Sunday, September 27, 2009

San Gorgonio

Since moving to southern California for medical school I've had one goal that I had never been quite able to put on the back-burner. I've had a nagging voice in the back of my mind reminding me for years now that that highest peak off to the east - had not yet been conquered. Every time I looked at the massive grey-topped dome of Mt. San Gorgonio I was reminded that there was an 11,500 foot peak, a non-technical climb, yet a climb to the top of southern California - the highest peak south of those around Mt. Whitney in the Sierra Nevada, that I had not climbed. San Gorgonio is an unusual mountain in that this bulk of earth is separated for the most part by lower elevations from mountains of comparable size making it what Wikipedia calls, "one of the most topographically prominent peaks in the United States."

I started the climb with a classmate at Vivian Creek at an elevation of about 7000 ft. From there it was an eight mile hike to the summit with an elevation gain of 4,500 ft. Southern California is unfortunately not known for its clear skies but we still got to take in some awesome views during the climb. The climb was not difficult but the sixteen miles round-trip was a good workout. Here are a few pictures:

Looking West at an altitude of around 9000 ft. I never thought Southern California could look this green.

Looking south from at about 11,000 ft.

At the summit - 11,500 ft. It's hard to see but Big Bear Lake is in the background.

This small marker is in a boulder at the summit.

Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light,
Nor wanting, nor wasting, Thou rulest in might;
Thy justice, like mountains, high soaring above
Thy clouds, which are fountains of goodness and love.

-Walter C. Smith

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Shall We Draw Daggers?

From the biography of Anglican Calvinist preacher Charles Simeon, a conversation with John Wesley:

Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have been sometimes called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission I will ask you a few questions. Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God, if God had not first put it into your heart?

Yes, I do indeed.

And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything you can do; and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?

Yes, solely through Christ.

But, Sir, supposing you were at first saved by Christ, are you not somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?

No, I must be saved by Christ from first to last.

Allowing, then, that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other to keep yourself by your own power?


What then, are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother’s arms?

Yes, altogether.

And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you unto His heavenly kingdom?

Yes, I have no hope but in Him.

Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this is my election my justification by faith, my final perseverance: it is in substance all that I hold, and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention between us, we will cordially unite in those things where in we agree.

H/T: John Piper

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!

Below is a performance of the hymn, "It is well with my soul," along with some details from the life of the hymn's author, Horatio Spafford. We sang this hymn in church last Sunday and it's one of my favorites with a powerful story behind it so I thought I'd post it. Unfortunately this rendition doesn't have my favorite verse so I included it below.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, o my soul!
-Horatio Spafford

Sunday, September 20, 2009

I Believe; Help My Unbelief!

On Friday I finally finished a book that I started reading last year. Unfortunately medical school is not the most conducive environment to pleasure reading. The book I finished is John Piper's Desiring God. I am thankful for a book not only rich in solid theology but also highly inspirational. As I finished reading through Piper's appendices I was struck by Piper's Appendix 2 which is actually a short apologetic sketch about the reality of Christ and the trustworthiness of Scripture. As with any apologetic argument the honest man must admit that Piper's is not water-tight. But he makes some good points and they are some of the logical reasons for my hope that is in Jesus Christ, His atoning death and His resurrection. In building his argument for the authority of Scripture, Piper starts with Christ:
Did some unknown creative genius take an ordinary man, Jesus, and invent His deeds of power and His words of love and authority and authenticity, then present this invented Jesus to a church with such deceptive power that many people were willing from the outset to die for this fictional Christ? Further, must we believe that all the Gospel writers swallowed the invention - and in the space of several decades while many who knew the real Jesus were still living? Is that a more reasonable or well-founded guess than the plain assertion that a real man, Jesus Christ, did in fact say and do the sorts of things the biblical witnesses said He did?

You must decide for yourself. To my mind, an unknown inventor of this Jesus is more incredible than the possibility of Jesus' reality. So for me the question becomes: "How do we account for a man who leaves a legacy like this?"

I cannot morally reckon Him among the poor deluded souls who suffer from pathological delusions of grandeur. Nor can I reckon Him among the great con men of history, a deceiver who planned and orchestrated a worldwide movement of mission on the basis of a hoax. Instead, I am constrained to acknowledge His truth. Both my mind and my heart find themselves drawn to yield allegiance to this man. He has won my confidence.
Piper is on to something that I have often thought of in times of doubt. This picture of the man Jesus presented in the Gospels truly captivates me. I have never read or heard of any man like Him. I say this not only because of His miracles but because of his words both of holiness and zeal for the Lord but also of love and compassion for the sinner. In times when I've struggled with doubt I've thought of the words of Peter as many left Christ because of a hard teaching. After Christ asked the Twelve whether they also would leave Him, Peter answered, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life..." And I resonate with Peter. I can't explain exactly what I mean but somehow Christ's words are different than any other words I've ever read. I also sense "eternal life" in His words that I can sense nowhere else. It is because I've met this incomparable man Jesus in the Scripture and because of what He says about the Scriptures that I believe the Scriptures themselves are trustworthy. Piper also explores Jesus' view of the Old Testament in this appendix. Piper lays out a number of points and here are a few of them:
- In His controversy with the Pharisees concerning their interpretation of the Old Testament, He contrasted the tradition of the elders and the commandment of God found in Scripture. "You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!" (Mark 7:9).
- When He answered the Pharisees concerning the problem of divorce, He referred to Genesis 2:24 as something "said" by God, though these are words of the biblical narrator and not a direct quote of God: "He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father his mother'" (Matt. 19:4-5).
- He makes an explicit statement concerning infallibility in John 10:35: "Scripture cannot be broken."
- Repeatedly Jesus treats the Old Testament as an authority that must be fulfilled. "Do not think that I have come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished" (Matthew 5:17-18; cf. Matthew 26:54, 56; Luke 16:17).
- Jesus Himself used the Old Testament as authoritative weapon against the temptations of Satan: "But he answered, 'It is written...'" (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10).

The diversity of this witness and its spread over all the Gospel material show that the Lord Jesus regarded the Old Testament as a trustworthy, authoritative, unerring guide in our quest for enduring happiness. Therefore, we who submit to the authority of Christ will also want to submit to the authority of the book He esteemed so highly.
Piper goes onto argue for the New Testament to be viewed as Scripture in the same way that Jesus viewed the Old Testament as Scripture. As I said before, this is not some water-tight argument of perfect philosophical logic but I think that these arguments can't be dismissed without consideration either. To be honest I have mixed feelings about apologetics. I spent many years trying to convince myself of the truth of the Gospel by reading every apologetic I could get my hands on. I read most of Lewis among others. These apologists gave me hope but I was still assailed by doubt for many years. Then one afternoon in a prayer chapel in Grice Hall at Asbury Theological Seminary God changed my heart. He took away my striving for truth and my doubt and He put Truth in my heart. He convinced me that Jesus had died for my sins and had risen from the dead. My life has been far from perfect since then but something happened that day in the Spring of 2007 that has remained in effect. Ultimately it was only God who could make me believe, however desperately I had tried to make myself believe up to that point. So to the one who knows he is a sinner in need of salvation but who doubts and desires to believe I have one word of advice: pray as did the father of a little boy who was delivered from a demon. When Jesus said that all things were possible for the one who believes, the father of the demon possessed child replied, "I believe; help my unbelief!" Beg, beseech, plead with God to let you truly believe that Christ is who He says He is and that He died for your sins, beseech God to give you the gift of true faith. Jesus said, "which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!" (Matt. 7:9-11)

Thursday, September 17, 2009


I don't get road rage. Usually when I'm in the car with someone who does I get this feeling of superiority thinking that I'm above such pointless anger. I rarely even get angry. But on the blogosphere, in posts and in comments, I've noticed that I can be very rude and really come off as a jerk. Since I started blogging back in 2006 this phenomenon has often vexed me. I'll write a post or leave a comment and a few minutes or hours later I find myself wondering why I would write such a thing in such a way. It's not that I begin to doubt whether the thought I was expressing was true, it's just that I realize that I expressed it in the most obnoxious way possible or perhaps that I should have just not said anything at all. It's times when I've come to such realizations that I've been strongly tempted just to delete this blog. But it hasn't happened yet and probably won't in the near future. I had nothing to blog about so I figured I'd blog about this. If I've been a jerk to you on the blogosphere I'm sorry and I promise I'm nicer in person.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Believe Better Things of Others

I started reading through The Imitation of Christ again recently and the other night I happened upon the chapter entitled, "Avoiding Vain Hope and Self-Conceit," which fit very well with my last post on Total Depravity and boastfulness. I present it here for your edification:

A fool is he who puts his trust in men or created things. Do not be ashamed to serve others for the love of Jesus Christ and to be reckoned as a poor man in this world.

Do not rely on yourself, but place your trust in God. Do whatever lies in your power and God will assist your good intentions. Trust neither in your own knowledge nor in the cleverness of any human being; rather, trust in God's grace, for it is He who supports the humble and humbles the overconfident.

Glory neither in wealth, if you have any, nor in friends, of they are powerful, but boast in God, the giver of all good things, who desires, above all, to bestow Himself on you.

Do not boast about your good looks nor your body's strength, which a slight illness can mar and disfigure. Do not take pride in your skills and talents lest you offend God, to whom you owe these very gifts and endowments.

Do not esteem yourself as someone better than others lest, perhaps, you be accounted for worse in the eyes of God, who knows what is in men's hearts. Take no pride in your good accomplishments for God judges differently than men and it often happens that what is pleasing to men is actually displeasing to God.

If you see anything good in yourself, believe still better things of others and you will, then, preserve humility. It will do you no harm if you account yourself as worst of all; but it will very much harm you to think that you are better than everyone else. Peace dwells in a humble heart, while in the heart of a proud man there is envy and resentment.

-Thomas à Kempis (1380-1471) from The Imitation of Christ

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Lest Any Man Should Boast

"Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord."
-1st Corinthians 1:31

On Friday nights I've been going with some classmates to the young adult's group of a nearby church. This is the church that nearly all of my close friends here at Loma Linda attend and it's pastored by a man who graduated from John MacArthur's Master's Seminary. Many things have impressed me about this church, not least being the young adult group and the level of discourse there. During the last few meetings the group has been watching a series on DVD by R.C. Sproul called, "What is Reformed Theology?" In these videos Sproul gives a concise and clear lecture on a topic in Reformed theology. I have been so impressed to see a group of people, mostly in their 20's, attentively watch videos on theology and then have intelligent discussions afterward.

Right now the group is in a part of the series where Sproul is going through the five points of Calvinism and on Friday the lecture was on the doctrine of Total Depravity, the "T" of TULIP. During the discussion afterwards a question concerning the applicability of the doctrine of Total Depravity came up and I was very impressed by what one of my colleagues in med school had to say. My classmate related the doctrine to our ability to love people who don't know Christ. He confessed that at times he had been tempted to see himself as better in some way than those who don't know Christ. He had been tempted to look down on those around him which would imply that he possessed some inherent quality lacking in the non-Christian of which he could be proud. My classmate stated that believing in Total Depravity undoes our ability to have such a pride.

I think my classmate was correct in his assessment. If our view of the fall leaves any room for some uncorrupted island of goodness affecting the will then it seems impossible that we would not be led to evil self-reliance and pride. It seems inevitable that we would be led into boasting about some unseen inner good within us which led us to choose Christ while those around us who weren't "as good" in some way didn't choose Christ. If there is some goodness in me which played a role in my beginning to see Christ as desirable and His cross as necessary for salvation then it is only natural that I would look down on the unbelievers around me who maybe weren't as smart or holy.

But the Apostle Paul makes it clear that this is not the nature of the gospel. He says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast(Ephesians 2:8-9)." We contribute nothing to our salvation and therefore we are no more worthy of being boasted about than the one who does not know Christ. Our only boast about any good thing we possess can only be a boast about the source of any good thing we possess - Jesus Christ.

I think we all have the desire to be prideful in comparing ourselves to others - I know that I do. But this doctrine of Total Depravity completely undoes any basis for human pride. So ultimately I think this doctrine does help us to "love our neighbor," as our Lord commanded. We can't view those around us as defective or deficient in some way that we are not. We can only view them no differently from ourselves as, "thirsty whelps of grace," in the words of a Laplander who came to know Christ during Laestadius' revival.

Nothing in my hands I bring,
simply to thy cross I cling;
naked come to thee for dress;
helpless, look to thee for grace;
foul, I to the fountain fly;
wash me, Savior, or I die.
-Augustus Toplady

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Whole Eternities in the Excellencies of Christ

The goodness, friendliness, and loveliness, which are in Jesus, are inexhaustible riches, of which there is no end. If one were to portray the world, with all its glories, in the best manner possible, and even invent something to add to it, yet the discourse would not be a very long one; for there is really not much to be found in the world. He that has looked over the whole, must say, there is nothing to be found in it. But it us very different with our Jesus Immanuel. Ah, were we to speak of his goodness and blessedness, of his love, and the blessings which we may have in him, from one day to another, nay, through whole eternities, we should never arrive at the end of it; and when we had spoken of them a thousand years, we should say, we had not even touched upon them.
-Gerhard Tersteegen (1697-1769), from Spiritual Crumbs from the Master's Table

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Mighty Fortress

A friend recently recommended the Steve Green rendition of "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," that you can listen to in the post below. This is one of my favorite hymns for a number of reasons, I love the music and the words and I also love the history of it. The most popular English version is the Frederick H. Hedge translation of 1853. After I listened to Hedge's translation sung by Steve Green I decided to listen to the German version and right away I noticed some differences. I decided to try to do a literal translation of Luther's German version into English without concern for making it sound poetic. I minored in German in college but my vocabulary is somewhat rusty so I will admit to using google's translation tool here and there.

I found the result to be interesting. In the beginning of the second stanza in Hedge's English we have one of my favorite lines, "Did we in our own strength confide, Our striving would be losing." This line conveys the great truth which was once again revealed as central to the gospel during the Reformation, that no good work from us is efficacious in gaining for ourselves salvation. But I think this truth is even more blatantly stated in Luther's original which says, "Mit unsrer Macht ist nichts getan, Wir sind gar bald verloren," which I translated as, "With our power nothing is done, We are soon completely defeated." Also in the second stanza I liked a line that we miss in the English version which says, "Und ist kein andrer Gott," which literally is translated, "And is no other God." And the last line of the second stanza has a more specific military connotation than in Hedge's English version. In the German this line is, "Das Feld muss er behalten," which I translated as, "The field He must hold," while in the popular English we have "and he must win the battle."

The fourth stanza was also interesting to translate and I think Luther's original better conveys his situation during the Reformation when his brothers were being burned at the stake for standing for the pure gospel freed of the innovations of Rome. In Hedge's English we have, "Let goods and kindred go, This mortal life also, The body they may kill: God's truth abideth still, His Kingdom is forever." In Luther's original we find,

"Nehmen sie den Leib,
Gut, Ehr’, Kind und Weib:
Lass fahren dahin,
Sie haben’s kein’n Gewinn,
Das Reich muss uns doch bleiben."

Which I translated as "They take the body, Property, honors, child and wife: Let them go away, they have no profit, the Kingdom remains ours."

I think Hedge did a masterful job at translating this hymn. For the most part he stayed very close to Luther's original meanings and succeeded in writing a hymn that is musically and poetically pleasing. Below you'll find Luther's original german and my attempt at a translation along with Hedge's translation. If anyone with any skill in German and English reads this I'll appreciate corrections to my attempt in the comments.

Ein Feste Burg (Luther’s original):

Ein’ feste Burg ist unser Gott,
Ein gute Wehr und Waffen;
Er hilft uns frei aus aller Not,
Die uns jetzt hat betroffen.
Der alt’ böse Feind,
Mit Ernst er’s jetzt meint,
Gross’ Macht und viel List
Sein’ grausam’ Ruestung ist,
Auf Erd’ ist nicht seingleichen.

Mit unsrer Macht is nichts getan,
Wir sind gar bald verloren;
Es steit’t für uns der rechte Mann,
Den Gott hat selbst erkoren.
Fragst du, wer der ist?
Er heisst Jesu Christ,
Der Herr Zebaoth,
Und ist kein andrer Gott,
Das Feld muss er behalten.

Und wenn die Welt voll Teufel wär’
Und wollt’ uns gar verschlingen,
So fürchten wir uns nicht so sehr,
Es soll uns doch gelingen.
Der Fürst dieser Welt,
Wie sau’r er sich stellt,
Tut er uns doch nicht,
Das macht, er ist gericht’t,
Ein Wörtlein kann ihn fällen.

Das Wort sie sollen lassen stahn
Und kein’n Dank dazu haben;
Er ist bei uns wohl auf dem Plan
Mit seinem Geist und Gaben.
Nehmen sie den Leib,
Gut, Ehr’, Kind und Weib:
Lass fahren dahin,
Sie haben’s kein’n Gewinn,
Das Reich muss uns doch bleiben.

My Translation:

A Mighty Fortress is our God,

A great shield and weapon;

He freely helps us in every adversity,

That now concerns us.

The old evil enemy,

Now means serious business,

Great power and much cunning,

Are his cruel armor,

On earth there is none like him.

With our power is nothing done,

We are soon completely defeated;

But the right man fights for us,

Whom God himself predestined.

Do you ask who he is?

His name is Jesus Christ,

The Lord Sabaoth,

There is no other God,

And He must keep the field.

And though the world is full of devils,

Who want to completely devour us;

But we don’t fear too much,

It should work out for us alright.

The prince of this world,

As angry as he is,

Does nothing to us,

Because he is judged,

One little word can fell him.

That Word they shall let stand,

And no thanks to them;

He is with us in the plan,

With his Spirit and gifts;

They take the body,

Property, honors, child and wife;

Let them go away,

They have no profit,

The Kingdom remains ours.

A Mighty Fortress (Hedge’s translation):

A mighty fortress is our God, A bulwark never failing;
Our shelter He, amid the flood Of mortal ills prevailing.
For still our ancient foe Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and pow'r are great, And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Did we in our own strength confide, Our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, The Man of God's own choosing.
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
Lord Sabaoth is His name, From age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.

And tho' this world, with devils filled, Should threaten to undo us;
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim -- We tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, For lo! his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly pow'rs -- No thanks to them -- abideth:
The Spirit and the gifts are ours Thro' Him who with us sideth.
Let goods and kindred go, This mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God's truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Ein Feste Burg

Here is a great rendition of Luther's "A Mighty Fortress is Our God."

Tuesday, September 1, 2009