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!