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Sometimes I’m not sure if I have already written a post or just thought about it. So, sometimes I go back into my own blog and search for a post. The post I actually wrote was about 29 years of heating with wood (Click on the following title to read “A Warm Habit“.). I am now heating in my 35th year. I have some unfinished writing I said I would write another day in “A Warm Habit”.

The first year I heated with wood was the second winter of our marriage. I used a wood stove borrowed from a friend. The next year my father bought me a small, cast iron, bolt together wood stove with a nice picture on both sides. It was sufficient for the small 3 room house we were renting. As hindsight now allows me to regret, I sold that stove the next year. I thought that I would not heat with wood again when my wife and I went for a year of Bible School in Chicago and lived in a 4 room house with central oil heat. The next  year we moved to Elizabethton, TN, and lived in the front half of a split house. Ironically, though we had just lived in Chicago, the first winter in Elizabethton was the coldest we ever had in a house. The landlord had a wood stove in the the crawl space with ductwork to supposedly heat both halves. It didn’t heat our half. Our first child was constantly wrapped up like he was outdoors. The next winter we lived in a house on Camp Ta-Pa-Win-Go. I paid a small rent and worked as maintenance man. We heated with the very nice installed wood stove. The next year we moved to the Horseshoe, a small gorge and bend in the Watauga River in that shape. The first year in that little house in the woods with the curtains that blew in the winter breeze, we heated with my friend’s wood stove again while he was building a house.

If you having been following this story, then you will realize that we had now been married 7 winters and heated with wood for five. It was again time to find a wood stove. I started checking the want ads of the local newspaper, because this was in the days before Ebay and Craigslist. I looked at several that were a combination of too small for heating a whole house and too expensive for my budget since I was was in the state of affairs referred to as under-employed at the time, doing odd jobs. I saw another stove advertised for $250 in Bristol, TN, about an hour and a half drive by the roads then available. The price seemed at the edge of my range and it was called a Fisher “Grandfather”, which I understood vaguely to mean it was a larger model stove. I grabbed a friend and we went that way. It was well after dark when we pulled up to the most curious house in the neighborhood. The house was obviously much older than any other in the neighborhood. It was a one story white clapboard house that had a large porch all across the front with disproportionately large white columns one might expect to see on a big house on the plantation. The address matched. The windows were unlit even as the neighborhood was poorly lit. A young couple came to the door. The stove was in the front living room which was almost empty except for the large, two door wood stove in front of the chimney. I sized it up while my friend made small talk. I began to engage with the man in order to try to haggle the price. He referred me to his wife, who he said was the owner of the stove before they were married. One of us made a comment about the interesting house. They began to explain that they had hoped to remodel this post-Civil War house and raise their family there. Instead, they were now going to be missionaries and had already cleared most of their furniture. I told the young woman that my budget was really tight and I intended to heat with wood as I had already been doing to save money. With what I thought to be almost tears in her eyes she explained how the stove was meaningful to her because of family connections and that she hated to part with it. She had already turned down several other people who had wanted the stove and finished her story by saying, “I just want to find a home for this stove with someone who will burn a sincere fire.” I assured her that based on the fact that I was already regularly heating with wood, cut and split all of my own wood, and had a growing family and a limited income, that I could most certainly “burn a sincere fire.” I felt as though I was swearing to always burn fires in this way. Based on my sincere testimony, the woman was convinced and allowed me to give her just $190 for a stove that probably cost $900 to $1000 new. But I was not scamming or playing; things were really that tight. The stove was very hard for us three young men to move, given its size and weight. We laid down boards and mostly scooted the stove across these boards to avoid scratching the hardwood floor and porch. We wrestled it onto the back of my 1970 F-100 with the rusted bed. For the next 30 winters thus far I have burnt the most sincere fires possible, keeping warm a wife and 5 children in three different houses in two states. I think that what most makes the fires in this stove sincere is the enjoyment I obtain from heating with wood and the reflection I have while starting fires. My wife encouraging me to get up and start a fire because it’s cold in the house probably doesn’t hurt any.

As He has so many times, God provided what I needed when I needed it. During those times when it seemed as though He didn’t, really He did, just not in the way or at the time that I expected or requested. He is good.

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Starting a sincere fire during the first snow of the season with wet wood drying by the wood box in the background.

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The sideboard of an old woodbox that my wife stenciled when we lived in the Horseshoe.

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When two different objects or ideas are placed near to one another, so that their nearness emphasizes their differences, this is called juxtaposition. [Raise up an off white, slightly stained rag and ask, “Is it clean?” When there is doubt, say, “Let me help you.” Raise up a very white, clean rag and point to the first rag, saying, “Is it clean?”] The hymn writer highlights the juxtaposition well, a contrast of seemingly incompatible facts, when he writes: “’Tis myst’ry all: th’ Immortal dies: Who can explore His strange design?” (Charles Wesley) Indeed, how can this be, that the infinite, immortal, all powerful, all knowing, everywhere present, eternal God sovereignly limits Himself to finite, mortal, frail, limited in knowledge and location and time, human flesh?

We do not merely speak of incarnation. You and I are incarnate, that is, housed in flesh. No, we speak of Divine Incarnation, God in flesh. As the Scripture says, “Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself” (Philippians 2:6-8) But another Scripture says, “He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power.” (Hebrews 1:3)

We have stated the fact of God the Son taking on human flesh. But what was the means? How did it happen? The Scripture says, “an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” And Joseph awoke from his sleep and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took Mary as his wife, but kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus.” (Matthew 1:20-24)

Through the conception by the Holy Spirit within the Virgin Mary, Jesus retained His sinless, divine nature enabling Him to live a perfect life and overcome death, which had the power to save. By being developed in Mary’s womb, Jesus gained a body of flesh and human nature and capacities by which He could be a substitutionary sacrifice for “without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin.” (Hebrews 9:22)

Therefore, we should celebrate the Incarnation of Christ, because by it we are both saved and taught about God. We should also resolve to serve the Incarnate Christ, because we owe Him our life now and for eternity. As the songwriter says:

“From heaven you came helpless babe
Entered our world, your glory veiled
Not to be served but to serve
And give Your life that we might live

This is our God, The Servant King
He calls us now to follow Him
To bring our lives as a daily offering
Of worship to The Servant King”                (by Graham Kendrick)

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Many of the Thanksgiving traditions of my family are over 30 years old: the meal with the brothers at the oldest’s house, the flag football game, the day after hike, guests from near and far. Many of the children who are now parents don’t really remember Thanksgiving any other way. But as spouses have been added, which means extended families, the traditions have had to flex and bend to traditions and schedules of other families. The day after hike used to be on “Black Friday”, sort of a rejection of the shopping madness for a stroll in the mountains and conversation with family. But this year and last the big meal was on Friday, and this year the hike was on Thursday. Rather than brothers and spouses and children and cousins, it was trimmed down to my oldest brother and me.

We explored a few ruins and cemetery in the Sugarlands of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There was once a thriving community on this gentle slope below Bulls Head of the Mt. LeConte. The sugar maples upslope were a source of sugar and the name of the community. There was Pi Beta Phi settlement school begun there in 1920 with a stone house for the teachers and later a CCC Camp for workers in the young National Park.

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Catching rays in the leafless Autumn before the dim winter days

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The main school house? The boarding quarters or dining room?

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Rest under the plush carpet

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Emma

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Creek crossing

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Teacher’s House

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Kitchen

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Living Room

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Beech and Sourwood juxtaposed

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Bedload scouring

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Both lively and peaceful

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Double Duty- cleared land and separated

After the hike I went to visit my 3rd born. Arriving just before dark, we went down to Kingston to see the sunset. Having already set, we walked the concrete “boardwalk” enjoying the fading colors and good conversation.

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Too late and just in time

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On Saturday I went bouldering at Lilly Boulders at the Obed Scenic River climbing area. I was by myself at first but met up with another climber with whom I enjoyed the day. I was climbing exceptionally well, and truth be told, the grading of climbs seems easy here than at home. The day was perfect for climbing: crisp, dry, sunny.

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One wall at Lilly Boulders

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Lots of good climbing

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Approach Pose

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Equations are abbreviated definitions that simplify and  clarify complex concepts and data. They may be used to calculate, which may either reveal past events or predict future outcomes. Qualitatively, they enable the understanding of interrelationships between variables, which may not be obvious otherwise. On the other hand, not all relationships within an equation are the mere product of their juxtapositions within an equation. Rather, some variables owe their interaction to feedback loops within their physical situations. For instance, according to the equation below, in order to have the best period (race time), both power and endurance must be at their maximum. But in physical reality, for a runner, when power is maximum, endurance must be low. Sprinters are not endurance runners. Conversely, when endurance is high, then power must be low. Long distance runners are not sprinters. Actually the equation does reveal this relationship, because if you move the power variable to the other side of the equation you get po = 1/e, or more accurately, power is inversely proportional to endurance. That is, as endurance increases, power decreases.

From the equation you may also see that pace and distance should be inversely proportional. But the opposite is true. A longer distance requires requires a slower pace, that is, larger number.

And when distance is increased, endurance must increase and power must decrease.

The Runner efficiency variable may not be able to be determined, though I think that athletic physiologists are trying desperately to do so with VO2 max, respiratory exchange ratio, fast twitch/slow twitch muscle, body mass, % body fat, and running mechanics. Strength training and anaerobic sprints seem to be two popular methods for increasing runner efficiency. Diet must not be discounted as a way to build better runners.

The constant, K, is a factor that converts the other five variables into a race time, T. At this level of development of the equation, it is nothing more than a fudge factor to make five variables equal to the one.

 

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The best race time (T) is what every runner, coach, and spectator is after. Thinking through this equation might help the runner and coach better design training that will secure that result. Are you training for power, the sprint, or endurance, the long distance run? What training regimens do you need to perform to meet these goals? How much is it reasonable to increase both power and endurance? What are the limits of one, given the other?

I feel certain that good runners and their coaches have all of the relationships dialed in, so that an equation seems silly, but I benefit in my thought about running by the simple definition called an equation.

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On October 31, 1517, the Protestant Reformation began when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on to the Wittenburg Castle Church door. The Protestant Reformation was a movement in the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe, which tried to reform the Roman Catholic Church, because of perceived doctrinal and moral corruption that undermined the Christian gospel. The result was excommunication and the Protestant movement. These Latin phrases; sola scriptura (Scripture Alone), sola gratia (Grace Alone), sola fide (Faith Alone), sola Christus (Christ Alone), Soli Deo Gloria (for the glory of God Alone), were the fundamental principles of the protestant reformers. They were developed over time, to summarize the theological conviction of the reformers and are central to the doctrine of salvation. -John Piper

In April of 1518, the head of the Augustinian Order called for a formal disputation of the ideas that Martin Luther had put forth. This gave Luther an opportunity to expand upon his concerns. At the meeting, Luther put forward a “theology of the cross” as opposed to a “theology of glory.” -Editors Introduction to the Book of Concord

A theology of glory expects total success, finding all the answers, winning all the battles, and living happily ever after. The theology of glory is all about my strength, my power, and my works. A theologian of glory expects his church to be perfect and always to grow. If a theologian of glory gets sick, he expects God to heal him. And if he experiences failure and weakness, if his church has problems and if he is not healed, then he is often utterly confused, questioning the sufficiency of his faith and sometimes questioning the very existence of God. -Gene Edward Veith

To better understand the theology of glory, one need only look at the adjective included in the five Latin phrases. Alone. The use of this simple term suggests that the theology of glory, understood God’s work of Scripture, Grace, Faith and Christ were insufficient.

The Catholic Church adhered to what Martin Luther called the “theology of glory” (in opposition to the “theology of the cross”), in which the glory for a sinner’s salvation could be attributed partly to Christ, partly to Mary and the saints, and partly to the sinner himself. The reformers responded, “No, the only true gospel is that which gives all glory to God alone, as is taught in the scriptures.” -Monergism.com

This true and Biblical gospel, proclaimed by the reformers, was about how man can be justified before a holy God. Not by any merited favor, but by grace alone. Not any works a man can do such as the confession, penance or indulgences, but by faith alone. Not by any other sacrifice, such as mass, but only in Christ alone. Not found in the church, papacy or tradition, but in Scripture alone. And not for the veneration, worship or glory of Mary, Saints or Angels, but to the Glory of God Alone.

For Luther, the bottom line was the bondage of the will, or the deadness of the human soul. The Bible tells us that we are totally helpless. Ephesians 2:1-3, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.” We were dead in our trespasses and sin and by nature children of wrath. Only grace can raise us from the dead and only Christ could be our punishment. Those two miracles, life from death and wrath removed, can only be received as a gift. Thus, it is to the glory of God alone. -John Piper

When reflecting on today’s subject of God receiving all glory, you may have thought, “I am a Baptist. I know that we do not glorify Mary, Saints or Angels.” This, I’m sure, is true for many of us here. However, these two verses may shed some light on our weakness and who we do glorify instead of God alone.

Proverbs 14:12, “There is a way which seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death.”     2 Timothy 3:2, “For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy…”                            

The Bible tells us:

  • Scripture is from God. 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is inspired by God…”
  • Grace is from God. Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves…”
  • Faith comes from God. Hebrews 12:2, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith”
  • Christ was sent by God. John 3:17, “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”
  • Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
  • Proverbs 16:9, “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps”
  • Psalm 103: 19, “The Lord has established His throne in the heavens, And His sovereignty rules over all.”
  • Psalm 19:1, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.”
  • Romans 13:1, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.”
  • Ephesians 1:11-12, “also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory.”
  • Colossians 1:16-17, “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”
  • Hebrews 1:3, “And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…”
  • Hebrews 11:10, “for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”
  • John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He sent His one and only son, that everyone believing in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
  • 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
  • Philippians 1:6, “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
  • Revelation 4:11, “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”

Soli Deo Gloria

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Our pastor has encouraged us to look at the 5 solas of the Protestant Reformation. The first Sunday was Scripture alone. The second Sunday was Grace alone. Today we look at faith alone.

When Paul explains the gospel in Romans, he says that in that gospel “is the righteousness of God revealed…as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:17)

I want to begin by looking at how the Catholic church obscured the gospel, then move to how the Reformation recovered the gospel, and finally give an implication of this gospel for us today.

The Catholic church obscured the gospel of faith alone by tangling up regeneration with justification like a really bad game of twister. Biblically, Regeneration is being born again—having eternal life infused into our souls. Justification is God the judge declaring us to be legally righteous in his sight (instead of guilty). The mixing up of regeneration and justification resulted in the Catholic church teaching that in baptism a man receives an infusion of righteousness into his soul. And this infusion of righteousness is what makes a man inherently righteous before God. Consequently, the Catholic church went on to teach that the fruit of righteousness flows from divine life experienced in baptism so that a man may merit by his gracious works justification. So, the foundation of a right standing before God is what a man becomes at his baptism and what a man does after his baptism. That baptism often being an infant baptism.

This was the thinking that Martin Luther was plagued by. If there was ever a monk who could have been saved by his monkery, it would have been Martin Luther. Vigils, prayers, reading, spending much time confessing, and fasting were performed by Luther. But all of this work failed to give him the peace with God that he was desperate for. And that’s because Galatians 2:16 says “a man is not justified by the works of the law.” So, the Catholic church obscured the gospel of faith alone by tangling up regeneration and justification and in this way tortured Martin Luther.

But what the Reformation did was untangle regeneration and justification. And this resulted in clarifying what justification means: Justification is not progressive, but the instantaneous declaration of God that a sinner is righteous instead of guilty. And the instrument by which a man is justified is not man’s work, but faith alone in Christ and his work at Calvary.

Romans 4:5 says “ But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” Worketh “not”. Justifieth the “ungodly”.

But how can God declare an ungodly man righteous? He does not do this by infusing righteousness into a man’s soul (as the Catholic church taught), but by imputing the righteousness of Christ to a believing sinner. In other words, when a man believes on Christ, God considers the righteousness of Christ as belonging to the sinner.

Think of it this way—when a poor woman marries a rich man, that woman enters into a union with him so that she shares in his wealth. The poor woman becomes rich. Similarly, when a sinful man believes in Christ, that man enters into a union with Him so that he shares in His righteousness. And in this manner God considers Christ’s righteousness as belonging to the sinner and thus declares the sinner to be righteous. This is the only way that a sinful man may have peace with God.

We have seen how the Catholic church obscured the gospel of faith alone and how the Reformation recovered that gospel. Now, an implication for the church today is this: we had better get justification by faith alone right before we do any work. Another way to say it would be to say, the church had better get the gospel right before she gets to work.

When Paul reveals what the gospel means in Romans, he talks about justification by faith alone.

When the Catholic church obscured that gospel, it gave rise to an unhealthy religiosity. Germany was not being taken over by secularism—it was very religious, but it was an unhealthy religiosity that arose from the burial of justification by faith alone. Contrastingly, we here in America do see secularism taking over. And what a temptation it would be for us in our day to say “We need to get back to being religious!” But if that religiosity does not arise from justification by faith alone, then we are not standing on the gospel.

What revolutionized Europe was not increasing religious activity. It was the recovery of justification by faith alone. May it be so in our day.

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In this third installation of the 5 solae, we come to what another brother had to say about grace alone:

I want to begin with a personal testimony from January of this year…

After a brief explanation from the Lutheran pastor, I followed the funeral procession into the church—deeply moved. Why? For sure I was going to miss my wife’s aunt, who had been a dear family member to us.

But more importantly, what impacted me was the symbol on her casket that illustrated a truth most dear to me. You see, the casket was covered in a white cloth, symbolizing righteousness, which would be the only thing God would accept from her as she would be presented to Him for judgment. But…whose righteousness?

The symbolism goes further—on the cover was the shape of a cross, and the Greek symbols for Christ. Whose righteous works is God accepting?   Would He see ANY of my aunt’s works?

No, for He would not accept them!

She was being presented to God, covered by the righteousness of our blessed Christ! And THIS was our family’s comfort in our loss.

Eph 2:8-10: “For by grace are you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not of works, lest anyone may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

In this short statement is the sum of the Biblical teaching of the work of grace. It begins with God-working in us faith which justifies us (giving us Christ’s righteousness), which results in good works which please Him—according to His working in us.

Over time, as the Church of the Middle Ages abandoned the supreme authority of Scripture—“Sola Scriptura” in favor of traditions, other doctrines began to emerge—not only those absent from the Bible, but also changes to the understanding of grace itself.

The Medieval Church’s teaching gradually drifted to the assertion that God’s grace would help us produce the works that He would accept for justification, rather than the grace of Christ’s finished work of cross and resurrection for us.

It is in this world that Martin Luther sought to be right with a Holy God.

In keeping with church traditions, he followed the rules of the monastery, and did penance–all to a radical extreme (and even the annoyance of his fellow clergy)—all the time being under condemnation in his heart because of the majesty of God’s holiness and perfection overwhelming him.

At this point, as he studied the Bible, he discovered that it is not his righteousness that God will accept, but Christ’s, and that he should by faith abide in Him! Luther received God’s gracious gift of eternal life.

Luther and the other reformers returned to the Biblical, apostolic understanding that good works and a changed life flow from Christ’s righteousness given to us, instead of leading to it. God will not have his glorious gospel assisted by human works.

Our Christ, as God in human flesh, takes on Himself ALL of our sin and sinfulness on the cross, and gives us ALL of the righteous obedience of His perfect life.   We call this teaching Sola Gratia, or “grace alone.”

In short, God’s grace justifies us completely in Christ’s work, and gives us a heart of repentance, rather than demanding we “do penance.”

Church Historian Stephen Nichols tells us that Ulrich Zwingli, the Swiss reformer, is portrayed in a portrait with an open Bible.

In an illustration of this grace to us, the Bible was opened to Matt 11:27-30:

“All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

This is Christ’s gracious invitation to us—then, and now.

On this 500th anniversary of the Reformation, we celebrate our salvation in Christ, Sola Gratia, by grace alone—in the words of the Apostle Paul: “…to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved…”

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