Quotes Sampler

Here is a selection of quotes from books I am currently reading:

My brother’s passing away was the biggest surprise of my life, until it was quickly eclipsed by another surprise just a few weeks later: I was surprised by how much my faith in Jesus and my resolve to stay committed to him vanished. C. S. Lewis’s reflections after the death of his wife rang true for me: “God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t.… He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.” I got punched in the face, and my resolve for the Lord disappeared. My strength dried up, and I was left with nothing. Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” (Onwuchekwa, Prayer)

“Therefore, think ahead always, thoughtful preparation is best, Forethought and foresight forestall worry of mind.” Wilson, Beowulf

“In effect verse 15 [Psalm 106] says, ‘Take care what you pray – you might get it!’ – like the frightful island in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader where people always get what they dream! This is what happened in Numbers 11:33. Desire developed into the sin of covetousness – the ‘can’t-do-without-always-want-more’ mind-set which the New Testament calls idolatry (Ephesians 5:5) – and provoked divine wrath (compare James 1:14–15). The only sure way forward is to safeguard all our prayers with a fervent and heart-felt ‘May your will be done!’ People often say (and think), Do I have to say this every time? And behind that question lies a misunderstanding. Walk through a graveyard and you will find – is it specially on gravestones recording a particularly sad death? – ‘Thy will be done’. Is there a thought lying behind this that since God is in charge I can only accept life as he orders it, but if I were in charge I would arrange things better? I fear it sometimes is just like that. What an understandable but terribly mistaken reaction! Tell me: what makes heaven heaven? Why is it the utterly perfect place it is? Answer: because the will of God is perfectly done there. When we obey Jesus and pray, ‘Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven’, what are we asking? We are asking for heaven on earth, for the utterly perfect. And when we safeguard our prayers by adding ‘your will, not mine be done’, what are we doing? We are saying, Don’t give me what I am asking, give me what you know to be perfect. To say ‘your will, not mine’ does not bring our prayers down from the heights of what we would generously give ourselves; it lifts our prayers up to the heights of the best and most generous and totally perfect thing our heavenly Father has at his disposal. It removes all limitation from our praying, the limits of our wisdom, our feebleness in asking (Romans 8:26), our sheer boneheaded blindness. It lifts our prayers up to heaven and asks for heaven on earth.” (Motyer, Psalms by the Day)

Tactics Read Through: Foreword and Preface

If you are like me, you are most likely feeling some level of discouragement or resignation in light of the political environment. The atmosphere is abismal and I don’t think it is necessary to convince you of that fact. Rather, I am assuming you are already frustrated. We can skip all the facts and rehashing of what is going on in the USA and around the world.

But you may also be discouraged about the religious environment. You see evil winning. You see the canceling of the freedom of speech and belief. You perhaps have had frustrating conversations with others of different religious beliefs. There seems to be a darkening of the moral order.

So where do we go from here? Do we hole up? Do we circle the wagons? Do we close down communications and simply hurl statements through social media at the opposing side, at least until we are kicked off? Is there any hope?

Enter Greg Koukl and his book, Tactics: a game plan for discussing your Christian convictions. This book has changed me over the years (here is a review I wrote 9 years ago). I don’t know how many times I have read it and been challenged. But here on the blog I will be reading through it again over the coming weeks. I need to hear this again. You need to hear this. Believe me. Please buy the book and read through it with me. Leave comments, talk through it with others, learn with me. Koukl points us to a better way. A hope.

Below is from the foreword and preface.

“There are plenty of resources that help Christians understand what they believe and why they believe it, and certainly those are vital. But it’s equally crucial to know how to engage in a meaningful dialogue with a skeptic or a person from another religious viewpoint.”(Location: 141)

Note:This is the heart and hope of this book. We do not need to have all the answers within reach. We do not have to have the perfect argument or be able to shut down someone who has a different belief system.

“I am going to give you a game plan that will allow you to converse with confidence in any situation, no matter how little you know or how knowledgeable or aggressive or even obnoxious the other person might be.” (Location: 181)

Note:This is a high claim, but I have seen it in my own life. I don’t always do it, but I could if I kept myself from trying to appear smart.

“My plan follows Paul’s pattern found in Colossians 4:5–6. Here’s what he says: “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” Notice three elements in Paul’s injunction. First, he says, “Be smart.” Make the most of the moment, but watch your steps. Come in slowly, under the radar. Be shrewd, not blunt. Next, he says, “Be nice.” Show warmth. Probe gently. Be calm and patient. Remember, if anyone gets mad, you’ll lose. Finally, he says, “Be tactical.” Adjust to the individual. Tailor your comments to his special situation. Each circumstance is different. Each person is unique. Treat them that way.” (Location: 200)

Note:So often I just want to follow the plan, “prove them wrong”. They might be wrong, but they will never agree with me that they are wrong if I belittle them. And then again, I may be wrong as well, or be right but for the wrong reasons. That is a dangerous place to be!

“When I talk with people about spiritual matters, I’m not looking to close the deal with them. I’m just looking to do a little gardening in their lives. That’s all. I want to get them thinking. If I can do that, then I’m satisfied, since I know they are ultimately in God’s hands.” (Location: 211)

Note:This is so much better than the misconception often found in evangelism – that of pushing for a decision. We don’t want that done to us in other areas of life. Why would I want to be pushed into a decision about marrying someone, purchasing a house, children, job, etc? And then to push someone to make a “decision” in following Jesus Christ…that is dangerous.

Quotes Sampler

Here is a collection of quotes from books I am reading:

As George Smeaton so helpfully wrote, “We have but one public representative, corporate act performed by the Son of God, in which we share as truly as if we had accomplished that atonement ourselves.” So, as Dr. Smeaton again wrote, “Thus we may either say, Christ died for us; or say, we died in Him. We may equally affirm He was crucified for us, or we were co-crucified with Him.” The latter expression is in fact what Paul essentially said when he wrote, “I have been crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20)” (Discipline of Grace, 68)

It is easy to consent to the primacy of love and yet so difficult to practice it. Some years ago, in an effort to help me put “shoe leather” to the concept of love, I stated a couple of verses from the great love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13, as action statements. As you read over these action statements from verses 4 and 5, ask yourself how you are doing in your day-to-day practice of love. Is there any room for self-righteousness in the light of this practical standard of love?

• I am patient with you because I love you and want to forgive you.

• I am kind to you because I love you and want to help you.

• I do not envy your possessions or your gifts because I love you and want you to have the best.

• I do not boast about my attainments because I love you and want to hear about yours.

• I am not proud because I love you and want to esteem you before myself.

• I am not rude because I love you and care about your feelings.

• I am not self-seeking because I love you and want to meet your needs.

• I am not easily angered by you because I love you and want to overlook your offenses.

• I do not keep a record of your wrongs because I love you, and “love covers a multitude of sins.”

(Bridges, The Discipline of Grace, 39)

“Apoet is a man who is glad of something, and tries to make other people glad of it, too.” (George MacDonald quoted in Peterson, Adorning the Dark)

On Kings’ Day

Today is “Reyes”, a holiday here in Spain, and around the world. In the past children received their presents today. However, today many more parents are moving to Christmas to give gifts to their children from Santa Claus. What follows is a short creative fiction piece written from the perspective of one of the wise men.

For hundreds of years we had been waiting. I was part of a small number whose life and livelihood depended on our ability to see the signs and read the times. We were the link between the heavens and the earth. We were the keepers of the ladder which every king had attempted to climb. We were the priests of the future because we could understand the past and interpret the present. We were wisdom.

The day we had seen it, the day we had realized what the heavens were declaring, was a day I will never forget. Aligning, shining, guiding, proclaiming. The lights above were speaking to us. Calling, leading, pulling us toward something. Toward someone. It was almost as though the sky was singing.

What were we to do? We who had been foretelling, reading, studying, directing. Were we now to drop all and follow? Should we, the leaders, diviners, interpreters, the wisdom-givers step out and walk behind?

I cannot explain it, but follow is both what we were forced to do, and what we desperately wanted to do. We had no will, nor any desire, to do otherwise. We were being drawn in to what we had been created for.

We had packed and prepared and set out across the sands. But the trip itself was of no consequence. Asking about the desert and the dangers, the plodding and the monotony would be like asking the bridegroom about the weeks leading up to his wedding. Of what significance were all the plans, and trials, and unknowns? They were but a moment, a haze, a brief vapor dancing before my eyes. It was the singing of the heavens which pulled us, and it was the moment of fulfillment which became the event around which my life’s work, my entire existence, would be measured and remembered. I would read my life story as being before, or after the Christ child.

And then we had arrived in Israel and met the king. Oh, you misunderstand. I am not speaking of Herod! No, not that little rat, hiding and conniving, threatening and abusing. He was no king. He was a puppet afraid of the strings. I am talking about the child King. The King of all kings.

The helplessness which I felt in his presence was unlike any other moment of vulnerability I had experienced. I am familiar with kings, despots, and tyrants. I have lived my life in the presence of men who sought supreme control. These men always desire to read, and wield, the stars and planets for their own means. But what I saw in this moment was different. Here was power. Here was control. Here was fear.

But the fear I felt was the realization that I was not worthy. Here was such goodness, pure and unteathered completeness, that all of me which missed the mark was highlighted in his splendor. All the darkness of my heart and soul was on full display before his radiance. I felt as though I was unbound, undone, uncovered. The only possible posture in the presence of unleashed goodness is reverence and awe. So I worshiped.

When I saw him I was changed. I was unmade and made anew. I lost myself and found who I was meant to be. I was fearful yet safe.

I fell to my knees, and then I laughed. A real laugh. A full laugh. A laugh like that of a child who has nothing to fear. Nothing to fear…

Matthew 2:1–12 (ESV): Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, 2 saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” 3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; 4 and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:

6  “ ‘And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;

for from you shall come a ruler

who will shepherd my people Israel.’ ”

7 Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. 8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” 9 After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

Village Visit: Balboa

We took a morning to visit a village this past week. Apart from one of the kids vomiting in the back seat, it was an enjoyable morning trip. We escaped the dense fog of our valley and crossed over into the beautiful sunshine of the Ancares Mountains (which run along the northwest border of El Bierzo).

In Balboa, we had coffee in a palloza, a unique style of building common in this area. These structures are generally a circular base and wall of stone, covered with a cone shaped thatched roof. Inside there are often multiple levels to separate the living quarters from the animals’ quarters during the winter months. (There were no animals in this one, thankfully.)

Quote Sampler

Here is a selection of quotes from books I am currently reading:

“Centuries before the advent of smartphones, email, and instant messages, Lord Chesterfield warned his son against the dangers of multitasking. ‘There is time enough for everything in the course of the day, if you do but one thing at once,’ he said, ‘but there is not time enough in the year, if you will do two things at a time’.” (Hyatt, Free to Focus)

“We save the most compelling lesson for last. We have already introduced the idea of the insula housing with inter-connected rooms that were added to accommodate extending families. Bringing a new bride into the family would be a celebrated event, and the home would expand with the growth of the household. As Jesus prepared his small band of disciples for the forthcoming tumult of his arrest, trial, and death, he comforted them with the assurance that in his Father’s house there were many rooms. Better yet, he was going to prepare a place for them, and he promised them that ultimately, they would be with him there (John 14:1–3). In other words, they were assured that they were added to God’s family. The symbolism of the bridegroom preparing a place for his bride, the church, is powerful and enduring.” (Lexham Geographic Commentary on the Gospels)

Perhaps our failure to be hospitable explains why so many Christians have few non-Christian friends and find themselves far removed from evangelistic opportunities.” (Anyabwile, Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons, 72)

“Now, the question is, why? Why does that matter? Well, the reason it matters is because usually when we read the Sermon on the Mount, we often dip into it. It’s what I call in many instances a Viking exegesis. We do this with all the Bible, but we do it with the Sermon as much as anything, where we are like Vikings who land on the shore of the Bible, run in, grab a few things, put them in bags over our shoulders and pillage the area, and run back to our ships and then sail away. That’s how we often treat the Bible. We sort of pillage it for what we’re interested in. But I want to suggest to you that that can really result in—at worst, wrong readings, but even at best, just not very nuanced and not very careful readings. The best kind of reading of the Bible is one that really pays attention to context and really pays attention to literary structure, because these books are classics. They’ve been written and tested and preached—in Matthew’s case, he probably preached these sermons and put together this material in these ways for thirty years before he finally wrote it down. This is his magnum opus.” (Pennington, Sermon on the Mount)

On the streets of Shanghai

We have two websites which we keep going. SCQuest is our family blog with information about us, what we are doing, what we are learning, how we are growing.

Over at Lost on the Trail we post other content. Mostly outdoor and travel articles, we review clothing and adventure gear, write stories about travel, and keep a healthy amount of sarcasm flowing. Here is a travel piece about something that happened in Shanghai. If that is something you enjoy, scroll through the site and take a look.

Sometimes you feel like you are being set up for a segment of Candid Camera.

Our three year old daughter and I had been wandering around Shanghai, China in search for the Spanish consulate. We had been walking for quite some time through this city of mammoth proportions, and had taken a wrong turn. Backtracking we rounded a small park nestled amidst a tangle of concrete.

While the city itself is gargantuan, there were very few people out on the streets. I suppose because we were wandering about when nearly everyone was working in one of the numerous high rise buildings surrounding us. Or, it is quite possible we were doing something illegal and had no idea what trouble we were in. The Chinese government isn’t particularly known for encouraging freedom of movement and expression.

There we were, in one small corner between multiple highways and elevated roads, lost beside a small park with its sunken gardens and carefully tended trees. As we were walking along the path we watched the only other visible human, a lone living soul in this concrete jungle. He was an older man, shuffling along with a cane. But something was strange. There was too much shuffle. There was too much old man about him. It felt as though we were in a vaudeville performance. His doubly thick glasses contributed to the overall effect of someone who does not fit the role they are playing. But then again, maybe he thought the same of the two of us. Here there was a tall American holding the hand of a three year old Chinese girl.

The elderly man shuffled toward us, rounding the same corner that we were, but too tightly. Too tightly because he stepped where the sidewalk would have been had there not been steps. The whole event was like a choreographed stunt. But if it were not merely a stunt, laughing would have been a horrible thing to do.

His body lurched, his cane collapse, and he stumbled down the unexpected stairs. In an effort to catch himself, he knocked his glasses off into the shrubs on his left. And there he was, blinding groping for his glasses and cane. It was in this moment that three of us crossed paths: a de-spectacled old man, a tall Caucasian who speaks no Chinese, and a three year old Asian who speaks no English, somehow brought together to act out a scene. This was our fifteen seconds of fame, starring in the great play, On the Streets of Shanghai.

I reached down and picked up his glasses, handing them to him. He bowed to me and said numerous things in Chinese, of which I understood nothing. I bowed to him, took my daughter’s hand, and we continued our walk to find a Spanish Consulate in one of the largest cities of the world.

What just happened? Who was watching? Was this a joke? Were we being followed? I will never know.

For more travel and adventure stories, head over to Lost on the Trail

Quote Sampler

Here are some quotes taken from different books which I am currently reading:

“Much has been made of the natural association of Nazareth with Sepphoris—at four miles apart, the journey between the two would have taken less than two hours—and that in the early years of the first century ad this is the place where construction jobs could be found. Joseph the father of Jesus was a tektōn by trade (Matt 13:55), as quite naturally was his oldest son, Jesus (Mark 6:3). Though nearly all English translations of the Gospels render the term tektōn as “carpenter,” a tektōn was a skilled worker in local building materials of all kinds, be they wood, stone, or metal. In first century ad Galilee that meant someone who was primarily a stonemason. Typically a tektōn was hired to build the parts of a building or house that were beyond the skill of his fellow townspeople (e.g., set the corners, align the walls so that roof would hold, build the door and the lock, etc.) and to oversee the entire construction process. This made the tektōn part builder, part architect, part contractor, and part artisan. Anthropological studies of pre-industrialized Palestinian towns suggest that every town, village, or group of villages had a tektōn to service its specialized building needs. If this model is correct, Joseph and then Jesus was the tektōn for Nazareth. Like many similarly skilled workers from other small villages, they would have found work in neighboring towns and cities. This reasonable assumption brings Joseph and Jesus to Sepphoris where they not only would have found gainful employment but been exposed to a cultural and ethnic world much larger than that of Nazareth. It also gives a realistic context to many of Jesus’ teachings that reference structures and construction techniques known to a tektōn (Matt 7:24–27; 16:18; 21:33, 42; Mark 2:1–4; Luke 12:18; 14:28–30; John 14:2–3)” (Lexham Geographic Commentary on the Gospels).

“Early Christian tradition claims that Luke was an artist as well as a doctor and historian. That is purely speculative, but it is a fact that we remember the Gospel of Luke partly as a gallery of verbal pictures. Any list is arbitrary, but here is one such list: Mary wrapping the newly born Jesus and laying him in a manger; the shepherds being awestruck by the chorus of angels announcing the birth and then hurrying to the manger; the boy Jesus discoursing with the teachers in the temple; the paralytic being lowered through the roof of a house so Jesus could heal him; the transfiguration of Jesus; the Good Samaritan caring for the wounded man in the road; the father welcoming his prodigal son back into the family; and many others. Luke painted with words, if not with a brush.” (Ryken, Literary Introductions to the Books of the Bible)

Merry Christmas

Today we hear and proclaim with the angel:

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

(Luke 2:10–12)