by to the north. A reminder of God's mercy and deliverance!

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Saturday February 20th 2021

10:17AM | Interpreting the Beatitudes

urrently I am reading Dallas Willard's The Divine Conspiracy. Many good things can be said about this book, and I will likely write about some of those things after I finish reading the book.

However, today I started reading Willard's first discussion of the Beatitudes, which he will refer to throughout the book. Dallas Willard argues that the Beatitudes of Matthew 5 and Luke 6 are not prescriptions of "how to be" in order to win God's favor: they are not conditions for attaining or becoming worthy of eternal life. He says that the conditions that are blessed are not conditions for people to try to attain. Willard also points out that if this were the case, then we should expect the list of conditions on the Beatitudes to be complete, and any condition not on the list is excluded.

Willard's interpretation is that in the context Jesus is speaking to the crowd - which Willard assumes is full of the spiritually destitute and spiritually incompetent - to proclaim the good news that Jesus's kingdom is accessible to them: not based on their merit, but that God is graciously making His kingdom accessible to them. Jesus is not proscribing a list of works for achieving salvation; if He was, then perhaps He would not even be necessary in the picture.

Acknowledging that the list of conditions in the Beatitudes is not complete, that the good news of the gospel is that access to God and salvation is available to all regardless of condition or merit, and that works are not required or a factor in salvation - which cannot be earned, I disagree with the extreme of Willard's interpretation in that I would not go so far as he tends to go in dismissing common interpretations of the Beatitudes as Jesus blessing certain attitudes, attributes, or conditions.

Dallas Willard says (my comments in brackets):
The Beatitudes, in particular, are not teachings on how to be blessed. They are not instructions to do anything. They do not indicate conditions that are especially pleasing to God or good for human beings. (106)
I can appreciate that Willard's main goal is to promote the truth that God's kingdom is now here on Earth, accessible to us, not something reserved for a future Millennium or heaven. I agree with Willard that the Beatitudes (yet amongst other purposes, in my opinion):
They single out cases that provide proof that, in him, the rule of God from the heavens truly is available in life circumstance that are beyond all human hope. (106)
I agree that the Beatitudes are not a new legalistic list of "how-to's" for achieving blessedness.

I suggest that the Beatitudes are a kind of "and also" list, and, as Jesus was constantly at odds with the Jewish religious establishment of the day, a rebuke and rebuttal of what traits appeared to be or were presented as holy. Jesus was telling the crowd that you don't have to be knowledgeable, spiritually competent, educated, strong-willed and articulate like mature Christians might seem to be: the kingdom and salvation is also for the meek, the spiritually immature and spiritually destitute, the persecuted, people who are mourning and do not seem to have it all put together and are certainly not in power. Jesus was contradicting the opposites that appeared in the Jewish religious establishment of the day (the Luke 6 version particularly makes this clear), and which might have been incorrectly relied upon for favor with God. Jesus was telling the people that you don't need to be like "that" which the current Jewish tradition may have implied: you have to be re-born and your mind and assumptions transformed. Jesus will mercifully and lovingly tear you down so that you can be built up in a better way because it is the true, gracious, and God-given way. Along the way you will pick up and manifest new attitudes as you imitate Christ. Jesus specifically called out and blessed these conditions and attributes because no one else authoritative was doing so, hence "and also": God can and will bless people who seem to have it all together and also - as there is a time and season for everything: sometimes joy and sometimes mourning, sometimes prosperity and sometimes difficulties - even those who are downtrodden or who do not appear or feel "blessed".

Put together with the rest of Christ's teachings and the rest of the Spirit-inspired epistles (e.g. Col. 3:12), we can see that these attributes in the Beatitudes are encouraged: meekness over proud self-reliance and failure to cede control to God; not giving in and remaining steadfast, faithful and trusting even when facing persecution; being spiritually poor in the sense of full reliance on the mercy of God and approaching Him with child-like faith, even as we mature and grow in knowledge and experience as Christians in our period of "new" life here on Earth where we are never fully perfected and always being sanctified and prepared as a bride for Christ, and never relying on our own spiritual knowledge and theological competence; poor instead of seeking wealth for the sake of wealth or, if wealthy, rather than hoarding for ourselves (James 5:1-6) distributing to those in need and to the work of the Church because that is where our priorities and first love are, recognizing that we are stewards of what is God's and has been given to us in trust; mournful over sin and fallenness, knowing that there is a time and place for this and a time and place for joy. These are non-intuitive conditions and not usually desired - when following secular standards or the impulses of fallen nature.

Willard does cite examples of how the Beatitudes contradict common assumptions or presumptions of Jesus's day about God's favor, and we are in agreement there. Speaking of the rich young ruler in Mark 10:
So being rich does not mean that one is in God's favor-which further suggests that being poor does not automatically mean one is out of God's favor. The case of the rich young ruler corrects the prevailing assumption, shocking the hearers but making it possible to think more appropriately of God's relation to us. (108)
So we may be in agreement there. It is the wholesale dismissal of the conditions/attitudes being blessed as being something to pursue where we seem to disagree. Yes, if we are pursuing those attitudes as legalistic how-to's thinking that they earn us God's favor, then we are wrong. However, pursuing those attitudes should not be dismissed entirely, as some are attributes of a sanctified life.

Moving on from conditions or attitudes already mentioned, other conditions in the Beatitudes are more obviously attitudes that Christians should pursue, though by no means do they earn salvation and in every case they are Spirit-enabled gifts from God: blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are the peacemakers.

All of these conditions or attributes were displayed by Jesus ("poor in spirit" might be the most difficult to argue for here, especially depending on interpretation, but I suggest that this was displayed, for example, when Jesus prayed his agonized prayer in Gethsemane or that the temptations in the wilderness were real temptations since Jesus took on human nature, though he rejected those temptations and such an outcome should never be in doubt since Jesus is also fully God): as followers of Christ who will - as he commanded - take up His cross and follow Him, and live as His disciples, we should expect these attributes to develop in our own lives to various degrees based on the sufficiency of the distribution of gifts and graces by God (1 Cor. 12:11).

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Monday February 15th 2021

3:04PM | Excerpts from The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes

ichard Sibbes was a Puritan theologian who has been given the nickname of the "sweet dripper", because he was known for extolling the goodness and kindness of God toward His children, using words of comfort and gentleness to strengthen and encourage believers.

The Bruised Reed is a small book offering comfort to the bruised reeds or dimly flickering wick ("the smoking flax") of Isaiah 42:3 - "A bruised reed He will not break, And smoking flax He will not quench". Here Sibbes identifies the bruised reed as Christians who are new believers, suffering, poor in spirit, discouraged or weary in the struggle of combat with sin. He also speaks about how our attitudes can mirror Christ's to such people. I appreciate this book because I think this is an attitude toward fellow-believers to be worth striving for, and is a rightly ordered manner as we pursue Christlikeness, since as Psalm 34:18 says "The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit."

Sibbes makes on observation concerning instances of weak and small beginnings of grace, that:
"Christ will not quench the smoking flax. This is so for two principal reasons. First, because this spark is from heaven: it is his own, it is kindled by his own Spirit. And secondly, it tends to the glory of his powerful grace in his children that he preserves light in the midst of darkness, a spark in the midst of the swelling waters of corruption." (20)
In another place Sibbes offers words of advice on bearing with a fellow believer who might be a bruised reed, as Jesus bore the infirmities of the weak in his ministry on earth and for humanity on the cross:
"Men should not be too curious in prying into the weaknesses of others. We should labour rather to see what they have that is for eternity, to incline our heart to love them, than into that weakness which the Spirit of God will in time consume, to estrange us. Some think it is strength of grace to endure nothing in the weaker, whereas the strongest are readiest to bear with the infirmities of the weak." (33)
Further:
"He that pronounces them blessed that consider the poor will have a merciful consideration of such himself." (45)
When Sibbes speaks of not prying into weaknesses, he is not advocating excusing or overlooking sin, or avoiding pastoral care. In other places he says quite the contrary:
"...all comfort should draw us nearer to Christ. Otherwise it is a lying comfort, either in itself or in our application of it."  (68)
And in another place:
"True peace is in conquering, not in yielding." (72)
And again:
"There can be no victory where there is no combat." (118)
As to our own selves when we strive and grow weary in our efforts to live as disciples of Jesus, Sibbes urges:
"Let us not be cruel to ourselves when Christ is thus gracious. There is a certain meekness of spirit whereby we yield thanks to God for any ability at all, and rest quiet with the measure of grace received, seeing it is God's good pleasure it should be so, who gives the will and the deed, yet not so as to rest from further endeavors. But when, with faithful endeavor, we come short of what we would be, and short of what others are, then know for our comfort, Christ will not quench the smoking flax, and that sincerity and truth, as we said before, with endeavour of growth, is our perfection." (52)
In closing, the following words from Sibbes on grace:
"It is one thing to be deficient in grace, and another thing to lack grace altogether. God knows we have nothing of ourselves, therefore in the covenant of grace he requires no more than he gives; but gives what he requires, and accepts what he gives." (36)


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Friday February 5th 2021

10:04AM | Thoughts on Biblical Masculinity

trendy topic in church circles in at least the last decade has been masculinity: whether lamenting the apparent effeminateness of Christian men particularly in liberal churches, on the one hand, or examples of "toxic masculinity" in other evangelical churches - whether extreme examples that are mis-cast as characteristic of the whole, or more subtle examples of a masculinity that is controversial to some, but not universally obviously "wrong". There is also the complementarian vs egalitarian debate about gender roles. My purpose is not to provide examples: if you cannot think of any off hand, they are well documented and easily found elsewhere.

Instead, my purpose is to share some thoughts about Biblical masculinity in the hopes of stirring you up to think with me about the subject.

Any thinking about, discussion about, or pursuit of masculinity - for honest, well-intentioned Christians - should start with, I think, these questions:

Who is defining the masculinity that you pursue, and what is the philosophical basis of their recommendations? Are they in accord with what the Bible says?

What is the goal and purpose of your consciously pursuing masculinity? If you dismiss the question with a vaguely pious answer that it is to honor God by performing the gender role He has given you, how are you making sure that your understanding of your role and your exercising of your masculinity is honoring God by obeying Him, seeking His glory and not your own?

You might then move on to thinking about what biblical masculinity is not, and then what God positively asserts about masculinity. Just a few examples of the former, to get our thoughts moving:

1. Biblical masculinity is not lording it over other people (Matthew 20:25-26). My church has this enshrined in its constitution: elected officials (elders including the pastor; deacons are non-authoritative) are not to lord it over the congregation. They are to lead, to admonish and correct out of a spirit of love and truth pursuing peace and reconciliation with God and each other, and they are to be appointed because they have the temperament and have exhibited the requisite graces to achieve this difficult work. Similarly, at home and in life, all men pursuing biblical masculinity are not to lord it over other people. This is because men who pursue biblical masculinity are...

2. ...not full of self-aggrandizement, unwilling and unable to recognize the contributions of others or acknowledging their own limitations and the benefit of the wisdom of others (Proverbs 15:22), or of the dignity of other people and their opinions (James 1:19). Putting people down and shutting people down might be acceptably masculine to secular society (in some eras), but what is biblical about that as a habit of personality? On the other side of self-aggrandizement, winning friends and influencing people is nice, but is that where your chief end is supposed to be directed?

3. Biblical masculinity is not a facade: not confined to physical characteristics or outward impression (1 Samuel 16:7; Matthew 15:11).

Another thought about what masculinity is not, before moving on to what it might be: being masculine does not require being physically intimidating or being an alpha male. Some men do look intimidating or are alpha male type leaders, which is fine but not a pre-requisite. You are not off the hook for pursuing masculinity just because of how you look or feel about your image.

Yet negatives do not affirm anything and are not convincing. A couple thoughts about what true masculinity is, in which I hope to alleviate concerns you might be feeling that I am proposing some soft, non-offensive, unambitious personality type as somehow being biblically masculine:

1. A biblically masculine male will take the lead, in his domains, without seeking to dominate others (especially those he is called to love and protect).

2. A biblically masculine male is able to defend himself and his own and prepared to fight for that purpose, but does not pursue such capabilities or use such capabilities for the sake of aggression, the enjoyment of indulgence in violence, or bloodlust

3. Biblical masculinity requires understanding your calling, and recognizing the time and place for all things (Ecclesiastes 3:1). This enables there to still be exceptional George Washington types who arise to meet the needs of the era. Christians have the Holy Spirit to help guide and inspire for recognizing and meeting such times (Luke 12:12). God may or may not work through you in particular as a leading star character in such historical moments.

In summary, concluding these non-comprehensive thoughts, biblical masculinity will be first and foremost channeled to God's purposes and subject to Him.

Perhaps it might be easier to think in terms of nobility rather than masculinity. As co-heirs with Jesus, we (including females, but I am calling men to nobility here) are called to nobility. Not the nobility of kings of the world (taking multiple wives, cutting off heads of people who displease you, expecting people to bow to you) but nobility of character in justice, righteousness, faithfulness, truth, courage, and serving and looking after the needs of others. Subject to God. Our nobility is received by grace, certainly not of our deserving. We are representative of God in how we conduct our noble masculinity.

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Monday February 1st 2021

6:53PM | Joy Comes In The Mourning

f the major prophets, Isaiah is not wrongly often regarded as full of beauty. The first thirty-nine chapters make a great Advent read, with the joyous comfort of Isaiah 40 arriving on Christmas day and the remaining chapters carrying through the rest of Christmas into the new year. Isaiah is full of some majestic and upbeat prophecies, beautiful words that stir the heart and soul, like a husband pursuing and wooing his bride.

For me, Jeremiah, the mourning prophet, is full of a particular beauty, to which I might be attuned thanks to ancestral Scottish blood. As an anonymous poet quipped:

From the great gales of the north
Are the men that God made mad:
For all their wars are merry,
And all their songs are sad.

Some gentle Puritans whom I love such as Richard Sibbes have continued in the same vein as this mourning prophet pleading to his people. Consider these:

Jeremiah 6:16
Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.

Jeremiah 9:23-24
Thus says the Lord:
"Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom,
Let not the might man glory in his might,
Nor let the rich man glory in his riches;
But let him who glories glory in this,
That he understands and knows Me,
That I am the Lord, exercising lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth.
For in these I delight," says the Lord.

Jeremiah 10:24
Correct me, O Lord, but in justice;
not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing.

Jeremiah 31:9
They shall come with weeping, And with supplications I will lead them. I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters, In a straight way in which they shall not stumble; For I am a Father to Israel, And Ephraim is My firstborn.

Note the gentleness of God there: His mercy, His faithful loving care, His shepherding, His fatherliness, and His lack of capriciousness, grudging, resentment, or revenge as He leads even the blind, lame, and pregnant among the throngs who have been lost and suffering as a result of their sins but return in repentance to God.

Jeremiah 35 is a story partly about the importance of honoring one's parents: the story of the Rechabites.

As a final example, Jeremiah 22:3 does not require of a country the receiving of all refugees, but it demands not mistreating those refugees who are here.

Thus says the Lord: "Execute judgment and righteousness, and deliver the plundered out of the hand of the oppressor. Do no wrong and do no violence to the stranger, the fatherless, or the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place."


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Tuesday January 26th 2021

6:07PM | Consolation In Grief Over Death from St. Augustine

few excerpts from On The Road With St. Augustine by James K. A. Smith, before I re-clothe the book in its dust jacket and find a place for it on the bookshelf.

In the last chapter, on the subject of death and humanity's search for an enduring love, stronger than death, Smith shares a portion of St. Augustine's letter to Sapida whose brother Timothy recently died.

But then he offers consolation on a higher register: "Let your heart be lifted up" - the passive here seems especially tender - "and your eyes will be dry. For the love by which Timothy loved and loves Sapida has not perished because those things, which you mourn as having been removed from you, have passed away over time. That love remains, preserved in its repository, and is hidden with Christ in the Lord" - the Lord who "was willing to die for us so that we might live, even though we have died, so that human beings would not gear death as if it were going to destroy them, and so that none of the dead for whom life itself died would grieve as if they had lost life." (p.216)

I enjoy thinking about and reading thoughts on death; not in a morbid sense, but in the flavor of the excerpt shared above. This reminds me that I need to acquire and read N.T. Wright's For All The Saints: Remembering the Christian Departed, which "sets out to clarify our thinking about what happens to people after they die. Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory, what it means to pray for the dead, what (and who) are the saints" (from the Amazon.com product description).

In Confessions, Augustine remembers his friend Nebridius who died some years prior, and with whom Augustine used to share eager conversation. From p. 217 of Smith:

"He no longer pricks up his ears when I speak," Augustine admits. He's not around to put up with me the way he did, constantly asking questions and hungry for conversation. Instead, he is hidden with Christ in God where he "puts his spiritual mouth to your fountain and avidly drinks as much as he can of wisdom, happy without end." Then Augustine allows himself a happy, consoling thought: "I do not think him so intoxicated by that as to forget me, since you, Lord, whom he drinks, are mindful of us."


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Saturday January 23rd 2021

11:12AM | The Rock Upon Which the Church Is Built

atthew 16:13-19:
13 When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?”
14 So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”
16 Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
17 Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.
18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.
19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

I think people tend to not give God credit for having a sense of humor. The naming of Peter in this passage (Petra = Rock) and proceeding to speak about how the church will be founded on "this rock" persists in interpretation, whether Catholic or otherwise, as meaning the Church is built upon Peter, or even on sharing in Peter's profession of faith.

Maybe Jesus was using a pun. It would not be the first time He used linguistical sleight of hand or spoke in riddles. We can use Scripture to interpret Scripture, even looking at Jesus's other references to rocks in the gospel of Matthew, to make the case that Jesus was not building His Church on the foundation of one of His disciples, who is not greater than His master (Matthew 10:24).

The Bible frequently refers to God as a Rock (the Psalms especially). Jesus Himself uses another rock analogy in Matthew 7:24-27 when speaking about the wisdom and endurance of the house built upon a rock. Jesus would not build His house, His new temple, His bride - the Church - on some other rock.

The Church is not built on one non-divine man or even on a profession or creed, but on Christ alone. He is our Rock, our nearest kinsman, our redeemer. He is the foundation, the chief corner-stone (Ephesians 2:19-22), and those (including Peter) who believe in Him are like living stones fitly joined together into a building (1 Peter 2:5). Jesus is the stumbling-stone, the rock of offense (1 Peter 2:8): the Jews and the Greeks could not accept His Church and His claims to be the Messiah or (to the Greeks in particular, who loved to rationalize and philosophize) the source of all truth and eternal life: after all, He was crucified (1 Corinthians 1:23). In Matthew 21:44, Jesus refers to Himself saying: "Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed". This can be understood as those who hear and receive Christ as God and Savior are humbled, broken, and re-made; while those who oppose Christ and His Church will not prevail (Matthew 16:18).

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Wednesday September 24th 2008

8:23PM | Quick Hits

oving into autumn I don't like the daylight hours shortening, but I like the cooler weather. It's usually this time of year, right before it gets too cold, that I find my outdoor running being at its best. Right now my regular distance is six miles.

Google's Chrome has been an extremely responsive and reliable browser, but I am now running Iron (link: translation courtesy of Google! oh, the irony). Iron is built off of Chrome's source code, but strips out the privacy concerns: Google tracking where you go, Google tracking your keystrokes, Google gathering all your personal and private information. Iron takes all this stuff out, but in running Iron you are trusting the Germans behind Iron to not be collecting the same information for themselves. Iron is free and the code is available for review, so if privacy is compromised by the browser, the world will be made aware.

This news video of a 7 year old who stole his grandma's car for a joyride is one of the most hilarious videos I have seen this year.

Joe Biden's snaffu #1,685 is too good not to post: Biden and Obama criticize Palin for once support the Bridge To Nowhere, but when a congressional amendment proposing that the money for the bridge be reallocated to Katrina rebuilding efforts, Obama and Biden voted against the amendment, favoring the money going to construction of the Alaskan bridge. Even CNN reported this.

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Saturday September 20th 2008

1:08PM | Welcome Fall

f I'm right, tomorrow is the first day of autumn. It's a great time of year: wake up and it's cold, low or no humidity, no need to run the air conditioner, football, sunlight getting softer, the best running conditions of the year, and holidays approaching.

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Wednesday September 10th 2008

7:22PM | Complying To Architectural Guidelines

ince I'm paying $30/month in HOA fees, I figured that I might as well get my money's worth and skim over the gripping portions of the HOA bylaws. In the "Architectural Guidelines" section, item 11.2 says, and I quote: "House and grounds must be maintained in an ascetically pleasing state at all times". Sucks to not have been able to read the bylaws first before buying a house in the neighborhood. Being the compliant citizen that I am, my weekend project is to burn all the grass from my yard, cast some stones here and there, and keep a stack of saltines by the front door in lieu of a welcome mat.

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