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Archive | Musings

Optimistic Thoughts from a Pessimist

In 284 AD Diocletian, then the cavalry commander of the Roman army, was proclaimed emperor of Rome. In 302 he consulted the oracle of Apollo at Didyma and there became persuaded that those who forsook Roman worship needed to be exterminated. His government would usher in the last, largest, and bloodiest of all the official persecutions of Christianity in Rome. Thousands of men, women, and children were burned, drowned, decapitated, crucified, starved, and torn apart, so much so, that Eusebius wrote, “the murderous sword was blunted, and becoming weak, was broken.” While many nobly suffered martyrdom, others could not bear up under the threats and renounced the faith, sacrificed to pagan gods, and encouraged others to do the same.

Persecution has often served to purge and purify the church of Jesus Christ. Our Lord taught that some would hear his word but having no root would only “endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately fall away” (Mark 4:17). It would be good for any who hold to the word of Jesus to consider this teaching seriously and searchingly—and, let me add, with a degree of fear and trembling. It would be far […]

Missing Jesus With Thomas

On the evening of the first Lord’s Day, the day of Jesus’ resurrection, Thomas was absent. The other disciples were gathered together when Jesus came and stood among them displaying his nail pierced hands and feet and speaking “Peace” to them, but Thomas “was not with them when Jesus came” (John 20:24). It wasn’t until the following first day of the week that Thomas would have the benefit of seeing Jesus. Now, we don’t know why he was absent. Matthew Henry suggests, “Perhaps it was Thomas’s unhappiness that he was absent–either he was not well, or had not notice; or perhaps it was his sin and folly–either he was diverted by business or company, which he preferred before this opportunity, or he didn’t come for fear of the Jews; and he called that his prudence and caution which was his cowardice.” Whatever his reason was–and we don’t know–we do know that because he was not gathered with the disciples he neither shared in their joy or the blessing of meeting with the resurrected Jesus Christ.

Sadly, Thomas’s experience is all too often the experience of many Christians who, for whatever reasons, absent themselves from the gathering of saints on the Lord’s […]

Look! Look! Look!

I live in a diverse place. My neighborhood is made up of a number of Asian and Latino people groups, along with, like my family, those of European descent. A couple of blocks from my home is the largest concentration of Armenians outside of Armenia. There are so many Armenians living around me that one time my seven year-old son asked me if Armenian was the second most widely used language in the world.

We enjoy the diversity of culture that we get to experience from day to day. A number of months ago we were in a neighborhood not far ours where a sign read, “Korean Culture Days: Brought to you with help by the Armenian and Latino communities.” 

Elon’s (and Your) Historical Record: Date. Dash. Date.

As the ancient church historian was writing the book of Judges, he must have asked himself, “What do I know about Elon?” (Judges 12:11-12) The other historians around him must have scratched their heads, much like you may be doing as you secretly ask, “Who is Elon?” As the ancient historian summed up the whole life of a political and spiritual leader in ancient Israel, he came to the conclusion that not much was known about Judge Elon. His answer was that Elon lived. Elon worked. Elon died.

“After him Elon the Zebulunite judged Israel, and he judged Israel ten years. Then Elon the Zebulunite died and was buried at Aijalon in the land of Zebulun.”

We might hope that an ancient historian would record more for us, but the fact is that every life on this earth will be summed up as Elon’s life is here summed. You live. You work. You die.

The Christian Traveller

I spent all of Wednesday of this past week travelling from Northern Ireland to Philadelphia, and the hours of sitting in airports and being herded in queues on and off of various modes of transportation reminded me of an excellent article written by my good friend Jeremy Walker and which I am shamelessly reproducing below, with his permission.

I re-read the article while sitting at the departure gate of Boston airport on the final leg of my journey. As I reviewed the previous 14 hours of travel and assessed it in light of Jeremy’s advice I felt that I probably hadn’t done anyone any positive harm (although I suspect anyone sitting within a few seats’ radius of me when I dropped off to sleep may have disagreed! I’m reminded of a comment by Bill Bryson about his sleeping habits while travelling: ‘Most people who go to sleep on a plane look like they just need a blanket; I look like I need medical attention.’) On the other hand I did feel a dissatisfaction that I hadn’t done something more positive to help a fellow traveller – I hadn’t noticed anyone needing help with their bags or looking lost. I’m not sure […]

A Gentle Reminder

Often in conversations, when someone hears that our blog is named Gentle Reformation, I get a funny look and/or a “Huh, that’s interesting.” Follow-up comments then usually go down two well-worn paths.

Many express that they do not think of the words “gentle” and “reformed” going together, as their experience of Calvinists – or at least their impressions of them – are of the hard-nosed, nostril-flaring, looking-down-the-nose types. Especially on the internet, they have run across anything but gentleness when it comes to discussions of reformed theology.

Others – always guys and often the type the first group have run across – basically think the name is wimpy, even girly.  A good number of the young, restless, and reformed types often combine their Calvinism with strong doses of machismo.  The image they want is that of a husky, bearded man wearing a “I’m a John Knox Homeboy” T-shirt with a beer in one hand, a cigar in the other, and a pistol strapped to his side.  Gentle to them is just plain embarrassing.

So perhaps it would be helpful to give a reminder of why we chose this name and, along with it, a few updates.

Gentleness is to be a quality of Christians and their leaders.  In […]

The Night Watcher

From a deep slumber, I awoke suddenly.  I lay in the dark wide awake, certainly no habit of mine.  The clock by our bed showed that it was one-thirty in the morning. In the depth of my sleep, my subconsciousness had alerted me that something unusual was taking place.

Above the sound of my wife’s gentle breathing and the drone of the fan in the hallway, I heard a sound. It was deep, mysterious, rhythmic.  After listening to it three or four times, I realized that what I was hearing was an owl.

We had heard them on a few occasions before. Their call reverberating through the woods fascinated us.  Yet attempts to spot them had been futile.   As I lay listening, I remembered my wife saying she had heard one recently. Having never seen an owl in the wild before, I was hopeful to do so this night.

So I slid out from beneath the covers, leaving my wife undisturbed.  I tiptoed over to the window and lifted the shade. The moon outside was full, casting a silvery glow on the woods behind our house.  The leafless trees stood there silhouetted against the night sky.  Each crook of their limbs and twigs […]

2014: Movies, Books, Games, and Good Listening

As another year nears its end, I thought it would be fun to toss out a few things that have been particularly memorable/enjoyable for me. Here I’m thinking more in terms of books and entertainment.  So without further ado:

Movies

• Edge of Tomorrow (Or, Live. Die. Repeat) was a total surprise hit for me. I hate to admit it, but I do like Tom Cruise as an actor; and in this sci-fi grab-your-popcorn action flick, he delivered an excellent performance. Check it out. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

• Interstellar? I’m sorry, but no. I was really looking forward to this movie, but it totally let me down. So if you’re going to insist on watching a show about outer space, go with Gravity. It is far more entertaining.

Books

• Speaking of movies, perhaps you’ve heard about the forthcoming release of Unbroken. I plan on checking it out. But look. If you haven’t read the book Unbroken, I need you to stop right here, open another window in Amazon and order it. Don’t think about it. Just do it. It is easily one of the best books you’ll ever read.

• I’m nearly finished reading […]

The Hatred of Adam’s Hatefilled Race

Watching the news and hearing conversations over the last several weeks has been very hard. The media circus and endless commentaries surrounding Michael Brown and Eric Garner should cause Christians to pause. There’s been so much vitriolic hatred. I must admit, I feel a deep sympathy with the Psalmist, “My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law.” Jesus is serious about loving your neighbor. In fact, the only thing more important than loving your neighbor is loving the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. But second to that, and like that, is loving your neighbor as yourself.

That’s radical command. Why? Because the heart of man is exceedingly hateful. To not love another is hate. And, if I can insist on it, the true tragedy of hatred is not the victimization, marginalization, or oppression of another. The ultimate tragedy, the ultimate outrage of hate is that hatred is sin. This is serious! If you hate your neighbor you’re in danger of the fires of hell. And it’s become clear to me that I don’t hate hatred near enough.

Now, I want to be clear. Hatred isn’t a respecter […]

My Eyes Flow With Tears

A few years ago a little book caught my attention. Though I had read it before I noticed, for the first time, that it was unlike most books I had ever read. It was poetic. It was tragic and sorrowful. It was graphic and stirring. It was intense and emotional. Most fascinating, however, is that it was a book that profoundly reflected the heart of Jesus. Not Jesus as we sometimes think of him–confident as he calmed the storm, bold as he preached the kingdom, jealous as he overturned tables, or silent as he faced his oppressors. But Jesus as he stood by the grave of Lazarus and wept (Jn 11:35). Jesus as he approached Jerusalem weeping over it (Lk 19:41). Jesus as he offered up prayers with tears (Heb 5:7). It was the book of Lamentations.

I’m going to guess that Lamentations isn’t a book most of us are familiar with. In it, the Prophet Jeremiah is heartbroken and stunned at the destruction of Jerusalem, “How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow has she become, she who was great among the nations!” While the fall of Jerusalem is described in a purely historical […]