Friday, July 18, 2008
Goofy Stuff From The Road
I was initially disappointed sine they are just "new tech" stories that have something in common with what superheroes have done, but look awful and involve no spandex whatsoever. But then, spandex really is the only thing standing in the way, well, that and a decided absence of super-villains.
Random, semi-serious thought on visiting the Vatican...I have visited a lot of big, old churches in my day and to some extent they are all about "power projection," but in all of them, until yesterday, I have managed to find some sense of awe, some sense of God at work. Yet for some reason, I could find none of that yesterday. My reactions were the same as if I was visiting the seat of government power, not a holy place.
Talk about what happens when you mix religion and politics the wrong way...
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Art Overload Day!
We went here today:
That would be the Vatican for those of you completely unfamiliar with all things Roman Catholic.
We saw stuff like this:
Yes, that is the Pieta, the real one!
That's A Raphael fresco! And I don't mean this guy.
And to say this was the tip of the iceberg would be gross understatement.
And tomorrow we board our ship!
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Thursday, July 17, 2008
A Day In Rome!
Start at the Trevi Fountain:
Move on to the Coliseum, Palatine Hill, and The Forum:
Hit The Pantheon before dinner:
Is that cliche' or what?
Yeah, but worth it!
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Wednesday, July 16, 2008
When In Rome...
Having arrived safely at our initial destination, we started walking to stay awake until a respectable Roman bedtime in an effort to minimize jetlag. So because we are near we took off for the world famous Spanish Steps. This is the view that greeted us at top
Then when we got to the bottom and looked back up:
And then just around the corner:
This is gonna be fun! - Tomorrow, the Coliseum and ancient Rome!
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
We Interrupt this Vacation...
...To Bring You The Most Ridiculous Headline In American History!No Really:
We end in Venice and spend an extra day there before making the long flight home again. Regular writing will be suspended for the duration, but look here for pictures and stories of a marvelous journey.
Monday, July 14, 2008
Church and Society
My overarching conclusion is that Baptists were in fact social reformers. They cared about society and wanted to see society change for the better. This was not postmillennial eschatology working itself out or perfectionist theology finding a home in social ministry nor was it a sanctified version of social control. Baptists believed that following Christ required they work toward a holy nation.Just a couple of comments on this. Firstly, the temperance movement, as pinnacled in Prohibition, was one of the greatest social disasters of our history. All it did in the end is produce crime, and in many cases, exceedingly violent crime. The period is testament to the fact that religious ideology forced on a society not convinced on the validity of the religious claims is simple oppression - and the oppressed fight back! A "victory" won for religion on the basis of government fiat is no victory at all.
A secondary conclusion addresses how these believers sought to reform society. They aimed at this two ways: through indirect and direct means. The indirect means were primary. They believed that when the gospel took root in the believer’s life that individual would become a virtuous citizen. Virtuous citizens were good for the nation. Thus the best way to reform the nation was to share the gospel. Be changed by the gospel. Baptists and other evangelicals of the nineteenth century were very clear on this point. They did not limit social reform to discrete acts of benevolence. Personal piety was social reform because without the increase of the gospel society was surely lost. Direct social reform existed as well. In the early nineteenth century, when a church in Savannah, Georgia, saw that individuals in the street were dying of hunger, it formed a welfare committee to help the poor. The city had no welfare services, people were in need, and the church act immediately, directly. It did more than preach—it served. Direct avenues of social reform were not foreign to nineteenth-century Baptists and other Christians.
A final conclusion is the observation that Christians disagreed over the extent of direct involvement Christians and churches should have in social ministries. The temperance movement of the early to mid-nineteenth century is a great example. Some Christians thought churches should be temperance societies—for the sake of the well-being of society, for society’s reformation. Others thought that churches should stay away from the temperance movement and stick to preaching the gospel. All agreed Christians should benefit society indirectly. They disagreed over the propriety of direct social reform.
Which leads inexorably to the second point. Discipleship is not just about making better Christians - it is about making a better society. The Prohibition example is again useful. Had we been a nation of disciples, Prohibition would not only have been successful, it would have been unnecessary!
How often we forget how God created us - as creatures of free will. He created us to be able to chose Him, which also means He has left us free to reject Him. When we, even through majoratarian political means, force our religious morality on the nation at large, we remove from the non-believer the precise freedom with which God created us - we become the sin, once again, by denying God's created order.
But there is a beauty in all this. God's societal commands lead to a better society. Drunkenness disorders society, and hence public drunkenness remains against the law, even to this day. Our job in such circumstance is to discover the underlying reason for God's commands. Armed with such knowledge we can then present to a society where non-belief is significant those reasons, and we will thus preserve our free society, and thus be free to carry on with our evangelism.
How do we discover God's underlying reasons for His commands? We become better disciples ourselves. As we come closer to being like Christ, we become better able to see His perspective.
Do you want to change the world? Become a deeply discipled politician - or disciple one.
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Sunday, July 13, 2008
Sermons and Lessons
Henry Scott Holland, English clergy¬man and author, was born at Wimbledon in 1847. He was educated at Eton and Oxford, at which university he was distinguished for learning and character. In 1884 he was appointed Canon of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London. He has published “Logic and Life”; “Creed and Character,” and other volumes.
Them went in also that other disciple which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw and believed. - John 20:8.
John, the beloved disciple, has given his witness, has made his confession. What be once touched, and tasted, and bandied, that he has declared unto us. It was the shining, the epiphany of God the Father which be and the twelve had discovered, tabernacled close at their side in the body of Christ. “We saw his glory, the glory as of God himself.” So he pronounces. Yet still his listeners sit on about his feet. They hear great words, but these words are the end of a long and anxious meditation. The apostle is giving us, is giving them his completed conclusions - yes, and they have accepted the conclusions; they bold them fast. But it is not enough to know what they ought to believe, though that is much - they must also know the process by which the conclusion is to be reached. They must reproduce in themselves the living story of its formation. They must be conscious of its stages, its degrees, and its growth. They can not surely be as reapers entering into the labors of others who went forth weeping with good seed. They must feel their own faith grow, first the blade, then the ear, and so at last, in ample richness, the full corn in the ear; and therefore they went on wondering. “Let us bear it all,” they say; “tell us of that day when first it came to you that something wonderful was there. Tell us how you slowly learned the great mystery; and then tell us when and bow it was that the full truth broke from your heart and from your lips. Tell us this, that so we, too, may say with you and with ten thousand times ten thousand: ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain.’
This is the question that St. John sets himself to answer; and you can see that it is so by this, that he begins his gospel, not with our Lord’s own beginning, the baptism by John, but with the day on which the disciples began to believe on Him; and he ends it, not with our Lord’s own ending, His ascension, but with the first completed confession of Jesus by an apostle - the confession of Thomas. This achieved, his gospel is done; he has nothing to add but one scene that to him was full of tender personal interest.
The Fourth Gospel tells us how the apostolic faith was built and established. Let us carefully turn to it, for it is a revelation of the apostle‘s own heart. The old man himself is bidding us draw near and taste of his own experiences. He unlocks his soul to us that he may help us to mount up into his assured peace, so calm, so sure, so strong. He sits there murmuring always his: “Come, Lord Jesus, even come”; and round about him, en¬throned in the majesty of age, is that mysterious silence in which the voices of the Spirit and the Bride say: “Come.” And yet he can turn from that upward vision and bend his eyes back on us - on us, so perplexed, and troubled, and hesitating, and fearful, and bewildered. He can yearn to make us fellowship in his joy. “Little children, it is the last hour. Even now are there many antichrists. And now, my little children, abide in him. My little children, let no man lead you astray, for this is the true God and eternal life; and therefore, 0 my children, keep yourselves from idols.” So tender, so beseeching, the fatherly love! And in the name of that love he sets himself to tell the story of his own conversion, bow he had begun. He can recall every tiny detail of that first critical hour. It began on the day when John the Baptist cast off the hopes that were so eagerly bent upon him; for he it was, the Baptist, and not the Lord Jesus, who first woke in their hearts that spiritual movement which became Christianity. He roused first the cry of the new faith, and passionately they had given him their souls - they and all who, seeing John, mused in their hearts what would be the Christ. Even the Pharisees of Jerusalem felt the excitement and shared the hope; and it was to their deputation that the Baptist made his great repudiation: “No; I am not it, not the Christ; no, nor Elms, nor a prophet. I am nought but a flying cry in the wilderness, a cry that floats by on the wind and perishes. Not I, but another - another who comes after me; yea, who is now standing among you, even tho you know it not.” So be confessed. He denied not, but confessed; so brave a heart he had! All those hearts were at his service, a world of devotion all lying there at his feet; but he would not he tempted. He knew his own limits; he would have none of it. He confessed, and denied not: “I am not the Christ.”
And then came the great moment. It was the very next day after the great confession - so exact is the apostle‘s memory. The very day after, John saw Jesus coming toward him, and a wonderful word broke from him: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world.” Taketh away the sin! Oh, the peace of such a promise to those who had been washed in Jordan, and bad repented, and had confessed, and yet found their burden of sin as miserable, as intolerable as ever! The words haunted them; and when, the day following, John uttered them again, two of them at least could not rest. Their hearts burned to know more. Who is this strange visitant—so quiet, so silent, so unobserved? He makes no sign. He says no word. He invites no attention. He does not even stop to look. He just passes by; and, lo! He is already passed - in another moment He will have gone. They must act for themselves then. They will force Him to stop and tell them the secret. So two of them that beard John speak followed Him - two of them, and John the beloved, who now tells us the story, was one of the two. And now that they followed, He, the Stranger, must turn and speak. For the first time, then, He looked upon them with that look which again and again had power to draw a soul, by one glance, out of the night of sin into the life of eternal light. He turned and saw them following, and it was then they heard His voice first speak - that voice which by its cry could raise the dead. “Whom seek ye?” That was all. And they - they hardly knew what to say-only they must see Him, must go with Him; and they stammered out: “Rabbi, where dwellest thou?” And He said: “Come and see.”
Come and see! It was all as quiet and natural and easy as any ordinary interview. No one could have seen anything unusual. Just a few words of salutation—just three short sentences that could be said in half a minute, And yet that sealed their lot for eternity. That was the moment of decision. “Come and see.” They went -and saw. So intense is the apostle’s memory of that blest hour that he can.never forget the very hour of the day. It was just ten o’clock when he got to the house. They stopped there with Him that night; and in the morning they were sure of what they had found - so sure that neither of them could rest until he had hurried off with the good news to find and bring his brother. Andrew found his brother before John could find James; or else it was that both went at once to seek for Peter, and Andrew found him first. Anyhow, when Peter was found, both were prepared to assert, “We have found the Christ.” And so they brought the great chief to his Master; and in a moment the Master knew what He had won in that loyal, loving soul, and He turned those deep eyes upon him, and named him by his new name. “Thou art Simon, the son of Jonas; thou shalt be called Cephas.”
So it all began. The very next day after that the Master Himself added one other to the number - Philip a friend of Peter’s and Andrew‘s - and Philip brought Nathaniel; and these were the little band whom the Master took with Him from Jordan to Cana - the seed of that great Church which now reigns from Babylon to Rome. “And what next” - so the listeners ask - “what was the next step made?” Three days later, at Cana, for the first time, came that strange secret of which the apostle had spoken. The glory shone out with a sudden flash from the deeps within Him; a word of power leapt out - very quietly. Very few saw or knew it. But as the few saw there the white water redden into wine, they knew, and felt the wonder of that change which bad passed over their own being. That word of power was at its work within them, transforming them from out of sickly impotence into splendid energy. They saw now what it was that had happened when the Lord spoke, that it would have the same power whether He spoke to matter or spirit, to body or soul; whether He said: “Thy sins be forgiven thee,” or “Rise up and walk.” As water into wine, so the old into the new.
So the light flashed; so the secret made its first disclosure. It had vanished again, for His hour had not yet come; but they had seen it, and this is John’s enduring record, remembered by us this day, that there first at Cana Jesus manifested his glory, and there His disciples first believed in Him.
And what next did they learn? It was at Jerusalem, the Passover feast. The Master made His first entry and startled them, for He who was so quiet and reserved burned with a sudden fury as He looked upon the temple of Jehovah. Very, very rarely did He show Himself excited or disturbed; but then He was terrible. He bound together a scourge of small cords. He drove the cattle in front of Him; He dashed over the money-changers’ tables. And John can recall still the look of the coins as they poured down upon the pavement. And they, the disciples, wondered at the violence of the emotion, until a word from an old Psalm came into their minds, and they remembered how it was written that the zeal of the Lord’s house should be in a prophet’s heart like a devouring fire.
At that time, too, the Lord Himself gave a sign and spoke a word, which at the time the disciples could make nothing of, and forgot. It was about the temple being destroyed and raised again in three days. They forgot it; but long after, when He had risen from the dead, the old words came back to them: “After three days I shall raise it again”; and they remembered then how He had spoken them two years before His death, and as they remembered, they believed.
And how can we stop to follow the apostle through all the wonderful story? Yet just one thing we can not pass over - the awful hours of crisis in Galilee. It came just when all looked brightest, when the people were rushing round Him, and would have made Him a king. They would have gone with Him to the death. But He - He threw it all away to the winds. He hurried off the twelve in a body across the lake, for they bad caught the crowd‘s enthusiasm, and could not be calmed. He scattered the crowd; He fled back Himself alone into the dark hills, and on the morrow at Capernaum, He broke it all down by a word which staggered the rising belief. It was a saying about His body and His blood - a very hard saying. Not only were the Pharisees furious, but His own followers were dumbfounded. They could not bear it, could not believe. They fell away, and walked no more with Jesus.
“And you, 0 disciple dearly loved, what of you and your brethren?” “Most terrible, most bitter that hour, my children,” the old man answers. “We walked trembling, quaking, behind him. We were cowed and disheartened, until he the Master felt himself the chill of our dismay, and He turned to us and challenged our failing faith. ‘Will ye also go away?’ Oh, the shame of being open to a charge of such meanness! The very tenderness of the question and of the reproach recalled and recovered us. We knew nothing. We could explain nothing. Every clue was lost. The darkness was thickening over our heads, our hearts were failing for fear, our souls were sinking in the great water - floods, earth was falling from us; struggle, and anguish, and doubt shook us with wild alarm; and yet, even so as he turned his eyes upon us, the old unconquerable faith woke, and stirred, and quickened; and with a rush, as of a mighty wind, it lifted us; and out from Peter’s lips broke the words which saved us - the words which sealed us to Him forever: ‘Will we go away? Nay, Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life!’ So we spoke with burning hearts, and yet through and through us still those strange eyes of His pierced. Deep below all our emotion He penetrated. Quite calmly He weighed its worth; and in one of us even then He detected a flaw which would widen and worsen. One of us, He knew, hung back from echoing St. Peter‘s confession. One spirit there was there that could not throw off its dismay, one dark spirit in whom the hard saying was the seed of bitter and poisonous fruit. ‘Have I not chosen you twelve, and yet one of you is a devil?’ He spoke of Judas Iscariot, who should betray him.”
So they followed and clung, the trembling band; clung through all the harrowing days in which the Jewish enmity hardened itself into the hate of hates; clung even though their souls fell away from the rapture of St. Peter to the desperate wail of Thomas: “Let us go with him that at least we may die with him”; clung even through the terrors of that last evening, when they sat shaking with the very shudder of death, and the soul of the Master Himself was trouble-tossed, and there was the scent of treachery in the air, and the end was very near, and He spake dim, dark words that they could not follow - only they knew one thing, that He was to be taken from them, and they sat shrouded in a mighty sorrow such as no assurances even of His could lessen or lift. One moment there was indeed even then in which they seemed suddenly to lay hold of His meaning. “Now we believe,” they cried. “Now we are sure that thou earnest forth from God.” So they cried, and yet He met their professions with a sorrowful hesitation. “Do ye now believe? Yea; the hour is all but come when ye will all flee and leave me alone.” How sad and cowed they felt at the rebuff! Were they then never to rise into the joy of clear and entire belief? Yes; it came at last. Blest assurance! Let John tell how it was reached by him.
Two points he singles out for himself as marking epochs of his own conviction, and in them both we are let inside the workings of his innermost mind. And how curious, yet how natural is the working! For in every hour of agony the mind becomes strangely and fearfully alert to very little things. It is sensitive to sudden and ineffaceable impressions. It is touched into the swiftest and subtlest activity by the tiniest touches of de¬tail. Often in the supreme moment of a dark tragedy, the fibers of the imagination seem to close round some minute incident, like the ticking of a clock in the hush of a death-chamber; and never throughout the long years that follow can it detach that tiny incident from its memory of the black hour. And so with St. John. He stood below the bitter cross, and he saw the nails beaten through the hands and feet, and he heard the last loud cry, and yet still his despair hung heavy as death upon his soul, until, just at the touch of the soldier’s spear, there broke from the dead side a little jet of blood and water. What was it that he saw and felt? What was it that so startled him? Why could that little jet of blood and water never pass out of his sight? Why should it haunt him sixty years after, as still his heart wonders over the mysterious witness of the water and the blood? We can not tell. Perhaps he could never tell. Only his spirit woke with a start. Only a strange tremor shook him, and somehow just then, just at that little pivot moment, he must break off all his story, to declare with abrupt and quivering emphasis: “This is the disciple that wrote these things. He it is who saw the water and the blood, and he knows that his record is true.”
And once again, in the haste of the resurrection morning, what was the moment and what was the scene which turned his despair into belief? It was the moment at which he stooped down and saw within the empty tomb the folded napkin and the linen clothes. What did he notice? Why, that the napkin that had been round the Master‘s head was not lying with the linen clothes, but was rolled up in a place by itself. A tiny, tiny thing! Yet somehow it was that which he saw and never forgot. It was that which he could never omit from his story of the resurrection - the rolled-up napkin lying apart from the linen clothes. Was it the sudden sense that struck him of order and seemliness as of a thing premeditated, intended? Was it the reaction of detecting the quiet tokens of deliberate purpose there, where all had seemed to him a very chaos of confusion? Who can say? Only just then a key was somewhat turned and a bolt shot back somewhere within his breast, and a secret flashed in upon him, and a thrill of insight rushed over him, and his blindness fell off as it had been scales, and a quiver of hope shot up like a flame, and a new light broke over him, and he passed at one bound out of death into life. “Then entered in, therefore, that other disciple which came first to the tomb, and he saw and believed.”
My brethren, where do you stand? How far have you come in this pathway of faith? Are you yet at the beginning, looking wist¬fully, with hungry eyes, after a hundred gallant human heroes who point you this way and that? Are you musing in your heart which of them may be your guide and master, which is the Christ? Good, and fair, and high they may be; but they must all confess it, they can not deny it - they are not the Christ. And all of them who are honest will earnestly assure you, “It is not I, but another.” Oh, and that other even now standeth among you, though you know Him not yet; and there is a voice gone out upon Him which has gone out upon none other ever born of woman, with this witness, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!”
Consider it. What an assurance! Who is there that has ever been brave enough to ac¬cept such a salutation without a whisper of protest, without a shadow of a scruple? Who is this that dares to stand up before the en¬tire mass of His fellows and say, “Come, all who are weary and heavy-laden - come, all who are burdened sorely with sin - come all to me - I will give you rest?” Who is He? Look at Him. He is passing even now before you. Follow Him. He is very- quiet, and still, and silent; but follow Him. He will turn at last and speak, and invite you - invite you a little further. “Master, where dwellest thou?” “Come and see.”
O Jesus, Lord and lover of souls, there are many of us laden with sickness and sin, so many that are sad with doubt and fear, that are asking: “Master, where dwellest thou?” Oh, let them even come home with Thee and see. Go and see. Abide with Him, talk with Him. Wait upon Him. Learn His words. Take up His gospels. Read them with care, with silence to yourself, with thought and prayer. Abide with Him one night at least, that you may in the morning be able to tell your fellows: “I have found the Christ.” And then suddenly, now and again, a light flashes, and a glory is made manifest to you. Some touch of Divine benediction will break out of the secret silence, some sudden joy, some gift of power. It is as at Cana with you when the water ran into wine.
Yet this when it comes, remember, is not the end. It is but a pledge. You may not cling to the blessings and the gifts of faith. They flash and disappear, and you will not be surprised to find that you have yet a long road to travel - a road of disappointment, of in¬creasing failure, of gathering pain, of enlarging doubt - doubt! why not? Doubt of the ways and the methods of God. Doubt of the path as the darkness encompasses, doubt of Christ’s meaning, of His wisdom, of His readiness, of His care, of His guidance. The obscurity may even deepen as you advance along the road of faith. The storm may grow blacker and fiercer, for the higher your faith in God, the darker will be your despair at His failure to make His name good. And you will find Him fail. He will seem to come so little way in the world; He will seem to miss opportunities. It is very hard to believe in One in whom others believe less and less every day. And then it is, when all are falling away and the bard sayings of theology begin to harass and repel, then it is that you must call with all your might upon the St. Peter within you that you may have the heart of fire that will feel but one thing, will feel that if the world fell into ruins, and if the power of God Himself be hidden, yet there stands the Christ still facing you with the question: “Will you go away? Will you fail as others failed me?” Will you feel then but this, just that you must send out your faith in the one passionate cry: “Lord, thou art there, and that is all. Thou hast the words of eternal life. To whom can I go? Though all men forsake thee yet will not I; and in spite of all, I believe, and am sure that thou art the Christ, the holy one of God?” That is the faith which is felt indeed as a rock under the feet, and to such faith the love of God will make itself more and more manifest. You will so trust Him in the black night, you who can walk on knowing nothing but that Christ goes before you, you who mutually cling with the violence of an eradicable love to Him Who has enthralled you, you will find yourselves carried on day after day, you know not how, until at last you find yourselves enclosed in some upper chamber with the Master. Yes, and there the secrets of His love are disclosed, and the mysteries of His counsels, and the hidden wonder of His victory, and the strange glory of His consolation. You will not know or under¬stand all; you will feel yourselves held in the grasp of a wisdom that reaches far and away beyond your little day. You will inquire with stammering lips as Philip and Judas, not Iscariot, and Thomas stammered in the upper chamber before you, and the answer that He gives will be but dim; and yet you will know enough to make you absolutely sure that the truth as you bold it in Jesus is the truth that holds the world in one God, and you will be able to cry in glimpses of peculiar manifestation: “Lord, now speakest thou plainly, and speakest no parable. Now I believe, and have known, and am sure that thou camest forth from God.” And yet even that faith, the faith of roused feelings, may lapse again; even that moment of blessing may lose its power over you. Yes, for only when you become convinced not only of your possession of a Teacher who once came on earth from God, but more, of a Lord living on the far side of death, living in the might of a resurrection life, able to stand by you in that life-giving might as you keep there with the faithful in the upper chamber - able to feed you with His life now from that home of His beyond the grave-only then, when you so receive Him, and take of Him, and taste Him, and know yourselves quickened in Him - only so will your last doubt pass away from you, only so will the close of the crown of your faith be obtained, and you will end - as the story of St. John ends - with the cry of doubting Thomas, with his last doubt scattered - the cry in which the perfected apostolic faith at last saluted its rising Master – “Jesus Christ, my Lord and my God.”
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