Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Intellectual Danger of Sexual Sin

Nick Nowalk, whose quotes have graced this site before, writes a frightening essay on the significance of sexual sin for the right thinking of individuals, and likely, even modernity. Here is his conclusion:
So perhaps one sense in which sexual sin is more terrible (ala 1 Corinthians 6) is not that it constitutes a more heinous offense against God than, say, pride or gossip or selfishness do.  Rather, might it not be that sexual sin is singled out because it is more dangerous to those who choose to participate in it? Jones has put forth a daring piece of argumentation, based on much indisputable evidence, for just such an interpretation. What if sexual sin was especially liable to blind us from honest self-examination, and to harden us to the point that we are unable any longer to perceive and approve of the most beautiful moral goods in the universe? What if it is in fact that case that only the pure in heart will see God? Then it would seem that we can never be too hasty to listen to Paul’s recommendation: “Flee from sexual immorality, for every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” The danger in delaying from obedience here is more serious than we can ever possibly imagine.
Read the whole thing.

Monday, May 30, 2011

spring moss

spring moss, originally uploaded by wenabell.
This picture, again taken by my talented and godly wife, reminds me of the Pacific Northwest. It was taken at the UofM Arboretum in Chaska, MN, but I can imagine looking at these rocks near a gurgling mountain stream in the Cascades.

Memorial Day Burritos

The menu for today’s Memorial Day barbecue included grilled burritos as part of the main course.

We started by grilling chicken breasts seasoned with olive oil, cumin, kosher salt, and black pepper, as well as poblano chile peppers over direct medium heat. Both the chicken and peppers were used in the burrito filling.

After the chicken and peppers were removed from the grill to be diced in the kitchen, we sauteed onions with butter in a cast iron dutch oven over the live coals.

We added minced garlic, neufchatel cream cheese, tomatoes, cilantro, and the chicken and peppers.

Then we filled eight 10-inch tortillas with grated Monterey Jack cheese and the filling, wrapped them up, and placed them back on the grill, which was by this time at low heat.

Once the burritos were grilled lightly on both sides—melting the cheese and sealing the burritos—we served them warm with green chile sauce, salsa, and sour cream.

Memorial Day Freedom

We spent today, Memorial Day, with our dear friends, the Crutchmers, who are longing to help provide theological education to pastors in Finland. We played soccer, barbecued, ate, laughed, and generally enjoyed a pleasant, if a tad too warm, day.

We thanked the Lord Jesus Christ for his many blessing to us, including our freedom, earned for us by those who have fought and died so that we could enjoy a day like today. It was not lost on us, however, that our greatest freedom was gained through Jesus’ birth by a virgin, his perfectly obedient life, his cursed death on our behalf, and his victorious resurrection.

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed (John 8:36).

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Shall, Will, and Drowning

In formal writing, the future tense requires shall for the first person, will for the second and third. The formula to express the speaker’s belief regarding his future action or state is I shall; I will expresses his determination or his consent. A swimmer in distress cries, “I shall drown; no one will save me!” A suicide puts it the other way, “I will drown; no one shall save me!” In relaxed speech, however, the words shall and will are seldom used precisely—our ear guides us, or fails to guide us, as the case may be, and we are quite likely to drown when we want to survive, and survive when we want to drown.

—Strunk and White, The Elements of Style, 1959 ed., pp. 45–46.

Feeling it

I ran a half marathon this morning. Not an actual race, but the same distance. 13.11 miles in 2:05:00. I am very thankful that it was still in the mid-fifties.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Statistically Speaking

For as far back as my early college years I have always had a strange notion that when I get to heaven I would be able to ask strange statistical questions and get answers. For instance, at precisely 7:36pm, Friday, May 27, how many people in the world are sleeping? How many are eating? How many are eating salmon? How many leaves are blowing in the wind? Of course, these are totally inconsequential statistics, but God knows the answers. I mean, he knows how many hairs are on my head, and has to adjust his tally every time one falls out or a new one grows. Why not strange statistics? Wouldn't it be cool to know how many people actually enjoyed The Brothers Karamazov?

In today's world, with more powerful computers and a lot more people thinking about how to display information, we could expand my strange fascination by taking my question through time. How many people actually enjoyed The Brothers Karamazov over time? Can I see an infographic showing the total worldwide population of people who enjoyed that book since it was published to the present day?

Now, provide a graph comparing this number, over time, to the number of people who disliked it.

21 years ago

21 years ago, originally uploaded by wenabell.
Can you guess what this is?

Monday, May 23, 2011


“The use of like for as has its defenders; they argue that any usage that achieves currency becomes valid automatically. This, they say, is the way the language is formed. It is and it isn’t. An expression sometimes merely enjoys a vogue, much as an article of apparel does. Like has always been widely misused by the illiterate; lately it has been taken up by the knowing and the well-informed, who find it catchy, or liberating, and who use it as though they were slumming. If every word or device that achieved currency were immediately authenticated, simply on the grounds of popularity, the language would be as chaotic as a ball game with no foul lines. For the student, perhaps the most useful thing to know about like is that most carefully edited publications regard its use before phrases and clauses as simple error.”

—Strunk and White, The Elements of Style, 1959 ed., pp. 41–42.

Cursed Be the Day on Which I Was Born

I am very thankful that the Bible does not sugarcoat anything. Even the greatest of prophets hated their life and the work to which they were called. Just before Jeremiah poured out the following cry he described how hard it was to be a prophet. He did not want to declare the coming destruction of Jerusalem, but when he tried to be quiet and keep his mouth shut, his bones burned within him. He had to declare the horrible prophesies. In pure, honest, heartbreak he cries out:

14   Cursed be the day
on which I was born!
The day when my mother bore me,
let it not be blessed!
15 Cursed be the man who brought the news to my father,
“A son is born to you,”
making him very glad.
16 Let that man be like the cities
that the LORD overthrew without pity;
let him hear a cry in the morning
and an alarm at noon,
17 because he did not kill me in the womb;
so my mother would have been my grave,
and her womb forever great.
18 Why did I come out from the womb
to see toil and sorrow,
and spend my days in shame?

—Jeremiah 20:14–18 (ESV)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

We Are an Indissoluble Union of the Two

“Here Tolkien enables Andreth to remain profoundly faithful to both the Bible and Christian tradition. Genesis’s second creation account envisions our humanity as an inseparable unity of body and soul, with death coming as an utterly unnatural intrusion into God’s good creation, once Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit. So in the New Testament as well is death explicitly called “the last enemy to be destroyed” (1 Cor. 15:26). The all-important Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the body also confirms Andreth’s case that we have no souls that exist apart from our bodies, but that we are an indissoluble union of the two. Neither is meant to tyrannize the other; rather are both to be joined in joy and peace.”

—Ralph C. Wood, The Gospel According to Tolkien, pp. 159–160.


rhododendron, originally uploaded by wenabell.

I love that Wendy has such talent with nature shots. She captures things I usually just walk by. This picture has NOT been adjusted digitally for color or otherwise. It is this beautiful just as God created it.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Few Bearers of His Cross

“Jesus has many lovers of his kingdom of heaven, but he has few bearers of his cross. Many desire his consolation, but few desire his tribulation. He finds many comrades in eating and drinking, but he finds few who will be with him in his abstinence and fasting. All men would joy with Christ, but few will suffer anything for Christ. Many follow him to the breaking of his bread, for their bodily refreshment, but few will follow him to drink a draft of the chalice of his passion. Many honor the miracles, but few will follow the shame of his cross and his other ignominies. Many love Jesus as long as no adversity befalls them, and can praise and bless him whenever they receive any benefits from him, but if Jesus withdraws a little from them and forsakes them a bit, they soon fall into some great grumbling or excessive dejection or into open despair. But those who love Jesus purely for himself, and not for their own profit or convenience, bless him as heartily in temptation and tribulation and in all other adversities as they do in time of consolation.” (Thomas A Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, Book 2, Chapter 11)

—Repost from my old classmate Nick Nowalk's blog.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Thrown Away a Better Intro

Christopher Hitchens with advice to writers in a recent Vanity Fair article:
“Don’t say that as a boy your grandmother used to read to you, unless at that stage of her life she really was a boy, in which case you have probably thrown away a better intro.”
I am currently reading The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White...
Rule 7. A participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence must refer to the grammatical subject. Participial phrases preceded by a conjunction or by a preposition, nouns in apposition, adjectives, and adjective phrases come under the same rule if they begin a sentence.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Gorgeous Insanity of it All

I snoop around the Rabbit Room because I like its proprietor.

There are two beautiful paragraphs in an excellent article written by Lanier Ivester that I am going to repost here. If you have any desire to create art in you—of whatever kind—read the whole thing.
I don’t want to fail. I want to sing the songs of Eden to a tired and homesick world. I want to write of beauty and truth and goodness, unashamed; I want to spin words and weave stories that will make other people know they are not alone. But even this ambition, sweet as it is, comes short of the mark. For if I truly believe that in attempting to write a book I am being obedient to something that God has placed within me, then His pleasure is the final word. It will not matter in the least whether I succeed in the temporal sense or fail utterly. In the words of the immortal Rumpole, it will be “a matter of indifference bordering on the supernatural”. Supernatural, indeed. For only faith’s vision can incite a recklessness of that ilk, that caliber of abandon that has made the disciples of Christ stand out from their kin like stark raving lunatics from the first Year of our Lord until now. God help me to be among them.
The Apostle Paul called us ‘fools for Christ’, and I’ve always imagined he said it with a lopsided grin, a little dazed by the gorgeous insanity of it all. We are ordinary men and women aflame with immortality and moonstruck mad by a grace we can scarcely fathom. We believe crazy things and we do crazy things as a result. We are loved outrageously, beyond all wisdom and reason, and we can’t keep the joy of the joke to ourselves. The love of God has wrung all manner of impossible things from of the hearts of His people since the world began. And how much lovelier is the world because of it.
I hope I can write like that when I grow up.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Questioning Azazel

In Leviticus 16, the word Azazel is used four times. In fact, Azazel is only used four times in the entire Bible, all in Leviticus 16. This wouldn’t be too big a deal, except that this chapter describes the ritual process surrounding the Day of Atonement. Yes, that Day of Atonement, the one that Jesus ultimately fulfills once and for all on the cross.

On the Day of Atonement, two goats are selected. The high priest casts lots and one goat is set aside for the Lord, and the other goat is set aside for Azazel. Huh? Who or what is Azazel?

It turns out that there are three or four major options. The first option takes the original Hebrew word and breaks it up into parts, one part meaning “goat” or “goats,” and the other part meaning “to go away.” This is where the idea of scapegoat comes from, the Goat that Went Away. The second major option is that Azazel is the proper name for a demon of the wilderness, maybe even the Devil himself. Apparently, an increasing number of scholars today are leaning toward the second option, which is why the ESV Bible renders the proper noun Azazel rather than using the generic word scapegoat as the NASB or KJV does.

This brings to light one of the most difficult things I have faced as I have gone through the last six years of theological education, namely, the Bible often seems to create more questions than it answers. Most certainly, the Bible asks more questions than the average church attendee wants to think it does. The Bible is not a bunch of pithy sayings used to comfort people or bang people over the head with. It is the written word, the revelation of the Living God, who is infinite, and therefore infinitely complex.

I am not advocating some pomo idea that the Bible can hold contradictory truths and that be OK. Instead, I am recognizing that we look through a glass darkly and there is much we don’t understand. God is infinite and explodes all the boxes we try to put him in. His Bible, his word is the same way. It reveals an infinite God and exposes a bunch of questions along the way.

So, what to do? How do we handle all these questions? Some days I attack them with relish, believing wholeheartedly what my friend loves to say, “Apparent contradictions are theological goldmines.” Other days, I can waver in my faith and wonder how there can be so many disparate views and understandings of the same passage.

It is at those times that I have to stop and center myself on the truths in the Bible that are rock solid, the truths that are the core of my faith and are so solid no question can assail their walls.

The Resurrection.

Paul understood the crux of this when wrote to the Corinthians, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” A few paragraphs later he added the oft quoted, “If the dead are not raised, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’”

The core reality that I hold on to is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is no other truth like this truth. There is no other defining reality that separates the sheep from the goats like this reality. There is no other historical event upon which belief determines the eternal destiny of souls. That Jesus Christ be raised is the defining moment in history upon which everything balances.

So, while I still question Azazel, I remember that my faith is not dependent on who or what that term refers to. I can worship a God who is complex and deep, whose words are wrought with layers of meaning, and rejoice in both the complexity and the simplicity of who he is.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

The Evident Wonder of God's Great Provision

“Sometimes it’s books or songs that tear away at the carefully crafted shackles we have allowed around our wrists, the bonds that blind us to the evident wonder of God’s great provision. Sometimes it’s a holy encounter with a saint. Sometimes it’s math, basketball, corn dogs, Victoria Falls, making love, babies, adoption, a painting, a person failing well, a fancy car, poetry, or water, or bread, or wine.”

I’M FINITE, HOW ARE YOU?, by S. D. Smith

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Congratulations! Your First 10k!

My godly bride took up running two years ago. I have been chasing her around the house for over twenty years; now I have to actually get outside to try and catch her!

She ran her first 10k race this last Saturday. I am so proud of all her hard work. She finished in the top 32 percent in her age bracket. Don’t let that fool you. She also finished in the top 32 percent of women 10 years younger. She rocks.

You can check out the wear and tear on her shoes over the last two years here.

I love you, my bride. Way to go!

Yikes! Gas Prices Too High!

I am thankful that a I have the opportunity to work from home a day or two per week. In January an average fill-up at the gas station ran me $53. Today it is running $72 per tank.

We have noticed a similar increase in food prices. Prices have increased somewhat dramatically from week to week, while we are purchasing the same set of staple foods. Between food and gas, our family of six is feeling the pinch. What choices do I have to save money?

1. Drive less. Plan trips accordingly. Work from home.
2. Buy a more gas efficient vehicle. Hmmm. Not very practical.
3. Ride a bike. It’s cold 9 months out of 12.
4. Eat less. Don’t let my 13-year old son have free reign over the fridge.
5. Use more coupons. Lots of work; could be helpful.
6. Charge my kids rent. Child labor laws?
7. Get a second job. Not realistic.
8. ????

What are you doing to fend off higher prices at the grocery store and the gas pump?

301 Posts

The post just before this one, titled “Your Help is Found in Christ,” was the 300th post on this blog.

I didn’t think about it or plan it, but it is fitting that a milestone, small or big, be accented by the saving work of our Lord Jesus Christ.

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Your Help is Found in Christ

I have a very dear friend who has suffered much. He is the most joyful man I know. I am reposting his blog entry from today because his quote of Spurgeon is so good. You should subscribe to his blog and see a man who knows what it means to be “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”
I do not know what you need, but I do know Christ has it. I do not know the full of your disease, but I do know Christ is the physician who can meet it. I do not know how hard and stubborn and stolid and ignorant and blind and dead your nature may be, but I do know that “Christ is able to save unto the uttermost them that come unto God by Him.” What you are has nothing to do with the question, except that it is the mischief to be undone. The true answer to the question of how you are to be saved lies yonder in the bleeding body of the immaculate Lamb of God! Christ has all salvation in Himself. He is Alpha, He is Omega. He does not begin to save and leave you to perish, nor does He offer to complete what you must first begin. . .
If I might only have it to utter one sentence, it would be this one, “Your help is found in Christ.” As for you, there never can be found anything hopeful in your human nature. It is death itself! It is rottenness and corruption. Turn, turn your eyes away from this despairing mass of black depravity and look to Christ! He is the sacrifice for human guilt. His is the righteousness that covers men and makes them acceptable before the Lord!
—Charles H. Spurgeon, Memory: The Handmaid of Hope, delivered October 15, 1865.