Blogroll is Back!

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It’s unclear who first coined the term “blogroll.” Probably because of the sort of eating I’ve been doing lately, the term sounds to me like an interesting dessert. But around here we know it as a selection of blogs SI readers have found helpful, interesting, thought-provoking—perhaps sometimes infuriating (though hopefully not too often).

The SI blogroll was originally creaed by Austin Matzko back in our Wordpress & VBulletin days. If I’m remembering correctly, in it’s first iteration, the blogroll featured a block for each blog, and the blocks updated as the various blog-writers published new content. (If any of you have a screen shot from those days, I’d love to see it.) Later versions approximated that experience, but our last site update abandoned it completely. Instead, each new post from a blogger in the “roll” was added to a single flowing list of posts.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. Given the site-building tools and talent on hand at the time, it was certainly easier to set up. But there were disadvantages. Some bloggers in the list cranked out multiple posts per day, while others posted once a week or once every month or so. The result was that infrequent posters got lost in the stream and the blogroll seemed to be all about whoever happened to crank out the most stuff that day or that week.

So we’re back to the old concept. The new blogroll features about a dozen blogs. (One or two are coming back as soon as their writers start writing again.) Each has it’s own block, with an “about” link where you can read more about the blog’s writer(s), etc. You’ll be able to scroll and page through each blog’s posts independently. Each post links to the source blog.

Some of you are probably thinking, hey, there are all sorts of RSS readers out there nowadays that have way more funcationality than that, and you can easily create your own custom collection of blog feeds. Why bother with something like the blogroll at SI? Well, it’s true that you can do more with Netvibes and the like. But judging from Google Analytics results for the blogroll, many still find it to be an interesting and useful sampling of blogs conveniently located at SI. For some, it’s something of a one-stop shopping solution.

So it’s back, and I think we can call it “new and improved.”

A few miscellaneous observations … Read more about Blogroll is Back!

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Peace on Earth

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Hondius Annunciation
The Annunciation to the Shepherds, Abraham Hondius (1663)

The gospel according to Luke records that on the night of Jesus’ birth an angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds keeping watch over their flocks in a field outside the Judean village of Bethlehem. The angel announced “good news of great joy” which included the benediction: “Peace on earth” (Luke 2:10, 14).

Peace had come to earth in a person. The “Prince of Peace,” prophesied centuries earlier by the prophet Isaiah had come (Isaiah 9:6). In a mystery never to be fully fathomed, the “Mighty God” and “Everlasting Father” was born a child with flesh and blood to dwell on earth for a season (Isaiah 7:14, 9:6; John 1:14). And as the Bible repeatedly demonstrates, whenever the living God comes to dwell among his people, he always brings peace.

But what is peace? The word is not difficult to define. Peace is the calm that prevails in the absence of war. It is the serenity that marks freedom from hostilities, strife or dissension. Peace is a paucity of agitation, upheaval or chaos. Although used in an array of contexts, the definition is fairly straightforward.

Peace is far more difficult to identify and experience. There is peace which is really no peace at all. False peace shatters many lives and poisons many souls. There is peace in the midst of hostility—peace that operates at full throttle in the war zones of human experience. There is peace as ethical responsibility. There is peace we desperately want, but can do nothing to attain. Read more about Peace on Earth

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Book Review - The New Calvinism Considered

Image of The New Calvinism Considered: A Personal and Pastoral Assessment
by Jeremy Walker
Evangelical Press 2013
Paperback 128

The resurgence of Calvinism in the English speaking world in the last few decades has recently attracted a lot of attention. Christianity Today devoted an issue to the “Young, Restless, [and] Reformed” movement, and Time magazine dubbed the “new Calvinism” as one of the top ten ideas changing the world in 2009. And like any movement it has its detractors. Liberals inside and out of evangelicalism, are alarmed by its bold stand for complementarian (as in, non-egalitarian and anti-feminist) family values. Theological progressives deplore its “barbaric” insistence on penal, substitutionary (and by nature, blood-y) atonement. Mainstream evangelicals—charismatics, Baptists and non-denominational alike—are suspicious of the movement’s unabashed celebration of Calvinism. Groups who are more similar to the new Calvinism often decry the movement the loudest. The Reformed (with a capital “R”) are tempted to begrudge or belittle this movement: they were real Calvinists all along (and don’t see any need for a resurgence) and by nature, they are suspicious of anything not grounded in a several-hundred year-old Church confession or creed. Fundamentalists and those of their ilk, see a real threat in this movement: it can’t be easily pinned down and there is too much variety and not enough healthy separation from error.

New Calvinism is not exactly new anymore. And like any movement, it isn’t perfect. There are blind-spots, foibles and let-downs. Yet no one can deny the infusion of spiritual life that has accompanied this wide-ranging return to the Reformation. New and revitalized churches, a no-holds-barred approach to evangelism and mission, and a passionate advocacy of theology (and truth) are hallmarks of the movement. Even if you have quibbles with where some land on any number of doctrinal or practical issues, you should appreciate that by and large, the heart of this movement is one that yearns for God’s glory, that prizes a gospel of Grace, revels in the freedoms won by the cross of Christ, and both reveres Scripture and listens to the moving of the Spirit. Read more about Book Review - The New Calvinism Considered

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Samson, Samuel, John and the Birth of Jesus

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Veneto's John the Baptist
John the Baptist by Bartolomeo Veneto, 16th Century

My favorite Christmas joke is a short one. He wanted a new car for Christmas; she wanted a fur coat. They compromised: they bought the coat, but kept it in the garage.

Christmas time is obviously more than gifts, but most of us do enjoy the celebration. Even from the biblical perspective, the birth of Jesus and his resultant work is far broader than the single night on which the Savior was born. There were countless events that prepared for or foreshadowed the Messiah. Today I would like to suggest that even John—the one who prepared the way for Jesus—was foreshadowed.

Jesus commented on John the Baptist in Matthew 11:11, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

We often associate John the Baptist with Elijah (as Jesus did in Matthew 11:14), because he came in the power and spirit of Elijah (Luke 1:17). When John was questioned as to whether he was Elijah (John 1:21), he answered, “I am not.” Even John is himself a foreshadowing of Elijah who will return “before the great and terrible day of the Lord” (Malachi 4:5).

Many modern scholars believe John was part of the Dead Sea Scroll community (the Essenes), but I am skeptical about that. The Essenes promoted isolation and joining their commune. John taught people to bloom where they were planted (Luke 3:10-14). Read more about Samson, Samuel, John and the Birth of Jesus

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The Struggle of Prayer - Part 5

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foldedhandsRead the series so far.

“Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

One of the greatest difficulties for believers when they are praying is perspective. By this I have in mind particularly the perspective of time. God’s time-table is stretched out and often overruns the short span of our brief lives. Like the stride of a giant overtakes the scurrying of an ant, it can appear that God is hardly “in” our situation, because He has the vista of the whole future in front of Him. As Longfellow put it, “the mills of God grind slowly!”

Most of us struggle through life snatching only glimpses of the outworking of God’s plan. We expect this, for we are instructed to walk by faith and not by sight. So we trust that the plan is truly coming together. Indeed, this part of the “Lord’s Prayer” teaches us that anticipation plays a large part in daily prayers. We are to anticipate the culmination of present realities—as harsh as they so often are—foreseeing an era when God’s perfect shall indeed be done on earth as it is right now in heaven. Read more about The Struggle of Prayer - Part 5

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My Favorite Christmas Carol

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Years ago when our kids were very young, we lived in South Florida. Even though I hadn’t grown up with an annual white Christmas (snow in our part of Tennessee was a pretty rare event) I found it very difficult to get into the Christmas spirit when it was 75 degrees outside. You can only turn the air conditioning down so far, and there’s just something wrong with Christmas lights strung on palm trees.

In fairness, the people who lived there tried to get into the spirit of the season. One year a car dealership announced that they were bringing a truckload of snow to dump in their lot so that kids could come and play. There were a lot of kids there, including ours, to play in the “snow.” But what they ended up with looked more like something that came out of a snow cone machine than out of clouds in the sky.

Christmas has always been important to me. When we were very young, our parents had us memorize the Christmas story from Luke 2. We would quote it from memory on Christmas morning before opening the presents. When the only thing standing between you and presents is twenty verses from Luke, you can talk pretty fast.

Many of the traditions we set then when I was child carried forward into our family. Some of them, including Luke 2, we still do today. Although as long as my parents don’t read this, I’ll admit that these days somebody usually has a Bible handy in case we get stuck. I never can remember whether “and the shepherds returned” comes before or after “and Mary kept all these things.”

The world has commercialized Christmas to the point where it is almost unrecognizable. As poet and humorist Ogden Nash noted, “Christmas was once a season of love and good will. Now it’s the holiday that it’s so many shopping days until.” But it isn’t less important because the truth of the season is buried under mounds of presents and later mounds of credit card bills.

We wanted Christmas to matter to our kids as well, and so despite the south Florida environment, we did our best to welcome the season. We decked the halls, played Christmas music (starting after Thanksgiving), and started wrapping presents and putting them under the tree. As Christmas got closer and closer, the kids got more and more excited.

The church we were attending was having a candlelight Christmas Eve service, so we got in the car and headed for church. On the way, we were providing our own soundtrack, singing Christmas songs. We did old carols and beloved hymns and even a fun song or two (this was before Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer was introduced to the kids and promptly banned as being unfit for polite company) and were generally having a very good time. Read more about My Favorite Christmas Carol

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"Asia" in the New Testament

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Reprinted with permission from As I See It, which is available free by writing to the editor at dkutilek@juno.com.

“Now when they had gone throughout Phrygia and the region of Galatia, and were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia, …” Acts 16:6, KJV

I have heard with my own ears more than one preacher quote this verse as certain proof that “if the Holy Spirit hadn’t stopped Paul from going to Asia, we’d have had to get the gospel from the Chinese.” The one instance that stands out most of these several involved the featured speaker at a missions conference a decade ago. This man was a Bible college graduate, had been 20 years in the ministry, and was (and is) a denominational bigwig.

Why this incident stands out is that a man of such training and experience should have known that the assertion he made was completely devoid of any basis in fact, as even a meager amount of study and thought would have immediately shown. The truth is, Paul later did preach in Asia, and for a period of more than two years. Not only so, he evangelized the whole of it and saw many churches started there, all without coming in contact with a single Chinese.

The problem involves the meaning of the name Asia. Of course, today the term includes that great land mass east of the Ural Mountains in Russia in the north, and east of the Caspian, Aegean, Mediterranean and Red Seas further to the south. This, the largest of the seven continents, is also the most populous. But what a geographical term means today and what it meant in Bible times may have little or no connection, and “Asia” is one glaring example of this. Read more about "Asia" in the New Testament

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Books of Note - The First Thanksgiving and A Better December

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The First Thanksgiving by Robert Tracy McKenzie

Every year around Thanksgiving, I enjoy reflecting on the Pilgrims, their Mayflower voyage and that firstThanksgiving back in 1621. Being a descendant of no less a figure than John Alden (the one who stole Miles Standish’s girl, Priscilla Mullins) only encourages my Thanksgiving reverie. This year, I enjoyed finishing a first-rate historical survey of that special Pilgrim holiday. The First Thanksgiving: What the Real Story Tells Us About Loving God and Learning from History by Robert Tracy McKenzie (IVP, 2013), is a book I thoroughly enjoyed but one that challenged me to reexamine the historical record and the reasons why I love to reflect on my Puritanical roots.

McKenzie takes the occasion of writing a book on the first thanksgiving, to remind his Christian audience about the role history should play in our faith. He covers the nuts and bolts of historical research while he’s at it. Now, he does tip some sacred cows. He points out how we have scant records of the actual first thanksgiving, and demurs that it wasn’t the first thanksgiving in any true sense—at least four other public occasions of thanksgiving in America (the French Huguenots on Florida’s shores in 1565 being the earliest) have greater claim to that honor. Intriguingly “Plymouth Rock” was born from second-hand recollections of an original Pilgrim some 100 years or more after their landing. And more importantly, American history didn’t instill the Pilgrims’ autumnal feast with national importance for several hundred years. It was left for Franklin D. Roosevelt to be the first American President to directly connect the national observance of Thanksgiving with the Pilgrims of Plymouth and their historic feast. Read more about Books of Note - The First Thanksgiving and A Better December

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