Archive for the 'Devotional' Category

Christ, the Lord, is Risen!

The day of resurrection! Earth, tell it out abroad—the Passover of gladness, the Passover of God! From death to life eternal, from this world to the sky, our Christ hath brought us over with hymns of victory!

Our hearts be pure from evil, that we may see aright the Lord in rays eternal of resurrection light; and, list’ning to His accents, may hear, so calm and plain, His own “All hail!” and, hearing, may raise the victor strain.

Now let the heav’ns be joyful, let earth her song begin, let the round world keep triumph and all that is therein; let all things seen and unseen their notes in gladness blend, for Christ the Lord hath risen, our joy that hath no end!

Hymn written by John of Damascus, 8th century, and translated by John M. Neale.

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Erasmus, Tyndale, and Pre-Modernism

I found this quote interesting in John Piper’s biographical speech on William Tyndale, titled, Always Singing One Note. While exploring the contrast between Erasmus and Tyndale, Piper made an astute observation about some ‘emergent’ churches and postmodern writers. Here is the quote (the section in italics is Piper quoting from David Daniell’s book about Tyndale):

“Listen to this remarkable assessment from Daniell, and see if you do not hear a description of certain emergent church writers and New Perspective champions:

Not only is there no fully realized Christ or Devil in Erasmus’s book . . . : there is a touch of irony about it all, with a feeling of the writer cultivating a faintly superior ambiguity: as if to be dogmatic, for example about the full theology of the work of Christ, was to be rather distasteful, below the best, elite, humanist heights. . . . By contrast Tyndale . . . is ferociously single-minded; the matter in hand, the immediate access of the soul to God without intermediary, is far too important for hints of faintly ironic superiority. . . . Tyndale is as four-square as a carpenter’s tool. But in Erasmus’s account of the origins of his book there is a touch of the sort of layering of ironies found in the games with personae.

It is ironic and sad that today supposedly avant-garde Christian writers can strike this cool, evasive, imprecise, artistic, superficially reformist pose [like Erasmus] and call it “post-modern” and capture a generation of unwitting, historically naïve, emergent people who don’t know they are being duped by the same old verbal tactics used by the elitist humanist writers in past generations… It’s not post-modern. It’s pre-modern—because it is perpetual.”

Yah, what he said… 🙂

Blessed are the Paupers

For my own spiritual nourishment, I just opened a study on The Sermon on the Mount and began today with the first beatitude: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.

‘Blessed’ (μακάριος) means ‘exceedingly happy’. My aunt used to tell me that God was not concerned with our happiness, but only with our obedience. That sounds piously deep, but it hardly jives with Scripture.

I probably should have asked her to define what she meant by ‘happy’. If she was thinking of a life free of pain and rich in comfort and good fortune, or being without problems, etc., then yes, she had something going there. Gerhard Kittle, in his giant TDNT, defines the root μακάρ as a transcendent happiness. That means a happiness that is richer than the nice feeling that comes from having an easy life or by being spared hardship and suffering. It is a true, out-of-this-world kind of happiness: the sort that can only come from God – happiness that can endure cares, trials and even death. This is the exceeding happiness of someone ‘poor in spirit’.

In a lecture, Oswald Chambers said that one who is poor in spirit is literally a pauper. According to Webster’s 3rd, a pauper is “a person destitute of means except such as derived from charity”. Ah, thank you Ozzy (what are some nicknames for Oswald?) and you too, Webby! I like where this is going. The Greek word for poor (πτωχός), by the way, supports Chambers on this one (he can sometimes be a little less than hermeneutically exact in his interpretation). The word refers to spiritual destitution.

So, the spiritual pauper is exceedingly happy because ‘his is the kingdom of Heaven’. He is happy because by grace (charity) he has Heaven. As I was pondering this, I remembered something from a sermon that I preached at a conference in Asia last year:

I used to defend Christianity in all the wrong ways. When some intellectual would condescendingly attack my faith by calling Christianity things like: simple and for the simple; or whip out the Freudian, “a crutch for the weak and for those who cannot deal with reality”, I would point to the strong Christian thinkers who greatly contributed to society. I would mention geniuses like Augustine, whose thought influenced the development of Western civilization. I do not do that anymore because now I see that the Christian faith is indeed a crutch… and even more than that. It is for the weak, for the simple and for the destitute. It is for the person who has come to understand that he has neither the intellect nor the moral sense (i.e. meritorious ability) to help him deal with the reality of a holy God. He has nothing, save the precious gift of Jesus! Jesus came to heal the sick, the destitute… and to rescue the spiritual pauper…

…The one who has nothing to offer God, the spiritually poor, comes to Jesus in his helpless state, with empty hands and by faith. And in his spiritual poverty he is indeed blessed.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.

(Note on source: My change of attitude towards the Christianity crutch was surely influenced by a sermon that I read a few years ago on the same text [Matthew 5:3] by John Piper [1986]. That excellent sermon can be found here.)

Don’t Waste Your Life

This evening, I listened to part of the sermon by John Piper that evolved into the book, Don’t Waste Your Life. I think that every believer should read that little book. In the sermon, as in the book, Piper pleads with young people not to waste their lives by living and dying for anything other than Christ and his glory.

One great quote from the sermon:

To make a difference in this world you don’t have to know lots of things. One thing! Get one thing clear; and then die for it.

While listening to this powerful message, I pondered again on what I read a few mornings ago: Moses begging Israel (as a nation) not to miss the divine point of life. First, he recounts the awesome and holy deeds of God:

For ask now of the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether such a great thing as this has ever happened or was ever heard of. Did any people ever hear the voice of a god speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and still live? Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, and by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great deeds of terror, all of which the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord is God; there is no other besides him. (Deuteronomy 4:32-35 ESV)

And a little later, based on these (and even more) incredible truths, he says:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5 ESV).

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Apathetic

Over the last few weeks, three people shared with me that they were lacking spiritual desire or an inclination to fellowship with other Christians. I have been pondering this problem (to spur my thinking, I ordered John Piper’s, When I Don’t Desire God, but I am still waiting for the mail). The question is: Why do true Christians go through times when they lack spiritual desire and/or the desire to fellowship with other Christians? I think I know one reason.

Maya and I have had times where we were both busy with our own things, and did not spend much time together. I noticed that our desire to fellowship suffers during those times. The less we choose to fellowship, the less we want to; and the more time we spend together – the more we want to.

So it is with our spiritual lives. When a believer chooses not to spend time in the Word, in prayer, and with other believers, his spiritual appetite diminishes. It makes sense. When I spend time everyday communing with God, and it happens that I miss a day, I feel spiritually famished. However, if I go, say, a week without devotions, one individual day is no big deal.

If we want our spiritual appetite to increase, we must spend time with God. Tasting his goodness and his grace creates a deep hunger that only he can satisfy. The Psalmist was not wandering in spiritual mediocrity when he wrote:

As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. (Psalms 42:1,2a ESV)

Eating and settling for spiritual junk food (or just neglecting our spiritual life altogether) produces only apathy, and apathy is a dangerous beast. Spending meaningful time with God is the only way to remedy small spiritual desire.

The Seven (Not Six) Cases of the Russian Noun

Last Friday, I passively observed a conversation about Russian grammar between two native Russian speakers. They were counting the cases of the Russian noun. Enjoying native fluency, they do not really need to know the cases. They are unconsciously competent in the language. Other than writers, language enthusiasts, teachers and very astute students, most native speakers cannot explain, in detail, the grammatical features of their language. This is true of most native English speakers too. For example, most English speakers (educated and otherwise) cannot name the many English tenses. Those who assume that English has three tenses are case in point.

Back to the story, the two Russians recited an acronymic sentence that they learned in school and agreed on six cases. I could be silent no more. How could they forget the beloved vocative case? No one really agrees with me here, but I stand my ground. Wikipedia explains the vocative case here (though even in that article they deny the existence of a vocative Russian case). The vocative identifies the addressee. For example, in the sentence, “You’re being stubborn, Mike, about this grammar thing.” – ‘Mike’ has a vocative meaning (though in modern Russian it would still be nominative).

I concede that the vocative is not what is used to be. In fact, as Wikipedia correctly points out, in Russian you will find this case still in use only in some old proverbs and poetry, and when personally addressing God. I only make issue of this case because of the last point.

'God' in Russian is ‘Бог’. To call out to God, the Russian vernacular calls for the vocative phrase ‘Боже мой’, which means ‘My God!’ In modern speech it is often used irreverently (as it often is in English). However, the phrase occurs in the Russian Bible 250 times; as in Psalms 8:1 (and verse 9):

Господи, Боже наш! Как величественно имя Твое по всей земле!

Which I translate like this:

Lord, our God! How awesome (majestic, wonderful) is Your name in all the earth!

For me, that settles the case for the Russian vocative. Okay, maybe not in general use, but important remnants of past grammatical richness remain.

I pray everyday that more Russians would begin to use the vocative case as exampled above. That is, that more would reverently and with repentant hearts call unto the God of all creation! And that is why I contend that Russian has seven cases, and not six. The seventh case merely needs revival.

Omnibenevolence and the Flying Spider

I ran across the word ‘omnibenevolence’ while reading Jonathan Edwards, A Guided Tour to His Life and Thought by Stephen J. Nichols. I tried to look it up in my everyday dictionary, the M-W Collegiate 11th Ed. Finding nothing, I dusted off the trusty giant Webster’s Third, again to no avail. Then, I went online. I was not surprised that Wikipedia sports a five-paragraph article about the word (you can find that here), but I would not recommend the contributor’s point of view (e.g. a supposed biblical contradiction). Googling the term nets 15,100 results with a broad spectrum of ideas, many relating to debates in Theodicy (the branch of theology that deals with the question: how can God be good [just] while evil exists?).

After giving up on the internet, I set Libronix search engines to work combing through my electronic library; again, nothing (though a search for the word ‘benevolence’ and its variants scored 1715 hits, including 12 occurrences in Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections).

Though rare, the meaning of the word is plain. ‘Omni’ comes straight from the Latin and means ‘all, everything, universal’. ‘Benevolence’ (which comes to us [via M.E.] from the Latin benovolentia) essentially means ‘kindly disposition towards an object; good will’. Hence, the statement ‘God is omnibenevolent’ means that God is completely good and has perfect (uncorrupted) good will towards us. Of course, this is a biblical notion and an axiom of conservative Christian theology: God is perfectly good.

So what did Jonathan Edwards write that prompted Stephen Nichols to brandish this seminary-type gem of a word? Nichols was commenting on Edwards’ observations of the flying spider. When Jonathan Edwards was 19 years old, he conducted research on this famed spider to understand how a wingless arachnid could fly. He even wrote a scientific essay about it. The spider fascinated young Edwards so much that he wrote:

There are some things that I have happily seen of the wondrous and curious works of the spider. Although everything pertaining to this insect is admirable, yet there are some phenomena relating to them more particularly wonderful.

Edwards looked at the spider and saw the spider’s incredible, wise, and omnibenevolent Creator. He viewed creation (and God’s care of creation) as a benevolent gift of God, and in the intricacies of creation, he believed that one could clearly see the hand of God. He shared this idea with Paul, who wrote:

… his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. (Romans 1:20 ESV)

I should look around and take in the details of creation more often; and think twice before mushing little creatures. To find out how the spider flies, you can order the above-mentioned book or The Works of Jonathan Edwards and read the essay. 🙂