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3.24.2006    |    I'll be back
My wife and I are going out of town, to New York. No new posting until April 2 or so...

May God bless and keep you in His care.
   |    Intercessory prayer: a waste of time?
Front page story in today's Washington Post, headline: "Researchers Look at Prayer and Healing." Yet again, we attempt to quantify God, put Him in a box of nostrums that we can pull off of the shelf when we need Him.

Richard Sloan, a behavioral researcher at Columbia University, has it right when he says
I would like to see us stop wasting precious research dollars putting religious practices to the test of science. It's a waste of money, and it trivializes the religious experience.
The story is, for a secular newspaper, fair and balanced. Can I write that about the Post? It's not Fox News, after all... Both "sides" if you will are represented: those who know that intercessory prayer works, and those skeptics who know it does not.

Both are right, in my opinion. First, let me clarify this seeming impossibility. I believe that prayer is necessary for us to lead full lives. I also know, with a certainty, that not all of our prayers can be answered, though all are heard. What a crazy world would we live in, were that all of our prayers were answered. Impossible, since Joe is praying for the exact opposite of what Sue is praying for. Fill in the names of your favorite people or groups. And remember that, as late as World War I, all of the major nations claimed that the (Christian) God was on their side, and, natch, they prayed for victory.

God knows. We don't. Prayer can help, especially if you believe in God, and know that someone is praying for you. Prayer can help, especially if you don't believe in God, and don't know that someone is praying for you.

God help those who think they know what God is doing. They are confused.

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3.22.2006    |    "Be little in thine own esteem"
This is the advice of C.H. Spurgeon, writing on James 4:6: He giveth grace unto the humble. The passage from James is actually a citation made by James from Proverbs 3:34, which underscores its eternal truth: God will provide grace for those who are humble, who know that it is all His, that everything we are we owe to Him.
Brother Spurgeon's take on this, from today's Faith's Check Book
Humble hearts seek grace, and therefore they get it. Humble hearts yield to the sweet influences of grace, and so it is bestowed on them more and more largely. Humble hearts lie in the valleys where streams of grace are flowing, and hence they drink of them, Humble hearts are grateful for grace and give the Lord the glory of it, and hence it is consistent with His honor to give it to them.

Come, dear reader, take a lowly place. Be little in thine own esteem, that the Lord may make much of thee. Perhaps the sigh breaks out, "I fear I am not humble." It may be that this is the language of true humility. Some are proud of being humble, and this is one of the very worst sorts of pride. We are needy, helpless, undeserving, hell-deserving creatures, and if we are not humble we ought to be. Let us humble ourselves because of our sins against humility, and then the Lord will give us to taste of His favor. It is grace which makes us humble, and grace which finds in this humility an opportunity for pouring in more grace. Let us go down that we may rise. Let us be poor in spirit that God may make us rich. Let us be humble that we may not need to be humbled but may be exalted by the grace of God.
Note that point about how "some are proud of being humble." I think we've all known, or heard of, people exhibiting this false humility. Anytime I find myself thinking, let alone saying out loud, "I am humble, Oh Lord, won't you favor me with your grace," I simply kick myself and remember I've not earned this grace through any action on my part.

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3.20.2006    |    "ich kann nicht anders"
How many of us have caved in the face of pressure? Peer pressure; boss pressure; societal pressure. We go along with the latest fad, we don't object when some talentless bimbo all but strips, lip-synchs, and it's called "talent." We tell the bossman "yessir, yessir, three bags full" when we know that he is wrong.

The list of our accomodations to and conformity with the world are endless. For the Protestant Christian, it is useful to reflect on these famous words attributed to Martin Luther:
Hier stehe ich, ich kann nicht anders. Gott helfe mir. Amen
Luther had reached the end of his willingness to accomodate himself to the vanities and evils that the Catholic heirarchy had conformed themselves to. At least as Luther saw them, and, in retrospect, as history has shown them to be.

"Ich kann nicht anders." I can do no other. We need to remember these timeless words. We need to ponder, at each and every junction when we must choose to do something we ought not, or, by our silence, in effect endorse actions and things that we should not.
Many times in my career, I was faced with ethnical challenges. Many times I simply went along with what was expedient. This was before I knew Christ, and had read of the incredible boldness of Martin Luther's stand against the institutional church.

"Ich kann nicht anders," and, always, lest we forget, we must also say, "Gott helfe mir." Because I've also learned that without God's help, there's no point in even trying. With His help, we can always take our stand.

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3.19.2006    |    Separation of church and state
One of the things that Baptists should agree with, if nothing else, is that religion and the state should be separate. The obvious source of our strong philosophy, rooted in freedom of conscience, was that established churches were particularly hard on early Baptists and other dissenters. Some of us Baptists and other Christians may appear to forget this, when we fulminate against secular political figures. Pat Robertson, call your office...

One early American voice striving against the establishment of any church was Baptist minister John Leland (1754-1841). Unfortunately, the Rev. Mr. Leland has been appropriated by some who think that the prohibition of an established church means that there be no religion expressed in the public square.

Leland would likely have been horrified at some of the things that some Baptists (and other Christians) say. I think he would have publicly disciplined them, and reminded them that the Christian religion is about the salvation of our souls, about our personal relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ. In other words, public statements by Christians speaking as Christians must be about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Period.

As for the wisdom of involvement in secular politics, consider these words from John Leland:
Guard against those men who make a great noise about religion, in choosing representatives. It is electioneering. If they knew the nature and worth of religion, they would not debauch it to such shameful purposes.

-- "July 4th Oration by John Leland, July 5, 1802". The Writings of John Leland, Edited by L.F. Greene
The Rev. Mr. Leland was a wise man. His advice still stands as worthy of emulation in this year of our Lord 2006.

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3.18.2006    |    Questions for God
It's been said that God has His reasons for everything. This, necessarily, includes the fact that we are allowed to die in ways heinous and peaceful. And that many, if not virtually all of us, leave behind those who will mourn our passing. Who, as like as not, question God whenever one is taken before we think he or she is ready.

Case in point is the sudden death this morning of one of the kindest members of our church family, Susan Johnson. Susan was young, not having reached 50. Well, to me, at 62, that's young. She was our children's choir director, and this all by itself takes the patience of Job.

Susan and her husband BJ also have been mission Christians, putting, as it were, their money where their faith is. Bottom line? Susan was doing the Lord's work, much more than I've ever done. Yet she is now dead.

The usual answers to the question of "Why her; why now?" are evasions. "God is sovereign, and we're not to question His actions." "Satan owns the earth, and our deaths are the natural consequence of original sin." True enough, but not very satisfactory to those of us who consider ourselves so enlightened, so logical, that every action must be explained as though in a court of law.

And that's the real lesson for me in the passing of this wonderful woman. Not everything is amenable to this logical, legalistic treatment. Some things are beyond our ken. The death of Susan Johnson is one of them. What we can know is that Susan lived her faith. What we can hope for, and trust in as being true, without proof in this life, is that her death is merely a new beginning for her as she is with the Lord. Would that I had the strength of faith to believe this.

I try to believe it. So far, I have failed. I'll keep trying, and all the while, keep praying for BJ and their two little girls. That they will find the strength in Jesus Christ to know that they were blessed by having Susan in their lives. She was a gift from God to them. And us.

3.16.2006    |    A little humility, perhaps?
Confession: I've never especially liked Paul. Paul the apostle, that is. Respect, even to the point of being in awe of this mighty man of Christ, yes. But he's not a man I'd especially care to sit down and have a pint or two with.

Paul, by his own admission, was a persecutor of Christians (Acts 26:9-11), even condemning some to death, such was his zeal. After his conversion, perhaps the single most important conversion in the history of the church, he shifted the target of his zeal. No, he did not become a literal persecutor of the Jews. He did become a zealot, and preached the kingdom of God in the person of Jesus Christ, risen from the dead to put paid to our sins.

Paul's zeal is worthy of emulation. Would that I could measure up. But here's where I suggest that Paul could have used a little something that Jesus had in great measure: humility. Consider this, from Paul's letter to the Philippians, Chapter 4:8
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Excellent advice, worthy of following. But here's where Paul needs to dial it down a notch, in 4:9
What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me--practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
I'm delighted that God chose Paul, knowing that his character would be just the thing to spread knowledge of God's Son to the gentiles. But let's take Paul with a large dose of our own humility, and let none of us think we are so blameless as to be self-appointed templates for humanity.

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3.14.2006    |    God's will
Why do bad things happen to good people (gag reflex must now be suppressed...)? The fancy term for this is theodicy, or, in question form again, "how can a loving God allow evil to exist?"

John Piper, in a recent essay, reframes this question as "If God Wills Disease Why Should We Try to Eradicate It?" This isn't quite a theodicy question, Rather, it is one of giving in to a sense of helplessness. If we believe in a sovereign God, what's the point of fighting against what He has ordained?

None at all, if one believes that we've no free will to follow, or not follow, what John Piper calls God’s "will of command." But we do, of course, have free will. Which fallen mankind uses so often to deny God and to become agents of Satan. Which I would posit as a prime cause of much of the havoc wreaked by disease and other acts of God such as hurricanes and tsunamis. Small example: people in coastal areas allowed, or even encouraged to rebuild flimsy homes that are virtually certain to be destroyed, come the next tsunami.

John Piper correctly states "God is as much in charge of the research as he is of the disease." I would broaden this, and state "God is as much in charge of natural disaster prevention and mitigation as he is of the disasters." What is left unanswered, because it is, as yet, unanswerable, is "Why does God give us disease and disasters to begin with?"

For now, however, I'm content to let the question rest, unanswered, with these words from John Piper:
God does not permit things willy-nilly. He permits things for a reason. There is infinite wisdom in all he does and all he permits. So what he permits is part of his plan just as much as what he does more directly.
One of our goals in the here and now is to understand where we are called to be God's agents in preventing and alleviating human suffering. And, once we understand, to act on that understanding.

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3.12.2006    |    Faith in Roe v. Wade
South Dakota may be the perfect flyover state for the bi-coastal elites. It's rectangular; it's not got many tourist attractions that are of interest, at least not to those whose notion of "art" is the Blessed Virgin dipped in dung.

What South Dakota seems to have is a moral view of the world that differs markedly with many, if not most, other states. Gov. Mike Rounds, on signing S.D. House Bill 1215, also put his pen and his reputation behind these words of explanation (from Gov. Rounds' statement, which may be found here):
In the history of the world, the true test of a civilization is how well people treat the most vulnerable and most helpless in their society. The sponsors and supporters of this bill believe that abortion is wrong because unborn children are the most vulnerable and most helpless persons in our society. I agree with them.
The Governor goes on to note that South Dakota has healthcare and other programs to help poor mothers-to-be to cope with their perhaps-unwanted children.

It is rare in public life to see such moral clarity in high, elected office. Skeptics will claim that the South Dakota law is merely a gambit, a ploy on the part of those to get Roe v. Wade on the Supreme Court's agenda. So that it can be struck down. Uh oh. One can almost hear the shrieks from the abortion-on-demand-up-until 8 months-and 29 days-point.

The New York Times, in a typical editorial today, warns us that the "threat to abortion rights has reached a new level." Then they go, with gusto, into the proverbial back-alley for a coat-hanger abortion. Without antiseptic, of course.

The Times is merely repeating what the abortion-on-demand crowd has been trumpeting for years: a woman's "right" to an abortion is more important than an unborn child's right to life. And, that sovereign states such as South Dakota are a "threat" to an unfettered "right" to an abortion.

I believe that God's plan includes creating an ensouled person at conception. And that an abortion kills a person, a helpless person. But there's no way I can prove this in a scientific sense. My fondest hope is that our society will agree, over time, to err on the side of my belief.

In the "am I a conservative hypocrite" bin, I have to put this: I have sinned myself, in the past. And have asked forgiveness: of God, of my spouse. I have repented, but, then, there's also this challenge for those who consider themselves pure limited-government conservatives (which I also do): how about taking care of all the children who will be born were there no abortions?

Many of these children will be born to unfit mothers; others to dysfunctional and poor families. We who would prevent abortion must also ensure that there are means to protect the newly-born children from disease and hunger. Would that this could be done solely through faith-based and other private charities. The harsh reality is that government intervention is probably the only agency that will truly work.

Our task as anti-abortion conservatives is to take care of the "least of these my brothers" (Matthew 25:40). It is simply not sufficient to preach against abortion, and, at the same time, preach against the evils of government -- if government is the real-world means by which to protect the least of our brothers.
3.11.2006    |    We need many more like her
Dr. Wafa Sultan, that is. Speaking the truth to hundreds of millions of her co-religionists who simply do not want to hear it. And, who have responded in the only way that members of the "religion of peace" can: by death threats.

From a story in the New York Times, Dr. Sultan appears to have handed in her "I-Hate-the-Jews Club" lifetime membership that is otherwise de rigueur for orthodox muslims:
Speaking of the Holocaust, she said, "The Jews have come from the tragedy and forced the world to respect them, with their knowledge, not with their terror; with their work, not with their crying and yelling."

She went on, "We have not seen a single Jew blow himself up in a German restaurant. We have not seen a single Jew destroy a church. We have not seen a single Jew protest by killing people."

She concluded, "Only the Muslims defend their beliefs by burning down churches, killing people and destroying embassies. This path will not yield any results. The Muslims must ask themselves what they can do for humankind, before they demand that humankind respect them."
My God. This woman seems to be...normal. And seems to be able to appreciate the difference between reality and Islamist nonsense.

It gets even worse, from an Islamist's perspective. From a MEMRI transcript of an interview on Al-Jazeera, here's an example of some truth-telling:
The Prophet of Islam said: 'I was ordered to fight the people until they believe in Allah and His Messenger.' When the Muslims divided the people into Muslims and non-Muslims, and called to fight the others until they believe in what they themselves believe, they started this clash, and began this war. In order to start this war, they must reexamine their Islamic books and curricula, which are full of calls for takfir and fighting the infidels.
"Death to infidels" might not have quite the same appeal to our ears as "Fight, fight, for old Notre Dame," but it seems to get the job done. Said job being keeping the Islamic world mired in pre-modern fascism.

Dr. Sultan is a brave woman. Would that we, free people everywhere, had more like her.
3.09.2006    |    The true religion of peace
Through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord tells Israel, even as it is in captivity in Babylon (Jeremiah 29:7)
...seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
Therein lies the root of what it means to be a faithful witness to God: Pray for the welfare of even of those who oppress you.

This thought is brought to its highest expression by Jesus, who repeats the message, amplifying it in Matthew 5:
44...Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.
So, should we love and pray for Muslims who would deny Christ, and deny our right to follow Him? Yes. And this one distinctive about Christianity, over against Islam: we know that the peace of Christ, a peace that passes human understanding, is sufficient.

We would prefer that Muslims came to know Christ; it is, in fact, our duty as agents of the Great Commission to preach the gospel, even in the face of the violence and hatred that is so prevalent in the Islamic world. But it is also our duty to pray for those who do not accept Christ as Lord, and who in turn use violence to deny us our faith.

They claim to be the "religion of peace." We are.

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3.08.2006    |    Telling the story
Every once and again I come across a story that resonates with God's eternal mysteries. Case in point: the Holocaust. Which is being denied as having ever taken place by Islamists and others, primarily to forward their hatred of Jews.

I don't know why God would, at the same time, maintain His covenant with the Jews (which I believe He does) and yet subject them to the Holocaust. All I know for certain is that it did happen, and that it, among other things, led to the foundation of the modern state of Israel.

Well, as I wrote, I don't really know, and all I can do is accept God's will. One lesson is that the Holocaust stands as yet another reminder, as if one were really needed, of the fallen nature of mankind. Satan surely was in charge, acting through the Germans, Austrians, Poles, Ukrainians, and others who willingly went along with and enabled the mass slaughter.

Yet God also saves, and allowed some to survive so that they could tell the story of the horrors inflicted on God's people Israel. One such story, and an emotional reunion of one American soldier and the man he rescued, is here.

The man who was liberated is Lou Dunst, who related that he begged God: "Please let me live – if for nothing else than to tell my story." Lou Dunst is not alone; many others have survived, and, by the grace of God, told their story.

God listened to Lou Dunst. As for those millions who were killed, I pray that He received all the victims of the Holocaust and, as predicted in Revelation 7, they have been sealed in His glory.
3.07.2006    |    "A sword for the LORD and for Gideon!"
This stirring battle cry was made when the Lord gave the Midianites over to Israel, a story of faith in the Lord told in Judges 7. It is a theme repeated, over and over, in the history of God's people Israel: faith in God, and only in Him, will bring about His purposes.

God acts through His people, and Gideon, through his faith, became one of God's agents in human history. But Gideon knew that his victory had little to do with his own merit. It was solely due to God's sovereignty, to God giving Gideon that which he needed to conquer the Midianites.

We have always had among us Midianites and Amalekites who would oppress us, even unto death. Simply because we worship God, and attempt to be faithful to His commandments. And, just as in Gideon's time, we will always have, one must pray, stalwarts who will, with great humility, take up the sword to defend God's people Israel today. Which people very much include those who proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord.

The quotation, "a sword for the LORD and for Gideon" might be used by people who think that they, and not God, can be in charge of their destiny. After all, does it not imply an equal partnership? God, and Gideon. What a tag-team! This would seem to be some sort of proof of the un-biblical adage, "God helps those who help themselves." The implication could be, that, somehow, God will only stick around to help only if we initiate the action.

There's a reason you can't find this in the Bible. It's because it denies the sovereignty of God, and the hard truth that without God, nothing is possible. With Him, anything. But it starts, and ends, with God.

As we are told early in Judges 7:
2The LORD said to Gideon, "The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, 'My own hand has saved me.'
Israel, then, and now, has often made this error. God saves us, by giving us the strength to fight His fight.

When it becomes solely our fight, we will lose. Sooner or later.

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3.06.2006    |    Homophobic racist imperialist warmongers
This is what we must be as a nation. If, that is, our most celebrated entertainments truly reflected our society. To judge America by which films and their actors just won Academy awards, one must conclude that we are, at once, homophobic ("Brokeback Mountain"), racist ("Crash") and imperialist warmongers ("Syriana").

Now, it's certain that not all movies made last year were in one of these categories. And, if memory serves, I've seen some box office numbers that showed that more mainstream films did better than those attempting to induce guilt for the horrid ways in which we've inflicted our Christian, homophobic, racist, imperialist warmongering selves on the world.

Perhaps I'm getting too sensitive, or giving Hollywood more credit than they deserve. And yet, after seeing the latest bonfire of the vanities, I could not but recall this verse from Romans 12:
2Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
It is long past time that we, as a society, stopped conforming to the world. Especially that world as seen by our Hollywood "elite."

Many, if not most, of these "elite," beautiful people are anything but. They are savages, and spreaders of filth and decay. All dressed up in stylish coats of self-congratulation and simply oozing moral superiority.

The biggest vanity among these clowns? Entertainers who are skilled at reading lines written for them by others thinking that they've also got some superior insights into important things. Self-important fools like George Clooney, Matt Damon, Susan Sarandon, Whoopi Goldberg, to name but a few of the more egregious idiots.

There. I feel better. But what I would ask of all who partake in the popular culture, very much including myself, is that we not extend any credance to what any of these pretty people do or say outside of their movies. And, most definitely, know that Hollywood is a cesspool, and has great difficulty in discerning right from wrong.
3.04.2006    |    "blatant expression of racism"
This is the principal reason given by the United Methodist Church for cancelling their 2012 general conference that had been slated for Richmond. Bad, bad Richmond. What can you expect from the former capitol of the Confederacy?

But that's not the kind of racism the UMC is objecting to. It seems that Richmond boasts a minor league baseball team, the Richmond Braves. And, as all right-thinking feel-good guilty white liberals know, anything named after an American Indian is racist. From the UMC it's very self, the bleeding heart of political correctness:
We are sad for the great United Methodists in Virginia who were excited about hosting the General Conference but are pleased to take a strong stance against teams with offensive names. However well intended, sports teams named after Native Americans demean the heritage of native peoples. They perpetuate unhealthy and unfair stereotypes."
Hmm. I suppose that were a team be named Dirty Ugly Sasquatch Squawmen, it might be offensive. But there aren't such teams. Indian-themed names and nicknames typically are neutral, e.g. the Cleveland Indians, tribal, e.g. the Seminoles of Florida State University. Or, for many teams, simply, the Braves.

My dictionary provides this definition for "brave":
Willing to face danger, pain, or trouble; not afraid; showing to good effect;fine, or splendid.
"Braves" in the Indian usage have these attributes. Perhaps these PC Methodists are right: it would be so terribly "unhealthy and unfair" to characterize our Indian brothers with such a shameful appellation. Throw me in that briar patch.

While you're throwing, the Methodists should throw out any and all gatherings in any of these racist states, all of which have racist names that are "unhealthy and unfair" to Indians:
North Dakota
South Dakota
I must, in charity, give the United Methodists the benefit of the doubt: they probably meant well. The result, however, is that they look foolish and posturing vainly. And, not least, isn't it a wee bit patronizing to instruct Native Americans as to what they should be offended by?
3.03.2006    |    Xenophobic?
One of the accusations hurled against those who don't want foreign companies to manage U.S. ports is xenophobia. Or, at least, when that foreign company is owned by a foreign government. As is the case with Dubai Ports World (DPW), of Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Among other things, the UAE does not recognize Israel, and does not allow its corporations to do business with Israel. In short, Israel is blacklisted by the UAE. Which, sadly, is joined by most other Arab regimes.

Perhaps the Bushies have such good ties with the Arab world that they can ignore this (remember that picture of the president literally holding hands with prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia last year at his Crawford ranch?). To his credit, the president appears to be a man who is not prejudiced against foreigners or Arabs.

The problem is that these particular foreigners are prejudiced against Jews. Turns out that, according to this editorial in the Jerusalem Post
Dubai Ports World (DPW), is an active participant in the illegal boycott of Israel. Under extensive questioning at a Senate hearing on Tuesday, a DPW official admitted that the government of the United Arab Emirates owns DPW and does indeed enforce the boycott of Israel.
Note that the "illegal" claim is that under U.S. law, it is illegal for an American firm or firm doing business in the United States to participate in a boycott of a U.S. ally.

Whether it is, in fact, illegal, it is certainly, to use a word, xenophobic of the Dubai firm to participate in a boycott of Israel. It is, in a better word, just plain wrong. Bill Bennett is quoted in the Jerusalem Post article:
The president has asked "what kind of signal does it send throughout the world if it's okay for a British company to manage the ports, but not a company that has … been cleared for security purposes from the Arab world?"

The better question is 'What kind of a signal are we sending by making a public ally of a country that refuses democracy and does not recognize the existence of its most democratic neighbor because it is considered to be inhabited by members of the wrong religion? Who are the real xenophobes here?"
The UAE is an almost exclusively Muslim country, and certainly does not accept Biblical prophecy. One shouldn't expect that they would, or punish them for not knowing that it is God's will for the Jews to have a homeland in the Middle East.

But to continue a state of economic warfare against Israel, because her people are Jewish? This is plainly wrong. It's in flat denial of the special place that Israel and the Jews have in this world. It's in flat denial of the American sense of justice and fair play. It's prejudiced, and xenophobic.

And we Christians, including George Bush, should never countenance having such people as Dubai Ports World doing business in our country.
3.02.2006    |    Billy Graham
Thought I'd share this marvelous tidbit about Billy Graham, which was forwarded to me by email:

In January 2000, leaders in Charlotte, North Carolina, invited their favorite son, Billy Graham, to a luncheon in his honor.

Billy initially hesitated to accept the invitation because he struggles with Parkinson's disease. But the Charlotte leaders said, "We don't expect a major address. Just come and let us honor you." So he agreed.

After wonderful things were said about him, Dr. Graham stepped to the rostrum, looked at the crowd, and said,
I'm reminded today of Albert Einstein, the great physicist who this month has been honored by Time magazine as the Man of the Century. Einstein was once traveling from Princeton on a train when the conductor came down the aisle, punching the tickets of every passenger. When he came to Einstein, Einstein reached in his vest pocket. He couldn't find his ticket, so he reached in his trouser pockets. It wasn't there, so he looked in his briefcase but couldn't find it. Then he looked in the seat beside him. He still couldn't find it.

The conductor said, "Dr. Einstein, I know who you are. We all know who you are. I'm sure you bought a ticket. Don't worry about it."

Einstein nodded appreciatively. The conductor continued down the aisle punching tickets. As he was ready to move to the next car, he turned around and! saw the great physicist down on his hands and knees looking under his seat for his ticket.

The conductor rushed back and said, "Dr. Einstein, Dr. Einstein, don't worry, I know who you are. No problem. You don't need a ticket. I'm sure you bought one."

Einstein looked at him and said, "Young man, I too, know who I am. What I don't know is where I'm going."
Having said that Billy Graham continued, "See the suit I'm wearing? It's a brand new suit. My wife, my children, and my grandchildren are telling me I've gotten a little slovenly in my old age. I used to be a bit more fastidious. So I went out and bought a new suit for this luncheon and one more occasion.

You know what that occasion is? This is the suit in which I'll be buried. But when you hear I'm dead, I don't want you to immediately remember the suit I'm wearing. I want you to remember this:

I not only know who I am ... I also know where I'm going."

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3.01.2006    |    Ashes
Today the Catholics and Anglicans observe Ash Wednesday as the start of the Lenten season in the church. Baptists, and I would guess most other Reformed Protestants, do not have special liturgies to mark the day -- or ashes to mark the foreheads of the faithful.

Ashes to ashes; we all return to dust. Well known. And we should all welcome opportunities to deepen our Christian faith. To a point. The point of Ash Wednesday is to enter a period of (choose your route) a) reflection and reconciliation, b) penance for your sins, c) a 40-day journey in the desert in anticipation of the Passion and Resurrection of Easter morn. Or all of the above.

So, why no ashes? For me, it's in Scripture: Matthew, Chapter 6:
16 When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
Does this mean I think that those who do wear an outward sign of fasting for Lent (ashes) are hypocrites? No. But it shows that their churches hold tradition to be at least the equal to Scripture. Or at least New Testament Scripture.

To be certain, sackcloth and ashes are called for in the Hebrew Scriptures. For example, Daniel 9:3:
So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.
But as part of our new Covenant, Jesus tells us that the old tradition of sackcloth and ashes to demonstrate penance is not needed.

What is most curious is that the Roman Catholic and Anglican liturgies for today include the very same passages from Matthew 6:16-18. Curious, and, seemingly self-contradictory. In any event, Ash Wednesday should be as any other day: waiting upon the Lord; being prepared for His return at any moment. From Mark 13:
32"No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It's like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. 35 "Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back–whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’"

[note: this is a post of mine from last Ash Wednesday; it still speaks my mind. Perhaps my penance is to repeat posts?]

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About this site and the author

Welcome. My name is John Luke Rich, (very) struggling Christian. The focus here is Christianity in its many varieties, its fussing and feuding, how it impacts our lives and our society, with detours to consider it with other faiths (or lack thereof).

Call this blog my way of evangelizing on the internet.

Putting it differently, we're only here on this earth a short time. It's the rest of eternity that we should be most concerned about. Call it the care and feeding of our souls.

I was born Jewish, and born again in Christ Jesus over thirty years ago. First as a Roman Catholic; now a Calvinist by persuasion and a Baptist by denomination. But I'm hardly a poster boy for doctrinal rigidity.

I believe that Scripture is the rock on which all Christian churches must stand -- or sink if they are not so grounded. I believe that we are saved by faith, but hardly in a vacuum. That faith is a gift from God, through no agency on our part -- although we sometimes turn a deaf ear and choose to ignore God's knocking on the door.

To be Christian is to evangelize. Those who think it not their part to evangelize perhaps haven't truly understood what our Lord told us in Matthew 28. We must preach the Gospel as best we are able. Using words if necessary.

Though my faith waxes and wanes, it never seems to go away. Sometimes I wish it would, to give me some peace of mind. But then, Jesus never said that walking with Him was going to be easy...

Final note: I also blog as Jack Rich on cultural, political and other things over at Wrong Side of the Tracks

Thanks for stopping by.