Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Happy 100, Herman.



One of the most intelligent men I knew during my 15 years in St. Louis once told me this: "Almost everything I know about World War II, I learned from reading Herman Wouk's books, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance."

I found this almost impossible to believe, because I had heard this friend speak about the events and timeline and personalities of World War II in some wonderfully vivid detail.  So, I informed him that he was lying.  There you go.  I win.  Busted.

He then gave me his copy of The Winds of War.  I'm reading it for the second time now.

Herman Wouk is one of the most gifted and interesting authors that God, in his common grace, ever gave humanity.  And Wouk's attention to historical research is extraordinary.

Today he's 100 years old.  Happy birthday, Mr. Wouk.

I'm praying today that the God of whom you wrote in your book This Is My God (the God of Judaism) might yet be known to you as the God who revealed himself to us in human skin, as Jesus of Nazareth.

Reader, click HERE if you'd like to see a brief introduction to Wouk's work.  It's an article from The Atlantic, "The Great War Novelist America Forgot."

Excerpt:

"One can detract from Wouk by saying there’s more to the story than he tells. Yet the story he tells is story enough. Give Wouk’s books to someone who knows little of the Second World War, and when they finish, they will feel almost as if they had lived through it. The novels are a monument as polished and fitting as all the marble slabs and columns erected since 1945—and vastly more eloquent and informative. The writer who created them deserves better remembrance and more honor in the literature of the country he loves so well."



Friday, May 22, 2015

an amazing letter



Trajan was the Roman Emperor from 98AD-117AD.

During Trajan's reign a Roman Governor (of a distant province) named Pliny writes to him for advice.  He's come across something new in his experience, and isn't sure what he's supposed to do.

He's come across Christians.

Look at how he describes them, the true and the false.  Read the descriptions of Christian worship that we find here.  Amazing.

************

Pliny to the Emperor Trajan

It is my practice, my lord, to refer to you all matters concerning which I am in doubt. For who can better give guidance to my hesitation or inform my ignorance? I have never participated in trials of Christians. I therefore do not know what offenses it is the practice to punish or investigate, and to what extent. And I have been not a little hesitant as to whether there should be any distinction on account of age or no difference between the very young and the more mature; whether pardon is to be granted for repentance, or, if a man has once been a Christian, it does him no good to have ceased to be one; whether the name itself, even without offenses, or only the offenses associated with the name are to be punished.

Meanwhile, in the case of those who were denounced to me as Christians, I have observed the following procedure: I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished. There were others possessed of the same folly; but because they were Roman citizens, I signed an order for them to be transferred to Rome.

Soon accusations spread, as usually happens, because of the proceedings going on, and several incidents occurred. An anonymous document was published containing the names of many persons. Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ--none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do--these I thought should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshipped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ.

They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food--but ordinary and innocent food. Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden political associations. Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition.

I therefore postponed the investigation and hastened to consult you. For the matter seemed to me to warrant consulting you, especially because of the number involved. For many persons of every age, every rank, and also of both sexes are and will be endangered. For the contagion of this superstition has spread not only to the cities but also to the villages and farms. But it seems possible to check and cure it. It is certainly quite clear that the temples, which had been almost deserted, have begun to be frequented, that the established religious rites, long neglected, are being resumed, and that from everywhere sacrificial animals are coming, for which until now very few purchasers could be found. Hence it is easy to imagine what a multitude of people can be reformed if an opportunity for repentance is afforded.

*************

Trajan to Pliny

You observed proper procedure, my dear Pliny, in sifting the cases of those who had been denounced to you as Christians. For it is not possible to lay down any general rule to serve as a kind of fixed standard. They are not to be sought out; if they are denounced and proved guilty, they are to be punished, with this reservation, that whoever denies that he is a Christian and really proves it--that is, by worshiping our gods--even though he was under suspicion in the past, shall obtain pardon through repentance. But anonymously posted accusations ought to have no place in any prosecution. For this is both a dangerous kind of precedent and out of keeping with the spirit of our age.



Tuesday, May 19, 2015

"I offer; on me let thine anger fall... on me let Death wreak all his rage."



I remember the literature class in high school in which we studied John Milton's Paradise Lost.

And I remember the joy and thrill I was just barely tasting in the study of it... but, sadly, I was too much beholden to the conspiracy of cool to really start getting into literature at that time.

Sorry, Mrs. Warren.  If only I could sit in your classes again.

Sort of.

But anyway... taste the joy and thrill with me again, to the measureless glory of Christ.  Here's the scene: before the world was created, Satan & his minions rebelled against God.  And after getting himself cast down from heaven, he waits for the day of his sweet revenge.

Then Milton tells of our world being formed, in beauty and glory and mystery.

But.  Satan sees man.  Now comes the day of his revenge.  He can't destroy God Himself, but he can destroy the image-bearers of God.

And now the Godhead (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), considering what awful things Satan intends for man, holds counsel:

On his right the radiant image of his glory sat. 
His only son.  On earth he first beheld
Our two first parents, yet the only two
Of mankind, in the Happy Garden placed....
He then surveyed Hell and the gulf between, and Satan there....
Ready now to stoop, with wearied wings and willing feet.... 
Him God beholding from his prospect high,
Wherein past, present, future, he behold,
Thus to His only son foreseeing spake: --
"Only begotten son, seest thou what rage
Transports our Adversary... he wings his way...
Directly towards the new-created World,
And Man here placed, with purpose to assay
If him by force he can destroy, or, worse,
By some false guile pervert: and shall pervert;
For Man will hearken to his glozing lies,
And easily transgress the sole command"....

Then the Father says this, contrasting two destinies: that of Satan & his minions, and that of mankind:


The first sort by their own suggestion fell,
Self-tempted, self-depraved; Man falls, deceived
By the other first: Man, therefore, shall find grace.

And then Jesus, the Son of God, responds to his Father.  If anyone is still reading this far, this is your reward:

O Father, gracious was that word which closed 
Thy Sovereign sentence, that Man should find grace....
Happy for man, so coming! He her aid
Can never seek, once dead in sins and lost--
Atonement for himself, or offering meet,
Indebted and undone, hath none to bring.
Behold me, then: me for him, life for life,
I offer; on me let thine anger fall; 
Account me Man:... on me let Death wreak all his rage.
Under his gloomy power I shall not long lie vanquished....
Then, with the multitude of my redeemed, 
Shall enter Heaven, long absent, and return.
Father, to see Thy face, wherein no cloud
Of anger shall remain, but peace assured
And reconcilement: wrath shall be no more
Thenceforth, but in thy presence joy entire.

This is the great joy of the gospel for sinners!  No cloud of anger on God's face anymore, but peace with a holy God, assured.  Wrath shall be no more.  All joy, in the presence of the Holy One.

Hallelujah.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Seven: true unity in the true church



Dr. John Duncan (often called "Rabbi" Duncan, due to his missionary love for the Jewish people), lived from 1796-1870.  He was an amazing man, eventually becoming a professor at Edinburgh.

His genius was so striking he was once asked why he wasn't writing a book.  His response, which in and of itself proves itself to be at least half true: "I cannot write, I'm just a talker."

One of his many comments that someone wrote down, that we might still ponder it today, is about Christian unity, priorities, and identity:

"I'm first a Christian, next a catholic*, then a calvinist, fourth a paedo-baptist, and fifth a Presbyterian.  I cannot reverse this order." 
*"catholic" here means all-embracing... not Roman Catholic, but the true church, which is not the possession of just one group of people.  Rather, it's the "universal" church; it is for all people who repent of their sins and believe upon Christ.

Some more of Rabbi Duncan's thoughts on this particular theme:

"It would be well for Christendom if all the members of Christ's catholic church would endeavor to preserve the unity of the Spirit, and think oftener of the many and major points in which they agree than the few and minor ones in which they differ." 
"When we all reach yonder country, we shall wonder what foolish bairns [children] we have been." 
"The world is crying out for a working church and a united working church—truthing it in love." 
"Seas and continents separate in space, but the church of Christ is one in him." 
"The present principle that is to unite the church in the possession of the one faith is love... Love is the great inward uniting principle." 
"It is a beautiful thing to see an assured and strong believer tender to weak faith, and a weak believer thanking God for his grace to the strong."

Consider Paul's exhortation to the church in Ephesians 4.1-6:
"I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."

That's seven "one's" in that last sentence.

Seven.