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Archive | Musings

The Death of a Neighbor

I’m told that he ended his life by sitting in a running car in a closed garage.

My mind can’t help but picture the scene. I see him sitting there with a blank stare, a cigarette in hand, smoking one more time. The radio isn’t on. The space is dark.

A man who had been my neighbor for nearly six years recently committed suicide. A co-worker informed me of his death. At first, I didn’t know who he was talking about. He just described cop cars speeding to a particular house. But as he continued to describe various details surrounding the man’s life, I suddenly asked, “Was his name Joel?” “Yes. It was Joel,” came the reply. I sighed deeply and then said, “He used to be my neighbor.”

If I Were to Sin

John said the Bible was written so that “you may not sin.”

But what if I were to sin?

If I were to sin, I would not want to have a god other than the Trinity or worship idols.
For I would become like the false god or the idol I worshipped.
I don’t want to be angry like Allah or blind like a Buddha.
(Psalm 115:1-8)

If I were to sin, I would not want to use the Lord’s name wrongly.
He takes it personally and how could I hurt the One whose very name gives me salvation?
(Exodus 20:7; Acts 4:12)

If I were to sin, I would not want to forget the Sabbath Day.
I would miss too many blessings and ultimately forget the Lord Himself.
(Isaiah 58:13-14)

If I were to sin, I would not dishonor my parents or even roll my eyes at them.
For that is to invite the birds of the valley to peck out those eyes.
(Proverbs 30:17)

If I were to sin, I would not want to mess around with another man’s wife.
For that would be like lighting a fire on my […]

Life Outside the Circle

It is no mere coincidence that when God is rejected virtue and pleasure depart. God is the ultimate source of such things, the fountainhead from which we all partake, reflecting and mirroring as image bearers.

Sin tragically results in separation. When Adam and Eve fell, they were cast from the garden. When Israel sinned, the land vomited them out. When we are saved, we are said to be “in Christ,” a description denoting profound proximity. But before we were made new, the language was different. Distance takes over. “You were once far away…” says Paul, “alienated” and “excluded.” No reconciliation. No closeness. Strangers. Enmity.

Now picture a circle. Write in that circle things like joy, holiness, peace, righteousness, goodness, life, love, justice, truth, beauty. The circle is God. Now stand back and consider the two realms of possibility. There is the circle and there is that which resides outside the circle.

If all joy and righteousness is found inside the circle, what is there to be found outside the circle? Not joy. Not righteousness. Since every last drop of joy exists in the circle, its utter absence resides outside.

But it is more than that. It is not as if the absence of joy […]

Faris Way, Bloomington, IN 47408

In April 2015, the trustees of Indiana University named a road within its athletic complex on the Bloomington campus “Faris Way.” The land on which Memorial Stadium and Assembly Hall sit is that of the historic Faris family farm. James Faris (1791-1855), my great-great-great grandfather, originally owned the land. More than sixty years ago, the trustees’ minutes instructed that “in view of the fact that this land has been the Faris homestead since the original entry, the name ‘Faris’ be preserved by so designating a street or other part of the proposed development” (October 23, 1954). The street name was promised in negotiations when the state condemned the farm through eminent domain against the will of the family to construct the stadiums.

When I was five years old in 1982, my father took me to a Syracuse versus Indiana football game at Memorial Stadium. From the stands, he pointed at the land all around the stadium and told me that this land had belonged to my namesake but had been taken. That night, I was instructed to remember this injustice and the abuse of governmental power against God-given liberty.

Today, the street name Faris Way seems fitting and will serve as poignant reminder […]

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 […]