On the road again

I leave today for two weeks, in which time I will have three speaking engagements, attend a conference, and visit relatives in Oklahoma.  I won’t be in the big woods, though, this time, and I do plan to keep my blog up the best I can, this being a hobby I enjoy, rather than work.  I might not be able to put up quite as many posts per day as I usually do.  And there may be days when I can’t put up anything new, so don’t worry if that happens.  I won’t.

I may have some help in the event of news emergencies (for example, if Mitt Romney announces his vice presidential running mate).   In any event, thank you for following this blog and I hope you keep up the habit!

John the Baptist and us

We had another great sermon from Pastor Douthwaite on the death of John the Baptist (Mark 6:14-29).  A sampling:

John the Baptist never was at home in this world. He was an interloper. A stranger. A misfit.

It began with his birth which was not the usual way. He was born miraculously to a couple who could not have children because they were too old and she was barren.

He was given the wrong name (in the opinion of all who were there when he was born). Everybody wanted him named Zechariah, after his father. That was how it was done; that was the tradition – to name the first born son after the father. But no. His name would be John.

He didn’t wear what everyone else was wearing. If he was around today, he’d be one of those people you notice walking down the street that everyone points to and snickers and says “really?” A camel’s hair shirt with a leather belt around your waste?

Then there was his diet. John went primal before it became a fad diet! Locusts and wild honey.

He did his preaching out in the wilderness. And he didn’t pander to the crowd – he was a fiery preacher of repentance. And if you got into his crosshairs, he wouldn’t let you out. He didn’t care who you were – Pharisee, Sadducee, Scribe, King. And he’d keep after you, even from prison . . . he didn’t care. He just didn’t care.

John was like a bizarre visitor from another place and time. The world was not his home. It never would be. . . .

Truth is, Christians do have a little John in them; a little bit of weird in them. Because like John, we have a whole lot of Jesus in us.

Think about it. Like John, you too were miraculously born – born from above by water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism.

Like John, you too wear different clothes – the robe of righteousness given to you by Christ.

Like John, you too eat strange food – the Body and Blood of the Lord in His Supper here.

Like John, your thinking and values and loves are different.

And so as a Christian, like John, you’re never quite at home in this world and life. Just a bit out of step.

Then again, we are also like Herod:

King Herod, on the other hand, was a man of the world. He lived large. He saw what he wanted and took it. And he made no apologies for it. Yet even so, though Herod gets what he wants, he never seems to get what he wants. He’s never satisfied. Never at peace. But that’s the way of the world. That’s the way of it with sin. It never leaves you satisfied, but always wanting more. It enslaves in that way.

And it enslaved Herod on his birthday. A lustful king made a foolish promised and an angry wife took advantage of the situation. And Herod, who didn’t want to disappoint his guests or look out of step with the world, is trapped. Sin isn’t as harmless as it looks. A dancing girl, a little lust, what’s the harm?  . . .  But Herod’s hand is forced. He’s not as free as he thinks. So he sadly gives the order, and John loses his head. . .
To confess that we’ve played the Herod and played the Herodias and listen to John, who though he was beheaded so many years ago is still preaching to us today. Preaching to us to repent – but not only that! But even more, preaching us to the cross. To behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

To see Jesus there on the cross as the one who became enslaved for you and bound to the cross with the chains of your sin, in order to set you free. For that’s what forgiveness is. The word for forgiveness in the Greek is the same word for being released, for being set free. And so forgiveness is to be set free from your sin, from your slavery to sin, from the condemnation of sin – free to be a child of God. And that is what you are. In Jesus. . . .

And so Jesus, in your place, enters the prison of sin, death, and the grave. He puts His neck on the chopping block for your foolishness, your lusts, your murder and anger and pride and hate and rebellion . . . and as the blade is coming down says: Father, forgive them. Set them free. And He does. And you are.

via St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Pentecost 7 Sermon.

A youth group’s Bible-reading project

I was driving down Main Street and saw a tent pitched outside of a residence that was next to the downtown business district.  A bunch of teenagers were milling about.  There was a podium, and it looked like someone was reading from it.  A sign said, “I ate them.com.”

Of course that aroused my curiosity, so I went to the site and saw that the reference was to Jeremiah 15:16, about “eating” the Word of God.  What was going on downtown was a Bible reading marathon!

The website, designed I assume by the group, featured a video, produced I assume by the group, which gave two different perspectives on the Bible from atheists as well as believers, and then challenged people to read the Bible for themselves to form their own opinion.

The site also included evangelistic and apologetic material, with links to other sites on these topics, as well as Bible-reading resources.

In a day of stupid youth group tricks, I thought, this was an ingenious, fun, and meaningful project!

Imagine my surprise yesterday to learn that the inspiration came from this blog!   Rich Shipe, pastor of Blue Ridge Bible Church and frequent commenter here, wrote me yesterday saying he got the idea from this post.

Rich said it took them 70 hours and 34 minutes to read the whole Bible.  They were able to share the Gospel with about a dozen passersby.  And reading the Bible in shifts was a devotional experience.  He said he himself realized how helpful it is to read the Bible in big chunks, so as to get the contexts and continuity, as opposed to the verse sampling that has become more common.  They went on to make a time-lapse video of the three-day event (see below).

So I salute those of you who participated in the “I ate them” project.  (Rich invites other churches to do the same and said that they could use their website.)

iatethem.com | Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart -Jer. 15:16.

I ATE THEM Promo Video from Kylene Arnold on Vimeo.

i ate them 2012 from Rich Shipe on Vimeo.

Parade politics

We went to the 4th of July parade here in our small northern Virginia town.  I love the way such institutions usually include politicians marching down the parade route, waving and smiling to voters no matter how hot it gets.  It is a sign of American liberties that we don’t have to kiss up to our rulers–our rulers have to kiss up to us!

Anyway, Virginia is one of those battleground states, a toss-up that will help determine who wins the presidential election.  There are many polls, which are inconclusive.  I will offer political observers a bit of evidence from the parade.  When the Democratic Party contingent came by with their cool cars, pro-Obama signs, and supporters handing out Obama tracts, NO ONE CLAPPED.  The crowd was pretty boisterous otherwise, with everybody applauding each float and firetruck and antique car.  But when the Obama people marched by, an ominous silence accompanied them up and down the parade route.  I felt embarrassed for them.  I at least waved.

Now when the corresponding group of Republicans with their pro-Romney signs marched by, there was some applause, though it seemed notably unenthusiastic.

My impression is that, based on the parade sampling, Virginia voters a aren’t wild about Romney, but they like him better than Obama.

We’ll see how that stands up on election day.

Patriotism

Happy Fourth of July!

I remember growing up in a culture of patriotism.  Community events would feature patriotic speeches.  Politicians of all parties would wax eloquent about the greatness of America.  In school we actually had classes on “Americanism” in which we learned about American heroes, studied the principles of democracy, analyzed the virtues of free market capitalism, and lauded the distinct American ideology of liberty, equality, and individualism.  We also learned all about flag etiquette.

I now see that much of that was a reaction to the Cold War and to the ideological conflict with Communism.  (This was in the late 1950s and early 1960s.)  I also see quite a bit of idolatrous civil religion.  Still, there is a virtue in loving one’s country, and I remember the thrill I experienced upon first seeing the monuments and historic buildings of Washington, D.C.

Does any of that kind of patriotism still exist any more?

Of course then came the Viet Nam war.  The nation was split generationally and culturally more than politically, at least at first.  (The president who presided over that war was arguably the most liberal of them all, Lyndon Baines Johnson, and most Democrats, such as those in my hometown–we had never met a Republican–were all for him.)  But, by the time I was in college, my peers mostly opposed the war and grew cynical about America, to the point of out-and-out anti-Americanism.

The other side with its patriotism turned kind of nasty too, with its “America, Love It or Leave It” bumper stickers and its “My Country, Right or Wrong” loyalties.

Then came further disillusionment with Nixon, then Carter’s “malaise.”  But Ronald Reagan made  it possible to “feel good about America again.”  The end of the Cold War with the decisive victory of American ideals over those of Communism made us giddy with patriotism.

Today, though, I don’t see much of that.  The left is still cynical about America, but now that can increasingly be said also of the right.  The anti-government fervor is so strong that it sometimes bleeds over to complaints about our institutions, our history, and our culture.

When some of these folks do praise America, they do so because they say it gives them freedom.  But that’s a love of freedom, rather than a love of country per se, with America treated as an instrumental good, rather than as something good in itself.

Does any of the old-style patriotism still exist?  Should it exist, or is its passing a good thing?  Is nationalism too atavistic, too potentially war-like, to be encouraged too much?  Or is there a love of country that needs to be preserved and possibly even taught in schools?

Trees of Life

When I said that I would be spending last week in a little cabin in the big woods, I meant really big woods.

We helped our daughter and her family move to California, and then we did something that I have always wanted to do.  We went to Sequoia National Park, home of the giant redwoods.  How big are they?  Well, the one named “General Sherman” is the largest living thing in the world.  It’s 35 feet in diameter and is as tall as a football field.  And, even more astounding to me, is that it’s 2,200 years old.  It was a sapling two centuries before Jesus was born.  And it’s still alive, still growing.  It adds the equivalent mass of a regular 60 foot tree every year.

And there are whole groves of these giant trees up in the Sierra Nevada mountains.  I treasure things that are sublime–overwhelming, awe-inspiring, so vast that you can’t take them all in–like the Grand Canyon, Niagra Falls, and these trees.

What intrigues me most about them is that they are virtually immortal.  They can be killed, of course, cut down as many stupidly have been and sometimes they get so tall that they topple, but they don’t die of old age.  I wonder how that can be.   Every other earthly creature, whether plant or animal or human,  lives for awhile but eventually its cells get exhausted, entropy sets in, aging manifests its symptoms, and eventually the organism dies.

Why don’t the giant redwoods?  General Sherman is not even the oldest of these trees.  Some are 3,000 years old, from the time of the Trojan War and King David.  And redwoods are not even the oldest species.  A bristlewood pine in the White Mountains of California–somewhere else I want to go–is 4,700 years old.  A young earth creationist would put that as being right after the Flood!  Perhaps these evergreen trees are somehow not implicated in the Fall.  Perhaps they are some kind of remnant or sign of the Tree of Life.

What are some other sublime sights and experiences?  A tornado, the ocean, the Rocky Mountains–I’ve seen those.  I’ve seen Mt. St. Helens, but I think I need to see an active volcano.  Outer Space.  And God, of course, and the things of God.  The sublimities of nature and of art–Paradise Lost, Bach’s music, Michaelangelo’s paintings and sculptures–give us pleasure, according to Ruskin, because they point to Him.