Category Archives: Religion

If Sickness Is a Dream, Who Needs to Wake Up?

Pro Tip: If you need to adjust your stove eye, do it while the eye is off. Turning it on before adjusting it will only complicate the task.

I was able to watch Inception recently, because it came on Netflix. I enjoy that kind of thing, a deep dive into a single sci-fi concept. Not that it was a deep film or that it even touched on a deep idea. It was just fun–a heist film set in the dream world.

I gather some people took it to be a thoughtful reflection on the possibility that what we call reality is merely a dream or some massive deception. Descartes rejected that idea, preferring to believe he existed and could actually know something. Actually knowing something is kind of a big deal.

In Inception, characters constantly reviewed the rules of how the dreamscape worked: paradoxes, mental defenses, and how to invoke a dreamer to dream a new and deeper dream. Our dreams aren’t made like that. When I realize I’m dreaming, I also realize I can control things. If I see that I’m out in public and have left something, I can decide that I have it and there it is. In the movie, if they imagined they have bigger guns, they could use them. But tell the target he’s dreaming, and he can’t just slip down a rabbit hole and sit by the river until he wakes up.

In a dream, only what I perceive exists, and then, of course, there’s you. How are we all dreaming coherently together? But let’s stick with perception for a moment; many unperceived, even imperceivable, things have rearranged our lives for centuries. Shall we just roll over and wonder how this dream will end? That’s all we’re left with, if everything is a dream. We can’t study medicine, engineering, farming, or anything that produces something outside of our preferences if nothing is real.

The eye of my stove burned my fingers because the electric coil producing the heat is a reality outside of my perception. Had I turned the wrong switch I would have had heat in another eye and possibly wondered why my pan wasn’t warming up. That’s my perception at play in a real world.

Try to stay healthy, friends. And for the kids at home, remember the Lord who made you; that’s the start of good perception.

What Are You Doing Sunday Mornings?

Our church cancelled our worship services three weeks ago, and we held our first live streamed service this morning. Prior to this our pastors distributed written sermons with discussion questions and our usual liturgy with supplementals that we could use on our own. I led my family through an ad hoc devotional time two weeks ago and followed the church material last week, which took far longer than I expected. We sang all the verses of all the songs, and my reading of the sermon with two breaks for questions took over an hour alone.

The streamed service this morning was comforting. I don’t need a familiar service in a familiar setting to get through the current crisis, but being together in a local body in whatever manner we can is a natural, grace-filled habit God has given us.

What are you doing? How are you making it through on your own or with your church?

With Easter coming in two weeks, I assume all of our plans will be rather low-key. Will we hear the gospel anew, stripped of the color and pageantry we’ve attached to the season? Will the world hear a different song than the one some of them think they know already?

Lord, have mercy on us.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

Pastoral Yoda Tweeting: Wise You Think You Are, Do You?

If you’ve read any social media for long, you’ve run across the proverbial, possibly deep, possibly pithy statement from someone who wants to drop the truth on the world. When a Christian leader does this on Twitter, that’s called a pastor yoda tweet.

This isn’t the same as tweeting a quotation from a quotable writer, but it may be a statement made by one such quotable writer on his own account. He may even be quoted himself. Tim Keller quotes from his own books in an effort to say something strong that has a context that can been explored. Here are good examples of pastors and leaders who aren’t quoting themselves.

Ronnie Martin: “It has never not been our moment. #thechurchthatjesusbuilds”

Also Ronnie Martin: “A quiet, without a calm. These are times when ‘the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding’ is desperately needed for both personal comfort, and public compassion.”

Issac Adams: “A commitment to forbear with someone is a commitment, in no small part, to not pick nits.”

David Paul Tripp: “Today you face war, no, not with the people in your life, but a war of kingdoms, fought in your heart, that will not be fully settled until you’re on the other side.”

But of course there are those who would like to tweet proverbial wisdom and fail.

The Happy Rant guys have talked about good and bad tweeting a few times. Here’s one episode that talks about pastor yoda tweeting and also features a story about John Piper speaking to a crowd that completely misunderstood him. Here’s a recent one in which they worry about too much yoda tweeting.

Earlier this month, Taylor Burgess explained it well, “Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like you’ve got to be at least 40 before you drop one of those ‘young pastor, [insert wise proverb]’ tweets. Err’body out here trying to be Yoda when most of us are Attack-of-the-Clones Anakin.”

‘Now Thank We All Our God’

Martin Rinkart (1586-1649) was a Lutheran pastor in Eilenberg, Germany during the 30 Years War. Eilenberg was a walled city, and so a place of refuge, but the number of refugees strained local resources. Rinkart took many into his own home, and had to scavenge for food and supplies. The city was overrun by enemy armies three times.

And then came the plague. Rinkart was left as the only pastor in the city, doing as many as 40 or 50 funerals a day, including that of his wife. He himself did not live to see peace.

Nevertheless, sometime before 1648, he sat down and wrote a poetic table prayer that began, “Nun danket alle Gott,” “Now thank we all our God.” Soon after a tune was composed by Johann Cruger. Our English translation came from Catherine Winkworth in the 19th Century.

More on the hymn here.

I’m not sure who’s singing in the clip above, but the venue is the Royal Albert Hall in London.

For your Spectation

They posted another of my articles at The American Spectator Online on Sunday. It’s called A Message to the Young: Beware the Groove.


It was around 1973, and I was attending a small Midwestern college. This being the ’70s, the school was already busy debriding itself of its past Christian tradition and regenerating as a sort of flyover Dartmouth.

I was in a Christian Ethics class, listening to presentations on the topic of sex. A young woman had already informed us that the Roman Catholic Church saw no value in women except as baby factories — I was kind of pleased with myself for asking her how she accounted for nuns.

Read it all here.

Book plug: ‘Post-Christian’

Probably my most eminent friend (though I only know him online) is Gene Edward Veith. Veith is possibly the most prominent Lutheran among today’s well-known evangelicals. He may be best known for his book, Postmodern Times.

Now he has a new book out, called Post-Christian: A Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture. Amazon says:

We live in a post-Christian world. Contemporary thought―claiming to be “progressive” and “liberating”―attempts to place human beings in God’s role as creator, lawgiver, and savior. But these post-Christian ways of thinking and living are running into dead ends and fatal contradictions.

This timely book demonstrates how the Christian worldview stands firm in a world dedicated to constructing its own knowledge, morality, and truth. Gene Edward Veith Jr. points out the problems with how today’s culture views humanity, God, and even reality itself. He offers hope-filled, practical ways believers can live out their faith in a secularist society as a way to recover reality, rebuild culture, and revive faith.

If Your Eye Causes You to Sin, here’s a Knife.

I read an article the other day criticizing a renewed push by some U.S. House conservatives as well as some writers to ban pornography in America. The writer took no moral stance for or against it, but defended it as a point of individual rights. But what is freedom if it is not moral freedom? What is law if not moral law?

I almost linked to this First Things article arguing for ways we could regulate and restrict it, but I feared it was misguided. And maybe I feared other things.

It’s hard to ignore the implicit cries for help seen on Twitter by survivors of sexual abuse who say a parent groomed them with dirty images or that criminals are fueled by it. But being only one person, what can you do?

One of our favorite authors, Jared Wilson, points out the shock factor in Jesus’s words in Matthew 18:8-9, “And if your eye causes you to fall away, gouge it out.”

He says, “It’s not the temptation that leads you away—it’s your ‘foot.’ It’s not the sinful vision that leads you away—it’s your ‘eye.'” And the stakes for continuing in sin are far higher than you want to admit.

Common Temptations, Demonic Influence at College

This is a timely word from Dr. Hans Madueme, Associate Professor of Theological Studies at Covenant College, delivered in chapel last November. He says some leaders are worried their college (perhaps all Christian colleges) are helping students speak Christianly while continuing to think and act in a worldly manner. The devil has been working his craft for a very long time; he knows how to leverage his influence over us.

Keep Him Distracted or Sentimental

I came to this lost letter between two tempters late this season. Justin Wainscott found it somewhere and offers it to us for the useful instruction it has. The senior tempter advises his pupil not to try to turn his charge against Christmas all together, but to weakness his reflection on any of the details.

Keep him distracted as much as possible. “Keep him overly committed to all sorts of things (yes, even good things). Make sure he goes to every party and feels obligated to go out and purchase a gift for each one. Make sure he attends concerts and dinners and charity events. If his calendar isn’t full, you’ve failed.”

Failing that, keep him sentimental. “By all means, let him sing and be merry. Hell knows we have made good use of those kinds of things just as much as we have misery and gloom.”

Failing that, he has one more suggestion, all of which make for good advice for the coming year.

Photo by Jeswin Thomas from Pexels

‘A Thousand Candles In the Gloom’

It being Christmas Eve, you probably expected a Christmas song from Sissel. And you shall not be disappointed.

But wait! There’s myrrh! (As the meme says.)

Below is my quick translation of the lyrics. The original hymn is Swedish, music and words written in 1898 by Emmy Kohler.

A thousand candles in the gloom

Shine all around the earth,

And heaven’s stars are smiling down

To hail the Savior’s birth.

In palace and in cottage low

The news goes round tonight

Of He who in a stable born

Is God and Lord of Light.

Thou shining star of Bethlehem

So bright and fair above

Remind us of the angels’ song

Of light and peace and love.

To each poor lonely heart on earth

A beam of blessing send

So they may find the way that leads

To Bethlehem again.

Christmas of Comfort and Fog

Scrooge did not recognize the fog surrounding him. J. G. Duesing writes,

When Scrooge is first greeted by the caroling of “God rest ye merry, gentlemen,” he responds such that “the singer fled in terror, leaving the keyhole to the fog.” Dickens’s fog is not dismal or dark, Chesterton says, but rather something that draws in and, in the case of Scrooge, corners. Fog “makes the world small …”

He describes how this plays to the particular comfort of Christmas and the light that has pierced the fog of the world.

Photo by Rory Björkman on Unsplash

‘In the Bleak Midwinter’

The nice thing about December is that if I can’t think of anything to blog, I can post a Christmas music video. In my case, that usually means something from Sissel.

“In the Bleak Midwinter” is in keeping with the weather, in my neighborhood. Poem by Christina Rossetti, music by Gustav Holst. Orchestration by a bunch of heretics in Salt Lake City.

Longing to Know and Be Known

Elizabeth Harwell says Wendell Berry wounded her be reminding her how often she has moved around. She feels temporary, and that’s not how she grew up.

Because when memory calls me back to my childhood, I know that land. I can feel that grass under my feet. I know its broad green blades: fat-bottomed and rising to a rounded point. In my mind, I can split the blades into two pieces and I can remember the way the hanging fibers felt on my lips. I know the yellow dandelion blooms—and not only as a whole, but also, more clearly even, in its parts. I know the feel of the dandelion’s soft petals on the tip of my nose and the mustard-yellow streaks it would leave when I rubbed it across my palm. I can see its hosts of aphids working their way up the stems in crowded lines.

In truth, we do not have homes here; Christ has gone to make a home for us somewhere else, but he has left a well-stocked table for us here to remember him and all of the church.

“Our place is coming,” she says, “our people are here.”

Photo by Valentina Locatelli on Unsplash