Forget Not All His Benefits

When we read, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits” (Psalm 103:2), many of us are quick to say that we are in no danger of forgetting our Lord’s blessings. Similarly, we read about how ungrateful the Israelites were to God in their wilderness wanderings and we simply cannot picture ourselves being such ingrates. It is instructive to note that the Hebrew word gemul, that is translated “benefits” in the King James Version, can also be translated “dealings” or “recompenses.” There are actually many ways in which one can forget about God’s blessings, dealings, or recompenses, and it is sobering to realize that almost every one of us is guilty of one or more of them. Here are some to ponder on.

You can forget God’s blessings:

1. When you refuse to remember any of His blessings
2. When you choose to forget all His blessings
3. When you fail to remember His blessings (by omission, just not getting around to it)
4. When you do not remember enough of His blessings
5. When you are pre-occupied with many things [in a way similar to what our Lord scolded Martha for (see Luke 10:41-42)]
6. When you focus on your circumstances, instead of focusing on the God who is bigger than, and who controls, your circumstances
7. When you focus on your job, instead of focusing on the God who gave you that job in the first place
8. When you focus on your achievement, instead of focusing on the God without whom you would have no achievement
9. When you focus on what you have not achieved, instead of focusing on the God whom you need to enable you to achieve those things
10. When you focus on what others have achieved, instead of focusing on the God who has your master plan to prosper you, not to harm you
11. When you keep on living for the next miracle, instead of thanking God for what He has already done for you (the Israelites perfected that in the wilderness!)
12. When you remember God’s blessings but refuse to be thankful
13. When you remember God’s blessings but fail to be thankful
14. When you remember God’s blessings but thank Him only a little
15. When you remember God’s blessings but thank Him only sometimes
16. When you feel that the Lord ought to have done more for you (forgetting that God does not owe you or me anything, for we are the ones who owe Him what we cannot repay)
17. When you do not realize that God recompenses you for your faithfulness.
The way to guard against stumbling in any of these and other ways is to practice what the palmist says in Psalm 34:1: “I will bless the Lord at ALL times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth” (emphases added).

Paganism Rising

America is known for being a melting pot. We have people from all over the world, from every culture, nation and religious system. We are a haven for the persecuted and a delight for the imaginative, who need only an opportunity in order to do great things. We are a land of opportunity because we believe “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” Yet as of late we’ve watched as many of these rights appear to be slipping away. We’ve watched our country go from a respected world influencer to one of extreme debt that is mocked by foreign nations. What has changed? What has caused this cultural shift? While to be sure there are a multitude of influencers, I believe one of the key reason is because we have lost our foundation.

I am an avid lover of archaeology, because it is a snapshot of the past. In the world of archaeology the culture is static and frozen. The people have long since passed. The places and cultural ideas are no longer shifting and changing. They are the perfect subjects of study because they stay put and do not talk back. Yet as I’ve delved deeper into archaeological study I’ve found that it is also of great insight into modern culture. Because the subject of study is static and frozen, one can view the whole picture from beginning to end, as one views a painting or the story line of a book. The plot has already unfolded and one can see how the changes affected the culture at large, and ultimately the end of a particular way of life. In this way archaeology is instrumental in apologetics, because we are able to see the end results of a particular worldview as it has already played out in another culture. Continue reading

Going to Church: How the Only Politics That Finally Matter Happen At Church

I begin with remembering two conversations about going to church.  First, my parents believed in going to church.  They called it “big church” when they inquired if I was going to skip the congregation- wide meeting after a youth meeting.  Their conviction was driven home without argument or rationale; it seemed intuitive or instinctual.

Secondly, several years ago my friend, Pastor John, ask me to spend an evening with students who were back from university for Christmas break.  The assembly was typical or representative: some had lived freely and God fell off their radar (a practical rather than a theoretical atheism), some felt bullied by a skeptic professor, and some had been assigned to read Nietzsche in honors class.  The students were encouraged by registering some worries and took some hope in learning these issues had history and were part of a bigger conversation.  They seemed pleased I had also assigned readings in Nietzsche and even took his side in several issues.  As the evening concluded my final theme was about going to church.

I explained Christianity was not merely a set of ideas to be affirmed but centered on relationship and trust.  Faith is nonnegotiably participatory; it envisions practices in concrete reality and community.  I told them to pick a church quickly and connect; they did not need a cool pastor but a concrete pastor who had lived out faith with family and folk.  Pastor John may have initially wondered… I brought a college professor to talk to my smart college students and this is the big finish – “you guys should go to church?”  Soon though, he appeared mystified by the greater wisdom concerning church.  I was simply closing with the most central survival tip of the evening, but John latched on to the idea and has recently asked me to share it with the entire church.  What follows is one idea in an effort to put into words the conviction of my parents – we need to go to church. Continue reading

MA in Cultural Apologetics Student Blog Shout-Out

In the M.A. in Cultural Apologetics program, we practice what we teach. Our faculty are active in speaking, writing, and ministry in a variety of fields, and we encourage our students likewise to use what they’re learning in class in their daily lives, conversations, teaching, and ministry.

One of the ways that our MAA students practice cultural apologetics is through blogging. Many of our students are already active bloggers; furthermore, several professors assign blog posts as writing assignments, so that our students are exposed to this way of engaging in apologetics ministry in a social-media world.

Here I’d like to take a moment to give a shout-out to some of our students who write blogs – it’s exciting to see the range of topics, from directly apologetics-related to cultural engagement and lots in between:

Leigh McLeroy is an accomplished writer and speaker, whose blog Wednesday Words is “an unapologetic attempt to use the events of daily life to show the beauty and truth of the gospel. In 500 words or so (short enough to be read over a cup of morning coffee!) Wednesday words prods, inspires, teaches and encourages.”

Jon Crutchfield’s blog includes a piece that came from an essay he wrote for Film, the Visual Arts, and Apologetics: “It’s a Meaningless Life: Sentimental Nihilism at the Movies.”

Elizabeth Kendrex is the writer of Leaf’s Reviews: Young Adult Book Reviews: “As a person who wants to be a YA author, I decided that reading and writing about YA books would be good practice for me, which is why I started this blog. I also want this blog to serve as a reference for those looking for books themselves, so I make sure that I include things such as Genre, Warnings, Recommended Age, and my own Rating of the books in my reviews.”

Brooke Boriack says on her blog that “The ability to think well will result in a better ability to live well. Little confidence should be placed in my own abilities, but I trust in Jesus Christ to guide my intellectual development and feed my passion for seeking out the True, the Good, and the Beautiful.” Check out this post on “Punks and Monks: Thoughts on Youth Pastors and 9th Century Monasticism”, which came from a paper she wrote for Medieval Culture and Philosophy!

Karise Gililland writes about the community of practice writing in the classroom at Book of Common Grace.

Nick Watts writes at Soul Food: Serious – and Not So Serious – Nutrition for Your Soul, where he engages with personal, spiritual, and cultural issues.

Zak Schmoll writes A Chapter Per Day, journeying through the Bible, one chapter per day. He also has a section of book reviews, including a review of Apologetics for the 21st Century, one of the required texts for his Apologetics Research and Writing class.

And there are more! We are very proud of our students!

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Interested in joining our merry band of cultural apologists and apologists-in-training? The MAA accepts students in both the Fall and Spring semester (deadlines August 1st and December 1st, respectively).

We have a fully online degree as well as a Houston residential degree, both with the same small classes (15 students), great faculty, and challenging curriculum. Check it out!

 

“Was Jesus The Promised Messiah?” – a debate coming up @ HBU

“WAS JESUS THE PROMISED MESSIAH?” a debate between Craig A. Evans and Rabbi Tovia Singer — sponsored by Christian Thinkers Society, Confident Christianity, and Houston Baptist University. For more information and to REGISTER NOW click here: http://goo.gl/teJZcwSinger-Evans-Flyer

 

Merciful Justice, Shakespeare!

I have a little homecoming ritual that I practice at the end of most weekdays. I walk in the door, and greet my three girls who are ecstatic at my arrival because they, too, have a part in the homecoming ritual. We walk together to the kitchen and the baby is already yelling, “Can-ee! Daddy!” Upon reaching the kitchen, I open a very high cupboard and measure out a few candies for each child. Should I accidentally (or not) give an additional jellybean to a younger child, my oldest daughter is sure to point out my transgression. To her demands for equal treatment under the candy law, I reply, “Life’s not fair. Have another candy.” I don’t get into a long treatise on justice with her. She’s so transparent: her cries for justice are nothing more than a ploy for more candy.

But at some point in her life, she will probably cry out for justice in a very different way. All of us do. I recently read Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure with my undergraduates and was struck by the nuanced account of measuring justice. In the first Act, Duke Vicentio decides to leave Vienna in the hands of Angelo, his deputy, giving him power to enforce the laws as he sees fit. Angelo is a swift judge when presented with Claudio, who has fornicated with the now-pregnant Juliet. Angelo brings down the full weight of the law against Angelo and sentences him to death. Ostensibly, Angelo wants to reestablish the law of the land by making Claudio an example.

Claudio admits he has broken the law, but Shakespeare includes several extenuating circumstances. Most importantly, Claudio and Juliet were engaged, but could not marry for want of a dowry. While this reason may seem antiquated to the modern reader, the dowry was no small matter to the Elizabethan audience and real cause for delaying marriage. In comparison to the rampant sexual immorality displayed by comic characters like Pompey, who regularly visit brothels, Claudio’s sin is mild. He loves Juliet, is faithful to her, and plans to marry her. Continue reading

Teaching the Didache (The Teaching of ‘the Twelve’)

Not long ago I taught a brief series at Christ the King Lutheran Church on the Didache, an early Christian manual on ethics, practices, leadership and eschatology.  Most scholars date it to the end of the first or beginning of the second century AD. A Greek manuscript of it—dating to about 1073 AD—was  discovered by accident in a library in Constantinople by Philotheos Bryennios in 1873 (Have you noticed how some of the best stuff is discovered by accident?  The Dead Sea Scrolls.  The Nag Hammadi library.  Chocolate mixed with peanut butter.)  The Didache was published about a decade later.  Some early church leaders wanted to include it the New Testament but Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 3.25.1-7) reckons it among the spurious documents.

Christ the King Lutheran Church

There are four essential questions which this early Christian document addresses:

  1. How are we/ Christians to live?
  2. What are our essential practices?
  3. Who is to lead us?
  4. How will all of this end?

The Didache begins with the doctrine of the two ways, a Jewish way of instruction which goes back to Deuteronomy 30.  There are two ways: the way of life and the way of death.  The way of life (according to Deuteronomy) is to know what God says and observe it.  Obedience leads to life, blessing and prosperity.  Disobedience leads to destruction, “curse,” and adversity.  Jesus adopts the same teaching in his parable of the wise and foolish men who built their houses on the rock and sand, respectively.  Didache adopts this Jewish theme and makes it part of its instruction—probably to baptismal candidates.  In fact, there is very little “Christian” about the Didache‘s first six chapters.  It is not until you get to baptism and Eucharist that the true Christian identity of the document emerges.  Some people see it as Jewish ethical instruction slightly Christianized.  That is a fair characterization at least in the first six chapters.

I like this little Christian document for many reasons.  First, as a historian of early Christianity it is primary evidence for how Christ-followers are organizing their common life: what they believe, how they behave, how they conduct their gatherings, and how they deal with traveling and resident leaders.  Second, the Greek of the Didache is easy enough that a second year Greek student can usually translate it with a dictionary in hand.  There are a lot of unique words, especially among the lists of virtues and vices.  Third, and this is related to the first, the Didache and other books of the Apostolic Fathers are some of the first commentators on the New Testament.  They speak the Greek language.  They share a common cultural situation with the later apostles and second to third generation of believers.  So how they read the NT is probably closer than we who read it in a post-Reformation, post-Enlightenment, post-colonial, post- Holocaust world.  In other words, the fathers have much to teach us if we will just spend some time with them.

There are plenty of versions available, free-online.  A classic translation was done by Kirsopp Lake in the Loeb Classical Series.  He translated it in the early 1910s so it sounds at times like the King James Bible.  The version I use now is a translation of all the Apostolic Fathers by Michael Holmes published by the Society of Biblical Literature.  Over time I hope to come back and comment further on this early Christian document.  In the meantime, why not take some time, look it up and read it.  It is brief.  You can probably read through Didache in 15-20 minutes.   Lake Apostolic Fathers

Thanks to Bob Moore (pastor), Karin Liebster (co-pastor) and Matthias Henze (professor at Rice University) for the opportunity to teach through the text.  I look forward to going back and teaching another of the Apostolic Fathers or coming to teach the Didache at a church near you!

Mark Lanier: Christianity on Trial (Nov 6)

You’ll definitely want to mark your calendars because our good friend Mark Lanier will be giving the A.O. Collins Lecture for this fall. He will address his recently published book Christianity on Trial: A Lawyer Examines the Christian Faith.

This free lecture will take place on November 6 at Belin Chapel here on HBU’s campus (in the Morris Cultural Arts Center).

His lecture will begin at 7:00 pm and there will be snacks and a book signing afterwards.

We hope to see you there!

Continue reading

Socrates Meets Descartes: A Fun Little Primer on Cartesian Philosophy

Socrates Meets Descartes is part of Dr. Peter Kreeft’s Socrates Meets… book collection. If you are not already familiar with these popular-level philosophy books, I encourage you to consider them. Here’s the concept: Kreeft uses Socrates—the father of philosophy—as a mouthpiece to individually examine major philosophers of history through classic Socratic dialogue. This turns out to be a rather ingenious literary technique that is employed with both wit and wisdom.

descartes meditaçõesIn Socrates Meets Descartes: The Father of Philosophy Analyzes the Father of Modern Philosophy’s Discourse on Method, Socrates’ interlocutor is Rene Descartes. Kreeft arranges their imaginary meeting in Purgatory, where Descartes’ penance is defending his famous Discourse on Method in response to Socrates’ demanding critique. Descartes, the reader learns, set out to revolutionize philosophy by inventing a scientific method that could discern truths with certainty, even eliminate human warfare by providing the tools for intellectual conflict resolution. If everyone had a common set of data and tools (his method), they would be enabled to reach the same conclusions, he claimed. In fact, everything that can be known could, theoretically, be realized in this way. Descartes’ purpose in writing Discourse on Method was to introduce the world to his new science of philosophy. It was this work that contained the most famous statement in the history of philosophy: “I think, therefore I am.”

Socrates proceeds to examine each step in Descartes’ system, which first moves from universal doubt to certainty only of one’s self-existence, then to proof of God’s existence, and then the existence of the material world.  Socrates doesn’t pull any punches in his analysis of Descartes’ ideas. He extensively questions the hidden presuppositions of Descartes’ project and points out logical difficulties.  But Descartes has his moments, too. One fine example is when he roundly criticizes the ancient pagan philosophers “who discuss morals in very proud and magnificent palaces that are built on nothing but sand and mud” (83). Often, a difficulty isn’t fully resolved, and the two philosophers leave the reader with what they call a philosophical “loose end.” Sometimes it was a mild relief to abandon an increasingly tedious rabbit trail, but sometimes it was frustrating, such as when it happened at the end of Socrates’ evaluation of Descartes’ version of the ontological argument.

Kreeft packs a lot of value into this little volume, but manages to do so with clear language and a minimal amount of convoluted argumentation. In addition to learning the basic strengths and weaknesses of the Cartesian philosophy being scrutinized, the reader is exposed to a few rules of logical argumentation, some basics of ancient Greek thought (Plato’s Cave is explained, for example), relevant cultural context, and names of a few of Descartes’ key challengers and sympathizers. The dialogue is interspersed with comic relief, clever and corny—both appropriate to the spirit of the book.

I highly recommend Socrates Meets Descartes and believe it to be suitable for college undergraduates or adults just beginning a foray into philosophical study. It’s a wonderful stand-alone introduction to Descartes that would serve as a nice preliminary to research.

A Conversation with Ron Blue

Ron BlueWe here at the School of Christian Thought would like to make you aware of an upcoming luncheon with an important Christian business man. The HBU School of Business and the Center for Christianity in Business is hosting a  CCB Networking Luncheon for all Business Professionals with Ron Blue:

A Conversation with Ron Blue

Wednesday, September 24, 2014: Noon – 2:00 p.m.

(RSVP by September 17, 2014)

Featuring

Ron Blue
Founding Director,
Kingdom Advisors

with

Joseph C. Sleeth, Jr.
Partner, Fulbright & Jaworski, LLP.
(Moderator)

About the Speaker

Ron Blue is the Founding Director of Kingdom Advisors, a ministry that empowers Christian financial advisors who seek to integrate a biblical worldview into their advice and counsel. In 1979, he founded Ronald Blue & Company, the largest Christian financial planning firm in the country.  He has authored eighteen books, including Master Your Money, The Complete Guide to Faith Based Family Finances, and Surviving Financial Meltdown. Ron holds a BS and an MBA from Indiana University.  Ron is married to Judy and they have five grown children and thirteen grandchildren. They reside in Atlanta, GA.

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