Monday, February 28, 2011


There is this rather insane game on smart phones and Apple’s iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch gizmos: Fruit Ninja. An international hit. One of the top 10 paid apps in more than 60 countries. Since its release in April 2009 it’s been downloaded over six million times (that’s “6,000,000”). At $0.99 per app download, that’s a cool $6,000,000 that its three creators have made ($5,940,000 to be exact!). Of course, Apple and Android have probably taken a cut of that nice sum.

All kinds of fruit appear on the scene—melons, kiwis, bananas, oranges, apples, …. The player’s task is to swipe at them with a finger, which functions as a sword. A satisfying squelch—the exact species of “squelchy sound” depends on the fruit being assaulted—and a splash of fruit innards on the background signifies a successful chop. And one gets points for each triumphant thrust. All of this comes in color, haloes following every movement of the ninja’s sword/finger. Very nice.

And addictive.

The dangerous element in this captivating game is that instead of fruit, one might be surprised by bombs; those deadly incendiaries may be hidden amongst a deluge of fruit. If your sword hits one of these bad dudes, the game is over. So it’s all a matter of reflexes and finger dexterity, the goal being to slice the fruit, not set off the bomb.

Fruit Ninja. Not bad at all.

But I look with snobbish superior disdain upon this wanton destruction of fruit! (Not that I am a major consumer of the same, except for the odd banana, as in banana split, banana pudding, etc.)

No, my distaste for fruit-destruction comes from the divine commandment mandating fruit-production.

Nope, I’m not growing fruit trees on my terrace. Nope, I ain’t puttering around with soil and manure and stuff.

God’s interest is in the metaphorical kind of fruit Christians ought to produce.

We’re talking fruit-production ninjas!

How blessed is the one
who does not walk
in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stand in the path of sinners,
nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in
the law of the LORD,
and in His law he meditates
day and night.
He will be like a tree planted
by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither;
and in whatever he does, he prospers.
Psalm 1:1–3

I’m trying.

There is an element of effort in this, though God promises us that it is His Holy Spirit that is producing the fruit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is
love, joy, peace, patience,
kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
gentleness, self-control.
Galatians 5:22–23

Here’s the divine work:

“I [Jesus] am the vine,
you are the branches;
he who abides in Me and I in him,
he bears much fruit,
for apart from Me
you can do nothing.”
John 15:5

But there’s human effort:

“If you keep My commandments,
you will abide in My love.”
John 15:10

Maybe it’s both!

I planted, Apollos watered,
but God was causing the growth.
1 Corinthians 3:6

In any case, fruit ninjas of a different kind we aim to be, and we pray that we might be …

… so that you will walk
in a manner worthy of the Lord,
to please Him in all respects,
bearing fruit in every good work ….
Colossians 1:10

And through this fruit-bearing, God is exalted.

“My Father is glorified by this,
that you bear much fruit,
and so prove to be
My [Jesus’] disciples.”
John 15:8

Let’s go for those fruit, ninjas!

Saturday, February 26, 2011


There it is again. A call to exercise my civic duty towards ye olde city of Dallas.

Jury duty!

Thankfully, it is for a “petit” jury (as opposed to a “grand” jury). Hopefully, things won’t last a long time. Frustratingly, I have to cancel clinics that day. Happily, I get to skip a few meetings.

A “petit” jury hears evidence from the plaintiff and the defendant, receives instructions from the judge, retires to deliberate, and considers a verdict: guilty or not guilty. (A “grand” jury simply determines whether there is enough evidence to proceed with a criminal trial.)

I suppose that such institutions of guilt determination is a significant step forward from the “ordeals” of yore, when suspects were “tested” to find out if they were guilty—e.g., pouring molten metal into the hand of a suspected thief: if the would healed rapidly, it meant that God—yup, God! —had found the person guilty.

God doesn’t need molten metal to judge and declare guilt. Long ago, he said that all were. Guilty.

There is none righteous, not even one. …
There is none who seeks for God. …
For all have sinned
and fall short of the glory of God
Romans 3:10–11, 23

Guilty. Of having fallen short of God’s glory and His perfect standard.

Therefore you are to be perfect,
as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Matthew 5:48

Guilty. Of imperfection. And the sentence?

For the wages of sin is death.
Romans 6:23

Death and eternal separation from God. Now that is an utterly hopeless situation. And would have remained utterly hopeless eternally were it not for the mercy of God.

But God, being rich in mercy,
because of His great love
with which He loved us,
even when we were dead
in our transgressions,
made us alive together with Christ—
by grace you have been saved.
Ephesians 2:4–5

The judge had mercy! On me, the defendant found guilty as charged.

But not at the cost of justice. Not by a loophole. Not by some legal acrobatics performed by some top-notch defense attorney.

Not at all. Justice was served.

He made Him who knew no sin
to be sin on our behalf,
so that we might become
the righteousness of God in Him.
2 Corinthians 5:21

What theologians call “substitutionary atonement.” One paid the price of my sin, dying on the cross, being resurrected on the third day.

And that payment is applied to all who believe in Jesus Christ as the only God and Savior of man from sin.

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

The wages of sin, for the believer, is now no longer death …

… the free gift of God is eternal life
in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 6:23

Free! Declared righteous! Redeemed!

Therefore there is now no condemnation
for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Romans 8:1

One day when Heaven was filled with His praises,
One day when sin was as black as could be,
Jesus came forth to be born of a virgin,
Dwelt among men, my Example is He!

Living, He loved me; dying, He saved me;
Buried, He carried my sins far away;
Rising, He justified freely forever;
One day He’s coming—O glorious day!

One day they led Him up Calvary’s mountain,
One day they nailed Him to die on the tree;
Suffering anguish, despised and rejected:
Bearing our sins, my Redeemer is He!

J. Wilbur Chapman, 1908

Justice met. Sinners freed. Love victorious.

Saturday, February 19, 2011


Perhaps the word comes from an old Latin phrase cata tumbas, “among the tombs.” In any case, they are basically underground tombs. I’m standing at the entrance to one of them, the Catacombs of St. Sebastian, on the Appian Way, in the outskirts of Rome. Supposedly Peter and Paul, among others, were buried here.

There are over fifty of them in and around Rome, dating as far back as the 2nd century. Pagans were into cremation in those days, while Christians preferred to be buried, perhaps with an eye towards resurrection when Christ comes for his own.

For the Lord Himself will descend
from heaven with a shout, …
and the dead in Christ will rise first.
1 Thessalonians 4:16

(This phenomenon does not seem to be restricted to the buried dead.)

So you have burial-fancying Jesus-followers. Now take shortage of land, combine it with the relative unpopularity of Christians, and the availability of soft volcanic rock under Rome, and you get these secret burial places tunneled underground. A stunning 375 miles of tomb-lined tunnels, as many as five layers/levels deep.
Bodies were simply wrapped in linen, placed in stone sarcophagi, and lined up in niches in the walls of tunnels. Apparently, the survivors figured Christ’s return would happen pretty soon, so there was no real interest in embalming the remains.

Pretty soon, they thought. And we’re still waiting.

For our citizenship is in heaven,
from which also we eagerly wait for
a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Philippians 3:20

A promise that Jesus made. A promise that He will keep.

“Do not let your heart be troubled;
believe in God, believe also in Me. …
I go to prepare a place for you.
If I go and prepare a place for you,
I will come again and
receive you to Myself,
that where I am,
there you may be also.”
John 14:1–3

Popular legend has it that these catacombs were hideouts for the early Christians. Probably untrue. You see, by the second century, the metropolis of Rome was a bustling place with over a million people. The Christians who formed about 1% of that crowd did not need to secrete themselves in underground caverns; they could hide in plain view, in complete anonymity, as they blended into obscurity with the hordes in the city.

Then, in 380, under the Emperor Constantine, Christianity became officially recognized as the state religion of the Roman Empire. But folks still kept burying their deceased in the catacombs, to keep the latter close to the long-gone martyrs. I’m not sure what good that would do come resurrection time. Anyhow, that practice slowly fell off, and the dead were consigned to standard church cemeteries. The catacombs, in time, became places of pilgrimage.

Not a bad concept, remembering the dead, the ones who have gone on, those who have left legacies, those faithful ones who have pointed us to Christ.

Remember those who led you,
who spoke the word of God to you;
and considering
the result of their conduct,
imitate their faith.
Hebrews 13:7

But it’s even more profitable to “remember” the future, that Christ is coming again. For us. Soon!

“Behold, I am coming quickly,
and My reward is with Me.”
Revelation 22:12

And there is a special reward for those who have waited eagerly.

In the future there is laid up for me
the crown of righteousness,
which the Lord, the righteous Judge,
will award to me on that day;
and not only to me, but also to all
who have loved His appearing.
2 Timothy 4:8

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

Saturday, February 12, 2011


Last week’s historic cold wave continued. It was more sleet, ice, slush, and snow last Wednesday. So Dallas Seminary classes were canceled … again!

I had already made two new schedules for my classes, adjusting sessions, tweaking content, reassigning preachers, etc. This week I had to do it again, for the third time. What a mess!

(I also feel for patients that needed appointments rescheduled, and for those working in the front office of medical practices who have to do all the hard work remaking those appointments, if they can find empty slots, that is. Yup, a mess!)

Things don’t go the way we expect them to, do they?

Hopefully, after the third new class schedule I have created, there won’t be any more snow days this semester. But I am resigned to the fact that there is no guarantee that there won’t be. “Acts of God” do happen.

Nope, things don’t go the way I want them to.

As Rabbie Burns, Scotland’s favorite son, Robden of Solway Firth, the Bard of Ayrshire, known in those lands simply as “The Bard,” wrote in 1785:

But Mousie, thou art no thy lane, [not alone]
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley,
[Go often askew]
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

Agley, they do gang. And aft. Indeed. But thankfully, that’s true only of mice an’ men.

God’s plans go on. His purposes go forth. Ne’er do they gang aft agley, ever!

Everything runs ….
… according to His purpose
who works all things
after the counsel of His will.
Ephesians 1:11

His plans are not thwarted by the vagaries of time and weather.
The counsel of the LORD stands forever,
The plans of His heart
from generation to generation.
Psalm 33:11

Ours plans often are confounded, negated, and frustrated. Not God’s.

Many plans are in a man's heart,
But the counsel of the LORD will stand.
Proverbs 19:21

Even when we think we are getting our way, we must acknowledge that God is still in charge.
The mind of man plans his way,
But the LORD directs his steps.
Proverbs 16:9

For He is sovereign. He is in control.
The king's heart is like channels of water
in the hand of the LORD;
He turns it wherever He wishes.
Proverbs 21:1

Indeed, I’m glad He is sovereign and in control. How else can we handle all the vicissitudes of life without being shaken?
O LORD, You are my God;
I will exalt You,
I will give thanks to Your name;
For You have worked wonders,
Plans formed long ago,
with perfect faithfulness.
Isaiah 25:1

Only with a steadfast consciousness of God’s sovereignty and control can there ever be peace of heart and quietude of mind.
The steadfast of mind
You will keep in perfect peace,
Because he trusts in You.
Isaiah 26:3

God’s plans last. God’s plans come to pass. God’s plans and God’s alone.
“For I know the plans that I have for you,”
declares the LORD,
“plans for welfare and not for calamity
to give you a future and a hope.”
Jeremiah 29:11

Nope, His plans don’t gang agley. Not at all.

And so we rest, assured of His sovereignty and control.

Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.
Isaac Watts, 1719

In Him we trust, our refuge in ice, in snow, in rain, in drought, in darkness, in day, now and for eternity.

Saturday, February 05, 2011


A historic cold wave, the most intense in the Dallas area since 1989, commenced at 04:00 hours on February 1st and finally peeked over 32° at 10:00 hours on February 5th. A record 102-hour streak of freezing temps.

Death-beckoning roads, just sheets of ice, shut everything down. No clinics, no seminary classes, nothing. I stayed at home.

Well, not really. I bravely ventured out twice: once to go get a workout at Landry Center. (Yup, a workout! Why are you surprised?). And another time to chat with a neighbor, on whose frozen steps I took a spill.

(My back is broken, I’m paralyzed, I can’t breathe, I’m unconscious …. I’m suing you, Timothy!)

Once out, I couldn’t drive my car up my sloping driveway back into the garage. So there it lay, on the street, all wrapped in a swaddling white blanket, snow on snow, just like in the bleak midwinter, where frosty wind made moan, and earth stood hard as iron, and water, like a stone.

What do you expect in place that has no snow plows, only some sand, and just a few grains of salt?

Oh, and at Landry Center I ran into a crowd of morose DTS students. Their singles dorm, Washington Hall, was the unfortunate victim of a “rolling blackout,” courtesy of our fair city’s utility company. No heat, no light, no internet. The sufferings of a seminary student. Their rewards will be many!

Apparently it’s not all over yet. There might be another cold snap this week. I’m going back to Aberdeen, or even Boston!

But right now, we’re just making things feel like home for those good folks from Wisconsin and Pittsburgh coming to do battle here today.

But, all things considered, I must say I enjoyed the break of four days.

Yes, we must be grateful for the seasons, but not just for getting snow days off.

After the flood in Genesis, Noah built an altar and offered sacrifices to God.

The LORD smelled the soothing aroma;
and the LORD said to Himself,
“I will never again curse the ground
on account of man,
for the intent of man's heart is
evil from his youth;
and I will never again
destroy every living thing,
as I have done.
While the earth remains,
seedtime and harvest,
and cold and heat,
and summer and winter,
and day and night shall not cease.”
Genesis 8:21–22

Seasons are a mark of God’s faithfulness!

Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!"
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Thomas Obadiah Chisholm (1866–1960)

What a God!

Yours is the day, Yours also is the night;
You have prepared the light and the sun.
You have established
all the boundaries of the earth;
You have made summer and winter.
Psalm 74:16–17

And this God is a faithful God. Faithful throughout generations. Faithful in the giving of His Word. Faithful in the sending of His Son, Jesus Christ to atone for our sins. Faithful in His continued grace extended towards us. Faithful as He takes us home one day. And faithful for all eternity!

Your lovingkindness, O LORD,
extends to the heavens,
Your faithfulness to the skies.
And the children of men take refuge
in the shadow of Your wings.
Psalm 36:5, 7

We do! Even as we shiver!