Thursday, March 31, 2011

Very interesting...

Could lead codices prove ‘the major discovery of Christian history’?

By Chris Lehmann

British archaeologists are seeking to authenticate what could be a landmark discovery in the documentation of early Christianity: a trove of 70 lead codices that appear to date from the 1st century CE, which may include key clues to the last days of Jesus' life. As UK Daily Mail reporter Fiona Macrae writes, some researchers are suggesting this could be the most significant find in Christian archeology since the Dead Sea scrolls in 1947.

The codices turned up five years ago in a remote cave in eastern Jordan—a region where early Christian believers may have fled after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE. The codices are made up of wirebound individual pages, each roughly the size of a credit card. They contain a number of images and textual allusions to the Messiah, as well as some possible references to the crucifixion and resurrection. Some of the codices were sealed, prompting yet more breathless speculation that they could include the sealed book, shown only to the Messiah, mentioned in the Book of Revelation. One of the few sentences translated thus far from the texts, according to the BBC, reads, "I shall walk uprightly"--a phrase that also appears in Revelation. "While it could be simply a sentiment common in Judaism," BBC writer Robert Pigott notes, "it could here be designed to refer to the resurrection."

But the field of biblical archaeology is also prey to plenty of hoaxes and enterprising fraudsters, so investigators are proceeding with due empirical caution. Initial metallurgical research indicates that the codices are about 2,000 years old--based on the manner of corrosion they have undergone, which, as Macrae writes, "experts believe would be impossible to achieve artificially."

Beyond the initial dating tests, however, little is confirmed about the codices or what they contain. And the saga of their discovery has already touched off a battle over ownership rights between Israel and Jordan. Asthe BBC's Pigott recounts, the cache surfaced when a Jordanian Bedouin saw a menorah—the Jewish religious candleabra—exposed in the wake of a flash flood. But the codices somehow passed into the ownership of an Israeli Bedouin named Hassam Saeda, who claims that they have been in his family's possession for the past 100 years. The Jordanian government has pledged to "exert all efforts at every level" to get the potentially priceless relics returned, Pigott reports.

Meanwhile, biblical scholars who have examined the codices point to significant textual evidence suggesting their early Christian origin. Philip Davies, emeritus professor of Old Testament Studies at Sheffield University, told Pigott he was "dumbstruck" at the sight of plates representing a picture map of ancient Jerusalem. "There is a cross in the foreground, and behind it is what has to be the tomb [of Jesus], a small building with an opening, and behind that the walls of the city," Davies explained. "There are walls depicted on other pages of these books, too, and they almost certainly refer to Jerusalem."

David Elkington, an ancient religion scholar who heads the British research team investigating the find, has likewise pronounced this nothing less than "the major discovery of Christian history." Elkington told the Daily Mail that "it is a breathtaking thought that we have held these objects that might have been held by the early saints of the Church."

Still, other students of early Christian history are urging caution, citing precedents such as the debunked discovery of an ossuary said to contain Jesus' bones. New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado observes thatsince these codices are miniature, they were likely intended for private, rather than liturgical, use. This would likely place their date of origin closer to the 3rd century CE. But only further research and full translation of the codices can fully confirm the nature of the find. The larger lesson here is likely that of Eccliastes 3:1—be patient, since "to everything there is a season."

(David Elkington/Rex Features/Rex USA)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Welcome Baby Owyn!

As Martin Luther once put it -- in his typically reserved, shy, and timid way of speaking -- "People who do not like children are swine, dunces, and blockheads, not worthy to be called men and women, because they despise the blessing of God, the Creator and Author of marriage."

C.S. Lewis (who, ironically, wrote some of the most wonderful children's literature ever printed) confessed his own flaws in this respect. He once wrote of himself: "I theoretically hold that one ought to like children, but am shy with them in practice." In another place he wrote: "I myself do not enjoy the society of small children:... I recognize this as a defect in myself."

But by faith Christians say with Paul that our children are "holy" (1 Corinthians 7.14), and we lift them up in our hands before the Lord and give him deepest thanks.

"And as for me, this is my covenant with them," says the Lord: "My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children's offspring," says the Lord, "from this time forth and forevermore."

-- Isaiah 59.21

Friday, March 25, 2011

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Friday, March 18, 2011

Preparation for Worship on Sunday

Church family,

As you may have noticed, yesterday was St. Patrick's Day. Contrary to popular opinion, St. Patrick's Day was not established to celebrate leprechauns, green clothes, shamrocks, Lucky Charms, green beer, parades, or even being Irish. In fact, St. Patrick himself was not even Irish! Come join us on Sunday to hear more about that.

But one thing we're doing this Sunday -- which will be a first for DPC as far as I know -- is singing St. Patrick's hymn,The Lorica.

"Lorica" is a latin word meaning body armor. It generally refers to the breastplate. And much of this song is a beautiful expression of just that... our confidence that by our confession of Christ we can "be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might, [having] put on the whole armor of God, that [we] may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil" (Ephesians 6). In constant confrontation with the pagan Druids and deadly tyrants who wanted him dead, this is something that Patrick had to constantly remind himself of.

The words to The Lorica are a strong and powerful celebration of many things:
  • our baptism into the name of the Trinity
  • the gift of faith in Christ
  • the Christian's love for the person & work of Christ (most especially his baptism, death, resurrection, ascension, & promised return)
  • angels, who are "ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation" (Hebrews 1.14)
  • the promise of being found pleasing in God's sight through Christ
  • a love for the doctrinal content of the Christian faith
  • a love of Scripture, in all of its diverse forms
  • a love of good works, for which God created us & prepared us, so that we may walk in them (Ephesians 2.10)
  • a love of justification -- because Christ gave himself as a ransom for us (Matthew 20.28)
  • a love for the beauty of God's creation in nature, which Patrick got to know well in Ireland... and which is also ours to enjoy, as a delightful gift from our heavenly Father
  • a love for God's protection, wisdom, guidance, Word...
  • a REVELING in what it means to be "in Christ"
  • the glory of the Trinity
  • the praise of God
  • the undeserved gift of salvation

It's actually my all-time favorite song. It was sung after the baptism of all five of my children.

But let me warn you -- it's not an easy, "light" song to learn and sing. It's a strong, vigorous, and good song. Actually, it's more than good. It's remarkable. It's tremendous. It's magnificent.

And I hope you'll enter into it vigorously and strongly on Sunday. It's not to be sung in a slow, lilting, "swaying," sentimentally religious, dead, sleepy manner. If you attempt to do so, I'll stop the singing at once, preach the entire sermon all over again, & make us start all over.

I'm not kidding.

But it is to be sung with vigor and energy. It's more a marching song than a swaying song. And it's going to take a strong, vigorous effort on your part to sing it well. But I think you'll love it.

Millar Patrick (one of the world's great hymnologists) says this about The Lorica: "[Patrick's] authorship, though not absolutely certain, has great probabilities in its favor.... the uncouthness of grammatical construction and the innocence of knowledge of either Irish or classical verse which are consistent with his lack of education; but it also has the fire of his great heart in it, and it gives such moving expression to his own faith and consecration that it is likely to remain a hymn in which youth especially will find a voice for its devotion."


I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same
The Three in One and One in Three.

I bind this today to me forever
By power of faith, Christ’s incarnation;
His baptism in Jordan river,
His death on Cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spic├Ęd tomb,
His riding up the heavenly way,
His coming at the day of doom
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself the power
Of the great love of cherubim;
The sweet ‘Well done’ in judgment hour,
The service of the seraphim,
Confessors’ faith, Apostles’ word,
The Patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls,
All good deeds done unto the Lord
And purity of ransomed souls.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the star lit heaven,
The glorious sun’s life giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea
Around the old undying rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need.
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward;
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

I bind unto myself the Name,
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
By Whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

Powerful Questions (this post is Rated PG-13)

“I want a real chaplain who believes in a real God and a real hell…I need answers...your uncertainty is making things worse…I need someone who will look me in the eye and tell me how to find forgiveness because I am running out of time!!!”

Watch this short clip from an episode of the television show ER (the episode was entitled "Atonement") by clicking here.

What this man needs to hear: Ephesians 1.7: "In Christ we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace."

A Lutheran pastor has written a brief explanation of the background to & a transcript of the conversation. Look at it carefully. These are powerful questions:

. . .

Two years ago, the TV program ER had a story about a retired doctor who was brought into the hospital. He was dying of cancer; but, that was not his biggest problem. Dr. Truman had served for years as the doctor at a prison, and as part of his duties he had administered lethal injections to carry out death sentences. The last man he had executed was later found to be innocent, and Dr. Truman was crushed by guilt. While in the hospital, he was visited by a hospital chaplain, and he told her of that execution and how it had at first failed; the IV had gone through the vein. But, he carefully inserted another needle and injected the drugs that killed him. This exchange then took place:

Dr. Truman: It took him 90 seconds to die. Two months later a police officer came forward. The boy was framed for the murder. He didn’t do it.

Chaplain: You couldn’t have known that.

Dr.: God tried to stop me from killing an innocent man, and I ignored the sign. How can I even hope for forgiveness?

Chaplain: I think, sometimes it’s easier to feel guilty than forgiven.

Dr.: Which means, what?

Chaplain: That, maybe your guilt over these deaths has become your reason for living. Maybe you need a new reason to go on.

Dr.: I don’t want to go on. Can’t you see I’m old? I have cancer. I’ve had enough. The only thing that’s holding me back is that I’m afraid. I’m afraid of what comes next.

Chaplain: What do you think that is?

Dr.: You tell me. Is atonement even possible? What does God want from me?

Chaplain: I think it’s up to each one of us to interpret what God wants.

Dr.: So people can do anything? They can rape, they can murder, they can steal, all in the name of God, and it’s ok?

Chaplain: That’s not what I’m saying.

Dr.: What are you saying? Because all I’m hearing is some new age, God is love, one size fits all crap! I don’t have time for this now!

Chaplain: I understand.

Dr.: No, you don’t understand! You don’t understand! How could you possibly say that? No, you listen to me. I want a real chaplain who believes in a real God and a real hell.

Chaplain: I hear that you’re frustrated; but you need to ask yourself…

Dr.: No, I don’t need to ask myself! I need answers, and all your questions and your uncertainty are only making things worse!

Chaplain: I know you’re upset.

Dr.: God, I need someone who will look me in the eye and tell me how to find forgiveness! Because, I am running out of time!

Chaplain: I’m trying to help.

Dr.: Well, don’t! Just get out! Get out!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Good Family Reading

Reading this to my older two kids... it's a great book...

Just got finished reading this to the younger kids... it was fun for them... using a British accent made it more fun for me...

About to start reading this to the younger kids... Can Not Wait.

Behold... Awesomeness...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

thought straining language until it cracks

In studying for Sunday's sermon on 2 Corinthians 2.12-17, I'm struck again by how the Apostle Paul writes a letter. In 2.12 & 13, Paul is commenting on his travel itinerary (which some in the Corinthian church were using as grounds for an accusation that Paul could not be trusted -- that he was unreliable).

But then in 2.14, his thought suddenly takes a wild turn -- and yet, it's a thought that naturally grows out of what he had been saying. But he doesn't return to his travel itinerary until 7.5.

He just breaks off the thought altogether -- moves into another thought -- develops that thought for several chapters -- and then returns (in chapter 7) to the thought he had left hanging in chapter 2.

I love it!

It reminds me of one scholar's lively & colorful description of Paul's writings:

"There never was a writer whose style more clearly reflected the mood and purpose of the hour. It completely reveals the man, and its rapid changes are just the lights and shadows flitting over his face. It indicates the pulses of his feeling, shows him quivering with nervous excitement, and anxiety, or flashing with indignation, jubilant with Christian triumph, or calm with the hidden depths of Christian peace. It is not polished or careful as to form, rather the reverse; it not seldom labors under the burden of thought, becomes involved, digresses, goes off at a word, draws clause out of clause in telescopic fashion as one new idea suggests another, until the main purpose is almost forgotten, and there is either a violent turn to recover it, or an abrupt conclusion and a new start altogether.... the thought straining the language until it cracks in the process -- a shipwreck of grammar."

Some other fun examples:
  • his "first" in Romans 3.2... a first that never really has a second or a third
  • the 202 word sentence at the very beginning of his letter to the Ephesians

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

"there but not there"

Click here to read Eric Felten's WSJ book review of Sherry Turkle's new book Alone Together.

Think about that title: Alone Together.

What a brilliant description of the kind of people we're becoming when all "the remarkable new ways of communicating—emails, texts, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, Yelp!— [cause us to lose] the ability to make simple, genuine connections with actual human beings. Anyone who has spent much time in the presence of a texting zombie will recognize Ms. Turkle's description of the digitally dazed as being 'there but not there.'"

This book review is so good, I'm even going to save you the trouble of clicking on the link available above. Just read it:

  • The Wall Street Journal

Hit Send, Take a Bow

In theater terms, we are 'on' all the time, expected to give a performance by responding to every text, every IM, every scribble on the Facebook wall.

Facebook might have made Holden Caulfield's head explode. The narrator of "The Catcher in the Rye" famously hated phonies and thus, naturally, the theater, with its masks and facades. One can imagine what he would have thought of writing a Facebook profile, an exercise that, as Sherry Turkle notes in "Alone Together," involves presenting oneself in a "performance."

She tells of a teen named Audrey who obsesses, as many do, over her Facebook profile: "Audrey is preoccupied about which photographs to post. Which put her in the best light? Which show her as a 'bad' girl in potentially appealing ways?" Audrey thinks of her endeavor as one of self-discovery, a way of delving into who she really is. But "what is up on Facebook," writes Ms. Turkle, is really "her edited life." That is, a phony life.

Ms. Turkle's book is one of many published in the past year or two asking whether the powerful electronic tools we are adopting may be deforming us. We've had Mark Bauerlein's "The Dumbest Generation," Nicholas Carr's "The Shallows" and, most recently, Daniel Akst's "We Have Met the Enemy," a book on self-control that worries about our addictive electronic distractions. If the overuse of electronics can provoke physical maladies—the carpal tunnel of desktop days is giving way to the mobile equivalent, "BlackBerry Thumb"—mightn't it also addle our brains or muddle the way we interact?

Inevitably, then, many of the concerns that Ms. Turkle expresses about our technology-driven lives aren't exactly new: e.g., that professionals are bound to the office by wireless tethers day and night, crowding out time for family and friends. What she brings to the topic that is new is more than a decade of interviews with teens and college students in which she plumbs the psychological effect of our brave new devices on the generation that seems most comfortable with them.

A professor of "social studies of science and technology" at MIT, Ms. Turkle is surrounded by technothusiasts. She acknowledges that "the triumphalist narrative of the Web is the reassuring story that people want to hear and that technologists want to tell." But "the heroic story is not the whole story."

Alone Together

By Sherry Turkle
Basic Books, 384 pages, $28.95

Teens may embrace the peculiar sociability that the wireless computer makes possible, Ms. Turkle says, but they do so with unease and ambivalence. To put it in theater terms, they are "on" all the time, expected to respond immediately to every text, every IM, every scribble on their Facebook walls. There is no escape from the pestering, nudging, hectoring, chattering demands of being connected. Many high-schoolers are more exhausted than exhilarated by their virtual lives. "I can't imagine doing this when I get older," says one student about the hours he devotes to meeting the demands of his online social life. "How long do I have to continue doing this?"

Students are also aware that the virtual life on the Web leaves a more thorough, durable and potentially problematic record than their meat-world existence. Conversations on the playground are of the moment, but chat with a pal via instant-messaging and he just might be archiving the exchange. Ms. Turkle talks with teens who realize, painfully, that they will never escape the indiscretions photographically memorialized on Facebook but who still can't imagine opting out of the social network.

Oddly, though students carry their cellphones everywhere, they aren't fond of talking on the phone. Text is the medium of choice, and it isn't just about convenience. It is a way of being guarded, of putting up a barrier so that honest reaction isn't revealed.

Mandy, a high-school sophomore, avoids speaking on the phone because it entails conversation, which is dreaded for a number of reasons: "It is almost always too prying, it takes too long." A 16-year-old at another school abjures the phone because, "on the telephone, too much might show." A girl named Meredith explains why she prefers texts to phone calls, especially when she is getting bad news: "I didn't have to be upset in front of someone else." The students Ms. Turkle interviews tend to prefer having time to compose their thoughts (no doubt a good thing) and the ability to hide that care behind the appearance that their texted words have been tossed off casually. As Ms. Turkle puts it, they prefer "a deliberate performance that can be made to seem spontaneous."

Ms. Turkle worries that, for all the remarkable new ways of communicating—emails, texts, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, Yelp!—we're losing the ability to make simple, genuine connections with actual human beings. Anyone who has spent much time in the presence of a texting zombie will recognize Ms. Turkle's description of the digitally dazed as being "there but not there."

We won't know for a long time—an eternity in these lightspeed days—whether or how the digital revolution will end up rewiring our brains. Ms. Turkle warns that we are now "in an experiment in which we are the human subjects." Are we guinea pigs who can no longer tolerate the slightest solitude? And is that a new norm we're willing to embrace? A generation ago, Ms. Turkle observes, it would have seemed almost pathological to send messages to one's friends dozens of times a day. Now it's common. "But a behavior that has become typical may still express the problems that once caused us to see it as pathological."

"Pathological" may be a bit strong, but you might well call such relentless communication "needy." We know what Holden Caulfield would have called it.

Mr. Felten writes the Journal's biweekly Postmodern Times column.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Thank God for the Pastor's Wife

Last night my wife & I listened to a lecture by Dr. Michael A. Milton about the role of the pastor's wife in the church. Dr. Milton was full of insight and wisdom; it was a wonderful presentation.

At the end of the lecture he played & sang a song he wrote about these people known as pastors' wives. They're really amazing.

Thank God for the Pastor’s Wife

© 2008 Michael Anthony Milton

You didn’t know
The places you’d go
On the day when you said “I do”
And you’ve traveled far
To be the person you are
But leaving is so hard to do
Yes leaving is so hard to do
But with grace and with poise
You’ve withstood the noise
Of the wounded
who cry at your door
Seeking your husband
To help them find God
It seems like there’s always one more
If there’s crowns on that day
And I have my say
I’ll plead that the Lord gives you mine
For when people heard me
What they couldn’t see
Was the deepest part of my life
“Thank God for the pastor’s wife”
When I heard the call
You caught it all
The moving, the setting up new
And when your husband
hears voices
There’re few other choices
But to pray that He’s hearing aright
But you walked by faith and not sight
So many times you’ve
suffered in silence
When some use
your husband in vain
And few know the costs
of following God
In the desert, in the night, in the rain
Covered dishes and circles and smiling through pain
For others see a pastor,
a prophet, a priest
But you see a husband, a dad
But the Lord heals you secretly and gives you the grace
And I’ve seen you laugh in the night at the bad
So I wrote this song
And I won’t be long
Though you deserve so much more
‘Cause people can talk but you’ve walked the walk
You faithfully stood by the door
And nudged me to preach once more
If there’s crowns on that day and I have my say
I’ll plead that the Lord gives you mine
When people heard me
What they couldn’t see
Was the deepest part of my life
Thank God for the pastor’s wife
No, honey, let me say this, I’ll Thank God that you were my wife

(This song appears on the compact disc, Follow Your Call [Music For Missions, 2008).