Thursday, December 20, 2012

End of the World

The other day I remembered that I had a blog. It's been three months since I last wrote. No one has called me up during that period to say, "Graham, I miss your life-sustaining wisdom." So, I kind of just forgot about it. Till today.

The world is going to end tomorrow, Friday, the 21st. So I remembered that I have a blog and thought I better get at least one last post in.

The first thing I have to say is that, on my second-to-last day on earth, it's kind of a bummer that I'm snowed in by a blizzard and that my wife does not care that there's no day after tomorrow. She wants the drive shoveled. Such is the attitude of those who do not take Mayan predictions seriously.

Evidently, she's in a shrinking minority. I've read accounts of Russians flocking to a mountain which hides a pyramid "safe house" left by aliens. (President Medvedev had to issue a statement assuring people who have been buying survivor packs that the world is not about to end and that they'll have to endure more photos of Vladimir Putin doing manly feats.)

Six months ago some guy in Hong Kong, upon learning the world was going to end on December 21, sold up everything and has been partying big time, maxing out all his new credit cards. Now there's a believer! Almost has me hoping, for his sake, Saturday doesn't roll around. Guessing the rising of the sun is going to really ruin his day.

In Argentina, where my son is studying for a year, the police just closed down a mountain after 150 people responded to a Facebook invitation to climb the mountain and engage in mass suicide. "We will abandon our impure flesh and transport our spirit through the inter-dimensional portal which will open at 21:00 on 21/12/12," the writer posted. "Unite with the Army of Light which will save all humanity!" It's a good thing that over Christmas my son is in a remote area and out of internet access. He said he's in some mountainous region.

Even in our beloved, blizzarding America, NASA has been deluged by calls asking, among other things when people should euthanize their pets. (For my part, I've at least settled on the method, if not the timing, for our two cats; that blizzard has been called a "killer storm.")

Problem is, the Mayans got it wrong. Perhaps that sounds ethnocentric and culturally uncharitable. Not so; I've always wanted to visit Cozumel. But a good beach or jungle does not necessarily a prophet make. I've found most of the best predictive info to be found in the Middle East. Palestine. Israel, if you prefer. Must be something about the desert and Mediterranean air.

The same Scriptural corpus that predicted Messiah's birth in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2) indicates that his first coming ushered in the "last days" (Hebrews 1:2) and that He, himself, is the final revelation (Hebrews 1:1). The miracle of Christmas is that this little baby in the manger is the Creator of the universe (Hebrews 1:2) and actually "sustains all things by his powerful word" (Hebrews 1:3). He is the One holding everything together without whose fiat nothing happens.

Having made purification for sins on the cross, He now sits at the right hand of God in the place of supreme authority (Hebrews 1:3). And He will return.
Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen. (Revelation 1:7)
Yes, we do live in the last days. And there are challenging (and exciting) times ahead. But one thing is certain. Tomorrow will not be the end of the world.

May all the hype serve as a reminder that the future is very tenuous. May the Mayan "prophecy" spur us to mourn our sin and welcome the Savior when He comes. For one thing is certain. Come He will.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

"How Old is the Earth?" Part 2

Today's post is part of the "I Wish I Knew" forum and is written by the lopsided guy on the right.
“How old is the earth?”
So, does the Bible even address the question of the age of the earth?
Does it intend to?

In my opinion, the answer is no.
Reader: “Graham, am I hearing you right? I thought you had a high view of Scripture!”
Graham: “I do. I believe in divine authorship, full inspiration, inerrancy too.”
Reader: “But, but… how can you say that if you don’t believe the Bible tells us when the earth was created?”
Graham: “For the simple reason that . . . it doesn’t tell us. It’s not rocket science. I mean, if God doesn’t want to tell us, to tell me, I’m ok with that. Are you ok with that?
Reader: “Well, it makes me kind of uneasy, as if I’m walking away from some essential tenet of the Faith.”
Graham: “I know exactly what you’re saying. I’ve wrestled with that same sense. I’ve also had to wrestle with the reality that sometimes my desire for certitude tempts me to squeeze Scripture into something of a pre-defined mold. But when I do that, I’m not conforming to God’s Word; I’m actually conforming it to me.”
Reader: “OK, OK, let’s cut to the chase. Are you saying that the earth is billions of years old?”
Graham: “No I’m not. But, I’m also not saying it’s definitely young. I don’t know for sure. But here's the point: I don’t believe the Bible speaks to that question or even intends to. And if God doesn’t want to address himself to that, I can live with the tension. In fact, I have to. I’d rather live with that tension than force the Bible to say something it doesn’t say.”
Reader: “So, what does the Bible say?”
Graham: “It says, ‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.’”
Reader: “Ok, so when was that?”
Graham: “Not sure… Ok, I lie. It was ‘in the beginning.’”
Reader: “And when was ‘the beginning’?”
Graham: “Ah, now that’s the question, isn’t it. The Bible doesn’t tell us. Might have been 10,000 years ago. Might have been 10 billion years ago. You pick.”
Reader: “So you’re open to both options?”
Graham: “Sure. Even the great conservative apologist, Norman Geisler, put it: ‘I’m a young earther three days a week, and an old earther four days a week.’”
Reader: “That sounds like a cop out.”
Graham: “Not really. It’s saying that you can marshal some evidence for either position. It’s also saying that Scripture doesn’t definitively decide the issue one way or the other, regardless of what some folks will say. The implications of this is that two people can have a high view of Scripture and still end up with different opinions on the age of the earth. One view is not more or less Christian than the other, despite some people’s attempt to make this a (or even the) litmus test of orthodoxy.”
Reader: “So if Scripture doesn’t solve it for me, how do I get an answer?”
Graham: “I think the great Christian scientist, Sir Isaac Newton, has it right when he says that God has written two books: the Book of Scripture and the Book of Nature. They are not in conflict, but are complementary. If the Bible doesn’t provide a definitive answer, it’s not a bad idea to read His other book, the Book of Nature.
Reader: “So what does the Book of Nature tell us?”
Graham: “That’s a great question.”
Reader: “So give me a great answer!”
Graham: “Now you’re just being lazy. Go find out for yourself.”   :)

Friday, September 21, 2012

"How Old is the Earth?" Part 1

Today's post is part of the "I Wish I Knew" forum and is written by the cheeky guy on the right.
“How old is the earth?”
On the surface, this five-word question looks very straightforward, requiring just a simple numerical answer. But in reality, for Christians at least, there are a bunch of other questions (or assumptions) that line up behind the question. It ends up being a very complex question, or series of questions.
These “background” questions would include, but are not limited to:

Does Scripture provide an answer on how old the earth is?
Does the Bible even intend to address the question?
Is there one correct “Christian” viewpoint on the question of the age of the earth?
Shouldn’t we read the Bible literally if we believe it is the Word of God?

To start our discussion, I think it’s helpful to clarify that the question of the age of the earth is entirely separate from the creation versus evolution debate. Just because evolutionists happen to believe in an old earth does does not mean the converse is true: i.e., that everyone who believes in an old earth is therefore an evolutionist. That is a non-sequitur. In fact, many creationists (particularly folks who focus on the “Intelligent Design” discussion) believe that the scientific evidence indicates that God created everything with great complexity, and that life did not evolve. But they also believe the scientific evidence indicates that the universe, and the earth, are rather old. Understanding that the issues are separate is important because many Christians do not want to start on the slippery slope towards evolution. They tend to dig their toes in out of fear that even entertaining the thought the earth might be older than, say, 10,000 years is starting them on the downward slide towards evolutionism. But the one does not necessitate the other.

In a similar vein, some conservative Christians tend to shy away from even contemplating that the earth might be old because they have been told that it is somehow “unchristian” or “unbiblical” to do so. “If you really want to honor God’s Word,” the argument goes, “you have to take it literally. And if you don’t take God’s Word literally, it means you have a low view of Scripture and are watering it down and capitulating to the culture and becoming worldly!”

The truth is, we have the highest view of Scripture and divine authorship when we let Scripture speak on its own terms. Imposing one’s own categories or preferences or biases on Scripture actually does the opposite of honoring it—it dishonors it. Making Scripture say something that it does not intend to say dishonors the Word of God and fashions it into an image of our own imagination.

This means that we must take the Bible literally when it intends us to take it literally. And we allow for figures of speech and variety of literary genres and intents when that’s what the author or speaker intends and what the text calls for.

For example, saying “I only take the Bible literally” results in absurdity when the psalmist says in 17:8: “Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.” To take the Bible literally at that point is to make it say something not just absurd, but patently untrue. One would never claim on the basis of this verse that the psalmist wants to be kept as a literal apple (Gala or Granny Smith?) in God’s literal, physical eye (is He blue-eyed or brown?). No, this is a poetic expression of David’s desire that God’s favor and affection would continue to shine on David. Interpreting this verse as a figure of speech, and not literally, is the correct, God-honoring way to interpret it and to arrive at truth. Similarly, “hide me in the shadow of your wings” taken literally results in a claim that God is a cosmic chicken.

On the other hand, when Genesis 2:25 says, “The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame,” we have no reason to not take it literally. The ‘laws’ of literature and hermeneutics (interpretation) would give us every reason to understand the text to be speaking about a literal man and woman who are married (and that these words are not figurative code for a Martian and a tadpole). We understand “they were both naked” to mean precisely and literally that – they had no clothes, and if the weather patterns of the Garden were like a Wisconsin winter, it would have been a sorry sight indeed.

A recent example of the dangers of making Scripture say something it never intended to is Harold Camping’s numerology. Camping “discovered” all kinds of esoteric patterns in Scripture giving him unique insight into the date of Jesus’ return on May 21, 2011. Millions of dollars were spent by the faithful warning the world of impending doom. When May 21 came and went, and the world mocked, Harold revised his calculations and reset the date to October 21, 2011. The fact that I’m writing this and you are reading this says very clearly that he got it horribly wrong. The reality is Scripture was never intended to be read that way. Neither God nor the human authors intended it as a number-crunching book with secret codes.

So it's very important that on the one hand, we don't make Scripture say less than it intends to. And, on the other, that we don't make it say more than it intends to.

This brings us back to the question of the age of the earth: Does the Bible address the subject? Does it even intend to?

We’ll continue the discussion in the next post.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Since my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit...

Today's Guest Post is part of the "I Wish I Knew" forum and is written by Eric Erickson, Associate Pastor at LakeView Church

"It says that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit. How do I know what I can and can't do to my body?"

Our human nature wants to have a list of the forbidden and the allowed. The amazing thing about that is even the earliest evidence demonstrated that man could not adhere to that type of relationship with God. (See Genesis 3) We'll jump back to that in a bit but for now...

This question we received as part of "I Wish I Knew" references a verse in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, "Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God. You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your bodies." (BTW, in 1 Corinthians 3 Paul uses almost the identical wording "Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that the Spirit of God is living in you?" but is using it in a collective manner, ie, the Church in Corinth was God's temple)  Whenever we look at any verse like this we must always remember these three things: CONTEXT, CONTEXT, CONTEXT. Why was Paul saying this? Who was he saying it to? What prompted the statement? Paul was addressing a church (a collective of Christ-followers) in the city of Corinth who had embraced the message of the Gospel but who also had significant issues. If you read the entire letter, I personally think Paul was beside himself and was trying to carry thoughts so quickly and intensely, that he occasionally would jump around a bit. Two issues that Corinth was dealing with were: unity and sexual immorality. In this particular passage, Paul is addressing a bit of both. Early in chapter 6 he rebukes them for not seeking wise godly counsel to handle their disputes but rather a worldly and perhaps corrupt justice system. The Corinthian city culture and mindset were sensual and pleasure-seeking. Paul asks "why would you look to them for answers?" He then describes some of their behaviors and, in fact, points it out to the readers that they were at one time those types of people too. Paul was telling the readers, "in Christ, that is not who you are" (see verses 11 and 15).

One of the arguments that Paul was addressing was the apparent license that the Corinthians were feeling they had to do anything. But Paul says that while all things are lawful they are neither beneficial nor are Believers to be consumed by or flaunting of them. There may have been some confusion because Paul had made it clear to them that they were no longer subject to the law but the Corinthians began to flaunt, abuse and exploit that freedom.

So, I think the person asking this question may have been wanting to know something like: Can I get my ears pierced? Can I smoke? How much is too much to drink? Is it ok to drink alcohol? How far is too far sexually? Is a tattoo ok? When have I eaten too much? (ouch, were those my own toes?) In any of these questions we must first realize that if we have truly accepted the fact that Jesus has redeemed us, justified us and sanctified us then we have the Holy Spirit living in us. The very presence of God indwells us (see Romans 8:9). That Spirit desires for us the things that bring eternal satisfaction not temporal. So the question becomes what is the motive for the things we do. Clearly there are things to avoid (Galatians 5:16-21, 2 Corinthians 12:20, 1 John 2:15-17, Romans 1:29-31, Romans 13:12-14), but the motive behind behavior or action is the root of the matter.

If Scripture gave clear standards or rules on the things we can and cannot do -- both to our bodies and otherwise -- it would eliminate the need for us to be in a relationship with our heavenly Father. This was what happened in the Old Testament. The Law was given to demonstrate both man's inability to follow rules in order to be right with God and also to point to the full satisfaction that Christ was able to fulfill when he went to the cross on our behalf. That's the wonder of the Christian faith. We don't follow a list of rules, we live in a loving relationship. Our desire for any action should be to bring Him glory through that.

So for any question that asks about "what we can or cannot do as followers of Christ," ask yourself, "does this demonstrate the Spirit who lives in me?" We should also surrender consistently to the Spirit and the fruit he wishes to demonstrate will shine through (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control).

This week while I drove my kids to school, they asked why Deb and I don't want them saying, "Oh my gosh." Mckenzie my 10 year old soon to be lawyer and debater gave her compelling arguments why OMG was not "swearing."  I said that I agreed, but that I was more concerned that she and her younger brother learn that God's name is holy and it would be unfitting for us to use His name casually or carelessly. It would not allow us to understand the honor His name should have in our lives. She said, "But gosh isn't his name". I said, "You're right, but for our family we would rather not even come close to dishonoring or carelessly using God's name. So, rather than see how close to the edge we can get, let's stay back a safe distance." The question then becomes, "How can I honor God the BEST with the things I do with/to my body?"

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Is Truth Relative?

Today's Guest Post is part of the "I Wish I Knew" forum and is written by Alex Unis, Pastor of Student Ministries at LakeView Church

“God is like an elephant, which a bunch of blind men are touching. One blind man grabs a leg and says, ‘my God is strong, and firm.’ Another tries to wrap his arms around the belly and says, ‘my God is prosperous and wealthy.’ A third, finding shade from the ears, says, ‘my God is benevolent, a shelter from the tragedy of life.’ But really, they’re all talking about the same God, they just experience him in different ways.”

The Relativism question, along with its little brother Pluralism, comes up quite often in culture today, and can be seen in this proverb.

More fully, the question of relativism looks like this: “Is there such a thing as absolute truth? Especially in spiritual matters, is there really right or wrong, or does your ‘truth’ depend on your culture, situation, and upbringing?” This results in an argument that looks like this: “Culture, local situations, and a personal experiences are varied such that each person’s experience with the divine is unique an individual. Therefore, what is spiritually true for one person may not be spiritually true for another.”

Christians tend to look at this and point to “hard sciences” to prove absolute truth. “2+2=4≠5” This is always true and never false! Unfortunately, we lose a lot of listeners here, since spirituality is not a “hard science.” It doesn’t fit the scientific formula. Spirituality is about experience, not tested and observable facts, so the relativist will quickly tune out.

So, here I will offer a different type of explanation: metanarrative and unity.

Relativism revs up the blender and breaks everything into as many pieces as possible. Spiritualism is a result of individual experience, and since every individual has a unique experience, every form of spirituality is unique. This results in a whole-sale rejection of metanarrative (meaning “big story”). As Christians, we see the whole world and the whole existence of humanity having a common purpose. Each of us fits into the bigger story of history that God has laid out from the beginning. Relativism attempts to dethrone the larger, over-arching story by insisting on “local narratives,” or, small stories. “You see, the story of Jesus is right for your story, but in the Far East they have a different story.” However, the Christian World View depends on a single story, a single creator with a single plan for salvation. And this one, large story all points to the consummation of history when Jesus returns. The idea of creation demands a creator, and the Creator demands a single theme and purpose for humanity. If I affirm that God created (Genesis 1), sent his Son for humanity (John 3) and that Jesus is returning to earth to establish his kingdom (pretty much all of Revelation), then I must acknowledge God’s big story. And, if God has a big story, all of our “little stories” must fit into this.

I find that fact quite comforting. My purpose comes from fitting into God’s story. Although my life may be “like grass” in comparison to human history, it’s not a worthless little path I’m walking, it’s a mighty trail.

Secondly, relativism places spirituality in a category separate from the rest of life. Politics, the state, education, economics, and the like have little to do with spiritual beliefs. Those are public, religion is private. What we learn from Scripture, however, is quite the opposite. Jesus teaches that we should pay taxes (Mark 12.27), and he instructs us regarding economics and how to use our money (Matthew 6.19-34, James 4.13-14). In Scripture we are taught how to relate to our governments (Romans 13.1-7), how to raise our children (Deuteronomy 6.4-12), and even a welfare-type system is found (James 1.27).

The fact is, what we believe spiritually permeates every bit of what we do. We can’t call one aspect of our life sacred and another secular. Everything we do is sacred. Everything we do is a result of what we believe spiritually.

So, don’t let relativism rip things apart, making the truth of Jesus true only to you. No, Jesus is truth to all (John 14.6).

To finish where I started, the elephant story is nice, but is misses something big. The one who tells the story is the only one who is able to say “God is like an elephant” and is therefore the only person who is enlightened. Nobody else gets it. The rest of the world is missing it. Does that sound like relativism?

Monday, September 10, 2012

I Wish I Knew

Yesterday at church we did a live text & email question/answer forum titled "I wish I knew." Our three pastors (Eric, Alex and yours truly) did 90-second interactions with a slew of questions from "Is suicide unforgivable?" to "Are there pets in heaven?" The varied questions from both services are available at LakeView's website,, under  the "Messages" tab.

The very first question dealt with the diversity of views among denominations.

Jesus implores us to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matt 22:37). Thinking is a divinely-sanctioned activity to be encouraged, not avoided. And that means that as we interact with the text, we might come to different conclusions on certain things. That's OK.

It's also OK to have particular preferences on

  • style of music
  • frequency of communion (not to mention whether it should be the real stuff or grape juice or grape jelly)
  • choice of Bible translation
  • whether the minister should wear a robe (I had to borrow one a few years ago at an ecumenical Thanksgiving service but its owner was over 6 feet tall. As I walked down the aisle holding my skirts I felt like Galadriel in Lord of the Rings).
  • etc.
Such diversity is a good thing. But sometimes folks elevate personal or even denominational preferences to the level of biblical mandates.

I have found it helpful to distinguish between more and less important matters this way:
  • Is it a conviction to die for?
  • Is it an opinion to defend?
  • Is it a preference to discuss?
Thinking through the differences can make your life, your faith and your friendships a whole lot easier. There's a fairly small collection of things in the first category (convictions to die for): the deity of Christ, salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone, etc. So let's not make music or dress or the year of the communion port a litmus test of orthodoxy.

As Augustine said (although the quote has also been attributed to Fred and Bob):
In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Mormons, Muddled Democrats and "God's Man"

As a kiwi, I find American politics fascinating.

Almost four years ago I was standing at the back of the church as the praise run began in the second service. It was the Sunday right before the election. Someone sidled up to me:
"So, are you going to tell the church who they should be voting for?"

I laughed, thinking it was a joke. But they were deadly serious.

Hector's House! What about separation of church and state?

It's all rather confusing to this fellow from down under who, in another life, paid homage to the Queen one holiday in the year and then celebrated Guy Fawkes' attempts to blow up the Houses of Parliament on another.

So who did God want to be President last time? Who was God's man?

Was it McCain, who somewhat conveniently managed to find faith and his way back to the church in the months before the election? Or was it Obama, who'd been going to church for years but still found it almost impossible to convince skeptical conservatives? (Kind of a tall order, really, given a name that sounds like "Osama," a strong pro-abortion platform, and The Donald's persistent rumor-mongering that Obama was born on Mars or in some madrasah in Indonesia.)

The same question has come back with a vengeance again, although with a twist (and I'm not talking about getting magical mormon knickers in a knot). So who is God's man this time?

Is God's man a fiscal conservative with sons as handsome as Donny Osmond? If you answer yes don't forget that as a former LDS Bishop he also happens to believe that Jesus is not uniquely God in the flesh and that we can all evolve into godhood.

Or, is God's man the leader of a party that took out "God" from their platform and then thought better of it, forcing him back in after three unconvincing votes?

Perhaps all this talk of "God's man" is a little misguided. A little too messianic. Could it be that, despite the incredible privilege, importance and responsibility of voting, we put a little too much hope in our elected officials?  I mean, to get to where they are they need both the desire to change the world and a well-stroked ego.

I'm not saying that the election is not important. Nor that the choices are insignificant. (Ok, let me tip my hand: I personally think that borrowing to spend what we don't have is a recipe for disaster. I happen to believe that life is sacred, begins at conception, and that marriage is between a man and a woman. I also realise that good people disagree with me on those issues and some think there are other "justice" issues, such as war and care for the widow and orphan, that should also be factored in.)

What I am saying is that we have an unhealthy tendency to look to a party or a person for solutions that border on salvation. Yet parties and people will always disappoint at some level. ALWAYS.

Viewed from that level, it's almost a choice between the lesser of evils.

But there is a man who is God's Man. And He will never disappoint.
For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity--the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. This is the message God gave to the world at just the right time (1 Timothy 2:5,6).
 He gets my vote.

And I long for the day when He will rule and reign in righteousness, when
The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever (Revelation 11:15).

Friday, August 17, 2012

Death to a Mom and to Israel

I just learned that a friend's mom, aged 92, went home to her Savior. "It was a powerful day of graduation complete with joy, celebration, sadness, tears and a whole lot of gratefulness," he wrote. 

What a lot of life she's seen. What a lot of eternity awaits her. And such a contrast between the two.

Yesterday I read again about some of the hate and stupidity in the world (Ahmadinejad vomitting that Israel's existence is "an insult to all humanity": and an Islamic "intellectual" claiming that Jews consume the blood of children believing "that this brings them close to their false god, Yahweh”: I wanted to despair.

Admittedly, tiredness and various other challenges don't make world conflicts seem smaller, but all-defining.

Thank God for the transcendent perspective His Word provides. This morning I read these words from Isaiah 25:
On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare
a banquet of aged wine--the best of meats and the finest of wines.
On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces;
he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth.
One day the days of this present earth, which "reels like a heavy upon it is the guilt of its rebellion" (Is 24:20), will be swallowed up by an eternity that will render all else but a faint shadow of a memory!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The "Sinner's Prayer"

David Platt, the young Southern Baptist wonder child, has a great article on 'The Sinner's Prayer.' Well, it's actually got a lot longer name, but I didn't want to use that much space in this blog. Though I do want to quote a little just to tease you. It's worth a read:
 Let us beware the danger of spiritual deception. Verse 23—"Many trusted in his name." Verse 24—"Jesus, however, would not entrust himself to them."
Many trusted. Many people in John 2 believed in Jesus, but Jesus did not believe them. Many people in John 2 accepted Jesus, but Jesus did not accept them. Clearly, from the beginning of the gospel of John—this gospel that revolves around the necessity and centrality of belief in Christ—John makes clear to us that there is a kind of belief, a kind of faith, that does not save.
Read more here:

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Contemplative Life

Just got back from a 2 1/2 day planning retreat with 12 church leaders (sounds almost biblical). It was held at the Saint Andrews Spirituality Center in Marathon, Wisconsin.

What an amazing place. A labyrinth of corridors and tunnels I'd like to explore at leisure sometime.

Ours was not like the previous group  there--which said not a word to each other in eight days, even at meals!

Reminds me of a man, Sylvester, who joined a religious order in which silence was strictly maintained. Only once every two years could the ordinands say anything, and then it was only two words to the Abbot.

Two years passed and Sylvester had his first interview. "Bed hard!" he said.
Another two years passed and he went in for his second interview. "Food Terrible!" he said.
After he'd been there six years, it was time for his third interview. "I quit!" he said in a loud voice.
"That doesn't surprise me in the least," said the abbot who suddenly lost his cool and forgot about the two word rule. "Ever since you've arrived you've done nothing but complain!"

Well, I have to say that at St Andrews, the food was superb and the bed was soft. Without airconditioning in our rooms, however, it was incredibly hot at night. Guess who was in the last group to bed each night--enjoying the a.c. in our meeting room and learning how to play Farkel?

I think I'd like to go back there sometime. To explore and to reflect, to be silent and to pray.

"In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength" (Isaiah 30:15).

Thursday, June 14, 2012

There’s a dragon-fly hovering over the water a few yards from me. I wonder what he is aware of. Does he know anything of joy? Or, is his best moment just a vague and low-grade contentment when he eats and mates?

I’m at Cedarly in Oconomowoc in a newly-renovated boat house that is now a house of prayer and reflection. Though I’m a regular at Cedarly, this is my first time in the “Pump House.” Already it feels like home.

I’ve just finished reading Isaiah again. This exquisite prophecy from almost three thousand years ago is so big and so diverse in its scope that I have never really gotten below its surface. But in the last few months I’ve begun a journey into the richness of God’s self-revelation in this book that I hope will never end.
Perhaps that is the payback for having different faculties to the dragon-fly, the advantage of being a human rather than insect. Sure, there’s the dark side to human reflection which always lurks beneath the surface; we can ponder, and, in doing so, despair. Such is the end of hope, a black hole from which there is no returning.
Or, we can ponder and delight. This is a pondering that morphs into wonder: wonder that God is, even in the worst of times, firmly on his throne and not in the least perplexed. And wonder that he is, at the same time, fully engaged and passionately involved in the direction and details of history.
There is a settled contentedness like no other in knowing that the King of the Universe walks intimately with those who honor and love him as King:
For this is what the high and lofty One says—
he who lives forever, whose name is holy:
“I live in a high and holy place,
But also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit” (Isaiah 57:15)

Now that’s something you’ll want to think about long and hard. Unless, that is, you’re a dragonfly.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Turning Fifty

I just got a text from a friend. (At least, I thought he was a friend):
Wherever you find yourself today...don't get too far from the bathroom...bladder control goes out the door when you get to your age! Have a great day!

Good advice, I guess. See, today I'm turning fifty. Or 50. Or the Big five-oh. Or half a century. Or a twentieth of a millennium. Given that my dad died at 51 and my body is meant to be on the downward slide, I guess I should be overly, even morbidly, introspective. But I'm not. There are a few reasons.

First, I was actually born yesterday. So I've had a day to get used to it. New Zealand is a day ahead of the US; the 17th, in terms of my chronology, was yesterday.

Second, my wonderful church family has been helping me celebrate my 50 years over the last 50 days in a multitude of amusing and cool and very generous ways. I'll save that for another post.

Third, I've been spending a lot of time lately in Isaiah. One of his constant themes is the sovereignty of God through all the vicissitudes of life (a word used in honor of my graduated daughter).

Fourth, I am in the Smokeys of Tennessee with my family, looking out on an unspoiled vista that speaks of God's eternality. Though mortal, my immortality has been gifted by Him. Life is a blink of an eye. The meaning of that relative "instant" is only found by an eternal reference point. In this case, the person of God, Himself.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place 
throughout all generations.
Before the mountains were born
or you brought forth the whole world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You turn people back to dust
saying, 'Return to dust, you mortals.'
A thousand years in your sight
are like a day that has just gone by,
or like a watch in the night.

Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
                               - Psalm 90:1-4,12.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

He's Back

I knew it had been a long time. But that long? Six weeks without blogging. Guess cold turkey really does lead to a cure.

I've got a bit of a thing for the spy genre in both books and movies. So I like the phrase, "he's gone dark" since it kind of romaticizes my absence. I'm not saying I've been busy "fighting the baddies" -- ok, maybe one or two. Bottom line is, I think I wore out my phone and finger blogging in Israel. I haven't even straightened some of the photos that still lie sideways, like the stones after Titus' destruction of the temple in 70 A.D.

So many thoughts and experiences, even in six weeks. That's the beauty of a sabbatical from blogging. In this me-saturated world where people convince themselves that humanity wants a status update about them getting a root canal, it's great to be silent now and again and realize that the world didn't stop, and doesn't really care, that I haven't written anything. And I don't really care, even though I enjoy blathering on from time to time.

There are so many other important thing in life to occupy us.

Family is one. How blessed I am on this mother's day to have a wife who is so devoted to her kids (which are mine too, I believe).

Yesterday, we had our first Blaikie child graduate. We are proud that our little girl graduated magna cum laude (with high honors) in English Writing with an Art minor.

But our greatest joy is that she loves her Lord and desires to be conformed to His image.

"I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth"  - 3 John 4.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

It's Getting Absurd

Anti-bias policies drive some religious groups off campuses :

Friday, March 23, 2012

David's Citadel

While Jeff and Angie went off to find Oscar Schindler's grave on Mt Zion, I went into the Old City.

The Citadel of David Museum provides a great introduction to the history of Jerusalem. A bit dumb to be seeing it on my last day, but there you go.

Guess I'm not the only dolt here: someone whose hourglass was a few grains short came up with quite the name for an minaret from the Ottoman period: "David's Tower." The name stuck, so the city of Florence made the best of an embarrassing mistake and gifted an impressive statue of the shepherd boy with the Big G's head at his feet.

Afterwards, I wandered through alleyways in the Moslem Quarter, then headed over to the Jewish Quarter where a few days ago a Jewish man stopped me, put his small Bible on my head, prayed that I would be protected from the Evil Eye, then stretched out his hand for a donation. I shook his hand, put nothing in it, and moved on.

Today, though, no one accosts me, so I spend an hour in the big Jewish bookshop and read about Kabbala and the Jewish longing for the Messiah.

I've got my return train ticket home but, fortified by some fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice and having a full supply of red and white corpuscles, I decide to walk home.

It is as pleasant as yesterday in every way, including the smell from the bakery. Another doughnut calls my name as I walk past, but I pretend not to hear it since I am a goy who speaks no Hebrew. It works and I get back without adding any calories. I buy a couple of candy bars with my few remaining shekels. For the plane trip, of course. We will get up at 1am and who knows when the next meal will be.

But first we will have our Shabbat (sabbath) meal and service which Rabbi Steve (a gentile) will lead. To our surprise, we gentiles have been given a table in the Jewish dining room, not upstairs as usual. All around us are the sounds of Jewish families welcoming in "Queen Shabbat." We feel a little conspicuous. I want to run upstairs and put on anything black I can find, and wear my kippa/yarmulke I was given at the wailing wall.

There are a few curious looks, but none of them hostile, and soon I begin to relax as Steve starts the service. The wine is quite good and quite sweet. 12% according to the label. "Blessed art Thou O Lord God, King of the universe, for bringing forth the fruit of the vine from the earth," Steve prays.

After the meal, it's off to the room to finish packing, do this post, and get a couple of hours sleep before the big Mediterranean and Atlantic treks begin.

Last Day in Jerusalem

I've almost reached my international data plan limit so need to be sparing with pics today.

Had a great chat last night with Rabbi Steve from the messianic congregation who toured with us. Discussed, among other things, how Gentiles relate to the Torah, the Old Testament Law.

Here's a part of my reading this morning from Psalm 128, A Song of Ascents (going up to Jerusalem):

The Lord bless you from Zion!
May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life!
May you see your children's children!
Peace be upon Israel!

Time to get on the train and ascend to the old city of Jerusalem.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Long Walk Home

The rest of the day was, well, interesting. I got to putz around in the Temple Institute for about an hour, reading various books.
These are the folks who are preparing all the temple artifacts for the future temple, such as the menora I photographed in an earlier post.

I was a few feet away from the counter reading a book I think I really must buy, when a bearded guy with long hair and a cowboy hat came in and started taking to the proprietor, a Brit who emigrated to Israel.

I tried to close my ears, but you've seen them - easier said than done.Anyway, he's been very involved in all that Sinai in the Arabian peninsula archeological intrigue that's been a hot item on youtube and which one or two Lakeviewers have been pretty excited about.

After all that cloak and dagger stuff, I wandered here and there in the old city tourist-watching, as well as spying on the locals. Eventually, I headed back "home," but decided to walk rather than use my return train ticket.

My first stop of interest en route was the Bible Society. As I looked in the window at some great titles about Scripture and Jesus, an orthodox man, in black suit and hat, did the same. I prayed then and invite you to pray with me again - that he might find the Messiah who gave His life's blood for him.

Speaking of blood, the next stop on my jaunt was the famous Ben Yehuda, street (where the Jews of Jerusalem do much of their shopping and where 11 were killed in a suicide bombing a decade ago).

In the square I saw a mobile blood unit. On a whim, I poked my head in and asked if you had to be an Israeli to donate blood. "No," the guy wearing blue latex gloves replied, "you just need a passport."

Well, that wasn't quite true since I had to fill in a questionnaire about who I'd been sleeping with etc. Worse than that, it was in Hebrew. They gave me a cheat sheet in English, but I think I still only got a D+ on the test cause here documents go from right to left and it's all pretty confusing for a guy who's from down under.

The whole thing, which was meant to take 20 minutes, took an hour. But I can now say I gave a pint of blood for an Israeli since a Jew shed his life's blood for me.

I also got two free cups of water.

They told me not to exert myself, so I moseyed on home at a geriatric pace. This let me observe slices of normal Israeli life. The ones that stick with me now: a secular man determinedly racing the train on his bike; a religious man running, undignified, for the train (his son's ringlets/side curls bobbing as the young boy tried to keep up with his father); a dentist's office set below street level so I could observe the prone body and two gowned figures looking into his mouth. What's "ouch" in Hebrew?

The final image is multi-sensory, not just visual. I smelled the bakery first, then saw the biggest and most delectable round doughnut I've ever seen. And it was deluged with cinnamon sugar.

I'd like to be able to tell you I just walked on by, but that would be a lie. My knees grew weak and I felt faint. Was it loss of blood, or the doughnut? I couldn't tell. So I went up close for a better look. And a better smell.

Oi Vey, it was good. It was irresistible. But I walked away. Slowly. Ponderously. I felt like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Arnold as a geriatric. It was, perhaps, my finest hour in the Holy Land.

Back to the Western Wall

Like the others who came with me on this pilgrimage, the pace was so fast and furious that I/we didn't keep up with our readings. So it's been nice to read and reflect a little, and to unhurriedly pray.

I got to pray at the wall for each one in my beloved family and for Lakeview: that we will enjoy unity, that will be Jesus to our community.

What a treat to bring praise and requests to Him in the City of God, and so close to where the Ark of the Covenant and the Temple and Holy of holies was.

The Jewish Quarter

I'm in the Jewish Quarter, in the square, doing nothing but enjoying the warm sun and watching the people. Sure, I did have a mango cone ten minutes ago, but that was then and this is now. Always good to live in the present, even in cities that go back millennia.

A man sits at a table in the square with a banner telling us, in Nike speak, that we should just wear phylacteries. His tefilin wind around his arm, making him the poster child for a new generation. Move over Michael Jordan and Tiger.

I go into the Dead Sea Products Center and sample some of the famous Ahava products for men. I will return to Stoughton with an entirely new aroma to define me. Hmmm. Essence of Masada, or Essence of Qumran?

Herod lived at Masada when he was particularly paranoid and smelled of fear. John the Baptist quite likely had contact with the Essenes at Qumran when he thought it was the right time of year to come in out of the desert and have a bath. Still, I'm guessing "Essence of John the Baptist" and "Essence of Herod" never made it past the marketing folks at Ahava. It's not one of Israel's most profitable companies for nothing.

Bar mitzvah Day

I was here in the western wall plaza Monday and today is Thursday. These are the two days when, it seems, every Jew in Jerusalem comes to celebrate the coming of age of their sons or their uncle's second cousin's son who's had his bunions twice removed.

I'm just up a little from the plaza, enjoying some delicious schwarma for lunch, and a little peace and quiet from the pace of the last ten days.

Just now a troupe of professional bar-mitzvah-for-hire musicians with drums and trumpets have started assailing my ears with the kind of volume that should be reserved for King David, our even his more famous "son."

There's dancing and much happiness. Better these guys than professional mourners.

Toward Al Asqa Mosque

After the tunnels, we split up for the rest of the day. I head toward the mosque and am stooped a little short of it. I retrace my steps to the smell of incense which wafts from this Moslem vendor.

I wander a little further on and find a stall full of pomegranates. Other vendors told us there was none in the city. I buy a small cup from the woman for 15 shekels and sit down to blog.

A few minutes later, she sits next to me. She rocks to the side, almost imperceptibly, and breaks wind. I'm not quite sure whether I should feel honored or insulted. So I just suck on my straw and keep blogging.

The Western Wall Tunnels

I'd hoped to be able to get the whole group here but Angie, Jeff and I will need to act as surrogates.

Only about 10% of the western wall is visible, so we're going underground to see all the rest of it, heading north and following the natural rising slope of the valley.

The western wall is the foundation for the temple plaza which Herod built - the greatest religious structure of its time. The plaza, which housed the temple standing in Jesus' day covers an area equivalent to five football fields.

Underneath, in the tunnels, we see a single rock the size of a bus and weighing 600 tons. Herod may have been an animal, but he sure knew how to build.

We come to a place which is the closest access point to where the Holy of holies was located. This is where the presence of God uniquely dwelled.

To the Old City

Our second full free day since the team left. We jumped on the train and headed toward the old city. There are a few soldiers here and there, but not nearly as many as on my last trip.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Holocaust Museum

Saw the team off at 2am, slept in until about 8, when some drilling in the room upstairs became too obnoxious to ignore.

Breakfast and lunch: a couple of small danishes. Ok, four to be exact.

Then off to the holocaust museum for the second time to pick up where I left off. Another deluge of data and feelings and shame that my humanity is capable of this. Is capable of such systematic and sustained barbarism. I say my humanity since the Germans, those cultured guardians of civilization in Europe, expressed the depravity that lurks in us all.

Four-and-a-half hours later, I'm shooed from the museum with many others. Evil may never sleep, but the curators do, and so it's closing time.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Garden Tomb

This is a very moving place and so was incredibly fitting as the last site for our pilgrimage.

It was pretty emotional for many of us as Rabbi Steve (messianic pastor) and Pastor Dave read the Scriptures surrounding Jesus' crucifixion, and as we sang "The Old Rugged Cross." Then I led communion with a short reflection.

The bad news is that our sin sent Jesus (willingly) to the cross. The good news is that he was forsaken so that we could be accepted. And last I checked (a few hours ago), the tomb is empty.

This is really what our whole trip has been about in one way our another:  appreciating and loving Jesus more. I think that may well have happened. But you'll have to ask someone from the team yourself. Just get ready for a rather animated, and even lengthy, answer.

They leave at 1:30am - just a few hours. It's been an amazing 10 days.

Jeff, Angie and I are staying for three more, so you haven't heard the last of me.

Shrine of the Book

Where some of the Dead Sea Scrolls are displayed.

And the model of Jerusalem at Jesus' time.

Temple Steps

Sitting on some of the original steps from Herod's temple. Jesus walked on these very steps.

Also, a sign from one of the entrances to Jerusalem.

King David's Tomb

The Upper Room

Right above King David's tomb (traditional site, not established site) is the Upper Room. If authentic, this is the place where Jesus and the disciples shared the last supper.

The Western Wall Continued

Dave Sheard (middle, light shirt) prays that Edi will enjoy another wonderful 29 years. It's her birthday today.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Western Wall

Monday and Thursday mornings are when barmitzvahs take place at the Western wall. We witnessed the joy of these families as their sons became "sons of the law."

We also saw the huge menora crafted in preparation for the building of the next temple.

The Ramparts Walk

This morning I read Psalm 48:
Walk about Zion, go around her,
number her towers,
consider well her ramparts,
go through her citadels,
that you may tell the next generation
that this is God,
our God forever and ever.
He will guide us forever.

So how cool was it to be able to do an unplanned walk around the top of the wall, starting at the Jaffa Gate and ending at the Western Wall. What a great way to see the city.

As the day progressed, a sandstorm blew in. I can taste the dust even now. You can see it in one of the pictures as a haze that gradually took over everything in the following hours.

Free Day In the Old City

Our guide left us to our own devices today, so we jumped on a train that had only been in operation 2 weeks. That means the officials have only been employed a short time and are anxious to do things by the book, or perhaps haven't even read the book yet.

Anyway, in the crush and the rush, four of us didn't validate our tickets in the machine. So we were taken off the train, short of our destination. Actually, the four were taken off the train and, at first oblivious to what was happening, the rest of us luckily managed to also get off before it started moving again. Passports were looked at and fines were levied despite our attempts to play the "dumb foreigner" card, something I have reasonable experience doing. Hopefully our guide can convince the powers that be to be sensible.

Yad Vashem

Two-and-a-half hours at the holocaust museum was not nearly enough. Perhaps I'll go back on one of my days once the team leaves.

The horror of the slaughter of six million men, women and children can never be adequately communicated. But the museum does a superb job, even so.

We all came out very sober.

Sunday, March 18, 2012


Cindy and Barb in front of the famous cave where the first Dead Sea Scroll was found: inside the clay jar was the Isaiah scroll. It was the oldest scroll by 1000 years.

Live! From the Dead Sea