Good advice upon graduation

This is the probably the last commencement speech Judge Antonin Scalia gave. It is filled with wisdom and the late Supreme Court Justice’s trademark humor. Having attended many graduation ceremonies, I would welcome more speeches like this. Enjoy!

New perspective on money?

Follow The Money: The Money Trail Through HistoryFollow The Money: The Money Trail Through History by Ruben Alvarado

I was surprised at how much I gleaned from this book. The author does a good job in establishing how money has been used throughout history. It begins with the ancients, follows the Assyrians and Babylonians, to the Persians, Greeks, Romans, and on down to the feudal system of Europe until today. Special attention is given to the United States, as it has been the primary financial powerhouse of the world since WWI. The interesting figure in the book is the economist James Steuart, whose views of money and credit are little known today. It is somewhat technical at times and I had to reread spots, but it was worth it.

How to handle losing

I was reading recently about the only debate I know of that C.S. Lewis ever lost. The year was 1948 and the sparring partner was Christian philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe. It had to do with a chapter of his book, Miracles. To say he lost the debate is…debatable (had to do it), depending on who you ask. Not having interviewed anyone who was there, I couldn’t say who won. But I can say that having read about the event, and more importantly what happened after, I am thankful he lost.

For fans of Prof. Lewis, it may be hard to imagine how such a master could lose a debate, but his partner was no slouch. She was one of the most esteemed philosophers of her generation and a pupil of one of the most important philosophers of the 20th century (Ludwig Wittgenstein). She was a professor at Oxford until late in her life (she died in 2001).

I have no desire to get into the subject of the debate, not having a background in philosophy myself, but I want to point out a couple of things we can learn from what happened. After the debate, Prof. Lewis corrected the element of his book Mrs. Anscombe critiqued, while not rewriting the entire chapter. He displayed humility in correcting the flaws she pointed out. He could have dug-in-his-heels and remained adamant but chose to learn from correction, which King Solomon pointed out is the trait of a wise man (Prov. 1:5).

Also we can appreciate the providence of God in this matter. After the debate, Lewis altered the focus and tone of his writing. I’ll not say that he changed his focus entirely, but it was after losing this debate that he began to use a warmer tone in his writing and different means of communicating the truth of Christianity. This could not be entirely because of one debate, but it is significant that afterward, he wrote fewer philosophical works defending Christianity and more personal (Letters to Malcolm, Surprised by Joy) and child-friendly books (The Chronicles of Narnia). It is often that being taken down a few notches is better for us than we realize. Success can bring pride and pride eliminates our usefulness in the Kingdom of God. God loves us too much to let us go without occasional defeats.

Again I am thankful that he was bested by a younger professor in 1948. Had that not happened, we might not have had The Chronicles of Narnia, The Space Trilogy, or some of his other works. And we wouldn’t have seen him pass the test of how a wise man should respond to correction.

May there be many more

It was with great regret that I learned of the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. He was a great jurist, and an even greater Christian. He was a stalwart warrior for the truth and fought for the textual interpretation of the Constitution over against the “living” view of the Constitution.

I’ve always appreciated his stance in the face of tornado-like cultural winds, but  I’ve also come to appreciate his ability to communicate. He reminds me of a slightly acerbic version of G. K. Chesterton, lacerating foolishness with a poetic style of writing that few judges at any level have ever possessed. He could make you smile as you read his opinions; that is rare. But he could also speak. He was eloquent in his description of the Constitution. This particular speech is a great example of his views contrasting the conservative vs. socialist views.

His strong Christianity was not as well known, but still present. He was a faithful Roman Catholic until the day he died. His was not only a Christianity of the mind but also of the heart (as this story tells). As with all great Christians, his beliefs transcended denominational boundaries; he loved hearing the gospel  and wanted the news of Christ’s death and the resurrection proclaimed to unbelievers no matter who presented it, as this letter written to a Presbyterian pastor indicates.

Finally, he was a prophet. He understood the times better than most and could tell where the United States is headed in the future apart from reformation. Prophets are rarely appreciated (a brief look at twitter regarding his death will vindicate that statement), but he didn’t care. In fact he didn’t see himself as a great man, but as a sinner who hoped in God’s mercy and believed it was his responsibility to stand for truth wherever God placed him. This exhortation he gave to a group of believers in Denver is a fitting way to summarize his Christianity

“God assumed from the beginning that the wise of the world would view Christians as fools…and He has not been disappointed. Devout Christians are destined to be regarded as fools in modern society. We are fools for Christ’s sake. We must pray for courage to endure the scorn of the sophisticated world. If I have brought any message today, it is this: Have the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity. Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world.”

May God raise up many more like him in the coming age. May he rest in peace.


Joy of Anticipation

This is a wonderful time of year, and not just because of family/friend gatherings. Advent is upon us. The time we remember Jesus’ first coming and anticipate His second coming becomes more and more special each year. In the past I always thought of this time as anticipation for Christmas, but learning what Advent means (coming) adds to the fruitfulness of the time.

Last night our Advent reading was I Thessalonians 4:13-18, a passage I (until recently) never would have thought of relating to this time of year. The apostle Paul exhorted the church to comfort one another with the message of Christ’s coming. Comfort can be drawn from the fact that when Jesus comes the second time we will be forever with Him, in addition to being with all those who died “in the Lord.” This motivates us to live obediently now, in addition to knowing that one day we will be reunited with all those we know who died in Christ. This second coming is indeed a blessed hope (Titus 2:13).

It’ll turn you on your head.

The Second Adam and the New Birth by M.F. Sadler

This book finished the job blowing my former paradigms of baptism away. It is solid in its handling of Scripture and assembles an impressive arsenal against the view that baptism is merely symbolic. It is neither Roman Catholic nor baptistic in its view of baptism; rather it treats the doctrine biblically without falling into any particular ditch. My only caveat is that it gives away too much regarding the doctrine of eternal election, which the author states that he believes wholeheartedly.

Would that all clerks were so bold for Christ

Two of my favorite writers, Peter Leithart and Doug Wilson have written about the Kim Davis situation in Kentucky. Pastor Wilson wrote of the importance of viewing this not as a religious vs. secular case, but a religion A or  religion B case. Dr. Leithart wrote about how the case could give a wide degree of religious liberty in time, but too many on the right and the left have been quick to speak against her.

Those articles are worth reading, and for myself I would add that I appreciate Mrs. Davis. There is much misinformation and disinformation about her (such as the fact that she has been married four times, all of which took place before she became a Christian). She is under attack because she is standing for her constitutional rights. Yes I said constitutional rights. The first amendment gives someone the freedom from having to endorse what they believe is wrong, and having your name appear on the bottom of a homosexual marriage license is in her mind (and mine) an endorsement. It is no different than me endorsing a check to a friend that I know he would use to pay for a prostitute. I wouldn’t do that and she should not be forced to either. The question isn’t why did she do it. It is, “Why isn’t any other county clerk willing to do this?” The answer is that we are, by and large, cowards. We can’t imagine doing anything that won’t at least gain us immediate martyr status with “our”crowd.

At this point I am going to suggest something that I’ve not heard anyone say: please pray for Kim Davis. She is the scourge of the left (understandable) and right (crazy!). She needs strength, patience, and continued grace in the face of spiritual and emotional assault. Pray that God would send her encouragement and wisdom (James 1:3-8). Pray that God would raise up many more men and women like Kim Davis in positions of authority who will stand in the power of the Spirit. And finally, pray that God would give us all courage to stand for righteousness in the face of trials.

Those things that remain

A world is dying. That’s how it feels at least. Recently I spoke to an elderly friend in central Europe whose local church was shut down by the state. The reason: the church was not making a profit. The church is small and mostly an elderly congregation and facing liberalizing tendencies within its leadership. It is indirectly controlled by the state and, while it could make ends meet, didn’t bring in enough to the coffers of the larger denomination.

The church now sits vacant, with a “For sale” sign in front. “It isn’t just our church,” my friend said, “churches are closing down right and left.” “The Roman Catholics are worse off than we are. They are closing many many churches in the area. It’s not just in Europe. One very old church in my area, less than five years removed from building a new building in a nice area, closed its doors. I don’t know the story but I could guess: internal problems that no one could/would deal with.

It’s discouraging to hear of such situations. Long-established churches are closing in Europe at a rapid clip. Many conservative congregations that remain open have been under siege for decades by liberal theology and can only find pastors that support heretical liberalism.

Despite the temptation to melancholy, hope remains. That is in the resurrection of Christ. I remember N.T. Wright quoting Leslie Newbegin when responding to the question as to whether he was an optimist or a pessimist, “I am neither. Jesus Christ has risen from the dead.” I’m not saying it’s time to hold up in our enclaves and wait for death. I mean resurrection power remains.

The Spirit of God is alive and well within the body of Christ. The problem is that He is not working like we might wish or expect. We have been used to patterns in the past and He is not working in such a way now. What should we expect, He is a creator after all, not an imitator. He loves to show death and resurrection over and over, but it does not look the same. The patterns in the Bible continue (exile and return, creation and new creation, death and resurrection, etc.) but there are always tweaks. To use a poor metaphor, it’s like a football coach with a specific number of offensive plays, but he runs them from so many formations, sets, and motions that it’s impossible to guess what he will do next.

I can struggle at times because being a Christian today looks so different than it did twenty or thirty years earlier. Satan’s assaults are coming from different directions. The reliable forts that existed in my grandmother’s generation (strong family bonds, neighborhood involvement, community-wide church involvement) are being removed.

So what is there to do? As our Lord said to the church at Sardis, “strengthen those things than remain.” There is much to fight for. Marriage is not dead; we must continue to fight for it. The blood of millions of aborted babies cries out. Will we continue to pray and give and work to end the slaughter? Our children must be raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord lest they fall into the hands of the enemy. There is evangelism and discipleship that must take place.

We don’t know how the Lord will accomplish His will, but we know it will be done. The fact that the battlefield terrain is different is no reason to become discouraged. God always preserves His remnant through judgment.  The question is, “Will I be a faithful servant until the end or will I remain in discouraged paralysis like the fearful servant?”

Biblical wisdom for pastors

The Country Parson: His Character and Rule of Holy Life (1842)The Country Parson: His Character and Rule of Holy Life by George Herbert

This is an excellent advice book for young ministers. Written for pastors in the Anglican church, some details may not apply to other denominations, but on the whole, it is full of wisdom. It describes areas from preaching and counseling, to a minister’s humor and how he should govern his household. I plan on reading this many times in the future.

I hit the mother lode!

I developed an appreciation for Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones after hearing so many of my long-distance mentors (Doug Wilson, John Piper, R.C. Sproul, etc.) speak highly of him. He was a great preacher but for a long time the availability of his sermons was severely limited, as in one sermon a week made available and the previous week’s sermon removed.

I recently checked again and found that all of his sermons are now online for free from the Martyn Lloyd-Jones Trust. This is a blessing I plan on taking advantage of.