Saturday, December 25, 2010


We saw the new Narnia movie yesterday—Part III: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. In 3-D. Which meant we had to wear those nerdy, geeky, dark glasses.

Great movie. One of the rare ones that I thought that actually bettered the book. Really!

But I missed a cool line from the text version. That entire conversation seems to have been jettisoned. Shame!

In the book, in Narnia, an incredulous Eustace skeptically listens to Ramandu who claims to be a “star of rest”a retired denizen of the skies.

“In our world,” said Eustace, “a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.”
“Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of.”

There is a difference between what something is and what something is made of.

In other words, WYSIWYG may not be the whole picture. What You See Is What You Get may need a bit of adjustment. WYSInotWYG.

Empirical observations about the world may not necessarily be all that there is to the universe. Things may be more than what they seem to be. Copernican, Newtonian, and Einsteinian observations alone may not provide us with the full equation. WYSInotWYG.

Especially “Christmas.” Not WYSIWYG at all. On the surface things look pretty mundane—another church festival. So, what’s new? The same old glitz, glamour, and glim. Tinsel, trinkets, and trim.

What else could it be after all? Long time ago. In Bethlehem. Another baby. Another teenage mom. Another stressed out dad. Big deal! Nobody important. No VIP. No limos all black. No coaches all gold. No gun-toting militia. No purple-clad horsemen. No throne. No crown.

Just a babe in a manger. Some cows. Some oxen. Some locals. WYSIWYG, right?

Wrong! Christians claim that WYSInotWYG. This was no ordinary baby.

For a child will be born to us,
a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders.
Isaiah 9:6

This was no standard-issue son, no run-of-the-mill 46XY. This was a divinely appointed, eternally reigning King!

There will be no end to
the increase of His government or of peace,
On the throne of David
and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it
with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore.
Isaiah 9:7

Wow! This wasn’t no ordinary deal that night in Bethlehem. WYSInotWYG.

This was a King who not only came to rule, but also to save.

The Child who has been conceived
… is of the Holy Spirit …
and you shall call His name Jesus,
for He will save His people from their sins.
Matthew 1:20–21

My sins and yours, he paid for. Redeemed. Saved. Eternally. Forever.

WYSIWYG? Oh, no, not at all. WYSInotWYG. Another baby, we could ignore. Another soul added to the world’s tally of billions, we could forget. But not the birth of this One.

We who have believed that this baby, God incarnate, died and was resurrected, paying for for our sins—to him we can have only one response.

That of the wise men:

After coming into the house
they saw the Child …;
and they fell to the ground
and worshiped Him.
Matthew 2:11

And that of the disciples:

And they [Jesus’ disciples] came up
and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him.
Matthew 28:9

And that of believers everywhere, always:

Sages, leave your contemplations,
Brighter visions beam afar;
Seek the great Desire of Nations
Ye have seen His natal star.
Come and worship, come and worship,
Worship Christ, the newborn King!
James Montgomery, 1816

Yes, indeed. Come and worship!

Saturday, December 18, 2010


On the Appian Way, southeast of Rome, and near the catacombs of St. Sebastian is a small church: Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Piante, aka Church of St. Mary of the Soles. Yup, “soles.” As in feet.

Apparently, after/during the persecution of Christians by the Roman Emperor Nero (in the early 60s CE), friends tried to persuade Peter to leave town. The non-canonical Acts of St. Peter tells the story:

And the rest of the brothers, together with Marcellus, beseeched him to depart. But Peter said unto them: “Shall we be runaways, brothers?”
And they said to him: “No, but so that you may still be able to serve the Lord.”
And he obeyed the brothers’ voice and departed alone …. And as he departed the city, he saw the Lord entering into Rome. And when he saw Him, he said: “Lord, where are You going [in Latin, Quo vadis, Domine?] like this?”
And the Lord said unto him: “I am going into Rome to be crucified.”
And Peter said unto Him: “Lord, are You (being) crucified again?”
He said unto him: “Yes, Peter, I am (being) crucified again.”
And Peter came to himself: and having seen the Lord ascending up into heaven, he returned to Rome, rejoicing, and glorifying the Lord, because He said: “I am being crucified”—that fate was about to befall Peter.
Acts of St. Peter 35

And, as the story goes, Peter returned, was captured, and executed by crucifixion. He, however, asked to, and was, crucified upside down, considering himself unworthy to crucified like his Master. That was perhaps anticipated in Jesus’ prediction:

“Truly, truly, I say to you,
… when you grow old,
you will stretch out your hands
and someone else will gird you,
and bring you where
you do not wish to go.”
John 21:18

It is said that the spot where the church is, was the very point where the apostle fleeing Rome met the Savior returning to Rome.

In the church are two footprints in marble, said to be the footprints/”soles” of Jesus. Hence the name. The church is also called Domine Quo Vadis Church (i.e., Lord-Where-Are-You-Going? Church).

“Following” was what the disciples of Jesus—both the Twelve and those in every generation thereafter—had been called to do.

And He [Jesus] summoned
the crowd with His disciples,
and said to them,
“If anyone wishes to follow after Me,
he must deny himself,
and take up his cross
and follow Me.”
Mark 8:34

To “follow” is a code word for discipleship, particularly in the Gospel of Mark that is outlined as a journey with Jesus, from Galilee to Jerusalem … to die!

Yes, of course, the Twelve did “follow” Jesus.

Immediately they left their nets
and followed Him.
Mark 1:18

Peter, himself, confesses it.

Peter began to say to Him,
“Behold, we have left everything
and followed You.”
Mark 10:28

But in the end, everyone failed Jesus, and fled, when he was arrested.

And they all left Him and fled.
Mark 14:50

Christian life is a “following” of Jesus on the way. Jesus affirmed that He was the way.

“I am the way, and the truth,
and the life;
no one comes to the Father
but through Me.”
John 14:6

In fact, the early church is called “The Way” several times in the Book of Acts.

This same Peter declared later:

For you have been called
for this purpose,
since Christ also suffered for you,
leaving you an example for you
to follow in His steps.
1 Peter 2:21

Keep walking! He goes ahead of you!

Saturday, December 11, 2010


A few months ago, when my brother and his family were down in Dallas, my nephew John and I took a Segway tour of Dallas. Fun! (No, those longhorns aren’t real!)

Segways, for the uninitiated, are these two-wheeled, self-balancing gizmos. By leaning forward gently (you only have to think of leaning forward!) the thing rolls forward. You lean back (or think of doing so!) and it stops. It reads your mind! Perfect balance! When you lean forward, balance is upset and the thingamajig rolls forward to fix the problem. Of course, you are still leaning forward, so the device also keeps rolling forward, faster if you lean more, slower if less. All adjusted by the onboard computers, five gyroscopes, and two tilt sensors. And these adjustments occur about 100 times a second. Yes, it was a great way to tour downtown. In perfect balance!

I was thinking about this the other day in my preaching class, when we were discussing the importance of finishing our sermons on time. That homiletical discussion got off on to a pastoral tangent about discipline in life (including planning well enough and being prepared enough to know when your sermon will end). Orderliness in life. We spent the good part of an hour on a most productive give-and-take.

All kinds of things make demands on our lives. All kinds of needs press upon us calling upon us to meet them. All kinds of situations require our attention. Some of these are legitimate. Many are not. We must be wise about our time and on what we spend it.

Therefore be careful how you walk,
not as unwise men but as wise,
making the most of your time ….
Ephesians 5:15–16

If we aren’t careful about balance, we fritter away our days on things that may not be ours to attend to, on needs that may not be ours to respond to, on situations that may not be ours to engage with. Balance gets upset. And life becomes chaotic and disorderly.

But all things must be done
properly and in an orderly manner.
… for God is not a God of confusion.
1 Corinthians 14:40, 33

We got talking in class about sloth in sermon preparation, winging it at the pulpit, going way over time because the preacher didn’t have it well thought out. Imbalance. Lack of discipline.

That indiscipline is likely to spill over into other compartments of life. Sloth in attending to family. Winging it in parenting. Not thinking through one’s responsibilities in life. Imbalance. Lack of discipline.

Now if we had unlimited hours to a day and unlimited days to our lifetimes, fine. But our hours are fixed, our days numbered. So the utilization of our times is a matter of stewardship of the hours and days God has given us.

As for the days of our life,
they contain seventy years,
Or if due to strength, eighty years, ….
For soon it is gone and we fly away.
So teach us to number our days,
That we may present to You
a heart of wisdom.
Psalm 90:10, 12

Balance. Knowing what to engage in and what not to. Knowing what to get involved in and what to avoid. Balance. That’s what makes a good steward of time.

God has entrusted us with hours and days. Fixed and numbered. Let’s steward them well.

… it is required of stewards
that one be found trustworthy.
1 Corinthians 4:2

God give us the wisdom to be balanced—orderly, disciplined, simple! And may He be glorified through the time He has given us.

Saturday, December 04, 2010


HPVII (aka Harry Potter VII: The Deathly Hallows, Part 1) was released the other day, the celluloid version of the seventh and last of J. K. Rowling’s books in this marvelous series.

Each of the seven movies released has grossed, worldwide, almost $1 billion! Blockbusters, all of them!

My older nephew, John, was the one to turn me on to the books which began coming out in the late nineties. I was smitten, and have since been an ardent HP fan, even haunting the local Barnes and Noble at midnight with friends the day the new books came out. (And, yes, I went disguised in a cloak.)

The first movie (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone) came out in 2001. I flew to South Carolina on its opening night to see it with John and Jacob. We were all so excited. (My brother who came with us slept soundly through the movie—his first and last HP film. Then again, he does that with any movie, so his soporific actions are not a commentary on quality.)

The next year, on opening night of HPII (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets), I arrived at their door without warning and surprised the lads.

I had missed sharing HP with the kids for the last two or three releases, since I was in bonnie Scotland at the time. So it was a delight to attend the latest offering with the two guys. The younger one drove us. And the boys paid for popcorn and soda. Times have changed and I’ve gotten old!

Anyhow, I was struck by the byline of HPVII: “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is Death.” The last enemy, indeed.

I must say I agree.

John Donne (1572–1631) wrote about it in a sonnet:

Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so,
For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.

One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

But way before J. K. Rowling, and way before John Donne, one inspired Jewish rabbi scripted this line in the first century AD.

The last enemy that will be abolished is death.

1 Corinthians 15:26

Yup, the HP franchise stole that line from the Bible!

Paul, that Jewish guy, was explaining the consequences of the resurrection of Jesus. Because Jesus paid the price for sin, fully, finally, and forever, sin is no longer an issue between God and the believer (who trusts in Jesus’ death and resurrection). And so, for them, death has already been defeated.

Thanks be to God,
who gives us the victory
through our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:56–57

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the foretaste of the resurrection to glory of every believer. Death defeated. Finally. Grief abolished. Forever

For this perishable must
put on the imperishable,
and this mortal must
put on immortality …
then will come about the saying
that is written,
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
1 Corinthians 15:53–54

And then, one day, we’ll exultantly proclaim:

“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
1 Corinthians 15:55

Until that day, even when we grieve for those temporarily distanced from us by death, …

… my beloved brothers and sisters,
be steadfast, immovable,
always abounding
in the work of the Lord …
1 Corinthians 15:58

Hang in there. The fight is over. The victory’s already won.

Thanks be to God!

Saturday, November 27, 2010


‘Tis the season, at least in the U.S., to get together with family and eat turkey and give thanks.

I like #1 and #3. Good ideas. Don’t care much for #2, the bird of the week. I’d rather have dead cow! But the desserts were great.

So I engorged … and gave thanks.

I have been blessed. Indeed! Dad, brother, sister-in-law, and nephews. And my other, adopted family in Dallas.

For this reason I bow my knees
before the Father,
from whom every family
in heaven and on earth
derives its name.
Ephesians 3:14–15

I’ve been blessed.

I was thinking about all this and working on a passage in Mark that has a lot about family. Jesus redefines what it means to be part of family—His family.

And He came home,
and the crowd gathered again ….
When His family heard of this,
they went out to take seize Him;
for they were saying,
“He is out of His mind.”
Mark 3:20–21

Wow! His family thought Jesus was crazy! This is the group of people you’d have thought would be “in” with Jesus. Hey, they are genetically related to him, aren’t they?

But notice where they are. They are “outside.” Insiders we’d expect them to be; and genetically, inside they are; but physically, they are standing outside. And what’s worse, they accuse Jesus of being “out” of his mind. So where are they morally?

They are trying to “seize” Him. That’s a hostile word in Mark: Herod “seizing” John the Baptist; Pharisees trying to “seize” Jesus; and the religious leaders “seizing” Jesus to have him killed. And here, the family—His family!—is seeking to “seize” Jesus!

There they are again, still standing outside.

Then His mother and His brothers arrived,
and standing outside
they sent word to Him
and called Him.
Mark 3:31

Now the crowd around Jesus gets into the act. They’re feeling uncomfortable.

A crowd was sitting around Him,
and they said to Him,
“Behold, Your mother and Your brothers
are outside looking for You.”
Mark 3:32

And Jesus uses the moment for a powerful lesson on family—His family.

Answering them, He said,
“Who are My mother and My brothers?”
Mark 3:33

Yeah, who are they?

Looking about at those
who were sitting around Him,
He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers!
For whoever does the will of God,
he is My brother and sister and mother.”
Mark 3:34–35

Finally we get to the real “insiders”: Jesus’ family is made up of those who do the will of God.

It is not just the Twelve alone who are in the coterie of insiders, but anyone who does the will of God; indeed, Jesus uses deliberately inclusive language with His addition of “sister”—there was no mention of a sister in His physical family. Nobody said anything about a sister. But there it is; suddenly, “sister.” That addition by Jesus is pointed: it marks out the fact that anyone who does the will of God is an “insider”—part of Jesus’ family, a disciple!

And the condition for being part of His family of disciples: obedience to the will of God. That of course begins with placing one’s trust in Jesus Christ as one’s only God and Savior.

For you are all sons of God
through faith in Christ Jesus.
Because you are sons,
God has sent forth
the Spirit of His Son
into our hearts,
crying, "Abba! Father!"
Galatians 3:26; 4:6

Families—what a blessing! The real one! And the adopted one! And the eternal one!

Saturday, November 20, 2010


A strange thing happened a couple of Saturdays ago. The Opera Company of Philadelphia celebrated National Opera Week in a very special way.

The Opera Company’s Chorus plus over 600 singers from area choirs invaded Macy’s at Philadelphia’s Center City. That store, you might want to know, was once upon a time Wanamaker’s department store, one of the first department stores in the United States.

You also gotta know that the largest operational pipe organ in the world—the Wanamaker Grand Court Organ—is located in, of all places, this Macy’s, situated in a vast 7-storey court.

And so … the choral invasion of Macy’s a couple of Saturday, October 30.

600+ singers, a magnificent pipe-organ—an infiltration. The choristers blended in with the crowd of close-approaching-holiday shoppers. And, unbeknownst to the throngs of spenders, on cue, they broke into Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus.


For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Suddenly and without warning comes the powerful notes … and words … and the truth of this chorus. Invading the mundane lives we live, the humdrum of our routines, the tedium of our hours and days and weeks. “Hallelujah,” indeed.

The LORD will reign forever,
Your God, O Zion, to all generations.
Praise the LORD!
Psalm 146:10

I must confess it gave me goosebumps, when I saw the video the first time. (The only thing that’s better is the Dallas Seminary community singing its official hymn: “All Hail the Pow’r of Jesus’ Name” (Diadem).

But this was wonderful! What an astounding thing to hear, all of a sudden, from all around you:

The kingdom of this world
Is become the kingdom of our Lord,
And of His Christ, and of His Christ.

Quoting from the book of Revelation.

… and He will reign forever and ever.”
Revelation 11:15

He will. Yes, He will! Hallelujah!

And on His robe and on His thigh
He has a name written,
“King of kings, and Lord of lords.”
Revelation 19:16

Amen! And amen! Hallelujah!

You can hear and see the Philly Opera Company’s unusual performance and the wonderstruck crowd’s responses here. More than 3 million have seen this item on youtube—it’s gone viral. Apparently, this year, only one other submission—about a record pot bust in New Jersey—has been viewed by more people. “Just beautiful,” said one commenter. “Brought tears to my eyes,” said another. “Perfect way to start the Christmas season,” gushed a third. “Would love to have been there,” voiced one. And it “[g]ave me goosebumps, hooray for the ‘Random Act of Culture’!” came from another.

“Random” whaaaaaaat? Did I hear “Random Act of Culture”?????

That’s the only sad note in this symphony of Hallelujahs: Macy’s and the Opera Company and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation—the sponsors of this Hallelujah surprise—designated this remarkable event a “Random Act of Culture.”

Sad, because this label likely reflects what most thought of this powerful piece by maestro Handel—just another aesthetically inspiring chunk of “culture.” No more!


I hope most of those who sang and most of those who heard recognized what was being sung and what was being heard—that the King of kings and Lord of lords is coming to reign. He is!

And the government will rest
on His shoulders; ….
There will be no end to the increase
of His government or of peace,
On the throne of David
and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it
with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore.
Isaiah 9:6–7

The Lord omnipotent reigneth! Hallelujah!

Saturday, November 13, 2010


The other day, I walked into the room of a patient. A sprightly young lady. “You don’t know me,” she said, “but I know you.”

“Yeah?” I asked, on my guard. What had I done wrong now?

(It’s that guilty conscience, you know, which—along with cricket being played on the other side of globe—keeps me awake at night. Guilt and cricket. Nice combination!)

Anyhow, I was wondering what I was getting into. I sat down.

And what I heard made my day!

Apparently this patient of mine had gotten a divorce from her husband a year ago. She goes to church. He doesn’t—he wasn’t a believer. She is. And I happened to be preaching in her church earlier this year. That particular Sunday, her ex-husband turned up.

Yours faithfully preached (I’m not even sure what!). And that gentleman—Mr. Ex-H, got saved!

He placed his trust in Jesus Christ as his only God and Savior, believing that Jesus had paid for his sins on the cross, dying for him. A miracle.

For God so loved the world,
that He gave His only begotten Son,
that whoever believes in Him
shall not perish,
but have eternal life.
John 3:16

Life changed. Dramatically.

I’ll cut to the chase. My patient and her ex are dating again. And I was told that I could expect a wedding invitation soon. Correction: a “re-wedding” invitation.


But then again, maybe not so amazing. Why should I be surprised that God’s Word works? And works in amazing ways?

For I am not ashamed of the gospel,
for it is the power of God
for salvation
to everyone who believes.
Romans 1:16

Indeed, it is the power of God! And preaching is the instrument of God. And all who proclaim, formally and informally, the agents of God.

For the word of the cross
is foolishness
to those who are perishing,
but to us who are being saved
it is the power of God.
1 Corinthians 1:18

No, no reason to be amazed at all. Delighted, yes. Gratified, sure. Thrilled, of course. Amazed, not really!

God had already made it clear a long time ago that His Word is potent.

We preach Christ crucified,
… to those who are the called,
both Jews and Greeks,
Christ the power of God
and the wisdom of God.
1 Corinthians 1:23–24

Now the fact of the matter is that we don’t always experience the potency of God’s Word or see its punch or recognize its profit as we proclaim. Yes, I learnt about what had happened in this couple’s life about a year after I had preached.

But I am thankful for being told what God had done in and with and through His Word. Made my day!

So for those who are faithfully proclaiming, from pulpit, from office, from classroom, from coffeehouses, from kitchens, …, keep on. Keep on. God’s Word is efficacious.

“For as the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
And do not return there
without watering the earth
And making it bear and sprout,
And furnishing seed to the sower
and bread to the eater;
So will My word be
which goes forth from My mouth;
It will not return to Me empty,
Without accomplishing what I desire,
And without succeeding
in the matter for which I sent it.”
Isaiah 55:10–11

God’s Word. Always potent. Never powerless.

We might not see immediate fruit, instant results, imminent change. But God is working. And His Word is always vital, never void.

Let’s keep preaching, proclaiming, promoting God’s Word.

The efficacious power of God ….

Saturday, November 06, 2010


Those are his digs. The Pope’s, I mean. AKA appartamento pontifici. It’s that grayish building on the right as you stand in St. Peter’s Square, right behind the massive colonnades of Bernini. On the top floor, the last window on the right is his bedroom. The window on the left is that of his study. Apparently if you visit the Square at night as a Poping Tom (nope, not original with me!), you can spot the midnight oil being burnt by Benedict XVI. On some Sundays, the Holy Father himself appears at the window to bless the throngs below.

That’s where he lives. And from there he surveys his “kingdom”—the Holy See (from the Latin sedes for “seat”), the central government of the Catholic Church, kinda like the “Crown” in the British monarchy. The Holy See dates back to the first century. It is an curious entity that has authority and jurisdiction and sovereignty to govern a worldwide constituency of Roman Catholics, while at the same time having neither permanent population nor a defined territory.

There is Another that has a worldwide—nay, universe-wide—jurisdiction. In a sense all people are under him and all territory his.

God highly exalted Him,
and bestowed on Him the name
which is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee will bow,
of those who are in heaven and on earth
and under the earth,
and that every tongue will confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Philippians 2:9–11

Or as Isaac Watts wrote in 1719

Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
Does his successive journeys run;
His kingdom stretch from shore to shore,
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.

He deserves this position. He created everything.

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

One day, soon and very soon, this King will come and this Kingdom will be established.

And the government will
rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
There will be no end to
the increase of His government or of peace,
On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it
with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore.
Isaiah 9:6–7

He’s coming, to set things right.

But, even right now, he reigns as Head of the Church, the universal body of believers.

He is also head of the body, the church.
Colossians 1:18

He is the Head of the Church, because He redeemed His own.

Worthy are You …
for You were slain,
and purchased for God with Your blood
those from every tribe and tongue
and people and nation.
Revelation 5:9

So believers in Christ are in a curious state (pun intended). Part of a Reign that already is, but not yet.

Interestingly, this curious state is reflected in the Vatican. One can never be a citizen of the Vatican alone. The Pope, for example, is citizen both of the City State of The Vatican as well as Germany. And appropriately enough, the Vatican issues only—yes, only—diplomatic passports. All of its 500-odd “citizens” are technically diplomats.

So are we, the citizens of the already, but not yet. Diplomats representing the King.

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ.
2 Corinthians 5:20

Let’s go live for the Kingdom.

Saturday, October 30, 2010


A Baptist church was destroyed today!

Well, not exactly.

450 pounds of dynamite and 1,200 charges imploded four buildings of an esteemed Dallas institution, First Baptist Church of Dallas. The Burt, Christian Education, Ruth Ray Hunt, and Veal buildings went down in a cascade of smoke and debris at 8:15 yesterday morning. FBC Dallas, a part of the cityscape since the mid-1800s was moving into the 21st century.

When the dust settled, the historic sanctuary still stood, shining in the sunlight. That structure will remain a vital part of the new campus to which the four imploded buildings contributed 600,000 square feet of space.

“Now,” pastor Robert Jeffress declared, “we are seeing the sanctuary in a whole new light.”

Dedicated effort went into protecting this sanctuary, a mere 50 feet from the nearest point of implosion. Plywood covered all the stained glass, and a barrier of dirt prevented debris bouncing off the ground to hit the old building. It was a roaring success!

The new campus includes a new 3000-seat worship center, a new education building, a fountain plaza, a sky bridge across a downtown street, an acre of public green space, etc. Supposedly the most expensive (and extensive) renovation of a Protestant church ever!

All set to open Easter of 2013.

The Gospel of Mark tells the story of another impending implosion, of another institution, in light of another imminent “Easter.” It’s an odd account, one of those Markan “sandwiches,” with a split outer story (the two halves of a “bun”) and an inner story (the “patty”).

The outer story is one of a fig tree that, green and leafy, promised much but didn’t deliver. First half of the “bun”: It had no fruit and, as an object lesson, it was cursed. Second half of the “bun”: Peter’s exclamation.

Peter said to Him [Jesus],
“Rabbi, look, the fig tree
which You cursed has withered.”
Mark 11:21

It’s the inner story, the “beef patty,” that explains the whole passage: Jesus drives out the traders and merchants and moneychangers and dovesellers and other such mercenary folks from the Temple, a glorious edifice that also promised much but wasn’t delivering.

“Is it not written [in Isaiah 56 and Jeremiah 7],
‘My house shall be called a house
of prayer for all the nations’?
But you have made it a ‘robbers’ den.’”
The chief priests and the scribes
heard this, and began seeking
how to destroy Him.
Mark 11:17–18

A malfunctioning institution of worship. It would be imploded.

And Jesus said …
“Do you see these great buildings?
Not one stone will be left upon another
which will not be torn down.”
Mark 13:2

So then what is the proper function of such institutions?

The new community of Christ-followers, the church, Jesus said, would be characterized by two essentials: faith and forgiveness.

A house of prayer that demonstrates faith towards God ….

And Jesus answered saying to them,
“Have faith in God. …
Therefore I say to you,
all things for which you pray and ask,
believe that you have received them,
and they will be granted you.”
Mark 11:22, 24–25

And a house of prayer that displays forgiveness towards one another ….

“Whenever you stand praying, forgive,
if you have anything against anyone,
so that your Father who is in heaven
will also forgive you your transgressions.”
Mark 11:25

The new sanctuary, the body of Christ, the church.

Faith and forgiveness. May those be the characteristics of FBC Dallas and every other church in the world.

A redo … because of the first Easter.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


A blissfully mild 60° here in Mt. Hermon, CA, today. What a place! Nestled in the redwoods, a delightful “piney” smell permeating the atmosphere, everything so green, and Mandarin and Cantonese like confetti all around me.

Yup! Mandarin and Cantonese. You heard right.

All those linguistic, tongue-warping, tonal delights produced by a 500-strong army of Fongs and Laus and Engs and Kwoks and Leungs and Yews and Lees and Shens. Etc.

I’m here speaking at a church retreat for Chinese Independent Baptist Church, Oakland, CA (affectionately known as “CI”).

CI has a long and storied history of ministering to the Chinese immigrants in N. California. And an equally long and celebrated association with Dallas Theological Seminary: many in their congregations have attended DTS (and some still do); many of our faculty have spoken at CI and its retreats—this is actually my second ministry venture with these marvelous folks. In fact, CIBC, which has been in existence over a hundred years, just created their Mandarin group a couple of years ago. What a remarkably enterprising bunch of Christ-followers this is!

So CI has this annual retreat for their three congregations: English, Cantonese, and Mandarin. All together. In one place. At the same time.

Well, not exactly. Your humble blogger is completely at sea as far as the last two of the aforementioned languages are concerned. I can barely tell them apart when I hear them, though, I must admit, I’m getting better. And, no, I’ve not been suddenly gifted with the abilities to preach in Cantonese and Mandarin; I’m speaking to the English congregation; the other two have their own speakers in their respective languages.

What is interesting, though, is to sit in on their singing times. English, Cantonese, and Mandarin. All together. In one place. At the same time.

The lyrics projected on the screen in front are in English, Cantonese ("traditional"), and Mandarin ("simplified"). All together. In one place. At the same time.

And everyone sings. In English, Cantonese, and Mandarin. All together. In one place. At the same time.

Fascinating! A delightful blend of languages praising God! Heaven!

And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are You …;
for You were slain,
and purchased for God with Your blood
those from every tribe and tongue
and people and nation.
You have made them a kingdom
and priests to our God;
and they will reign upon the earth.”
Revelation 5:9–10

Yes, that’s God’s heart. For men and women of every tribe and tongue and people and nation. Jesus commissioned His followers:

“Go therefore and make disciples
of all the nations ….”
Matthew 28:19

For that’s what God is all about—to bring the whole mass of mankind to Himself, into the peaceable Kingdom of His Son, through the recreating work of the Holy Spirit.

And behold, with the clouds of heaven
One like a Son of Man was coming,
And He came up to the Ancient of Days
And was presented before Him.
And to Him was given dominion,
Glory and a kingdom,
That those of every people,
nations and language might serve Him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
Which will not pass away;
And His kingdom is one
Which will not be destroyed.
Daniel 7:13–14

A kingdom of all peoples. And we will all sing His praise forever.

Praise the LORD, all nations;
Laud Him, all peoples!
For His lovingkindness is
great toward us,
And the truth of the LORD is everlasting.
Praise the LORD!
Psalm 117:1–2


All together. In one place. At the same time.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


The Presidential gavel. This week, your faithful blogger was inducted as President of the Evangelical Homiletics Society and presented with this fancy implement.

This little ceremonial hammer is typically used as a symbol of authority of the chairman or presiding officer of an organization, to call meetings to order and to close them. (Some auctioneers and judges use them, too.)

I had the pleasure of striking it to adjourn the Business Meeting that conducted the election. That’s about all the power the President of the EHS has! Bang!

(Maybe I ought to use it the next time I preach, in lieu of pounding the pulpit. That ought to be impressive. Wearing my Aberdeen red robe. Breathing fire and brimstone. Yeah!)

Robert’s Rules of Order, however, prohibits its use in such authoritarian fashion. You can’t use it, so saith Robert, to shush an obstreperous member. You can’t lean on it. You can’t twiddle it, juggle it, or otherwise handle it disdainfully. Needless to say, you can’t use it to whack another on the head. And as for pounding pulpits, nope, that’s forbidden: you can’t use the gavel to emphasize your remarks. Robert hath spoken!

Robert’s dicta are constantly disobeyed in Congress. In a heated debate in 1954, Vice-President Richard Nixon broke the 200-year-old Senate gavel, made of ivory! Incidentally, upon request, a replacement was gifted to the Senate by the government of India; it is still in use today.

And the House? They utilize a plain, vanilla, wooden mallet. It breaks regularly—surprise!—and apparently there is a large box of back-up instruments on the Speaker's Rostrum.

The long and short of it is this: A gavel’s no use—it ain’t got no power.

In fact, real power, true power, is possessed only by one Being—God. And it is from Him all temporal authority is derived.

For there is no authority
except from God,
and those which exist
are established by God.
Romans 13:1

The absolute and divine authority of the Son of God resounds through the New Testament.

And Jesus came up
and spoke to them, saying,
“All authority has been given to Me
in heaven and on earth.”
Matthew 28:18

All authority. Over embodied beings …

You [God the Father]
gave Him [God the Son]
authority over all flesh ….
John 17:2

… and over disembodied ones.

He commands even the unclean spirits,
and they obey Him.
Mark 1:27

As God, Jesus can forgive sins.

… the Son of Man
has authority on earth
to forgive sins.
Matthew 9:6

He is over all, above all. The Almighty One.

And on His robe and on His thigh
He has a name written,
“King of kings, and Lord of lords.”
Revelation 19:16

And this One, this Superpower, is coming again. Soon. And He’s coming to set things right. To rule and reign. Forever!

And to Him was given dominion,
Glory and a kingdom,
that those of every people,
nation, and those language
might serve Him.
His dominion is
an everlasting dominion
which will not pass away.
And His kingdom is one
which will not be destroyed.
Daniel 7:14

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the preeminent authority.

For in Him all the fullness of Deity
dwells in bodily form, …
and He is the head
over all rule and authority.
Colossians 2:9–10

So relax, Christian, for the One with authority is on our side.

To the only God our Savior,
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
be glory, majesty,
dominion and authority,
before all time and now and forever.
Jude 1:25

And He don’t need no gavel!

Saturday, October 09, 2010


That’s Mercury (to the Romans) or Hermes (to the Greeks).

Notice what he is carrying in his left hand: a winged staff with two snakes–the “caduceus.” Nobody really knows why this is Hermes’ symbol. Some speculate he was originally a snake god. In any case, the vocations patronized by Hermes have adopted this symbol of the reptilian double-helix —merchants, shepherds, gamblers, liars, and thieves.

Yup, I know what you are thinking: “Hey, you missed doctors!”

You’re right, I did … deliberately. The caduceus is not really a medical symbol. Somebody in the U.S. Army Corps messed up in the late 19th century and began using that as its “mark.” It was all a big mistake, now perpetuated by the majority of medical professionals. The original medical symbol is actually the rod of another god, Asclepius: a one-snake, non-winged rod.

So one author wrote: “It is hard to trust a profession that cannot even get its symbols straight.” Rightly so, since Hermes’ caduceus protects even those of doubtful virtue.

“As god of the high-road and the market-place Hermes was perhaps above all else the patron of commerce and the fat purse: as a corollary, he was the special protector of the traveling salesman. As spokesman for the gods, he not only brought peace on earth (occasionally even the peace of death), but his silver-tongued eloquence could always make the worse appear the better cause. From this latter point of view, would not his symbol be suitable for certain Congressmen, all medical quacks, book agents and purveyors of vacuum cleaners, rather than for the straight-thinking, straight-speaking therapist? As conductor of the dead to their subterranean abode, his emblem would seem more appropriate on a hearse than on a physician’s car” (Stuart Tyson).


Then again, quite ironically, maybe it is appropriate that the commercialized business that medicine has become has the symbol of tricksters, shysters, and cheaters as its mark.

Not that the other guy, Asclepius, is a lot better. He and his snakes exercised considerable mystical powers of healing. His temples were infested with these creepy things that crawled over those afflicted with disease; supposedly these folks were cured. But this happy tale ended in tragedy: Zeus killed this ancient medic with a thunderbolt for raising a dead man … for gold.

All in all, I’m not very convinced about either Hermes or Asclepius, both dodgy characters. As a physician, I’m not sure I want their mark!

What’s the mark we bear as children of God, as Christians?

… I bear on my body
the brand-marks of Jesus.
Galatians 6:17

Paul, here, is referring to suffering. That was his mark!

… we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed;
perplexed, but not despairing;
persecuted, but not forsaken;
struck down, but not destroyed;
always carrying about in the body
the dying of Jesus,
so that the life of Jesus also
may be manifested in our body.
2 Corinthians 4:8–10

That’s the brand-mark of Jesus: suffering. And that’s brand-mark we’re called to bear.

Amy Carmichael (1867–1951), missionary to India, put it well, in Jesus’ voice …

Hast thou no scar?
No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand?
I hear thee sung as mighty in the land,
I hear them hail thy bright ascendant star:
Hast thou no scar?

No wound? No scar?
Yes, as the master shall the servant be,
And pierced are the feet that follow Me;
But thine are whole. Can he have followed far
Who has no wound? No scar?

Suffering. Wound. Scar.

The true mark! Of Jesus followers.

Saturday, October 02, 2010


Mercury. AKA Hermes (to the Greeks). A bronze by Giambologna (1529–1608) in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence.

Hermes is best known as the messenger of the gods, the one who bore their communiqués to mortals. Hence, “hermeneutics”—the science of interpretation, primarily of God’s Word. So there he is, with winged hat and winged sandals (as well as a staff with two serpents—but more about that next week).

Preachers and teachers of God’s Word—hermeneuts—therefore have Hermes as their patron saint! Perhaps that is why Hermes is also the god of orators and poets.

Unfortunately, he is god of more than those ….

Apparently Hermes was quite precocious. On the first day of his life, he invented the lyre. That same night, he stole the immortal cattle of Apollo, driving them back to Greece and hiding them. He is said to have walked the cattle backwards to fool those giving chase (rather confusing, if you ask me, but who am I to argue with Homer?). Despite these stratagems, Hermes’ thievery was discovered, but he enchanted Apollo with the lyre (which he had just invented); Apollo allowed Hermes to keep the cattle in exchange for the instrument.

Thus, Hermes is also the god of thieves, perjurers, and miscreants and malefactors of every shade and shape. A deified trickster—this Hermes.

And for some reason, Hermes is also the one who escorts the dead into the underworld.

Altogether, a rather unsavory character, who is known to have had a whole collection of lovers and sired a large number of offspring, among whom are Pan, the god of nature, and Eros/Cupid, the god of love.

Not necessarily an icon for good!

Of course, some folks considers preachers and deceivers to be of the same ilk; Hermes, then, is an appropriate god for both!

Hopefully that is not the case with us believers who interpret and apply God’s Word.

You are witnesses, and so is God,
how devoutly and uprightly
and blamelessly we behaved
toward you believers;
just as you know how we were
exhorting and encouraging and
imploring each one of you
as a father would his own children,
so that you would walk in a manner
worthy of the God who calls you
into His own kingdom and glory.
1 Thessalonians 2:10–12

While we are all, one way or another, hermeneuts interpreting God’s Word for application in our lives, Hermes ought not to be our mascot. Paul is a much better model.

For our proud confidence is this:
… that in holiness and godly sincerity,
… in the grace of God,
we have conducted ourselves.
For we are not like many,
peddling the word of God,
but as from sincerity,
but as from God, we speak
in Christ in the sight of God.
2 Corinthians 1:12; 2:17

For those who expound the Word of God (formally or informally) are held to a higher standard of holiness.

Let not many of you become teachers,
… knowing that as such
we will incur a stricter judgment.
James 3:1

Indeed, all God’s people, but especially God’s leaders—both men and women—are called to be irreproachable.

… blameless and innocent,
children of God above reproach.
Philippians 2:15
An overseer, then, must be above reproach ….
1 Timothy 3:2
… give the enemy no occasion for reproach.
1 Timothy 5:14
… keep the commandment
without stain or reproach
until the appearing
of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Timothy 6:14

As someone said, we may not be above sin, but we can be above reproach.

Definitely better than Hermes!

Saturday, September 25, 2010


A sad story.

Police were called out a robbery the other day, at a Wal-Mart in Ohio. But the suspected thief, accused of shoplifting $1,000 worth of the good stuff, was nowhere to be found.

Then an hour later 911 got a call. Apparently our sticky-fingered man had hopped into a dumpster behind the store to hide. Unfortunately for him, the dumpster was immediately picked up, and the trash (with our friend deep in it) was unceremoniously deposited into the garbage truck.

Emergency operators heard the frantic man yelling, “I’m in the back of a trash truck that keeps compacting me! I’m dying!! My bones are being crushed!!!” The dispatchers told him to calm down.

That’s a bit hard, I suppose, to be calm, when one is literally being compacted with 10 tons of rubbish. The poor guy.

Now this was no novice at robbery: he already had a rap sheet that ran into 26 pages. In fact, he’d been convicted before, of stealing from the same Wal-Mart. Some folks never learn.

Sin is a hard thing to escape. Especially when it is in our nature. Forget theft. How about …

… a depraved mind …,
being filled with all unrighteousness,
wickedness, greed, evil;
full of envy, murder, strife, deceit,
malice, gossiping, slandering, …
insolence, arrogance, boastfulness,
disobedience to parents, …
not trustworthy, not loving, not merciful.
Romans 1:28–31

Ouch! That’s me. Sinning. Over and over and over again. 26 pages? Nay, a lifetime of stuff. Will we ever learn? Learn God’s wisdom—the way to live His way, not ours?

My son, give attention to my words;
Incline your ear to my sayings.
Do not let them depart from your sight;
Keep them in the midst of your heart.
For they are life to those who find them
And health to all their body.
Proverbs 4:20

The trashed guy from Wal-Mart was heard declaring to dispatchers at one point that he didn’t care what happened to him afterwards with the cops; he just wanted to live.

I like to think he’s learned his lesson. The hard and very unfortunate way. I wish he’d learnt it before this mishap.

I wish we would, too. Learn to avoid sin before something grievous befalls us. For the chances are that something will. We must learn, even if it is from discipline and reproof as the Bible oft exhorts.

My son, do not reject
the discipline of the LORD
Or loathe His reproof,
For whom the LORD loves
He reproves ….
Proverbs 3:11–12

For the commandment is a lamp
and the teaching is light;
And reproofs for discipline
are the way of life
Proverbs 6:23

Whoever loves discipline
loves knowledge,
But he who hates reproof
is stupid.
Proverbs 12:1

Poverty and shame
to him who neglects discipline,
But he who regards reproof
will be honored.
Proverbs 13:18

Back to our flattened miscreant in the trash truck ….

Emergency officials triangulated the signal from his cell phone and found the truck before it emptied its contents at a recycling plant. Police had to have the trash dumped, before they could find the man. “He was in pretty bad shape when they got him out, he didn’t look too good,” a police spokesman told reporters.

I believe he survived. Hopefully, he’s learnt his lesson.

I hope we do too. So that we may learn to live the way God’s wants us to. So that we may align our lives to His will.

Listen to counsel
and accept discipline,
That you may be wise
the rest of your days.
Proverbs 19:20

Let’s be wise!

Saturday, September 18, 2010


The Mamertine Prison is an ancient place of incarceration in Rome dating back to the 7th century B.C. Traditionally, it is held that Paul and Peter were imprisoned in this place, on top of which there is now a church.

The place is a gloomy and dank two-level prison in to which Rome’s high-profile enemies (including the Goth Jugurtha and the Gaul Vercingetorix) were cast, to die of starvation or strangulation. The ancient Roman historian Sallust (86-34 B.C.) noted that it was 12 feet below the ground and “neglect, darkness and stench make it hideous and fearsome to behold.” The bottom level is the prison proper into which captives were dropped from a hole at the top. Apparently, there is a stone that bears the imprint of Peter’s head from when he was hurled in. (I wonder what imprint the stone left on aforementioned disciple’s head. Then again, maybe he wasn’t called “Rocky” for nothing!)

It is possible that Peter was detained here before being executed by Nero, and Paul before his own. The latter, at the end of his third missionary journey, was mobbed in Jerusalem by Jews who accused him of desecrating the Temple by bring in a Gentile (Acts 21:27–30). The Romans took him into custody—two years in Caesarea, and later in Rome (Acts 25:9–11), perhaps right here in the Mamertine Prison.

It strikes me as amazing that here was this guy, always being accused by Jewish rabble-rousers, at least twice being imprisoned by Roman oppressors, calling himself not a victim of the Jews, nor a captive of the Romans. Rather …

I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus ….
Ephesians 3:1
Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus ….
Philemon 1
I am … Paul, the aged, and now also
a prisoner of Christ Jesus …
Philemon 9

That has got to be one of the most powerful assertions of the sovereignty of God. For Paul, nothing happened without God’s allowing it. And, for Paul, if God allowed it, he was OK with it. In fact, he could see God working in and through his imprisonment.

Now I want you to know, brethren,
that my circumstances have turned out
for the greater progress of the gospel,
so that my imprisonment
in the cause of Christ
has become well known
throughout the whole praetorian guard
and to everyone else,
and that most of the brethren,
trusting in the Lord
because of my imprisonment,
have far more courage to
speak the word of God without fear.
Philippians 1:12–14

So convinced of God’s sovereignty, he was content … even in prison.

And He has said to me,
“My grace is sufficient for you,
for power is perfected in weakness.” …
Therefore I am well content
with weaknesses, with insults,
with distresses, with persecutions,
with difficulties, for Christ’s sake;
for when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:9–10

Content, he simply seeks to be faithful to One who called him … even in prison.

… pray on my behalf,
that utterance may be given to me
in the opening of my mouth,
to make known with boldness
the mystery of the gospel,
for which I am an ambassador in chains ….
Ephesians 6:19–20

And this jailbird exhorts the rest of us—freebirds—to be “imprisoned” to Christ, to be faithful, as he was … even in prison.

Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord,
implore you to walk in a manner
worthy of the calling
with which you have been called.
Ephesians 4:1

Let’s be faithful … prisoners of Jesus Christ.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


While it is called St. Peter’s Basilica, the other great pillar of the church, St. Paul, is not forgotten here in the San Pietro in Vaticano. In fact, he’s there, right in front, on one side as one approaches the Basilica. On the other side is the Basilica’s own, St. Peter.

The original statues of the two were sculpted by Paolo di Mariano in the mid-1400s. They were replaced by Pope Pius IX in 1847; he commissioned Adamo Tadolini to do Paul.

Both are about 17 feet tall on pedestals about 15 feet high. Towering and colossal. Each one holds an item that marks them. Peter has the key.

Paul has the sword. That’s appropriate for the one who, as the human agent of God, penned most of the New Testament.

So Paul is depicted as bearing the sword of the Spirit—the Word of God.

(And, BTW, that’s the balcony from which the Pope pronounces his blessings.)

And take
The sword of the Spirit,
which is the word of God.
Ephesians 6:17

And, to reinforce this symbolism, in his other hand, Tadolini has Paul holding a scroll, on which are the words:

I can do all things
through Him
who strengthens me.
Philippians 4:13

That’s a 10-foot-long sword the dude is holding! Deadly weapon!

No wonder, for the Bible speaks of the lethal nature of the tongue and its products—words.

There is one
who speaks rashly
like the thrusts of a sword.
Proverbs 12:18a

On the other hand, words are also health-giving.

But the tongue of the wise
brings healing.
Proverbs 12:18b

So also the Word of God. Both deadly and healthy. Lethal and life-giving.

Lethal to the disobedient.

Therefore I have hewn them
in pieces by the prophets;
I have slain them
by the words of My mouth.
Hosea 6:5

And one day the Judge of all mankind, Jesus Christ, will come again, bearing a sword, a vision of which John, the apostle, glimpsed.

In His right hand
He held seven stars,
and out of His mouth
came a sharp two-edged sword;
and His face was like
the sun shining in its strength.
Revelation 1:16

Yes, the Judge is coming and final judgment is coming—and its criterion will be the unshakeable standard of the Word of God, the sword.

Not only then—one day in the future—but even now, the sword-like Word continues its discriminating judgment of our deeds, our motives, our attitudes, our thoughts ….

For the word of God is
living and active and sharper
than any two-edged sword,
and piercing as far as
the division of soul and spirit,
of both joints and marrow,
and able to judge the thoughts
and intentions of the heart.
Hebrews 4:12

The sword of God’s Word is also life-giving for those who trust Him.

Sustain me according to Your word,
that I may live.
Psalm 119:116

And so, a famous hymn of yesteryear goes this way:

Sing them over again to me,
Wonderful words of life,
Let me more of their beauty see,
Wonderful words of life;
Words of life and beauty
Teach me faith and duty.

Beautiful words, wonderful words,
Wonderful words of life.

Christ, the blessèd One, gives to all
Wonderful words of life;
Sinner, list to the loving call,
Wonderful words of life;
All so freely given,
Wooing us to heaven.

Sweetly echo the Gospel call,
Wonderful words of life;
Offer pardon and peace to all,
Wonderful words of life;
Jesus, only Savior,
Sanctify us forever.

Philip P. Bliss, 1847

Wonderful words, indeed! Spend time in them.

Saturday, September 04, 2010


Well, folks, here it is: aBeLOG installment #262. Magic number. Five years of rambling thoughts and random Scripture. Dispatches from Plano, Dallas, Paris, Aberdeen, London, Berlin, Leipzig, Munich, Zurich, Sydney, Kuala Lumpur, Vienna, Rome, Florence, …. A ramble indeed.

I appreciate all who have stayed with me throughout this 5-year ramble. No promises for the future, but I’ll try. Thus far, I’ve been buoyed by the dubious distinction of not having missed a single weekend of the aBeLOG. I am thankful I’ve made it up to #262 successfully.

Doing the aBeLOG has compelled me weekly to examine closely what’s going on around me. God is everywhere and in everything, omnipresent that He is. And it’s been great, having to look for God’s workings and doings and sayings in Scripture, and to connect them with His handiwork in the world, in my life, in my circumstances. It’s becoming a habit and—for a change!—a good habit at that: reflective living.

I’ve often felt that one of the gaping holes in our lives is the lack of reflection. Too busy, we are, with stuff going on all day, all week, all year. And before we know it, time has slipped by, age has caught up, weariness has set in, and there it is—an unreflective life.

God warned His people over and over again about this. Reflection and remembrance was to be part of their lifestyle.

Remember the days of old,
consider the years of all generations.
Ask your father,
and he will inform you,
your elders, and they will tell you.
Deuteronomy 32:7

Reflect on the deliverance of God.

You shall remember that
you were a slave in the land of Egypt,
and the LORD your God
brought you out of there
by a mighty hand and
by an outstretched arm;
Deuteronomy 5:15

Reflect on the power of God, so as to be able to face the dread of the future.

… you shall not be afraid of them;
you shall well remember
what the LORD your God did
to Pharaoh and to all Egypt.
Deuteronomy 7:18

Remember, that we may remain faithful.

Beware that you do not forget
the LORD your God by
not keeping His commandments …
Deuteronomy 8:11

Remember the provision of God, even in times of plenty, that we may be ready, when the dark days come.

But you shall
remember the LORD your God,
for it is He who is giving you
power to make wealth ….
Deuteronomy 8:18

Reflect on the discipline of God, that we may not fall again.

Remember, do not forget
how you provoked the LORD your God
to wrath in the wilderness ….
Deuteronomy 9:7

Reflect on the mercy of God, that we may be merciful to others.

You shall remember
that you were a slave
in the land of Egypt,
and the LORD your God redeemed you;
therefore I command you this today.
Deuteronomy 15:15

And then, God’s people beseech Him not to forget, that He may remember His promises and deal graciously with them.

Remember Your servants,
Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob;
do not look at the stubbornness
of this people or at their wickedness
or their sin.
Deuteronomy 9:27

And, thankfully, ours is a God who never forgets.

For the LORD your God is
a compassionate God;
He will not fail you nor destroy you
nor forget the covenant with your fathers
which He swore to them.
Deuteronomy 4:31

What a relief—He doesn’t forget! The One who gave His Son for us always remembers. So must we.

Live reflectively.

And, in the process, I’ve sharpened my Photoshop skills!

Saturday, August 28, 2010


There aren’t any roads directly leading up to it, but you can hear it as you get closer. The excitement mounts, the hubbub increases, and—suddenly!—there you are in front of the Fontana di Trevi (Trevi Fountain). Rome may have its Vatican and St. Peter’s and such, but the Trevi is its true icon, its center. The largest Baroque fountain in the city, about 90 feet high and 70 feet wide, built in the 1700s.

Everyone throws coins into this fountain. Apparently if you do so you will return to Rome in a year. Yours faithfully, having been impoverished by an expensive nephew (just kidding, Jake!), didn’t want to return in 2011, so he kept his euros to himself.

There are other variations on this cunning maneuver: if you cast two coins you will be rewarded with a new romance (nope, not interested), and if you toss three, you can be sure of a divorce (nope, not applicable).

Anyhow, for whatever reason, there are about €3,000 (about $4,000) pitched into the water each day. They are supposed to be collected nightly for the Catholic charity Caritas. A few years ago Caritas noted a sharp dip in the funds and, after a lengthy surveillance operation, Rome’s cops arrested fountain cleaners who were sweeping off more than debris.

But nothing can beat “d’Artagnan” (aka Roberto Cercelletta) who fished coins out of the fountain for 34 years till he was nabbed by police in 2002. He was banned from visiting the fountain. Not so easily deterred, he returned, and in protest of his interdiction, slashed his ample belly with a razor blade. He was arrested again. He confessed to having pilfered coins six days a week, leaving the seventh day’s offerings for Caritas. Authorities think charities lost as much as €12,000 a month as a result. Not a bad way to “earn” money. “If I'm dying of hunger and am forced to return to the fountain to get money, if they try to stop me then, I will cut myself again,” he said from his mobile phone at his house in the Roman suburbs. Starving? On €12,000 a month? Yeah, right!

He is not rich who has a lot.
He is rich who doesn’t want more.
(an old philosopher)

But those who want to get rich
fall into temptation and a snare
and many foolish
and harmful desires
which plunge men into ruin
and destruction.
For the love of money is
a root of all sorts of evil,
and some by longing for it
have wandered away
from the faith and
pierced themselves
with many griefs.
1 Timothy 6:9–10

Instead of being greedy, Paul asks us to be content.

For we have brought nothing
into the world,
so we cannot take anything
out of it either.
If we have food and covering,
with these we shall be content.
1 Timothy 6:7–8

And here in the US, if you’re on welfare today, you possess more income than 95% of the people in third world countries. We are rich!

But there are riches that are better than gold and last longer than gold.

A gentle and quiet spirit,
which is precious in the sight of God
1 Peter 3:4
Rich in faith and
heirs of the kingdom
James 2:5
Wisdom is better than jewels
Proverbs 8:10
The unfathomable riches of Christ
Ephesians 3:8

We are …

… not to fix [our] hope on
the uncertainty of riches,
but on God,
who richly supplies us
with all things to enjoy.
1 Timothy 6:17

Next time, I’ll toss in a euro.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


The fascinating arch, the Arch of Titus, is on highest point of the Via Sacra, in Rome. Its inscription reads: The Senate and People of Rome To the divine Titus, Vespasianus Augustus, son of the divine Vespasian. Built in 82 AD, by Emperor Domitian, it commemorates the victory of his deified brother, Titus, over Jerusalem in 70 AD. (It was restored by Pope Pius VII in 1822.) This Arch has become the prototype for other famous arches: the Arc de Triomphe (1806), the National Memorial Arch (1910) in Valley Forge, the India Gate (1931) in New Delhi, etc.

The Arch of Titus is an incredibly important monument, the only existing depiction of the looting of the Temple of Jerusalem during its sacking—the seven-branched menorah and trumpets are strikingly visible. In fact, the menorah on the Arch served as the model for that on the emblem of the State of Israel. And Roman Jews have always refused to walk under it, until 1948, when, with the founding of the State of Israel, prominent ones in the Jewish community conducted a solemn procession through the Arch, but in the opposite direction to that taken by the victorious Romans. Jerusalem had been “refounded.”

The Sack of Jerusalem occurred on the ninth day of the month of Av (Tisha B’Av; in July in 2010). Tisha B’Av, remembering this sad day of Jewish history, is a day of mourning—the biblical book of Lamentations is customarily read that day. Around one million Jews were killed in that First Jewish Roman War, and about 100,000 captured and enslaved. The Temple was utterly destroyed by fire. Josephus, the Jewish historian, seems to think Titus didn’t really want to destroy the Temple, but to use it for his own Roman gods. In any case, the general (later Emperor) refused a wreath of victory, turning it down saying that there was “no merit in vanquishing people forsaken by their own God.”

This guy, Titus, may have had something there. God threatens to forsake those who forsake Him.

… the LORD is with you
when you are with Him.
And if you seek Him,
He will let you find Him;
but if you forsake Him,
He will forsake you.
2 Chronicles 15:2

But not for long.

... in Your great compassion
You did not make
an end of them or forsake them,
For You are a gracious
and compassionate God.
Nehemiah 9:31

Though discipline might come, this gracious and compassionate God does not forsake His own for ever.

This theme is echoed in the New Testament as well. God’s people are never forsaken, in the eternal scheme of things.

… He Himself has said,
“I will never desert you,
nor will I ever forsake you,”
so that we confidently say,
“The Lord is my helper,
I will not be afraid.
What will man do to me?”
Hebrews 13:5–6

Will there be suffering here on earth? For sure, perhaps even peril to life and limb.

For to you it has been granted
for Christ's sake,
not only to believe in Him,
but also to suffer for His sake,
Philippians 1:29

But forsaken? Never, because of the payment for our sins, made by Jesus Christ, God incarnate, on the cross. We will never be forsaken … because He was, on our behalf.

I’m forgiven because you were forsaken,
I’m accepted, you were condemned,
I’m alive and well,
Your Spirit is within me,
Because you died and rose again.
Amazing love, how can it be?
That you, my King, would die for me!

Billy James Foote (1997)

Saturday, August 14, 2010


The other day I was at a family wedding with all the clan gathered to make merry. Among them was Julie, my cousin’s daughter.

I tell you everyone’s getting old! This was the wee one I used to bounce on my knees 25 years ago. Now she’s a bonnie lady, full of spark and cheer.

So I decided to test out my upper body strength and prove to one and all that I, alone, had not aged. All those long hours at Landry Fitness Center (ahem!) paid off.

I did it in perfect style, following all the rules: maintain a stable center of gravity, back straight, feet apart, one in front of the other, knees slightly flexed, object being lifted close to the body, head up, chin in, etc. Yup! They all got a workout: lat. dorsi, trap., erector spinae, glutei, triceps, biceps, and the rest of ye olde musculoskeletal apparatus.

Not that Julie weighed much! (Go eat some JIF, girl!)

And neither did she need any carrying anymore.

But we do. We all do. And God promises to do the heavy work.

Like a shepherd He will tend His flock,
In His arm He will gather the lambs
And carry them in His bosom;
He will gently lead the nursing ewes.
Isaiah 40:11

This is a tender and merciful God who knows His people need carrying. And carry them, He does. All their days.

“You who have been borne by Me from birth
And have been carried from the womb;
Even to your old age I will be the same,
And even to your graying years
I will bear you!
I have done it, and I will carry you;
And I will bear you and I will deliver you.”
Isaiah 46:3–4

A carrying God. A delivering God.

For He said, “Surely, they are My people, ….”
So He became their Savior.
In all their affliction He was afflicted ….
In His love and in His mercy
He redeemed them,
And He lifted them and carried them
all the days of old.
Isaiah 63:8–9

Isn’t that amazing—“In all their affliction He was afflicted.” He suffers with us, and He suffers for us. Jesus Christ, God incarnate, paid the prize of our sins.

There is nobody like this carrying God.

“To whom would you liken Me
And make Me equal and compare Me,
That we would be alike?”
Isaiah 46:5

In fact, God challenges us: “What are you carrying?”

“Those who lavish gold from the purse
And weigh silver on the scale
Hire a goldsmith,
and he makes it into a god; …
They lift it upon the shoulder and carry it;
They set it in its place and it stands there.
It does not move from its place.
Though one may cry to it,
it cannot answer;
It cannot deliver him from his distress.”
Isaiah 46:6–7

What do we carry, thinking it can take the place of God? What do we carry, hoping it can deliver? What do we carry, assuming it can satisfy, fulfill, and delight?

“Gather yourselves and come;
Draw near together,
you fugitives of the nations;
They have no knowledge,
Who carry about their wooden idol
And pray to a god who cannot save.”
Isaiah 45:20

Nobody else can, but God. Nothing else can.

“… there is no other God besides Me,
A righteous God and a Savior;
There is none except Me.
Isaiah 45:21

And this God asks us to lay down what we are carrying and, instead, be carried by Him. The carrying God. Hang on to Him!