Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Jeanne d'Arc

"I place trust in God, my creator, in all things; I love Him with all my heart."

On this day in 1431 Jeanne d'Arc (1411-1431) perished at the fiery hands of her English foes. She was subsequently declared innocent by the Inquisition on July 7, 1456 after a lengthy re-trial process which was initiated shortly after the English were finally driven from Rouen, thereby allowing access to the documents and witnesses associated with her trial; the presiding Inquisitor, Jean Bréhal, ruled that the original trial had been tainted by fraud, illegal procedures, and intimidation of both the defendant and many of the clergy who had taken part in the trial, and she was therefore described as a martyr by the Inquisitor.

After the usual lengthy delay associated with the sluggish and questionable process of canonization, she was beatified on April 11, 1909 and canonized as a saint on May 16, 1920.

For some Christians of a different tradition than me, today is the feast day of St. Joan of Arc. Interestingly, it comes on the heels of Memorial Day. I was reminded that many female Christian soldiers wear a medal of Jeanne d'Arc along with their dog tags, seeing as how she was the patron saint for female soldiers (and any female military).

So, while keeping all service personnel in your prayers, today on the feast day of Joan of Arc, keep in mind the American women who have gone to serve and not returned home.

St. Joan refused to follow any command but God's!

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Short verse!

What's the shortest verse in the New Testament?

It's 1 Thessalonians. 5:16: "Always rejoice." ("Jesus wept" is three words in Greek).

Easy to say, difficult to practice.

May God help you to experience His great joy today!

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Witch Hunt!

On this day in 1647, the first recorded execution of a witch in America took place in Massachusetts. Mary Easty was executed as a result of the Salem witch trials in 1692. She sent this letter to Massachusetts authorities shortly before her execution, asking not that her life be saved, but that they improve their methods of discovering witchcraft and that they be more cautious to guard against shedding the blood of innocent people.

“Petition of an Accused Witch
By Mary Easty

The Humble Petition of Mary Easty unto his Excellency Sir William Phips, and to the Honored Judge and Bench now sitting in Judicature in Salem, and the Reverend Ministers, humbly sheweth, that, whereas your poor and humble petitioner, being condemned to die, do humbly beg of you to take it in your judicious and pious consideration, that your poor and humble petitioner, knowing my own innocency, blessed be the Lord for it! and seeing plainly the wiles and subtilty of my accusers by myself, cannot but judge charitably of others that are going the same way of myself if the Lord steps not mightily in. I was confined a whole month upon the same account, that I am condemned now for, and then cleared by the afflicted persons, as some of Your Honors know.

And in two day's time I was cried out upon them, and have been confined, and now am condemned to die. The Lord above knows my innocency then, and likewise does now, as at the great day will be known to men and angels. I petition to Your Honors not for my own life, for I know I must die, and my appointed time is set; but the Lord he knows it is that, if it be possible, no more innocent blood may be shed, which undoubtedly cannot be avoided in the way and course you go in. I question not but Your Honors do to the utmost of your powers in the discovery and detecting of witchcraft and witches, and would not be guilty of innocent blood for the world.

But, by my own innocency, I know you are in the wrong way. The Lord in his infinite mercy direct you in this great work, if it be his blessed will that no more innocent blood be shed! I would humbly beg of you that Your Honors would be pleased to examine these afflicted persons strictly, and keep them apart some time, and likewise to try some of these confessing witches; I being confident there is several of them that has belied themselves and others, as will appear, if not in this world, I am sure in the world to come, whither I am now agoing. I question not but you will see an alteration of these things. They say myself and others having made a league with the Devil, we cannot confess. I know, and the Lord knows, as will appear, they belie me, and so I question not but they do others. The Lord above, who is the searcher of all hearts, knows, as I shall answer it at the tribunal seat, that I know not the least thing of witchcraft; therefore I cannot, I dare not, belie my own soul. I beg Your Honors not to deny this my humble petition from a poor, dying, innocent person. And I question not but the Lord will give a blessing to your endeavors.

Source: Library of Congress.

John Calvin!

On the 27th of May, 1564, John Calvin (Jean Cauvin), died in Geneva. Born at Noyon, France on 10 July 1509, at fourteen he was sent to Paris to study theology, and developed a particular interest in the writings of Augustine. His father then insisted that he take up law instead, which he did for three years, returning to theology when his father died.

In about 1534, he underwent a sudden conversion and became an ardent Protestant. He went to Basel, where he wrote and published the first edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, a work of systematic theology and a detailed logical account of grace. His doctrine is rooted in the experience of God's grace at work in his own heart, and unwillingness to attribute its presence to anything but the mercy of God, a determination never to claim that he has done anything more or better than Judas Iscariot to deserve a better destiny.

Calvin’s output was immense. In addition to the Institutes (1700 pages) he wrote commentaries on almost all the books of the Bible: many tracts and treatises discussing important theological controversies; hundreds of sermons (342 on Isaiah alone!); and numerous letters. Every Christian, Calvin insisted, must possess a measure of doctrinal sophistication or be at the mercy of every theological ill-wind. Pastors in particular must be provided with the tools needed for life-long study in service of the Word of God.

The list of ailments from which Calvin suffered is enough to make a person wince. Theodore Beza, his successor in Geneva, wrote of him, "A brave spirit was the master of a feeble body." Nevertheless, Calvin persevered throughout his suffering, working in the last, most difficult years, preaching until eight days before his death. Unflappable in his vocation, he finally had to be carried into the pulpit in Geneva in a chair. A remark in the dedication to his Commentary of II Thessalonians says it all: "My ministry... is dearer to me than life."

Calvin penned his last letter to his dearest friend, Guillaume Farel, only days before he died: "It is enough that I live and die for Christ, who is to all his followers a gain both in life and in death." His grave is unmarked.

Schaff recounts the last months of Calvin's life in some detail in his History of the Christian Church, volume 8. Regarding Calvin’s own last wishes, he writes:

Calvin had expressly forbidden all pomp at his funeral and the erection of any monument over his grave. He wished to be buried, like Moses, out of the reach of idolatry. This was consistent with his theology, which humbles man and exalts God.

Beza, however, wrote a suitable epitaph in Latin and French, which he calls "Parentalia" (i.e. offering at the funeral of a father):

"Shall honored Calvin to the dust return,
From whom e’en Virtue’s self might learn;
Shall he -of falling Rome the greatest dread,
By all the good bewailed, and now (tho’ dead)
The terror of the vile - lie in so mean,
So small a tomb, where not his name is seen?
Sweet Modesty, who still by Calvin’s side
Walked while he lived, here laid him when he died.
O happy tomb with such a tenant graced!
O envied marble o’er his ashes placed!"

Friday, May 26, 2006

Barth's Apologetics?

"By trying to resist and conquer other religions, we put ourselves on the same level. They, too, appeal to this or that immanent truth in them. They, too, can triumph in the power of the religious self-consciousness, and sometimes they have been astonishingly successful over wide areas. Christianity can take part in this fight. There is no doubt that it does not lack the necessary equipment, and can give a good account of itself alongside the other religions. But do not forget that if it does this it has renounced its birthright. It has renounced the unique power which it has as the religion of revelation.

This power dwells only in weakness. ... [Regarding the apologists of the early church] It was a real temptation, not merely to validate Jesus Christ against or for the sinful men of heathen religion, as the sacred books of the Church, the Old Testament and New Testament, demanded, but at the same time (and very quickly on a fairly broad front) to play off the Christian religion as better than the heathen, to contrast Christian possession ... with heathen poverty.

When we read the apologetics of the second and third centuries, can we altogether avoid the painful impression that what we have here ... is, on the whole, a not very happy, a rather self-righteous, and at any rate a not very perspicacious boasting about all those advantages of Christianity over heathen religion which were in themselves incontestable but not ultimately decisive? In these early self-commendations of Christianity a remarkably small part is played by the fact that grace is the truth of Christianity, that the Christian is justified when he is without God, like Abraham, that he is like the publican in the temple, the prodigal son, wretched Lazarus, the guilty thief crucified with Jesus Christ. Instead, we have the -- admittedly successful -- rivalry of one way of salvation, one wisdom and morality with others." (The Doctrine of the Word of God, Volume 1, Part 2, pp. 332-333. The Revelation of God; Holy Scripture: The Proclamation of the Church)

About the Author: (Excerpted from the Columbia Encyclopedia)

Barth, Karl (bärt), 1886–1968, Swiss Protestant theologian, one of the leading thinkers of 20th-century Protestantism. He helped to found the Confessing Church and his thinking formed the theological framework for the Barmen Declaration. He taught in Germany, where he early opposed the Nazi regime. In 1935 when he refused to take the oath of allegiance to Adolf Hitler, he was retired from his position at the Univ. of Bonn and deported to Switzerland. There he continued to expound his views, known as dialectical theology or theology of the word.

Barth’s primary object was to lead theology back to the principles of the Reformation (called neo-orthodoxy). For Barth, modern theology with its assent to science, immanent philosophy, and general culture and with its stress on feeling, was marked by indifference to the word of God and to the revelation of God in Jesus, which he thought should be the central concern of theology.

In the confrontation between humanity and God, which was Barth’s fundamental concern, the word of God and God’s revelation in Christ are the only means God has for Self-revelation; Barth argued that people must listen in an attitude of awe, trust, and obedience.

Barth’s writings include The Epistle to the Romans (tr. 1933), The Word of God and the Word of Man (tr. 1928), Credo (tr. 1936), and Church Dogmatics (Vol. I-IV, tr. 1936-62).

Further Reading:

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Machen's Bible!

J. Gresham Machen on the Bible:

The Christian man finds in the Bible the very Word of God. Let it not be said that dependence upon a book is a dead or an artificial thing. The Reformation of the sixteenth entury was founded upon the authority of the Bible, yet it set the world aflame. Dependence upon a word of man would be slavish, but dependence upon God's word is life. Dark and gloomy would be the world, if we were left to our own devices and had no blessed Word of God. The Bible, to the Christian is not a burdensome law, but the very Magna Charta of Christian liberty.”

“It is no wonder, then, that liberalism is totally different from Christianity, for the foundation is different. Christianity is founded upon the Bible. It bases upon the Bible both its thinking and its life. Liberalism on the other hand is founded upon the shifting emotions of sinful men.”

Your view of the Bible tells me something significant about where you stand in relation to God. Here's the link to the chapter on the Bible from J. Gresham Machen's classic book Christianity & Liberalism written in 1923.

For those who don't know Dr. Machen, here's the link. In short, he was a bold and brilliant follower of Jesus willing to stand for the absolute Truth contained in the Bible.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Dylan Path!

Bob Dylan is 65 today!

How will you commemorate this path blazing, Social Security eligible, icon-busting singer-songwriter, American idol?

"Celebrate the Tambourine Man's birthday on May 24th with some down-home revelry of your own," advises the website ehow.com. "Bust out your dusty tambourine and make some noise in celebration of one of Mr. Dylan's most famous ditties, 'Mr. Tambourine Man.'"

Bob Dylan hasn't recorded a new album since "Love and Theft" - dropped, ironically, on Sept. 11, 2001. But America's musical poet laureate, born Robert Allen Zimmerman, is as visible today as he's been at any time in his iconic, sometimes reclusive, even born-again, life.

Up here in the North Country, we have a new Bob Dylan "cultural pathway". Approved this week by the Duluth City Council, the 1.8 mile pathway runs from the city's history and arts center known as the Depot, down Michigan Street before turning up to Superior Street and then to London Road. The streets won't be renamed, but additional signs marking the route will be installed above the regular street signs.

Ken Buehler, executive director of the Lake Superior Railroad Museum, located in the Depot, said he likes the idea of the Depot being on a street named after Dylan. "It makes sense that one of your performing arts centers is on a street named for Bob Dylan," he said.

Madonna's old tricks!

In one of those "Are we really surprised?" moments, while singing "Live To Tell" during a recent concert in Los Angeles, Madonna suspended herself from a mirrored cross simulating her crucifixion. This was meant to tick off Christians.

Catholic League president Bill Donohue said in a statement that Madonna should “knock off the Christ-bashing.” Donohue said that while Madonna has misused Christian imagery for years, he thought that her recently declared faith in Kabbalah might inspire some respect for religion. But he said, "I guess you really can't teach an old pop star new tricks."

Of course, had it been that other religion, the one that riots over irreverent cartoons, would Madonna have survived her latest stage stunt? Read about the rock star's dramatic opening night in this Beliefnet article.

Contrary to upsetting evangelical Christians, this stunt may be viewed as another wonderful church growth idea - think of the crowd it would generate at Willow Creek or Oooze or any of a number of MegaChurches.

Asked an Anglican spokesman, "Is Madonna prepared to take on everything else that goes with wearing a crown of thorns?" Duh, dude, she totally already has!

Mega Hank!

Hank Hill goes to a mega church… This is both funny and often very close to home.

A megachurch is a large church, frequently defined as having more than 10,000 worshippers for a typical weekly service.

If you want to research some megachurch stuff, follow the below links:

Evaluating the Megachurch Movementby Charles Martin from Evangelical Ministries of Sylvania

Interview with Gary Bryson, It’s A God Thing: The Rise of the Megachurch on Encounter ABC Local Radio, Sunday 24 April 2005

Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life "Myths of the Modern Mega-Church", Monday, May 23, 2005, Rick Warren, Senior Pastor and Founder, Saddleback Church, Orange County, California and David Brooks, Columnist, The New York Times

Seeker Sensitive, Purpose Driven Churches

Joel Osteen, the Megachurch, and the Mini-Gospel by Justin Taylor

Megachurches, Megabusinesses by Luisa Kroll (Forbes.com)

The Church Growth Movement by Jack Sin

Mega Churches: Postmodern Seeker Sensitivity by Craig W. Booth

CHURCH GROWTH MOVIE Looking to "grow" your church? An animated tutorial.

The Ethnocentricity of The American Church Growth Movement by Michael Horton

John H. Armstrong at Reformation and Revival:
The Modern Megachurch Phenomenon July 18, 2005, Further Analysis ... July 25, 2005 and A Few Final Observations ... August 1, 2005

“Church Growth, Dying Small Churches, and a New Strategy” August 8, 2005 John H. Armstrong

The Purpose Driven Church (a critique) Michael J. Penfold

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Augustine of Hippo!

A little reading from The Confessions of Augustine: "Let me seek you, Lord"

For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." But how are they to call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? (Romans 10: 13 & 14)

Let me seek you, Lord, by praying to you and let me pray believing in you; since to us you have been preached. My faith prays to you, Lord this faith which you gave me and with which you inspired one through the Incarnation of your Son and through the ministry of the Preacher. (The Confessions of Augustine, Book I:1)

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Jaroslav's Point-Man!

Dr. Jaroslav Pelikan, Sterling Professor of History Emeritus at Yale and perhaps the finest historian of Christian theology of the twentieth century, died over the weekend of lung cancer (82 yrs). You can read his obituary at the New York Times here.

I was introduced to his superior work in Christian history as an undergraduate in Religious Studies. He became a staple in my library and I used his works extensively in my research for various papers at Princeton Seminary. He was the author of some 40 books.

If you're not familiar with Dr. Pelikan or his writings, then take a look at the profile written by Mark Noll in 1990 republished this week at Christianity Today, as well as Dr. Pelikan's own excellent essay, "The Predicament of the Christian Historian."

In 2004, he was awarded the Kluge Prize for lifetime achievement in the humanities and social sciences, considered by many to be the Nobel Prize for the humanities. The son of a Lutheran pastor and grandson of a Lutheran bishop, Dr. Pelikan converted to Eastern Orthodoxy in 1998.

BTW: The above photo was taken with Dr. Pelikan in 1989. (I used to sport a beard!) He was lecturing at a special Religious Studies event at Florida International University where I was completing my Doctoral degree. While posing together, he thanked me for being his point man during his talk. He went on to explain that it was his tradition to find a receptive onlooker to establish significant eyesight with while speaking. I was Jaroslav’s point-man for the hour!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Bono & Barth!

What do Karl Barth and Bono have in common? You guessed it! Jesus! What else? Well, you say, they are both messianic types! Yes! Two saviors! One saved Rock and Roll and the other Church Dogmatics!

Also they were both born on the 10th of May. Bono [1960] Paul Hewson a.k.a. Bono) the brilliant musician, singer/songwriter, Jesus follower and humanitarian! Happy 46th birthday to one of Christianity’s favorite secular entertainers! I wish him continued success, good health and much grace.

In Conversation with Michka Assayas (Riverhead Books) Bono says, “My understanding of the Scriptures has been made simple by the person of Christ.”

Exactly 120 years ago today, Karl Barth was born in Basel, Switzerland [1886]. Karl Barth is considered by some the greatest Protestant theologian of the 20th century and possibly the greatest since the Reformation. More than anyone else, Barth inspired and led the renaissance of theology that took place from about 1920 to 1950.

It is said that a reporter once asked Dr. Barth if he could summarize what he had said in his lengthy Church Dogmatics. Dr. Barth thought for a moment and then said: "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so."

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Bush Fish!

Reuters reports:

U.S. President George W. Bush told a German newspaper his best moment in more than five years in office was catching a big perch in his own lake. "You know, I've experienced many great moments and it's hard to name the best," Mr. Bush told weekly Bild am Sonntag when asked about his high point since becoming president in January 2001.

Here's the President's own words: "I would say the best moment of all was when I caught a 7.5 pound (3.402 kilos) perch in my lake," he told the newspaper in an interview published on Sunday.

What think ye?

Check it out: A fish catching primer for Fisher’s of Men!

And this: A site to track the upcoming Fishers of Men National Tournaments!

And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” (Mark 1.17)

Friday, May 05, 2006

SK birthday!

God creates out of nothing.
Wonderful you say.
Yes, to be sure, but he does what is still more wonderful:
he makes saints out of sinners.” - SK

Søren Aabye Kierkegaard (SK) was born this day in 1813. SK was a profound and prolific Christian writer. His work crosses the boundaries of philosophy, theology, psychology, literary criticism, devotional literature and fiction. SK brought his potent mixture of discourses to bear on the renewing of Christian faith within Christendom.

Having begun my own theological journey in a fundamentalist environment, SK was off limits. As a matter of fact, I managed to stay clear of him until being required to read “On Christendom” while at Princeton Seminary. What a shock! This little book was a powerful critique of organized Christianity and superficial faith. I was convicted! I remember vividly sitting at my study desk, placing my face in my hands and laying my forehead on the desk edge as the Holy Spirit ministered to me. God be merciful to me a sinner was my cry!

SK is often vilified by Fundamentalists as the "father of existentialism", but at least as important are his fervent attempts to revive the Christian faith. His central problematic was how to become a Christian in Christendom. He employed an "inverted Christian dialectic" not to make the word of God easier to digest, but to establish more clearly the absolute distance that separates human beings from God. His point! Human beings are utterly reliant on God's grace for salvation.

For SK Christian faith is essentially a matter of individual subjective passion, which cannot be mediated by human instrumentality. Active faith is paramount because only on this basis does a human being become a true self. Christian dogma, according to SK, embodies paradoxes which are offensive to reason. The central Christian paradox is the assertion that the eternal, infinite, transcendent God simultaneously became incarnated as a temporal, finite, human being named Jesus. There are two possible attitudes either believe it or not. Reason is not an option. The object of saving faith is higher than reason.

Bottom line: Crucial to the miracle of Christian faith is the realization that over against God we always miss the mark. That is, we must grasp that we are always in sin. This is the active condition for dynamic faith freely given by God. God, in Christ, saves sinners!

1 Timothy 1:15-16

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Kent in 1970!

Sometimes out of the blue (being a child of the 1970s) I find myself silently singing the following words:

Tin soldiers and Nixon comin',
We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drummin',
Four dead in Ohio.

“Ohio”, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young

Speaking of silence, today a silent march and candlelight vigils will mark 36 years since the shootings at Kent State University.

I remember the event as if it were yesterday; four students at Kent State were shot and killed by Ohio National Guardsmen during a rally against the Vietnam War.

Had he not been gunned down by National Guard troops on the Kent State University campus on May 4, 1970, Jeffrey Miller would be 56 years old this year. Instead, Miller's life ended at age 19 and the thing for which he will forever be remembered is being the body over which young Mary Ann Vecchio cried in despair in a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo that quickly came to symbolize a deeply-divided nation.

It was 36 years ago today that Miller, Allison Krause, Sandra Scheuer and William Schroeder, who was on his way to class, were gunned down by Army National Guardsmen at a Vietnam War protest on the Kent State campus. It was a watershed event that touched off a nationwide student strike that forced hundreds of colleges and universities to close and signaled the zenith of American opposition to that war.

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
- Isaiah 9.6