Philippians 4:8, "Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things."

Saturday, November 16, 2002

Reflections on Band of Brothers:

I know that I have urged this principle many times from the pulpit, but here it is in print: the more you train the less you bleed. It's an old military saw that is driven into the head of every recruit. Training prepares you for the crucible of battle, and greatly increases your chances to survive and even conquer.

Why is it then, that this subject is nearly taboo among Christians?

Why shouldn't we train, and train some more for the spiritual battles of our Christian lives? Why shouldn't we go beyond what we want to do, and even exceed what we thought we could do? Lose your life on the earthly battlefield and you have not lost all; lose on the spiritual battlefield and you are on the verge of great and eternal loss. Which then is of greater importance?

I'll let you decide whether ours is the right kind of ministry.

Friday, November 15, 2002

Movie review: Band of Brothers, episodes one and two.

Okay, I need to get serious about movie reviews, which means that I have to settle once and for all on units of measure. I'm going to rate movies and books from one to five stars. If I'm in an especially whimsical mood I'll use special units of measure ala Mike Rosen, our local radio talk show host.

Now back to Band of Brothers, the film based on the book based on the true story of Easy Company, 2/506th PIR (Parachute Infantry Regiment). A miniseries that focuses on the training of an infantry company for the entire first hour, and does it well is already gold in the bank. BoB does that in style, and reveals the great secret of preparation for combat: hard, unfair, even brutal training. Training that develops both mental and physical toughness, stretching its men beyond what they want to do, beyond what they even thought they were able to do. No nation has ever discovered a way to simulate the ultimate unfairness of the battles of men, but the closer you can get to that, the better off your men will be when they finally face the real deal.

I had a great appreciation for the way in which Captain Sobel trained his men. He didn't just train them: he messed with them big time, making them run the 6 mile round trip up Currahee Mountain for the pettiest of offenses. The mountain becomes the enemy, and they must surmount his unforgiving slopes at the most inopportune times. No officer, no noncom, no enlisted man of Easy Company liked Captain Sobel; they didn't respect him personally, identifying him as a petty, even sadistic tyrant. Yet they all acknowledged that their spectacular success in the European Theatre of Operations was due to two years under his tyranny.

Sadly, Captain Sobel was no field officer, and it cost him personally, although his wise battalion commander finds a good way to solve the problem.

The second hour-long episode focuses on Easy Company's drop into Normandy in the early morning darkness of D-Day. I will be brief. The portrayal of the flight, the drop, the re-organization, the first battle was so authentic as to cause a deluge and then a drought of praise. The authenticity extended from the uniforms and equipment to the ground on which they fought, from the strategy and tactics to the sheer emotional weight of combat. It is like Saving Private Ryan without the fiction.

Conclusion? Five out of five stars... Five out of five C-47 Transport Planes, if you will.

This past Monday, when my family and I were returning from Veteran's Day services, we came up over the hill near our home to a scene of many emergency vehicles, flashing lights, and emergency and law enforcement personnel. A lone, mangled bicycle lay near the curb, and in the grass by the sidewalk was a sheet-covered body. A bicyclist had been hit by a car, suddenly ending his life.

Memories came flooding back to me of a Christmas holiday weekend in 1974. I was a Freshman in high school, and having a rough time of it, for various but not uncommon reasons. My parents had sent me to a Christian camp for a few days between Christmas and New Year's, at a place down in the Redwoods near Santa Cruz, California, Redwood Christian Park. A couple from church drove us down on a Friday evening. As we entered the town of Boulder Creek, there was a woman standing on the side of the narrow road, waving and smiling at cars as they passed. She was obviously under the influence of some chemical high or another. Mr. Galbraith, who was driving that night, commented on her precarious position as we drove on into town. Since we were too early to register according to the camp schedule, we decided to stop at the local A&W restaurant for dinner. Sitting there, we heard the sirens, startlingly close, whose meaning was only too heart-wrenchingly clear.

We finished our meal in subdued silence and headed up the road for camp, only to find ourselves slowed almost immediately by the presence of fire engines and ambulances on the side of the road in an ominous spot. There is always a sense of dread when the ambulance remains idling on the scene. As a police officer directed us around the scene of the accident, they had just pulled the sheet over the poor woman's earthly remains. She was gone.

I can picture that scene in its every detail even today, almost 30 years after the fact. It had a profound impact on my young mind, making me realize my own mortality with an urgent sick feeling of the heart. That weekend I put my trust in the gospel of Jesus Christ. I knew just how desperately sinful I was, how desperately I needed a savior, how terribly fragile my own life was. It all came crashing together in the image of a sheet-covered body on the side of the road.

There was a song I remember hearing and singing that weekend, "Jesus is the Answer," by Andrae Crouch. Part of it goes like this:

If you have some questions in the corners of your mind,
traces of discouragement and peace you cannot find;
reflections of your past seem to face you every day,
but this one thing I do know;
Jesus is the way.

Jesus is the answer for the world today.
Above Him there's no other,
Jesus is the way

Life is fragile, and all too fleeting. And at the end, what? I found the answer to that question on New Year's Eve, 1974.

Thursday, November 14, 2002

Here is an excerpt from my "Doctrine of Divine Essence." I am posting these written doctrines in hopes of making another approach in teaching the Word. The spoken word, aided by overhead transparencies, is effective, but I know that some of you will respond to reading doctrines in a very positive manner. I would challenge you to take the content this morning and integrate into your thinking, and especially into your prayers of worship to the Father. The comparison between God's infinity and His perfection is what makes Him stand apart from all other Gods. His infinite capabilities are totally governed by His perfect character. You certainly can't say that about the gods of Greece or Rome!

The next part of God’s essence is Infinity, which means that He has no boundaries in space or time. Principle: God is the creator of space and time, and is therefore greater than both.
1. He is transcendant, meaning that He is greater than space and time.
2. He is immanent, meaning that He enters space and time in order to have a relationship with His creatures.
3. How the infinity of God relates to the physical and temporal universe.
a. Immensity means that He is infinite related to space, Romans 8:38-39, “8 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
(1) These verses have a big list of things that are not a barrier to God’s love.
(2) Height nor depth is not a barrier to God’s love.
b. Eternity means He is infinite related to time.
(1) Job 36:26, “Behold, God is exalted, and we do not know Him; The number of His years is unsearchable.”
(2) Psalm 90:2, “Before the mountains were born, or thou didst give birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting thou art God.”
(3) Psalm 102:27, “But thou art the same, and thy years will not come to an end.”
c. Further Scripture on infinity.
(1) Infinite greatness, Psalm 145:3, “Great is the Lord, and highly to be praised; And His greatness is unsearchable.”
(2) Infinite in understanding, Psalm 147:5, “Great is our Lord, and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite”
E. Perfection.
1. Distinctions between infinity and perfection:
a. God is infinite, but that does not imply perfection. A being may conceivably be both infinite and evil.
b. Perfection means that there are no flaws or mistakes of any kind in the nature or character of God.
c. Perfect is something we cannot be. The human state implies imperfection.
d. Human beings with sin natures cannot ever be considered perfect, though they may be holy.
e. Anyone with flaws or sins in their past have disqualified themselves from perfection.
f. Holiness is not the same as perfection: Leviticus 19:2, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.”
g. Human beings are not called by God to be perfect; they are called to be holy.
h. This fundamental distinction is important for all Christians. Holiness is within our reach; infinity and perfection are not.
2. Scripture on the perfection of God.
a. Job 36:4, “For truly my words are not false; One who is perfect in knowledge is with you.”
(1) God’s knowledge is not only infinite, but perfect.
(2) He understands all things, and His understanding is not twisted in any way.
b. Job 37:16, “Do you know about the layers of the thick clouds, the wonders of one perfect in knowledge.”
c. Isaiah 25:1, “O Lord, You are my God; I will exalt You, I will give thanks to Your name; For You have worked wonders, Plans formed long ago, with perfect faithfulness.”
d. 1 Timothy 1:16, “And yet for this reason I found mercy, in order that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience, as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.”
F. A comparison between God and man: Majesty.
1. Majesty is a quality of greatness by comparison, and greatness by any measure.
a. Royalty sometimes bears the title ‘majesty’ to denote their greatness above their subjects. Great mountains bear the title ‘majesty’ because of the way they loom over the low country below them. From John Muir, Range of Light, “Looking eastward from the summit of Pacheco Pass one shining morning, a landscape was displayed that after all my wanderings still appears as the most beautiful I have ever beheld. At my feet lay the Great Central Valley of California, level and flowery, like a lake of pure sunshine, forty or fifty miles wide, five hundred miles long, one rich furred garden of yellow Compositae. And from the eastern boundary of this vast golden flower-bed rose the mighty Sierra, miles in height, and so gloriously colored and so radiant, it seemed not clothed with light but wholly composed of it, like the wall of some celestial city.... Then it seemed to me that the Sierra should be called, not the Nevada or Snowy Range, but the Range of Light. And after ten years of wandering and wondering in the heart of it, rejoicing in its glorious floods of light, the white beams of the morning streaming through the passes, the noonday radiance on the crystal rocks, the flush of the alpenglow, and the irised spray of countless waterfalls, it still seems above all others the Range of Light.”
b. The majesty of a person or thing inspires awe and humility.
2. The majesty of God in Scripture.
a. Exodus 15:11, “Who is like You among the gods, O LORD? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, Awesome in praises, working wonders?”
b. 1 Chronicles 16:23-31, “23 Sing to the LORD, all the earth; Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day. 24 Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples. 25 For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; He also is to be feared above all gods. 26 For all the gods of the peoples are idols, But the LORD made the heavens. 27 Splendor and majesty are before Him, Strength and joy are in His place. 28 Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, Ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. 29 Ascribe to the LORD the glory due His name; Bring an offering, and come before Him; Worship the LORD in holy array. 30 Tremble before Him, all the earth; Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved. 31 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; And let them say among the nations, “The LORD reigns.”“ (also the 96th Psalm)
c. God’s reputation is majestic, Psalm 8:1, “LORD, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth, Who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens!”
d. God’s majesty comes from His spiritual works of righteousness, Psalm 111:2-3, “2 Great are the works of the LORD; They are studied by all who delight in them. 3 Splendid and majestic is His work, And His righteousness endures forever.”
e. Psalm 145:5-13, “5 On the glorious splendor of Your majesty And on Your wonderful works, I will meditate. 6 Men shall speak of the power of Your awesome acts, And I will tell of Your greatness. 7 They shall eagerly utter the memory of Your abundant goodness And will shout joyfully of Your righteousness. 7 They shall eagerly utter the memory of Your abundant goodness And will shout joyfully of Your righteousness. 8 The LORD is gracious and merciful; Slow to anger and great in lovingkindness. 9 The LORD is good to all, And His mercies are over all His works. 10 All Your works shall give thanks to You, O LORD, And Your godly ones shall bless You. 11 They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom And talk of Your power; 12 To make known to the sons of men Your mighty acts And the glory of the majesty of Your kingdom. 13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, And Your dominion endures throughout all generations.”

Wednesday, November 13, 2002

In 2 Peter 2:19 Peter proclaims, "...for by what a man is defeated, by that he is enslaved." There is a historical background for this, and if you miss the original setting, you miss the point. In the ancient world, when one nation conquered another, it meant slavery for the vanquished. None of this Churchillian "Magnanimous in victory" business. The victorious would do the ancient equivalent of spiking the football, loot and pillage the property of their foes, and cart the people off into slavery. War was a terrific boost to the ecomony. You added to your treasury, you added a free source of labor... it was nothing but good news.

If you are defeated by sin, then it becomes your master, indicating (in case you missed it) that you are now the slave of sin. This is not a happy or favorable situation. It is disaster of the first magnitude, and if it weren't for grace, your goose would be cooked.

If you are defeated by lust for power, stimulation, violence, emotion, money, or approbation, you become the slave to the same. Now your need for power, stimulation, etc. has become your priority and central value. As a result, you organize your life around that thing, to the compromise of all else. And creeping into your thinking and into your vocabulary comes the dirtiest of expressions: "I can't." It is not only that this not true, that what you really mean is "I don't wanna," but also that you have submitted yourself to cruel form of slavery that will ultimately result in great loss. As a Pastor, I have had to suffer through hearing these dirty words many times, and I find it both sad and despicable each time that I hear it. For some exasperating reason, these individuals feel compelled to tell me their excuses. They wish they could come to Bible class, but they can't. Too much going on, you know. House payment, car payment, their children are involved in this, that, and the other thing, and they can't possibly make it. To which I remind them that they can also listen to non-face to face teaching, provided through our ministry. Nah. Tough week at work. The Sopranos or Broncos or Seinfeld re-runs are on. Blah blah blah. And I think: "You are a slave." A slave to the demands of this world, but worse, really, because you might as well call the situation what it really is. You are a slave of Satan. And, if you have children, you're training them as slaves as well. It would be better for you to have a millstone placed around your neck and be cast into the sea. Most folks I know have great ambitions for their children, but if your compromised priorities form the role model for them, you do nothing but ensure their slavery to the things and the Lord of this world.

You won't have to face me at the Judgment Seat of Christ. That's one of the main reasons it's not called the Judgment Seat of Mark. You have to face Christ. Be real about this, okay? Live your life as if the Bible really is true, as if you really will have to face Him with an explanation of your stewardship of the gift of life. A clue: worldly things are not going to go over very well.

Inevitably, people who have the world as their master are offended by my lack of sensitivity and practicality, as if I don't live in the real world or something. I do though. I am confronted with choices much the same as you are, I can assure you, some even more difficult than yours. In the end, though, I've chosen not to jump through the hoops that the world has offered. I really do expect the same from you, even if I do respect your privacy and free will, and allow you to draw your own conclusions about the course of your life and therefore say little to you personally about the matter.

This web blog, like the Bible classes I teach, is an impersonal and respectful way to get that message across to all of you. But just because I'm respectful doesn't mean that I've lowered my expectations.

Animo et Fide.

Tuesday, November 12, 2002

You may notice the newest addition to my burgeoning blog: the insignia in the upper right hand corner. That is the Distinctive Unit Insignia of the First Cavalry Regiment, United States Army. I have to make it clear that I did not serve with them. I did serve with the 16th Cavalry Regiment, "Strike Hard," and the 112th Armor Regiment, "Rarin' to Go." But the motto of the 1st Cavalry Regiment, ANIMO ET FIDE, I have adopted as my own. I often sign my letters with that, either in the original or in translation, "Courage and Faith."
I am working today on the exegesis of 2 Peter 2:19. I'm glad to get back into the every day studies after a couple of intense weeks of interviews and writing for Veteran's Day. Exegesis is one of those big words that make us theologians feel extra special and important. It means to "draw out," and describes the process of interpretation by studying the text in its original setting, thus obtaining the author's original intent and message. Eisegesis is the opposite, describing an effort to infuse your own meaning into someone else's writing.

One of the great examples of eisegesis from our own era has to with Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA, a song written as a melancholy reflection of a serviceman who has fought in Vietnam and come home to many dead ends. It was intended as an anthem for Vietnam Veterans, evoking their feelings regarding their homecoming, despised and mistreated and ignored by the American public. The proclamation "Born in the USA" was meant as a scathing condemnation of an America that would send it sons to war and then disdain them at their return. During the 1984 presidential election campaign Ronald Reagan picked up on the song thanks to George Will and others who saw it as an unabashed hymn of praise. When they attempted to recruit Springsteen for their campaign, he saw right to the heart of their eisegesis, and harshly criticized them for it.

Several years ago Rene' and I attended Mr. Springsteen's solo acoustic concert here in Denver. In the second half of the concert, he played and sang Shut Out the Light, an achingly tragic song that describes the psychological paralysis of a combat veteran who is welcomed home with open arms, but who is prevented from reconnecting with his wife and hometown because of the guilt and terror that still haunts him. At the final words of the song,

"Oh mama mama mama come quick
I've got the shakes and I'm gonna be sick
Throw your arms around me in the cold dark night
Hey now mama don't shut out the light
Don't you shut out the light..."

the Boss continued to play, gradually sculpting the acoustic guitar chords into something vaguely familiar, certainly familiar...

He sang clearly and defiantly, "Born down in a dead man's town..." (for you Philistines, the opening line to Born in the USA) It still sends a chill down my spine to think of that brilliant moment. You see, it was much more than musically brilliant; it was a literary masterpiece: the combat veteran who can't connect even with open arms followed by the combat veteran who desperately desires open arms yet finds none at all.

All of this to point out how important it is to capture the original intent of the author. Way too many people twist Scriptures to their own designs, disregarding original context and intent. Back to work.

Courage and Faith.

Monday, November 11, 2002

I wanted to use the following in my Veteran's Day message, but ran out of space. It is a portion of a longer essay in Samuel Elliot Morison's History of Untied States Naval Operations in World War II, covering the pacifist effect on the reduction in prewar U.S. armaments and their unintended outcome in speeding the war and intensifying its loss of life:

"One could be forgiven for wondering why we were such dupes concerning naval affairs in the 1920's and later. A cardinal explanation is the flood of distorted and misleading propaganda that swept over the country. The great theme was the furtherance of world peace. This met with an irresistible ground swell of public support, based largely on natural revulsion from the then recent slaughter of war in Europe. Emotion surged over reason. Armaments were represented as the principal cause of war and their severe reduction, and even abolition, was strongly advocated as a panacea. Extremists, of whom there were many, urged this country to set an example and disarm regardless of what was done abroad...

A typical example of a general attitude of the churches is given by the following extracts from Pastoral Letters adopted for the guidance of Episcopal congregations by General Conventions of the Bishops of my own Church: - The most hopeful step towards world peace ever taken is the agreement... to abandon war as an instrument of national policy. Yet the powers most active in promoting that agreement have shown a persistent disregard of its logical inferences and coninue to put their trust in armed preparedness. We covet for our country the courage to lead along the pathway of world peace, by doing its utmost even at the cost of risk and sacrifice to achieve immediate, substantial reduction of armaments... The Christian church refuses to respond to that form of cheap patriotism that has as its slogan ‘In times of peace prepare for war.’ It regards as wicked the waste of the nation’s wealth in the building of vast armament and the maintenance of greatly augmented forces on land and sea.
Practically all other Protestant sects adopted similar policies and propagandized the coutry in many widely read church publications. The numerous Methodists were extremely active and articulate politically. Their large Washington headquarters building in the shadow of the Capitol dome was convenient for exerting pressure on member of Congress.

At the top levels the Protestant churches mobilized their offensive against armaments in an organization called the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America...

The churches were far from playing a lone hand in the great game of undermining the relative power of the American Navy. They were enthusiastically supported by virtually the entire press, in the beginning."

I find it exquisitely ironic that Morison was a professor of history at Harvard, that modern hotbed of warmongering sentiment.

If war is hell, then the road to hell really is paved with good intentions.

Courage and Faith.

Sunday, November 10, 2002

This past Saturday afternoon I ran across a remarkable passage in Plato's Apology. The setting is the trial of Socrates. The charge against him is heresy, leading the youth of Athens to worship strange gods. Socrates, speaking in his own defense now turns to a particular slander: that many feel him a fool for sticking with his beliefs, even at the hazard of his own life. Here is his reply:

"But I myself should make to this man a just reply, 'You do not speak well, mister, if you think it necessary for a man of even the slightest virtue to consider danger of life or death, and not on the contrary only to examine whenever he does things whether they are done on the basis of right or wrong, works of good or evil. For according to your reasoning they were evil [cowardly] demigods who came to their end at Troy, who among others was the son of Thetis who so despised danger alongside enduring disgrace, so that when his mother (being a goddess) said to him, since he was eager to kill Hector, something like this, I believe, 'O son, if you avenge the murder of your friend Patroclus and kill Hector, you yourself will die.' and immediately she says to him, 'After Hector, death is ready for you.' But after hearing these things he made light of death and danger, fearing much more an evil [cowardly] life. and not avenging his friends, and he said, 'I may die immediately after exacting justice on an evildoer, in order that I might not remain here, jeered at beside the curved ships, a burden of the earth.' Do you really think he considered death and danger?'"

In other words, don't calculate the danger, calculate whether a deed is right or wrong. That is the only criteria you need consider. Thank God for millions of veterans who believed that very principle. The value of our freedom is what makes their sacrifices righteous before the very throne of God.

Animo et Fide.