Happy Reformation Day!

In honor of this 500th Anniversary of Reformation Day, I am posting some photos relevant to the occassion.  Enjoy!

The Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany.  Of the original, only the four walls remain.  The church has been destroyed multiple times since Reformation.

Sculptures of Luther and Melanchthon inside the Castle Church.  Also in this picture are the graves of the two men. Yes, there are a lot of people buried inside some of those old churches.

Pictures inside the church in Wittenberg that Luther actually preferred to attend.  He spoke at the Castle Church as part of his employment contract.  The Castle Church was, in fact, a private church.

The church in Erfurt, Germany, where Luther was ordained.

An original Luther Bible.  I only wish the picture was a little clearer and did a better job of showing the size of this volume – it is massive.

An original indulgence and various coins that would have been used at the time frame to pay for indulgneces.

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And, finally, what you have been waiting for… “the door.”  Unfortunately, it is something of a letdown since it is not original.  The actual door was destroyed quite some time ago.  This is the site of that famous door, and the one you see here memorializes the event by including the 95 theses in its design.

Have a blessed day!

A Denomination’s Descent Into Irrelevance

I have been a staunch defender of my denomination (The United Methodist Church) throughout my life as a Christian.  However, that being said, I have also been a witness to that very same denomination’s continuous descent into irrelevance.  I get daily emails from our News Service detailing all the trendy projects that we have gotten involved with or how we have joined in with issues that are celebrity causes.

I am saddened by what has happened, but I cannot say that I am surprised.  What, you might ask, has led this descent into irrelevance?  In my humble estimation there is no clearer answer than that the church has become obsessed with being culturally relevant.

What do I mean by this?  To me, it’s simple.  The church has chosen to alter or set aside it doctrines and discipline in an effort to be more acceptable to the mainstream culture.  While this sounds all well and good there are some serious difficulties that accompany such a strategy.

  1. The church was never supposed to conform to the culture.  From its inception, the church was countercultural.  The membership of the body of Christ is to “seek ye first the kingdom of God,” (Matt. 6:33 KJV) not to seek approval of the prevailing culture.  The church is to be in pursuit of holiness.
  2. By pulling up its theological anchor and allowing itself to be blown about by the winds of worldly culture, the denomination has diminished its identity and become just another unstable institution in an unstable world.  There is a longing out there for something that is consistent, steady, and willing to stand against the currents of our world.  The church has always been a rock that people could stand on during turbulent times.  But when the church seeks to appease the world by forsaking its doctrinal integrity, what you are left with is something built on shifting sands.
  3. Cultural appeasement is a slippery slope.  If we acquiesce to the whims of worldly culture at points A, B, and C, is there a point at which the process can, and will, stop?  Looking at other examples from mainstream Protestantism the answer appears to be, no.

This is something of a gripe session and it is late in the evening here, but it hurts me to see the way we have become obsessed with chasing after all the latest trendy projects while never looking back to make certain that we have not lost our way.

In the pursuit of relevance, we are becoming increasingly irrelevant.  Let us return to our roots and consider our theological foundations that we may be better equipped to engage a hurting world.  After all, if we lose our identity by tossing to the side our doctrine and discipline, then we are just another social group.  And that is not what we have been called to be.

My Top Ten Books for Christians

It seems that there are a lot of “Top Ten” lists of books that every Christian should read.  So, as I sat down this morning, I thought to myself, “Why not make one of those lists?”  With that in mind, here goes my top list:

#1. The Bible.  This may be the most obvious of them all, yet it is strangely missing on a lot of lists.  Without a doubt or hesitation, I can say that every Christian should read the Bible.  All too often people will read books about the Bible while never having read the Bible itself.  I understand you may have to read a book about a time or country that you are unable to visit, but getting your hands on a Bible in most places is not that difficult.  The Bible is the sacred text of the Christian faith and, as such, should be read by adherents of the faith.

#2. Mere Christianity.  This classic by C.S. Lewis is an excellent, understandable defense of Christianity.  Lewis was a remarkably articulate writer who seemed to make difficult concepts very accessible.

#3. Christianity 101.  This book, by Gilbert Bilezikian, was one of the first I read after deciding to get serious about my faith.  I still recommend it to others as a great introduction to the faith. In particular, I like that Bilezikian exposes the reader to different views within the church on a variety of doctrines.

#4. Know What You Believe.  I read this little gem by Paul Little while working on my undergraduate degree at Moody Bible Institute.  To this day, I still think it is one of the more useful books that I have come across.  Between this book and Bilezikian’s, you should be able to get a grasp on the major doctrines of the church.

#5. Know Why You Believe.  This is another book by Paul Little that I think is worth reading, especially for those who are in the early stages of their Christian walk, or those who simply have not thought about why they believe what they believe.

#6. Disciplines of a Godly Man.  I was recommended this book, written by R. Kent Hughes, years ago, and I am grateful that I took the time to read it.  Now, I should note that between the author and his wife, they have books that relate specifically to men, women, and the family, so they have you covered.  While there are many who will put Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline, I find this book to be far superior.  In particular, I found it to be the most practical book I have read relating to spiritual disciplines.

#7. Pilgrim’s Progress.  This classic by John Bunyan is another that I read soon after deciding to take my faith seriously.  I am just as impressed today, as I was then, with how Bunyan managed to intertwine the Scriptures into his book.  The man is masterful in that regard.

#8. Evidences of Christianity.  Another classic on the list, this one was written by William Paley.  You may be more familiar with Paley as he relates to the design argument.  This book, however, is a rich treasure trove of information as the author sets out a case for the Christian faith.  His argumentation is methodical and well supported. And, as a bonus, the book is in the Public Domain so you can read it for free.

#9. Reasonable Faith.  William Lane Craig does a superb job of laying out his case for the Christian faith in this book.  For those who might think the content is a little too advanced, his book, On Guard, is more accessible, while still covering much of the same information.  Of the modern apologetics books, this is a great place to start.

#10. The Space Trilogy.  Before there was Narnia, C.S. Lewis wrote a trilogy of books: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength.  The books can be purchased individually, or as a single bound collection.  The Books are real treat to read even while dealing with heavy spiritual ideas.  While I particularly enjoyed the first and third books, they are all worthwhile and I can heartily recommend them to any Christian looking for some quality science-fiction to read.

Now, I should close this post out by saying that you can always check out my books 😉

Happy reading!

On Pause….

To the small number of folks who follow this blog, you may have noticed a lull in output this year. This is a temporary, albeit lengthy, situation. I will soon be able to devote more time to this site and I look forward to that.  There is much to discuss in culture, the church, and theology.  I will try to post some more photos from Israel and Jordan, and perhaps some photos from Europe as I have had the good fortune of being able to visit Wittenberg this year. 

So, until my next post, may God bless you and keep you. 

The Aqueduct at Caesarea

Caesarea Maritima, on the Mediterranean coast in northern Israel, is a truly beautiful place to visit.  In this newsletter I wanted to share with you some photos of an aqueduct that brought freshwater to the city.  The original aqueduct was built by Herod the Great.  Emperor Hadrian expanded the project in the second-century A.D.

Aqueduct 1

In this first picture, you can see the Roman arches that support the aqueduct.  The arch was widely used by the Romans as a way of supporting large structures.  Herod, who had the original aqueduct built, is known as “the great” because of his many building projects.  Many of his projects reflect a Roman influence.  Looking through the arches you can see the Mediterranean Sea.

Aqueduct 2

In this picture, you can see the aqueduct extending northward.  This particular aqueduct is more than six miles in length.  The aqueduct was fed from a source at Mount Carmel.  While large lengths of the aqueduct were built on arches as seen in this picture, part of the newer aqueduct included a tunnel.

Aqueduct 3

This picture was taken on the Mediterranean side of the aqueduct.  This picture showcases the remarkable stonework in the aqueduct.

At the time of Paul’s visit to Caesarea, there was only one aqueduct bringing water to the city.  In the second-century A.D. a second aqueduct was built that entered the city alongside the first.  The original aqueduct is on the left and partially missing in this picture.  The newer aqueduct was on the right.

Aqueduct 4

This final photo was taken at the end of the aqueduct where we visited.  At the top of the structure you can see a channel.  This is where the water flowed.  In this image you can also get a good look at the bricks and stones used in making the aqueduct.

Aqueducts were of great importance in the ancient world as they supplied great quantities of fresh water to thriving cities and settlements.  For the people of the New Testament era these were a common site.

 

If you are wondering if Caesarea Maritima is important for New Testament studies, the answer is “yes.”  This is a city where Paul was imprisoned for a period of time and also where he appealed to Caesar (Acts 23:23ff; 25:11).  Also, this is the city where the centurion Cornelius lived (Acts 10).

 

The Old Testament City of Lachish

Lachish.jpg

It may not look like much from this picture (notice the size of the hill compared to the trash can in the front of the picture), but at one time the fortified city on the hill was one of the three most important citites in Judah.  The city is located to the southwest of Jerusalem and overlooks a large area known as the Shephelah.  Here are a few fast facts about Lachish:

  • Prior to the conquest of the Israelites, Lachish was occupied by Amorites (Josh 10:5).
  • Lachish was conquered by the Israelites under the leadership of Joshua (Josh 10:31–32).
  • Lachish was rebuilt by King Rehoboam of Judah so that it would function as a defensive city (2 Chron 11:9; see also Jer 34:7)
  • King Amaziah of Judah fled from a palace coup in Jerusalem to Lachish.  However, those who sought him killed him at Lachish (2 Kgs 14:9; 2 Chron 25:27)
  • King Sennacherib of Assyria laid siege to, and conquered, Lachish in 701 BC (2 Chron 32:9).  King Sennacherib had his victory over Lachish memorialized in a series of stone reliefs at his palace in Nineveh.
  • King Sennacherib encamped at Lachish while he laid siege to Jerusalem (2 Kgs 18:14, 17; Isa 36:2)
  • King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon laid siege to Lachish (Jer 34:7) – he would eventually conquer the city of Lachish
  • The Israelites reoccupied Lachish during the time of Nehemiah (Neh 11:30)

 

It’s after Easter, now what?

The Church calendar is a continuous cycle.  We celebrate the same holidays and set aside the same days every year.  For some, the special days that we celebrate have become a mere routine and have lost their significance to the person.  For others, each year offers fresh new opportunities to celebrate these days and the events that they represent all over again.  The pageantry, the gifts, the fellowship, and the significance of the days are forever pleasant in the minds of such individuals.

The Church calendar is a great teaching tool that aids in our worship and the sharing of our faith.  However, it is a cycle that repeats itself year after year.  The same cannot be said for the Christian faith.  Nor can it be said of our own journeys as followers of Jesus Christ.  As disciples of Jesus we grow, or at least should grow, in our faith.  Those who are not growing in their faith are not simply going through different phases in a cycle.  Instead, their faith is stagnant.

Centuries ago a group of Jesus’ closest followers sat in a room with a degree of uncertainty about the future.  Jesus had been crucified, buried, and was now risen from the dead.  Some of their number had seen the empty tomb.  Still, uncertainty and insecurity seemed to rule the day.  In the midst of this uncertainty Jesus made appearances to the Apostles and to others followers of His.  One would think that these visits would ease their doubts and give a renewed sense of purpose to those that saw Him.

Yet, there was very little forward movement on the part of Jesus’ followers.  For instance, several of Christ’s Apostles were found fishing on the Sea of Galilee shortly after the resurrection (John 21:1-14).  Fishing was the occupation of Peter before he began following Jesus (Matt 4:18).  So, was Peter returning to his work as a fisherman instead of going “into all the world” and preaching “the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15 NIV)?

Indeed, even at Pentecost the Apostles “were all together in one place” (Acts 2:1 NIV).  But, that day would turn out to be like no other day.  As they sat there in that room together the Holy Spirit came upon them in a most unusual way.  They were touched with what appeared to be tongues of fire, were filled with the Holy Spirit, and spoke languages that were not their own (Acts 2:3-4).  From that day forward the followers of Jesus Christ would be movers and shakers.  This group of unlikely candidates would go from a huddled mass to the emboldened spearhead for the spread of Christianity into an unwelcoming and frequently hostile world.

After you have read the four Gospels and move into the remaining twenty-three books of the New Testament, you will notice that there is no looking back.  In much the same way we are a forward looking people.  I once heard it said that God put eyes in the front of our head because we were to look forward and not backward.  Yes, there is a time and a place to look back.  Looking back is what keeps us grounded and true to our faith and calling.  But what we cannot do is become stuck.  God does not want for us to become stagnant.  Instead, we are to be about the work of advancing His Kingdom wherever we are.  As we move forward from Easter and look forward to the celebration of Pentecost, remember the power that has been given to us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  Then, let us look forward and consider the ways in which we can each continue to grow in Christ this year.