Archive for April, 2011

5.5.  This post is dedicated to the Sermon Writer’s Block.

5.  I really liked Michael Bird’s (relatively) short post on how the Penal Substitutionary Atonement and Christus Victor models of atonement work together. 

4.  His biting sarcasm is largely what makes Carl Trueman so popular, but it also makes it easy to miss some of his better stuff.  In an article titled “The Price of Everything,” Trueman suggests that “cynicism, along with its close cousin pessimism, are among two of the greatest contributions that historians can make to the life of the church.” 

3.  Some of you have heard about Harold Camping and his predictions that the end of the world is coming in October of this year (and the rapture is only weeks away!).  W. Robert Godfrey of Westminster Seminary California has written an intriguing, if not sad, series on “Harold Camping and the End of the World”.  It’s worth reading through it, as it’s both insightful and instructive, from someone who has known Camping for a long time.  Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4.  Update: I somehow missed Part 5.  Sorry.

2.  Earlier this morning Justin Taylor posted a really helpful chart called “Differences between Jesus and the Levitical High Priests,” based on Hebrews 7 and 9.  Don’t think I won’t be stealing this for future use.

1.  The aforementioned Carl Trueman has created a bit of a stir, particularly with the “New Calvinist” crowd, recently with some posts regarding American mega-conferences and the celebrity culture of American evangelicalism.  As I said earlier, I think his sarcasm (not to mention his vast use of over-generalization, which granted is a feature of satire but can be counter-productive) can obscure his point.  Never fear, the ever reasonable Tim Challies steps in to help a bit (with links to Trueman’s posts, if you’re interested).  It’s a good read, and a great topic to consider more deeply.  I’d like to think we can learn a thing or two here.

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The Angel’s Easter Sermon

He is not here; he is risen, just as he said.

Matthew 28:6

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Try as we might, we can’t say it any better than this.  Isaiah 52:13-53:12:

See, my servant will act wisely; he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.

Just as there were many who were appalled at him- his appearance was so disfigured beyong that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness- so he will sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. 

For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand.

Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground.  He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.  Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.

By oppression and judgment he was taken away.  Yet who of his generation protested?  For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished.

He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.

Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper his hand.

After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors.  For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for transgressors.

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…and [Jesus] began to be deeply distressed and troubled.  “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them… (Mk. 14:33-34)

As we reflect this week on Christ’s death and resurrection, I often find myself thinking about Jesus in Gethsemane.  This began several years ago, when I had some abdominal surgery to correct a kidney problem.  The day of the surgery, I had a slight feeling of nervousness – like butterflies in my stomach.  As the hour drew nearer, my attitude became much more solemn, and the anticipation of what was to come waxed alongside my anxiety.  Even though I was a Christian at the time, and had all the prayer support, theology, and faith to know that I could face the operation with peace and confidence in God’s providence, my emotions we still high.  I knew that some measure of pain and suffering awaited me.

As I’ve thought about that day, I feel like it was a taste – an infinitesimally small taste, mind you – of Jesus’ distress before he was crucified:  There I was, surrounded by friends and family who I knew were behind me, and would not leave me.  There Jesus was, surrounded by friends who would soon abandon him, thanks in part to a friend who sold him out.  I was about to be given over to a staff of medical professionals who had spent countless hours of study and practice learning how to preserve and protect life, to ease suffering, to bring comfort, and to heal, all under the auspices of a government with laws regulating every last inch of my care to ensure its efficacy and safety for my good.*  Jesus was about to be given over to a staff of professionals whose raison d’être was to torture and kill, to maximize suffering, and bring utter humiliation.

If I think about it from this angle, I can catch at least the trajectory of Jesus’ anguish, and again, in very small measure, appreciate his passion.  My thoughts, of course, ignore the much greater mental anguish that Jesus endured, as he anticipated abandonment by the Father, and bearing the full brunt of his holy wrath.  For this suffering, by God’s grace, I have no good example from my own life from which to imagine Jesus’ pain.

It is no joyful thing, but meditating on the Passion helps us appreciate the seriousness of sin, and the price Jesus paid to free us from it, and all while we were still sinners.  Our own sense of thankfulness towards another is usually closely coupled to our appreciation of the price they paid to help us.  Attempts to understand the depths of Jesus’ suffering can only deepen our gratitude for the glorious salvation we freely receive at his expense.

Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

*Please no cynical comments about the state of Western medicine, the FDA, etc.  For all of their many flaws, I think the point of my contrast here stands.

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See Part 1 of my reminiscent ramblings here.

I didn’t plan on my nostalgia turning into more than 1 post, but that’s what happens when I get going.  This post focuses on a handful of Christian albums from my youth (think, mid-to-late 90’s) that I still listen to somewhat regularly (except for the first) but have probably been forgotten or never known by the majority of people.  So, you won’t find the most popular bands here, but perhaps those I consider the best.  I’ll provide links (for MP3 download, except the first two) and track listings.  Bonus points for picking out the two bands with names inspired by C S Lewis.

Five O’Clock People, The Nothing Venture

So Far Gone
Now I Sing
Same Old Line
This Day
Living Water
Fall Silent

Admission: I don’t actually own this album any more.  It was stolen out of my car some time ago, and it’s been hard to find a replacement.  I pretty much refuse to buy physical cds anymore, but maybe I’ll make an exception here since I can’t find it for download.  So I’m going off memory here.

These guys were really folky, relying on mostly acoustic guitars (with a touch of mandolin) and good vocals.  In a sense, they road the wave created by Jars of Clay and their acoustic rock, but were a bit more melancholy lyrically (if memory serves).  Anyway, find it and enjoy it.

Curious Fools, Read

Con Con
(You're) Dangerous
Love (Is Believing)
Take Me Back

Once you get over the fact that the lead singer is trying to sound like Bono (listen to se7en, you’ll get the idea), this is a really good album.  This was Curious Fools’ second album, normally a band’s worst but their best.  They had a pretty decent debut album, but I think the wheels began to fall off with their third, where every song sounded like it was trying to be a radio hit, down to the fact that every song fits into a radio-friendly 3:– rather than some of the extended songs from Read.  At any rate, Read’s pretty straight forward rock, with some good guitar work, tight playing and memorable songs. 

Sixpence None the Richer, This Beautiful Mess 

Love, Salvation, The Fear of Death
Within a Room Somewhere
Melting Alone
Circle of Error
The Garden
Thought Menagerie
Maybe Tomorrow
I Can't Explain

I know, I know.  Sixpence ended up becoming super popular.  Not only that, they became popular for Kiss Me, which ended becoming something of a teen-pop sensation when it was included in She’s All That.  Having your song featured in a Freddie Prinze Jr movie is pretty much the kiss of death to your street cred.

But before that song became big, they were known to a smaller group of fans for Matt Slocum’s unique music and lyrics.  Even Kiss Me feels entirely different when you listen to it in the context of it’s album.  Anyway, my favorite album is This Beautiful Mess.  It’s aggressive but mellow, quirky and just all around cool.  I have to admit that I’ve never been big on bands with female lead singers, but this is one of my all time favorite albums.  Listen to this album and you’ll never understand how they became famous they way they did. 

Waterdeep, Sink or Swim 

Sink or Swim
No One Told You
Not Enough Time
I Know the Plans
Lonely Sometimes
Both of Us'll Feel the Blast
Legend of Vertigo
18 Bullet Holes
I'm Afraid I'm Not Supposed to Be Like This
You Knew
Down at the Riverside
I Am
[Hidden Track]

Like Sixpence, Waterdeep is actually fairly well known to people listening to Christian music about a decade ago.  Unfortunately, most people only know their two albums released on a label, Everyone’s Beautiful and You Are So Good to Me.  It’s not they are bad albums (although You Are So Good to Me is my least favorite, even if it did give the world a pretty good worship song by that name), they just aren’t their best. 

I don’t know a single long time Waterdeep fan that wouldn’t say that Sink or Swim is their best studio album.  Good music, great lyrics.  The husband-wife duo of Don & Lori Chaffer will always hold a special place in my heart.  In fact, I’ll just go ahead and say it.  If I could only take one band’s music with me on a desert island, Waterdeep would be it.  They capture something of the ebb and flow of life- the joys and the heartache- better than just about anyone. 

Waterdeep was, in my opinion, always a better live band than a studio band- and that’s saying something.  In light of that, I was tempted to put Live at the New Earth on this list instead of Sink or Swim.  If you insist on having perfect production quality, then Live is not for you.  But if you’re like me and you prefer the feel of a live show at the expense of perfection, then you must get it.  This is especially true if you like extended rock jams with a dose of funk.  And if you really like live bootlegs, I’ve got a few I’m willing to spread around (for the record, Waterdeep encourages bootlegging).

Poor Old Lu, Sin

Bones Are Breaking
My World Falls Down
I Am No Good
Hope for Always
Where Were All of You
Bliss Is
Cannon-Fire Orange
Ring True
Come to Me

For the life of me, I’ll never understand why this band wasn’t more popular.  When I’d bring them up in college, I felt like there were two responses: most people had no idea who they were, those that did thought they were amazing.  Everyone who did like them seemed to have a different favorite album, but Sin is mine (go here for more stuff on them). 

It’s hard to describe this album.  They’re definitely in the alternative genre, but there are a few different influences going on here: a Western themed (think: Rawhide) Hope for Always, a Spanish themed Cannon-Fire Orange, and a lot of hopeful angst (if that makes sense).  Ring True and Sickly will go down as a couple of my favorite songs, but I never skip a song on this album.  So why didn’t they garner more attention?  Perhaps it’s because CCM wasn’t ready for a group of young guys (they started together as high schoolers) who didn’t fit the boy band profile.  They were a little grungy, definitely moody.  I think they sounded more jilted than they really were.  Even when they have a happy song like Ring True, it’s “ugly” enough that some might not notice.  Sickly has some pretty inspired lyrics about dealing with pain, but it ends up (like the lamenting psalmists) in a place where it’s given over the God.  Besides all this, I never thought they got the credit they deserved for their musical abilities.  Great band, great album. 

Dryve, Thrifty Mr. Kickstar

Whirly Wheel
Thrifty Mr. Kickstar
She Ain't Ready
It's My Fault
Heart of This

Dryve is the best band you’ve never heard of.  I promise.  Three guitars, drummer, bassist, hammond organ.  Throw in an occasional harmonica and accordian and what you get is a wall of sound.  I can’t think of another Christian band like them, which is probably why they never made it big.  This is the only release on a label, although they did have a previous one called Hum.  If you’re looking for your standard verse-chorus-verse-chorus-instrumentation-chorus arrangement, go somewhere else.  Great guitar work?  Cool organ action?  This is your place.

This album is the most listened to album on my iTunes.  There isn’t a song I don’t like.  From the angry (Television) to the worshipful (Rain, which I’ve heard played as a worship song, minus the harmonica, organ and extended guitar solo), I love it all.  I love the organ, cascading in some places (Manifold) and fun in others (Whirly Wheel).  Pretty much every song makes me wish I were a lead guitarist in a rock band.  But they broke up roughly a year after this album came out, and that was it.  This cd was one of those stolen from my car many years ago, but I had to go out and download the album on MP3.  It was every bit as good as I remembered it.

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Note: I’m in a reminiscing stage of life, so forgive the break from Bible geekery (which hasn’t been happening much anyway) for a couple days of rambling.  If nothing else, read this post for the links provided.  Trust me, it’s worth it.  Thank you for your time.

I’m a nostalgic person; I have been since I was little. I would pine for the “old days” when I was barely a teenager, so you can imagine now that I’m in my 30’s (gulp) I’m even worse. It’s not that I want to go back, of course, since my life is better now than it ever has been, but I do remember fondly certain experiences from my youth. One of those areas is the music I discovered as a teenager.

I sometimes feel sorry for my friends who missed out on evangelicalism in the 90’s. I feel sorry for them because they miss out on all the inside jokes the rest of us share, especially regarding music. When I drop a “who’s in the house? (JC!)” reference, you can generally tell who got stuck listening to cheesy CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) and who didn’t.  (But seriously, stop and click on that link above and watch the video.  It’s awesome on so many levels.)  It’s worth it just for the jokes.

In some ways I got a front row seat to CCM.  My older brothers, when they weren’t sneaking Metallica cassettes into the house via Sandi Patty covers (hey, the statute of limitations has run out, I can talk about it now), got me hooked on Petra and Stryper.  We wore out Petra’s This Means War! cassette, so much so that there was an unbearable screeching throughout (oh, wait, that was John Schlitt’s voice?).  I heard some of this album not too long ago and still remember a lot of the lyrics, which is amazing since it had been over 20 years since I had heard it.  But that was my older brothers’ music, not my own.  (My favorite- the Rap Sures, a painfully awesome mid-80’s rap group.  Thankfully, someone discovered their song about Jonah and put it on Youtube- whoever you are, you have quite the mansion awaiting you in heaven.  Now if someone can find their song about Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors…)

When I was 16 I started working for the Christian bookstore in my home town and became the “music guy” along with my buddy, Big Dave.  Big Dave and I listened to hours and hours of music, some good and some awful.  I listened to an album titled Brown by an unknown band called P.O.D. and thought they’d never make it big.  When Third Day came out with their first album I thought they were the best thing since swiss cheese.  I was working there when Jars of Clay and Caedmon’s Call came out with their national debut albums.  I loved Caedmon’s right away, but Jars took a bit to grow on me (until Good Monsters came out I thought their debut was their best).  I could probably rattle off dozens of bands that most people have never heard of.  (Now is a good time to plug CCM’s Best 500 Albums of All Time, written by a CCM industry insider.  He has his biases, and I disagree with him strongly in some places [anyone who thinks Everyone’s Beautiful is Waterdeep’s best album clearly doesn’t know Waterdeep, but more on that later], but it’s a fun to list to read.)

And of course there was the concert scene.  New England didn’t get a lot of Christian concerts, so when someone came through we would hit it up like it was the last concert we’d ever see.  Some of them were truly excellent.  DC Talk consistently put on some of the best shows I’ve ever seen; regardless of what you think of their music you’d have to admit they knew how to perform (I saw them at the Strand in Providence on their last show right before Jesus Freak came out- best concert I’ve ever been to).  Audio Adrenaline was a great concert band (We’re a Band was awesome live), as was All Star United (all their songs sounded exactly the same, only they kept you entertained so you didn’t care).  And then there was the Newsboys.  I remember taking a non-Christian friend to see them my senior year of high school, on their Take Me To Your Leader tour (I think he had a crush on one of the girls going with us, so he went).  He was a huge music buff, one of those guys who had hundreds and hundreds albums and saw everyone in concert.  Even he admitted the Newsboys was one of the best concerts he had ever seen.  (Note: Newsboys is still around, only Michael Tait from DC Talk is now their lead singer.  Why don’t they just name their next album “Come On, You’re an Evangelical in Your 30’s, Buy Our Stuff for Old Time’s Sake!”?)

The interesting thing, though, is that the big name CCM bands of that day are the ones I hardly listen to now.  I started listening to Newsboys Going Public the other day and realized just how painfully bad some of their lyrics are.  Same thing with their Take Me To Your Leader (seriously, listen to Breakfast and the title track sometime).  Mind you, they were capable of really good song writing (Elle G and Lost the Plot from those two albums are great examples), but I guess what counts as a radio friendly hit single one decade is laughable the next.

Anyway, I almost never listen to those big name bands anymore, except the occasional run at DC Talk, and even that’s mostly nostalgic.  But I still listen to a lot of music I discovered at that time.  So my next post will recommend some great forgotten albums from my youth, ones that I still appreciate and think you will, too.

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A few years back I read a passing comment that the Epistle of James has a lot of similarities with Jesus’ teaching, specifically the Sermon on the Mount.  I started to make a list of connections, only to find that Donald Guthrie had already done it.  Not only that, but Dan Wallace posted Guthrie’s table in his introduction to James’ letter.  I thought I’d post it below for those who are interested.   


Joy in the midst of trials Matt. 5:10-12
1:4 Exhortation to perfection Matt. 5:48
1:5 Asking for good gifts Matt. 7:7ff.
1:20 Against anger

Matt. 5:22

1:22 Hearers and doers of the Word Matt. 7:24ff.
2:10 The whole law to be kept Matt. 5:19
2:13 Blessings of mercifulness Matt. 5:7
3:18 Blessings of peacemakers Matt. 5:9
4:4 Friendship of the world as enmity against God Matt. 6:24
4:11-12 Against judging others Matt. 7:1-5
5:2ff. Moth and rust spoiling riches Matt. 6:19
5:10 The prophets as examples Matt. 5:12
5:12 Against oaths

Matt. 5:33-37

There are more connections between James’ letter and Jesus’ teachings, but there is a particularly strong connection with the Sermon on the Mount.  I’ve said multiple times that James’ letters sounds the most like Jesus of all the NT writers, and this chart provides some strong evidence of this.  Any guesses why this is so?

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It is certainly no accident that with his [the Holy Spirit] entry, there is no further talk of defeat.  In Romans 7:14-25, a rough count that I made indicates that the words “I,” “me” and “my” (in the RSV anyway) were used over 40 times. In that context there was no reference to the Holy Spirit, and thus, defeat.  In chapter 8 where the Holy Spirit’s presence is all pervasive, confidence and assurance are set forth.  The warfare between the two natures goes on, but where the Holy Spirit is in control, the old nature is compelled to give way.  And as long as Christians seek to carry on the warfare at their own charges, they fight a losing battle.  But when the avail themselves of the resources of life and power that are their’s in Christ Jesus, they are more than conquerers. 

From Peter O’Brien, Freedom from Death Talk 1 (on Romans 8:1-4)

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Some time ago I mentioned that my copy of Biblica’s The Books of the Bible was en route to my home.  I thought a review would be in order, since I’ve now had a few months with it.  You’ll recall that this Bible (TNIV available for all of $9; premium edition for $15) has all chapter and verse numbers removed, with the text presented in one column.  In addition, the books that are traditionally divided into two (e.g., 1 & 2 Kings) are now presented as a unit, since book length in the 21st century is no longer bounded by the limits of scroll making.  Also, footnotes (e.g., “Some manuscripts…”) have been changed to end notes.  In short, as little as is possible is put between you and the text as it was written centuries ago.

I love this Bible, and have been commending it to just about every class I’ve taught since I received it.  As many have asserted, and rightly in my opinion, having verse and chapter divisions are no help to our reading and understanding a text on its own terms, especially when these divisions were not the author’s intention.  We don’t read other books, letters or articles in this manner, why should we read the Bible differently?  Why atomize that which the author intended to be read as a whole?  For more on this, you’ll do well to read what Gordon Fee has to say (rant?) about it.

More subtly, I’ve found that I really enjoy reading this Bible more than my traditional Bibles; there is something refreshing about it.  As hard as I might try, I have difficulty divorcing myself from my modern reading habits, where “good reading” is (wrongly) equated with quantity: How many chapters did I read?  How much did I get through?  Having verse and chapter numbers is no help to slaying the quantity over quality dragon.  Even more, it’s simply refreshing to read a text as it was written.  It’s much easier to pick up the flow of thought and what the author is saying, while much more difficult to insert artificial stopping points (i.e., the end of a chapter) where they weren’t intended.

The order of the books is also changed, which is a double-edged sword.  On the one hand, it is wonderful to have things arranged with a view towards chronology and understanding, rather than simply size and genre.  On the other, if you know your traditional Bible well, prepare to spend lots of time in the table of contents.  Luke doesn’t follow Mark anymore (and actually, Luke-Acts is put together), and John’s gospel is way towards the end.  The benefit of having a book order that helps in overall flow and understanding far, far outweighs the inconvenience of the 30 extra seconds it takes me to find 2 Peter or Zechariah.

I will say as well that this will not serve as a good “reference Bible,” as it were.  If you’re trying to locate a text, or quote a text for a paper, sermon, or class, you’ll get a little bit of help from the dim text at the bottom of the page that gives the chapter and verse range, but that’s all.  Don’t throw away your traditional Bible.  It is quite entrenched in Christendom, and you will still need it.

In my edition, there are introductions before each book as well as introductions to the major Biblical “chunks”: OT, NT, Pentateuch, etc.  These are immensely helpful, and wonderfully written.  It’s almost like having a smaller version of How to Read the Bible Book by Book embedded in your Bible.  Frankly, this Bible would be worth it for the introductions alone.

In summary, I can hardly commend this Bible strongly enough.  The major downsides fall under categories that exist only for efficiency-obsessed Westerners, which is another way of saying that there aren’t any downsides.  Debatable downsides include that this is only available in TNIV (great for me, but there are some who dislike this translation), and I’m sure some will take issue with the order of the books.  However, the upsides are huge, and all available for the price of a large pizza.

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