Friday, February 26, 2010


"Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ?
This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son."
-1 John 2:22

Yesterday, in response to a comment on my last post I checked out Calvin's commentary on 1st John 2:22 and I was very interested and impressed to see what the reformer had to say about "antichrist:"

What he had generally said of false prophets, he now applies to the state of his own time; for he points out, as by the finger, those who disturbed the Church. I readily agree with the ancients, who thought that Cerinthus and Carpocrates are here referred to. But the denial of Christ extends much wider; for it is not enough in words to confess that Jesus is the Christ, except he is acknowledged to be such as the Father offers him to us in the gospel. The two I have named gave the title of Christ to the Son of God, but imagined him to be man only. Others followed them, such as Arius, who, adorning him with the name of God, robbed him of his eternal divinity. Marcion dreamt that he was a mere phantom. Sabellius imagined that he differed nothing from the Father. All these denied the Son of God; for not one of them really acknowledged the true Christ; but, adulterating, as far as they could, the truth respecting him, they devised for themselves an idol instead of Christ. Then broke out Pelagius, who, indeed, raised no dispute respecting Christ’s essence, but allowed him to be true man and God; yet he transferred to us almost all the honor that belongs to him. It is, indeed, to reduce Christ to nothing, when his grace and power are set aside. . .

. . . We now see that Christ, is denied, whenever those things which peculiarly belong to him, are taken away from him. And as Christ is the end of the law and of the gospel, and has in himself all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, so he is the mark at which all heretics level and direct their arrows. Therefore the Apostle does not, without reason, make those the chief impostors, who fight against Christ, in whom the full truth is exhibited to us.

-John Calvin, Commentaries

Thursday, February 25, 2010

That man who takes up Christ for the world...

... John Bunyan destroys the "prosperity gospel."

In this quote from The Pilgrim's Progress, a company of men ask a question of the hero of the story, Christian. In the book there is a long set-up to the asking of this question but if I were to paraphrase it I would write, "what is wrong with following Christ in order to get physical or material blessings in this life?" Christian answers:

Then said Christian, Even a babe in religion may answer ten thousand such questions. For if it be unlawful to follow Christ for loaves, as it is in the sixth of John (John 6:26), how much more abominable is it to make of him and religion a stalking-horse to get and enjoy the world! Nor do we find any other than heathens, hypocrites, devils, and wizards, that are of this opinion.

1. Heathens: for when Hamor and Shechem had a mind to the daughter and cattle of Jacob, and saw that there was no way for them to come at them but by being circumcised, they said to their companions, If every male of us be circumcised, as they are circumcised, shall not their cattle, and their substance, and every beast of theirs be ours? Their daughters and their cattle were that which they sought to obtain, and their religion the stalking-horse they made use of to come at them. Read the whole story (Gen, 34:20-24).

2. The hypocritical Pharisees were also of this religion: long prayers were their pretence, but to get widows’ houses was their intent; and greater damnation was from God their judgment (Luke 20:46, 47).

3. Judas the devil was also of this religion: he was religious for the bag, that he might be possessed of what was put therein; but he was lost, cast away, and the very son of perdition.

4. Simon the wizard was of this religion too; for he would have had the Holy Ghost, that he might have got money therewith: and his sentence from Peter’s mouth was according (Acts 8:19-22).

5. Neither will it go out of my mind, but that that man who takes up religion for the world, will throw away religion for the world; for so surely as Judas designed the world in becoming religious, so surely did he also sell religion and his Master for the same. To answer the question, therefore, affirmatively, as I perceive you have done, and to accept of, as authentic, such answer, is heathenish, hypocritical, and devilish; and your reward will be according to your works.

Then they stood staring one upon another, but had not wherewith to answer Christian. Hopeful also approved of the soundness of Christian’s answer; so there was a great silence among them. Mr. By-ends and his company also staggered and kept behind, that Christian and Hopeful might outgo them. Then said Christian to his fellow, If these men cannot stand before the sentence of men, what will they do with the sentence of God? And if they are mute when dealt with by vessels of clay, what will they do when they shall be rebuked by the flames of a devouring fire?

-John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress

Monday, February 22, 2010

Liberals do it too

I recently attended an interesting showing of a documentary film on the Loma Linda University campus called The Last Generation which exposes a new conservatism or "fundamentalism," as the documentary makers would have it, among Seventh-day Adventist youth. The documentary was well-made and interesting but as a non-Adventist I don't really have "a dog in that fight." Even so it was interesting to be in a packed auditorium in the new Centennial Complex filled mostly with Adventists on a sabbath-afternoon. After the showing there were some strong feelings expressed during a Q and A session. Both liberals and conservatives expressed their opinions on the film. Even though I would disagree with both sides on some important theological matters, I certainly resonated more emotionally with the conservatives.

At one point a more liberal questioner posed a question to the panel which included the film-makers and some Loma Linda and outside professors. The questioner basically said something like, "is it possible to have dialogue with these fundamentalists when they might not even think you're a Christian at best or that you are a tool of the devil at worst." I was surprised by the wise answer which was given by one of the panel professors. This professor, who I think was more liberal-leaning, said something to the effect that while conservatives may say those things and that this can shut down dialogue, liberals do exactly the same thing when they question the intelligence or sanity of conservatives.

I thought this was an excellent point. I don't lift up the value of endless "dialogue" anywhere near as much as a lot of people do but I think it was interesting to point out that liberals are just as guilty of shutting down dialogue as conservatives, they just do it differently and in a way which seems more acceptable to many people.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Quake Swarm

Last Saturday I went hiking in the Loma Linda Hills just south of the city. Around one o'clock I was sitting on a hill reading, when the earth began to shake. I've always thought I would feel safer out in the open during an earthquake but even being up on a hill could be a frightening experience. The entire hill felt like Jell-O and it seemed that if the hill shook much harder the whole thing could disintegrate. It turns out that Saturday's quake was 4.1 on the Richter scale. The earthquake on Saturday would be the beginning of a week of almost daily temblors. Today was the most extreme day yet with three earthquakes in a row, each above 3.0, just before noon. Southern California is known for its earthquakes but during the last week I've felt as many as I have in the last two and a half years of med school.

They're calling this current spate of earthquakes an "earthquake swarm" and you can get a nice visual of the "swarm" on the map I copied from here below. In the map you can see the city of Loma Linda where I live and go to school and the swarm of earthquakes off to the southeast:
Yellow circles indicate earthquakes from the past week, blue circles from the past day and the red circle is an earthquake which had occurred in the preceding hour. The bigger the circle, the stronger the earthquake. The majority of these quakes are "micro-earthquakes" and can't be felt but a good number of them have been big enough to shake things up a bit.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.
-Job 42:6

Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's journey. And he called out, "Yet forty days, and Ninevah shall be overthrown!" And the people of Ninevah believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them. The word reached the king of Ninevah, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. (Jonah 3:4-6) [above image is Gustave Dore's Jonah Preaching to the Ninevites]

Monday, February 15, 2010

So that's what that was...

One of the cool things about medical school is that from time to time I'll stumble upon an explanation of some illness or physical complaint either that I've suffered or someone else I knew experienced. This happened today.

When I was a kid I was somewhat of a hypochondriac. I made my mom take me to the doctor for all kinds of insignificant complaints. It was dangerous when in elementary school I got my hands on some "home health guidebook," started reading about all the diseases and then convinced myself that maybe I was dying of some rare cancer or something like that. In our own day people will go on WebMD or some similar website and do the same thing.

But one time, I would guess I was probably about 10 years old, I had a frightening experience which was very real. I was just playing around or something, and suddenly experienced a severe, sharp pain in my chest. The pain came on with inspiration, lasted a few seconds, and then went away quickly. For some reason we owned a stethoscope which I went and grabbed and listened to my now very fast heart rate as I was panicking, being convinced that I was having a heart attack at the age of 10. I went to my mom and demanded to go to the hospital and she did take me to an urgent care clinic. I remember the doctor seeming quite unimpressed and giving me a lecture about how I can't freak out about every unexplained pain here or there. I must have been relieved though by the doctor's lack of concern as I can't remember worrying too much about childhood-onset heart disease in subsequent years.

Today as I was studying for my pediatric rotation I came across a question which basically asked, "what is the most common cause of chest pain in an adolescent?" I thought the answer was costochondritis, an inflammation of the cartilage between the ribs and sternum. But I was incorrect. The most common cause of chest pain in an adolescent is precordial catch syndrome also known as Texidor's twinge. I quickly wikipediad precordial catch and this syndrome described to a t what I experienced as a kid - even the panic about fear of having a heart attack. The cause is unknown although it has been suggested that it originates in the parietal pleura of the lungs. As I expected, the syndrome is completely benign. I'm always happy to make sense of some unexplained childhood incident as happened today.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Golden Shore

One of my favorite genres of literature is the biography and my favorite biographies are those of missionaries. I recently finished one that was, for the most part, hard to put down and a very enjoyable read. It was a biography of the first Protestant missionary to be sent from the North American continent. A story of a man who, through much suffering, was the first to bring the gospel to a land utterly foreign to anything he had known before. He had to learn the language of this people from a man who didn't speak English, he was imprisoned in the worst conditions imaginable, had one wife die, remarried and had his second wife also die, and also lost children to sickness in the mission field.

If you haven't guessed it yet the man is Adoniram Judson, a Congregationalist descended from Puritans, who sailed in 1812 from Salem, Massachusetts to India and then on to Burma, now Myanmar, where he would accomplish much, by God's grace, for the propagation of the gospel. I had first heard of Judson from a CD of John Piper preaching about the lives of missionaries that a friend gave to me my first year of med school. When I got sick with a bad cold in January, Judson came back into my life when another friend loaned me the biography, To the Golden Shore by Courtney Anderson. After reading it I jokingly accused my friend, who is a Credo-Baptist, of placing Baptist propaganda in my hands as Judson converted to the Baptist faith and was re-baptized after he struggled with what was the true teaching of Scripture on his ship-ride to India. I was not converted to the Baptist understanding by this book but it was certainly a blessing to read and to be encouraged by Judson's steadfastness through the intense struggles he underwent in Burma.

One quote which stood out to me impressed me because it stands in such sharp contrast to comfortable American Christianity and speaks a strong word against the so-called "prosperity gospel." In this quote Judson reflects on the difficult position of the Burmese converts. Judson writes: "But it is really affecting to see a poor native when he first feels the pinch of truth. On one side he sees hell; on the other side, ridicule, reproach, confiscation of goods, imprisonment, and death."

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Preaching the Cost

Over a year ago a classmate and I met some non-Christian kids from San Bernardino in a tutoring program through our medical school. Since that time we've been doing weekly Bible studies with them with the hope that God will use us to convey His gospel, "the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes." I've added a "Ministry" label where you can find all of the posts dealing with our ministry to these kids.

On Sunday we met again with the kids to whom one of my classmates and I are attempting to be faithful in preaching the gospel. This week my fellow worker in this ministry felt that we should talk about "counting the cost," from Jesus' admonition in Luke chapter 14. In this passage Jesus admonishes the crowds:
Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.' Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
As we began to plan for our Bible study on Saturday night we realized that this is actually a difficult topic to teach on. The reason why it seemed difficult is because we are both determined not to fall into preaching some kind of moralism by which these kids might think they could please God or be justified. Unfortunately they could probably walk to any number of nearby mainline or "evangelical" churches and get that kind of moralism without the gospel. But we aspire to preach the gospel and as we've done our Bible studies we've talked a lot about sin and the wages of sin, death and hell. We've also talked about God's just wrath against sinners and how, out of His unfathomable love for sinners, Christ bore that wrath on the cross. But we had not talked specifically about repentance.

So I want to write about how we went about our talk. I don't assume that we did everything right but it is what we came to after looking at other parts of Scripture, and after much thought and prayer. Before we opened the Bible we just asked the kids the question, "Do you think a person's life looks the same both before and after they began following Christ?" We just told them to think about this and went on to have lunch. After lunch we played some games and I read the kids two short parables from Matthew chapter 13:44-46:
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
After this we walked to a different location in the park we were in and got deeper into discussion we had planned. When we asked again whether or not the kids thought a person's life would change when they began following Christ they said "yes." We asked why and they weren't sure. I asked if they thought the change occurred because they needed to act better so they could get into heaven. I was very thankful that they said "no." We had just talked the Sunday before about the meaning of the word debt and how our debt had been canceled, studying Colossians 2:13-14, "And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross." So we emphasized again that our debt - our deserving of hell because of sin - had been fully paid by Christ. Nothing could ever be added to the payment of this debt by anything we could do.

After this we talked about some examples of the changed lives of those who followed Christ. I reminded the kids of my own testimony which I had told them over a year ago when we first began meeting. We had been focusing on the stoning of Stephen and the conversion of Saul for much of the fall so we talked about how Saul had changed with his conversion, how he had gone from cheering on the martyrdom of Christians to sailing around the Roman Empire preaching the gospel and planting churches.

By this time the kids were starting to get antsy so we read the Scripture from Luke about counting the cost and tried to make sure they gained some understanding of what had just been read. Having just read, "any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple," we talked about what it meant to "renounce all." I pointed out that neither me nor my classmate, who are both followers of Christ, are destitute monks who go about begging for food. But what we did teach was that when someone becomes a disciple of Christ everything that the new disciple possesses belongs to God. All of a disciple's money, time and energy belong to God. And we taught that God is not going to leave all of those things the same as they were prior to conversion. We tried to stay away from specifics as the point of our teaching today was not so much to convict of sin but to say that there is a "cost" to becoming a disciple and that that cost is seen in the changed life of a believer.

Our last point was to bring the talk back to the parables we had read earlier. We told the kids that it was our hope that they would come to see that Christ is desirable above all else and we told them that only God could affect this change in their hearts. We told them that we desired for them to see Christ as the pearl of great price and the treasure in the field and that we were convinced of this truth. We made the point that while the life of a new disciple is a changed life and sometimes this repentance is painful, that the reason for this repentance is because Christ is known to be so much more desirable than anything we might leave behind. We made it clear that Christians are not perfect and that we both often struggle with trusting God with everything in our lives. We closed out our Bible study as always with prayer. It's always difficult to know how much, if any, effect our talk had on these kids but knowing that their salvation is in God's sovereign hands takes a burden off of us as we know that it's not up to us to save them. Lord willing, we will continue to meet these kids, seeking to be faithful preachers of the gospel. From time to time there may be more updates on this ministry.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Reformed Revivalism

Often men have acted as though one has to choose between reformation and revival. Some call for reformation, others for revival, and they tend to look at each other with suspicion. But reformation and revival do not stand in contrast to one another; in fact, both words are related to the concept of restoration. Reformation speaks of a restoration to pure doctrine, revival of a restoration in the Christian's life. Reformation speaks of a return to the teachings of Scripture, revival of a life brought into proper relationship to the Holy Spirit. The great moments in church history have come when these two restorations have occurred simultaneously. There cannot be true revival unless there has been reformation, and reformation is incomplete without revival. May we be those who know the reality of both reformation and revival, so that this poor dark world in which we live may have an exhibition of a portion of the church returned to both pure doctrine and a Spirit-filled life.

-Francis Schaeffer from No Little People. (H/T: Between Two Worlds)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Even as it happened in the New Testament

I always feel bad for Christians who don't believe that God works in all of the same mighty ways today as He did when the New Testament was being written. I love my cessationist brothers and I don't think of them as lesser Christians but I do think that they miss out on some of the blessings that belong to them as children of God. A while back I was on a blog frequented by many ex- and current Laestadian Christians and I saw one of the posters there arguing that God doesn't heal miraculously any more and also that Lutherans, specifically Laestadians, don't believe in divine healing. As I read Memoirs of Early Christianity in Northern Lapland I was happy to find an anecdote which contradicts this present Laestadian's views on God's provision for miraculous healing today. The testimony is that of Pietari Hankivaara, born in Kittila, Finland in 1834, a preacher who made journeys as far as St. Petersburg in Russia to preach the gospel. In 1871 Hankivaara went to preach in a village where there was an epidemic of typhoid fever. His testimony follows:
Along the way I began to feel illness, and upon arrival I was seriously ill, the mind was confused and the first night I was in a delirium of fever. The following day a very well known brother in the faith, Mikon-Juhani by name, arrived by my bedside, who having heard of my sickness was very unhappy.

At that time I was momentarily out of my delirium, and he asked me if I believed that even now it is possible to heal out of sickness through the power of faith even as it happened in the beginning of the New Testament. I replied: "Indeed, I believe that God is just as powerful now as in the time of Jesus." I said and assured him that with all my heart I believe so. Then he lowered himself down on his knees by my bedside, placed his hand over me, and prayed for my recovery. Instantly the pain and sickness from my body disappeared, and at the same time I arose from my bed, put my clothes on and went into the living room of the house, where services of devotion were in progress. Many people had gathered there, and they were amazed and delighted at my unexpected recovery. The great miracle of God was apparent to all, and thanks were expressed to the manifestly good God for His evidence of grace in this occurrence.

-Pietari Hankivaara (1834-1926)