Category Archives: Holidays

Puritan Prayer of Praise and Thanksgiving

O my God,
Thou fairest, greatest, first of all objects,
my heart admired, adores, loves thee,
for my little vessel is as full as it can be,
and I would pour out all that fullness before thee
in ceaseless flow.

When I think upon and converse with thee
ten thousand delightful thoughts spring up,
ten thousand sources of pleasure are unsealed,
ten thousand refreshing joys spread over my heart,
crowding into every moment of happiness.

I bless thee for the soul thou hast created,
for adorning it, sanctifying it,
though it is fixed in barren soil;
for the body thou hast given me,
for preserving its strength and vigour,
for providing senses to enjoy delights,
for the ease and freedom of my limbs,
for hands, eyes, ears that do thy bidding,
for thy royal bounty providing my daily support,
for a full table and overflowing cup,
for appetite, taste, sweetness,
for social joys of relatives and friends,
for ability to serve others,
for a heart that feels sorrows and necessities,
for a mind to care for my fellow-men,
for opportunities of spreading happiness around,
for loved ones in the joys of heaven,
for my own expectation of seeing thee clearly.

I love thee above the powers of language
to express,
for what thou art to thy creatures.

Increase my love, O my God, through time
and eternity.

Amen

(The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers)

Christmas at the Gypsy Church in Dupnitsa, Bulgaria

Gypsy Church in Dupnitsa
Gypsy Church in Dupnitsa

We spent Christmas Day with Nansi’s home church in a Gypsy village of Dupnitsa, a town south of Sofia. I preached from a nontraditional Christmas passage (John 1:1-16) and Nansi translated. The children all got presents from Samaritan’s Purse, so if you and your church participated in any of the international Christmas gift outreaches, we saw the fruits of that!

Did Jesus Spend Saturday in Hell?

A few weeks ago, I listened to a sermon by Mark Driscoll on 1 Peter 3:18-20, one of the most difficult to understand passages in the Bible:

Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.

A traditional understanding is that after he was crucified, Jesus descended into Hell.  This is codified in the Apostle’s Creed, which I remember being exposed to in my two semesters at a Lutheran school:

Jesus Christ … was crucified, died, and was buried.  He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again.  He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

John Piper has an interesting interpretation up that would make the narrative more consistent with the very clear passage of Jesus to the thief in Luke 23:43 (“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”):

With regard to 1 Peter 3:19, I take these words to mean that Christ, through the voice of Noah, went and preached to that generation, whose spirits are now “in prison,” that is, in hell. In other words, Peter does not say that Christ preached to them while they were in prison. He says he preached to them once, during the days of Noah, and now they are in prison.

I encourage you to read the whole post for a fuller picture of the evidence for this interpretation, as well as its consequences.

A Conversation with Death on Good Friday

From John Piper’s Desiring God:

CHRISTIAN:

Hello, Death, my old enemy. My old slave-master. Have you come to talk to me again? To frighten me?

I am not the person you think I am. I am not the one you used to talk to. Something has happened. Let me ask you a question, Death.

Where is your sting?

DEATH, sneeringly:

My sting is your sin.

CHRISTIAN:

I know that, Death. But that’s not what I asked you. I asked, where is your sting? I know what it is. But tell me where it is.

Why are you fidgeting, Death? Why are you looking away? Why are you turning to go? Wait, Death, you have not answered my question. Where is your sting?

Where is, my sin?

What? You have no answer? But, Death, why do you have no answer? How will you terrify me, if you have no answer?

O Death, I will tell you the answer. Where is your sting? Where is my sin? It is hanging on that tree. God made Christ to be sin—my sin. When he died, the penalty of my sin was paid. The power of it was broken. I bear it no more.

Farewell, Death. You need not show up here again to frighten me. God will tell you when to come next time. And when you come, you will be his servant. For me, you will have no sting.

O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory
through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:55-57)

Catholics are urged to give up texting for Lent

Catholics usually give up something specific for Lent, the 40-day period which marks the period that Jesus spent the in the desert, and which leads up to Easter. People will give up things like chocolate, alcohol, fast food, etc. This year, “Catholics are urged to give up texting for Lent:”

Roman Catholic bishops in Italy are urging the faithful to go on a high-tech fast for Lent, switching off modern appliances from cars to iPods and abstaining from surfing the Web or text messaging until Easter.

Dioceses and Catholic groups in Modena, southern Bari and other cities have called for a ban on text messaging every Friday in Lent, which began last week with Ash Wednesday. “It’s a small way to remember the importance of concrete and not virtual relationships,” the Modena diocese said in a statement. “It’s an instrument to remind us that our actions and lifestyles have consequences in distant countries.”

The Turin diocese is suggesting the faithful not watch television during Lent. In the northeastern city of Trento, the church has created a “new lifestyles” calendar with proposals for each week of Lent. Some ideas: Leave cars at home and hop on a bike or a bus; stop throwing chewing gum on the street and start recycling waste; enjoy the silence of a week without the Internet and iPods.

Italian laity and clergy have reacted cautiously to the proposals. Some say Lenten abstinence should be a personal matter, and others contend that people who need technology to work shouldn’t be asked to do without. Benedict praised social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace for forging friendships and understanding, but cautioned that online networking could isolate people from real social interaction.

I think it’s a great idea. Our lives today are interwoven with technology, but it’s useful every now and then to take a step back and realize that the technologies are a tool to facilitate, not replace, human interaction. Last summer, I didn’t use technology during a two-week mission trip to Moldova, and it was quite refreshing to take a break from the rat race. You also realize that keeping up with the 24-hour cycle isn’t as important as you thought.

Is anyone giving anything up for Lent? Anyone inspired now to give up some technology?

Rosh Hashanah

Last night I attended a Rosh Hashanah service put on by Jews for Jesus.  I was very active in Jewish circles in college because of the peculiarities of campus politics, and am a huge supporter of Israel.  I took some classes on Judaism and Jewish history (when I was a Study of Religion major), and am one of those Protestants who emphasize the Jewish roots of Christianity.

Rosh Hashanah, also known as the Jewish New Year, is the beginning of the ten Days of Awe, which culminate in Yom Kippur.  According to Jewish tradition, on Rosh Hashanah, God opens three books.  In one are the righteous, whose names are immediately sealed – they’ve passed the test.  In the other two books are the names of the wicked and people who are neither completely wicked nor righteous.  Those people then have ten days (Days of Awe) to prove they are righteous through repentence, prayer, and good deeds.  The books are then sealed on Yom Kippur.  If you make it in to the Book of Life, you’re good for another year.

The basis of the holiday is Leviticus 23:24,25: “Say to the Israelites: ‘On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts.”  The trumpet blast is from the shofar (ram’s horn), which plays a central role in Rosh Hashanah.  Apples dipped in honey also play a prominent part, symbolizing the desire for a sweet year ahead.

Rosh Hashanah
Rosh Hashanah

The Jews for Jesus service last night was interesting, and they’ve done some reappropriating of the meaning of several aspects.  For example:

The blast of the shofar at Rosh Hashanah is not just a call to repentance, but a reminder of Jesus’ return. “For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Messiah will rise first” (1Thessalonians 4:16).

Rosh Hashanah also provides for a very clear contrast between Judaism and Christianity on the point of salvation.  According to Jewish tradition (and it’s not written in the Bible), we save ourselves through good works.  If we don’t do enough during the year, we have those ten days to really prove we’re worth it.  Ultimately, it’s a challenge that none of us can pass, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23).  We have all sinned, and God requires a sacrifice to attone for it.  Jesus was that sacrifice who, once and for all, writes our names in the Book of Life.  Moreover, the works we do can never get us anywhere near pure enough to get into the presence of God, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph 2:8-9)

That said, Rosh Hashanah is still a good time to reflect upon the past year and reexamine our life.  It’s also a great opportunity to thank and praise God for the sacrifice he made on our part, so that we don’t have to be worried about taking a test that we could never pass.