Hologram Faith

Doors Open Days are great for the above average sized family like ours. It’s an initiative which gives you free access into a number of fascinating buildings. Last weekend it was Edinburgh’s turn to host the event, so we made a visit to the Royal Observatory. The fact that one of our children has been granted the opportunity to take a ‘placement week’ at the Observatory was another reason for visiting.

One of the first exhibits we encountered was a hologram of the EELT (European Extremely Large Telescope). Whilst this was impressive given the sheer scale of the project, it was nonetheless a bit surreal because construction has just started in Chile and the telescope will not become operational until the mid 2020’s.

Last weekend, Julian Assange, the Wikileaks founder, appeared before an ‘open-mouthed’ audience at the 2014 Nantucket Project in Massachusetts.  It was quite the spectacle as he sat on a stool beside filmmaker Eugene Jarecki sharing his thoughts on the importance of public access to free information, research, and the impact of censorship on history.   But why an ‘open-mouthed’ audience? Because Assange, having sought asylum in an attempt to avoid extradition to Sweden, has been confined to [...]


How I Love Your Law!

Oh how I love your law, it is my meditation all the day!
Psalm 119:97

 

Let’s admit together that this isn’t easy. We are born with a predisposition against God’s law. To the natural man or woman, God’s law is like the brightness of the sun to eyes that have gotten used to the dark. We avoid it. Really, we hate it.

But it should be different now, right? For those who have been brought to new life through the Spirit of Christ, our attitude toward God’s law should be better than hatred and rebellion. And a lot of times it is: when we’re on top of our spiritual game, we really do love God’s law. But when we begin to slip in our spiritual disciplines, or when discouragement and depression come creeping, or when we refuse to deal forthrightly with our sins, or when we listen too much to the world’s hatred of God’s standard – this is when our love for God’s law wanes.

So here’s some help. Here are a couple more reasons to love God’s law that you might not think about all the time, a couple more arrows for your spiritual battle to hold onto that love. 


The Game of Ethics in a Godless World

Picture an aquarium full of only dirt and rocks.

Now imagine that this represents the sum total of reality. There is no mind beyond the walls of that aquarium, no watching eyes, nothing. Life is utterly absent within and without. There is only the stuff of matter.

Now suppose someone were to ask if the aquarium contained morality. Is it in there? If so, where might it be found? Under a rock? Hidden deep in the dirt? Perhaps floating about in the air?

Search as one might, digging here and there, morality would not be found.  It is nowhere.

But now imagine a creature suddenly forming in some mysterious, almost ineffable way. It is a slithering thing, long and inhuman, devoid of consciousness.

Might morality be found in the aquarium now? Nothing has fundamentally changed, save for the creeping creature, and that changes nothing. Morality is still absent.

Picture another scene. Suppose the slithering creature splits into other similar creatures, ones that in turn morph and change into other creatures. Imagine as well plants suddenly sprouting up. Envision rain beginning to fall and entire colonies of scurrying critters forming, ducking into holes and climbing trees.

The aquarium is now teeming with life.

Peering through the glass wall, we [...]


Podcast: Distance Education and the Seminary

Online education is dramatically changing the playing field in higher education.  In 2011, 89% of four-year public colleges and universities in the U.S. were reported to offer online classes. Though seminaries have lagged behind, in 2011-2012 nearly 20,000 of about 74,000 seminarians enrolled at accredited schools had completed at least one online course while still on campus.   Seminaries are having to learn how to navigate the strange, new world the Digital Age has brought in.

Recently Austin and I discussed with Dr. Jerry O’Neill, president of the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and Aaron Sams*, Director of Distance Education at RPTS, the new online courses being offered at RPTS.  We heard about the incredible blessings as well as the intriguing challenges this form of education brings to the seminary.  Click below to listen along!

*Just wanted to add a congratulations to Aaron, who this past weekend was honored with his colleague Jon Bergmann for their work in using technology in the flipped classroom approach at the Bammy Awards in Washington, D.C.  The educational equivalent of the Grammy Awards, the Bammy Awards are sponsored by The Academy of Education Arts and Sciences and give recognition to dedicated and innovative educational leaders.

http://gentlereformation.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Distance-Education.mp3

 

 

 

 


The Rural Church Potential

“In short, I like living in a small town. The urbanites may say that this is sentimentality, but I refuse to let the word frighten me. I believe that small-town life has values that should be preserved if they possibly can be. After all, the human race has spent the greater part of its existence in small communities, and I doubt if we have outgrown the need for a comprehensible society.”

That was written by Granville Hicks, a twentieth century intellect who was allured to small-town living. In 1946 he could already see the coming decline of rural America. “Has any small town,” he wrote “a future in this age of industrialism, urbanism, and specialization?” That didn’t stop him, however, from celebrating the lasting values of community. He even survived small town living to write a penetrating and winsome sociological commentary on rural life titled, Small Town. This American classic isn’t a how-to for rural ministry, but, it may surprise some, his perceptive awareness of society is very beneficial for the country church.

Let me just come out and say it. Either explicitly or implicitly, the modern church seems to place little to no value on the rural church. I get it. [...]


Suicide and Atonement

The tragic death of Robin Williams in August briefly caught the public imagination in our country. A uniquely gifted man died before his time because he was unable to cope with the depression that haunted him. Well-meaning supporters opined that Mr. Williams was now free at last. Others speculated about what must be wrong with our society that would drive someone like Mr. Williams to despair. While Robin Williams’ suicide dominated the news, there was another high-profile suicide that went virtually unnoticed in our country. Just six days before Williams’ death, Dr. Yoshiki Sasai, a world famous stem cell researcher from Japan, was found hanging in a stair well in the building in which he worked.

Earlier this year one of Dr. Sasai’s research associates made a revolutionary discovery regarding the reprogramming of common cells into cells with the properties of embryonic stem cells. The process of transforming cells is ordinarily done by genetic manipulation of the cells. The new discovery purported to show that the cells could be reprogrammed by simply manipulating the environment in which they grew, thus eliminating the need for altering the genetic composition of the cells. This advance would have moved the use of reprogrammed cells [...]


Singing With Thankfulness In Our Hearts

Do you ever wonder what some of the best a Capella Psalm singing sounds like? Then join us in Indianapolis, Indiana on the Lord’s Day, October 19, 2014 at 5:30 p.m. The acoustically favorable venue of North United Methodist Church will not make it best, nor will the expected 500-plus voices raised in harmony – much as those things will help. No, it will be some of the best because it will come from Spirit-filled hearts full of gratitude for God’s saving grace.

You see, we are thankful that fifty years ago, on October 16, 1964, Jesus established Second Reformed Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. It was “Second” because there had been a first in Indianapolis in the nineteenth century. In 1964, the Bloomington Reformed Presbyterian Church was the only RP church in Indiana. God would save many more souls over the years at Second RP, in Bloomington, and beyond. And we are grateful that in 1994 Sycamore Reformed Presbyterian Church in Kokomo, Indiana would also be planted by the Lord’s hand.

Now twenty years later, these two congregations are joining to celebrate God’s grace with other congregations around the state that the Lord has also planted over these last fifty years. [...]


The Irony of Sin

On the night before his meeting with King Xerxes and Esther, Haman, in accordance with the counsel of his friends and wife, had a seventy-five foot tall gallows built exclusively for the neck of Mordecai, the faithful Jew who would not bow the knee in his presence.

Through the cunning of Haman, an edict had already been sent forth, spelling the demise of the Jews. The outlying provinces were to “kill and annihilate all the Jews- young and old, woman and little children- on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods” (Esther 3:13 NIV). It was a time of great mourning and weeping and fasting for God’s people. They were going to die.

One can almost picture Haman in his bed, listening to the sound of sawing and hammering, as the immense gallows were being constructed. One can imagine him replaying the image of Mordecai standing alone amid a sea of bent knees, refusing to pay homage to him. He no doubt pictured the obstinate Jew swinging in the noonday light, noose cinched tightly around his neck. He no doubt imagined what he would say before the onlookers, how he [...]


A Trinitarian Approach to Conflict

Over the past two years, I have been looking at many different books on pastoral care written through the ages.  One characteristic I have noticed in many of the writers is the emphasis they give on how varied the body of Christ is yet how united it should be under his headship.  A pastor must recognize this quality about the flock of God.  If he does not, he will be severely handicapped in ministering to them.

Seeing the church in this manner flowed out of these ministers’ emphasis on the Trinity.  They recognized that the God who is both three and one has created his church to be many and one.  They paid close attention to passages such as this one found in I Corinthians 12:4-6, where Paul speaks of the Father, Son, and Spirit in the context of describing the church as a body with many differing members:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.

Gregory of Nazianzus, a fourth century church father, was especially insightful in viewing the church in this manner and applying [...]


Praying for our Nations

As I write this, the people of Scotland are voting on whether or not they want to remain in the United Kingdom. A remarkable 97% of the people have registered to vote in the referendum, and the turnout at the polls is expected to be the highest in Scottish history – remarkable indeed in a climate of electoral apathy. As I write, the result is impossible to predict – experts reckon it could be decided by a margin as slender as 60,000 votes. The polling organisation Ipsos Mori are saying 51% yes, 49% no.

 

As a Northern Irish citizen of the United Kingdom, I have heard and read plenty of arguments over the last few months as to why Scottish independence would be either the kiss of life or the kiss of death to both Scotland and the rest of the UK. In the ‘yes’ camp and in the ‘no’ camp experts hold forth eloquently, persuasively, passionately, supporting their arguments with telling and pertinent statistics. And then the other side comes back with forceful counter-arguments and equally plausible statistics. It’s all too easy to become like the sheep in Animal Farm who just believed whoever spoke last! How do we pray about [...]