Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas: Condescension of Infinite Majesty!

O Nativity of spotless sanctity! O birth honorable for the world, birth pleasing and welcome to men, because of the magnificence of the benefit it bestows; birth incomprehensible to the angels, by reason of the depth and sacredness of the mystery! In all its circumstances it is wonderful because of its singular excellence and novelty. Its precedent has not been known, nor has its like ever followed. Birth alone without sorrow, alone without shame, free from corruption, not unlocking, but consecrating the temple of the Virgins womb! Nativity above nature, yet for the sake of nature! Surpassing it by the excellence of the miracle, repairing it by the virtue of the mystery! Who shall declare this generation? The angel announces it. Almighty Power overshadows it. The Spirit of the Most High comes upon it. The Virgin believes. By faith she conceives. The Virgin brings forth. The Virgin remains a virgin. Who is not filled with astonishment? The Son of the Most High is born. The Son, begotten of God before all ages, is Incarnate! The Word is become an Infant! Who can sufficiently admire?  
And it is not a needless Nativity, a superfluous condescension of Infinite Majesty.  
Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is born in Bethlehem of Judah.  
Awake, you who lie in the dust awake and give praise. Behold, the Lord cometh with salvation. He comes with salvation, He comes with unction, He comes with glory. Jesus cannot come without salvation, Christ cannot come without unction, nor the Son of God without glory. For He Himself is salvation, He is unction, He is glory. 
-St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), On the Vigil of our Lord’s Nativity

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Five Years

My blog reaches a milestone today. I posted my first blog post five years ago, a quote from Thomas à Kempis from The Imitation of Christ. While there have been a great many changes in my life over the past five years, including many changes in my theological opinions, I still assent whole-heartedly to the words written by this German monk who was born in 1380.  If I were to start a new blog today and desired a good quote to begin things I would make the same choice I did five years ago and quote Thomas à Kempis' exhortation to love Jesus "above all else."

Blessed is he who understands what it is to love Jesus and despise himself for Jesus' sake. Jesus wants to be your only love and to be loved above all else; therefore, you must abandon all other beloveds for your one Beloved. The love of a creature is fickle and deceitful, while the love of Jesus is faithful and enduring. He who clings to a creature will fall when that creature fades away, but he who embraces Jesus shall stand firm forever.
Love Jesus and keep Him as your friend. When all others forsake you He will not leave you nor will He allow you to perish on the last day. Whether you like it or not the day will come when you find yourself separated from everyone and from everything.
Hold fast to Jesus both in life and in death and commit yourself to His steadfast love, for He alone can help you when all others fail. Your Beloved is such that he admits no rival; He wants your heart all to Himself and desires to reign there as a king on his own throne.
If you could free yourself from all creatures Jesus would gladly dwell within you. If you have placed your trust in men rather than in Jesus you will find that it was almost all wasted. Do not trust nor lean on a reed that is shaken in the wind. All flesh is grass, and all its glory shall fade like the flower in the field. 
If you look upon men's outward appearance you will soon be deceived, and if you seek consolation and profit from them most often you will end up being the loser. If you seek Jesus in everything you will certainly find Him, and if you seek yourself you will surely find yourself, but to your own disaster. You do yourself greater harm by not seeking Jesus than if the whole world and all your enemies were against you. 
-Thomas à Kempis

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Treasure at Powell's

Growing up near to Portland, Oregon, there has always been one place downtown where I could spend inordinate amounts of time, Powell's Bookstore. On Wednesday I headed down with my girlfriend to enjoy my last night at home before a two-month stretch of very busy rotations which start tomorrow. When I go to Powell's I often find something that I consider to be somewhat of a treasure, usually for a surprisingly low price.

I was not disappointed Wednesday as I picked up a book that had been on my list of things to acquire for a long time. One of my favorite subjects is church history and being of mostly Welsh, Scottish and English descent, the Venerable Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, written around AD 731, is a book I've long wanted to read. I imagine that in reading it, I will be reading a history of how my own distant ancestors were first introduced to the saving power of the gospel of Jesus Christ so many centuries ago by missionaries coming from Europe and how my church, the Church of England, was born.

The copy I found was printed in 1903 in London and is very good shape. The price I paid was far lower than I would have imagined. If I ever finish residency maybe I'll be able to read it but for now it will be a very important addition to the church history shelf in my bookcase.

A lithograph of The Monastery of Jarrow on the Tyne "where Bede lived and died"

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Paradox Must Stand

Questions about soteriology, the particulars of the salvation of sinners, are ones which have occasionally frustrated me for many years. I once was a vocal Arminian, ready to try to tear to shreds in a debate any Calvinist who crossed my path. I spent two years at a seminary with some of the best Arminian minds in the world. I sat under the teaching of Jerry Walls who has debated with Calvinists at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and done a decent job of it, although I seriously doubt he convinced any Calvinists to change their position.

From the beginning though, even when I would defend Arminianism with all the force I could muster, I had my doubts about the position. One thing that bothered me the most at Asbury was that I noticed Arminians would use much more philosophy and reason in defending their position while the Calvinists would tend to focus much more on the plain teaching of Scripture. My doubts about Arminianism continued to grow as the "emerging church" movement took off and I saw so many Arminians enamored with men who would later be shown to be false teachers, either by denying basic Christian doctrines or by calling "blessed" what the Bible calls sin.

When I started medical school at Loma Linda I was surrounded by Seventh-day Adventists, almost 100% of whom have an Arminian view of salvation. But those who would become my close friends were nearly all non-SDA Calvinists who tended to be very confident in their theological positions. I came to Loma Linda disheartened with much of what I saw going on in Arminianism and was forced to truly consider the Calvinist position in the conversations and debates which occurred on a regular basis during my years there.

One thing that I realized early on was that I was a monergist and had always been one. I knew that Scripture taught monergism and when I looked subjectively at my own salvation I knew that there could be nothing but the monergistic grace of God at work in saving me. It's strange that I had not realized this before but I now understood the vague sense of unease I had always had with the Arminianism I once thought I embraced. And while many, perhaps the majority, of Arminians will say that they are monergists, when the mechanics of their system is taken into account I can't help but think it looks pretty synergistic to me.

But while monergism was something I could not deny and while I came to the conclusion that a denial of monergism is a very dangerous theological position to hold, I could not go the rest of the way with my Calvinistic brothers. While they generally seemed to be much more humble in their relation to the Word of God compared to many Arminians I had known, it still seemed that the system of Calvinism didn't fit well in places with what is revealed in Scripture, especially in terms of the scope of Christ's atoning work and God's will for the salvation of all sinners. If you've read this far you probably don't need to be reminded of the many verses which would indicate that Christ did indeed die for the sins of the whole world and that God does indeed desire that all should reach repentance and not perish (2 Peter 3:9). I know that Calvinists have their verses too which would seem to refute the Arminian system of thought.

I write all of that lengthy preamble to give some sense of why I felt so blessed by two sermons I recently heard preached on consecutive Sundays. On the first of those two Sundays the text was Isaiah 64:1-9. Rarely have I heard the holiness of God preached in a clearer or more forceful way. It is here in Isaiah that we see that the best "righteousness" we could ever attempt to offer to God is "as filthy rags." It is the frequent denial or underestimation of the infinite magnitude of God's holiness which allows some to think that they have something to contribute for their salvation, that they have some righteousness of their own in which they can stand before God. But this idea that we contribute something to our own salvation is also refuted here by the prophet when he says in v. 7, "there is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you..." Perhaps one could argue that this very clear proclamation of monergism applied only to some specific group of people and not to humanity as a whole. But when this verse is read in the context of the teachings of Paul and of Christ, "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him (John 6:44)," then I think one can do nothing but accept that truly no one rouses himself to "take hold of God." No boasting is allowed because the glory of salvation, from beginning to end, goes to God and His amazing grace to helpless sinners who could do nothing to save themselves (Romans 3:27).

A week after the holiness of God, the hopeless state of sinners and the saving grace of God in Christ, by His shed blood, toward those hopeless sinners, was so emphatically proclaimed, the text which was preached was 2 Peter chapter 3. Here the mercy of God was proclaimed in His "slowness" and patience in allowing sinners time for repentance. 2 Peter 3:9 reads, "The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." Here the preacher acknowledged the monergism which he had preached the week prior but I was so thankful that he did not then begin advocating some system of theology to make sense of the paradoxical nature of these claims of Scripture, that salvation is of God alone without admixture of some work of man and that God desires that none should perish. Yet Scripture is also clear that not all will be saved. It cannot be denied that hell is a real place which will be inhabited by many for all of eternity. Instead of assuming some "secret will of God," where He in reality only desires the salvation of some, or by giving man glory in salvation by making a "decision" into the decisive saving act, the Pastor simply stated, "the paradox must stand." I was so thankful for the freedom given in this statement, the freedom to simply believe the plain teaching of Scripture without assenting to some system of thought which may make perfect logical sense but which seems to deny some important aspect of who God is or who we are as helpless sinners.

Stating that "the paradox must stand," is taking a position of humility. It feels good to think we have things figured out. It's very satisfying to have five or seven points which fit together with perfect logic in explaining the relationship of God to man. It's also satisfying to many to deny the gravity of the fall and the depravity of man and imagine that we are capable of cooperation with God in our salvation instead of simply acknowledging that we are dead in our sins, can offer nothing toward the gaining of salvation and that all of our righteousness is in Christ, in His shed blood. Being humble before the Word of God and allowing paradoxes to stand has been one of the hardest lessons for me to learn as a Christian. I'm thankful to sit under the preaching of one who strives not to go beyond what is revealed in the Bible and I hope that God will allow me to do likewise when I meditate on Him and His ways.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Danger of Prosperity

“I fear, wherever riches have increased, (exceeding few are the exceptions,) the essence of religion, the mind that was in Christ, has decreased in the same proportion. Therefore do I not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any revival of true religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality; and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches.”
-John Wesley 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Ambrose (and Luther) for Advent

Savior of the nations, come;

Virgin’s Son, here make Thy home!

Marvel now, O heaven and earth,

That the Lord chose such a birth.

Not by human flesh and blood;

By the Spirit of our God

Was the Word of God made flesh,

Woman’s offspring, pure and fresh.

Wondrous birth! O wondrous Child

Of the virgin undefiled!

Though by all the world disowned,

Still to be in heaven enthroned.

From the Father forth He came

And returneth to the same,

Captive leading death and hell

High the song of triumph swell!

Thou, the Father’s only Son,

Hast over sin the victory won.

Boundless shall Thy kingdom be;

When shall we its glories see?

Brightly doth Thy manger shine,

Glorious is its light divine.

Let not sin o’ercloud this light;

Ever be our faith thus bright.

Praise to God the Father sing,

Praise to God the Son, our King,

Praise to God the Spirit be

Ever and eternally.

-St. Ambrose of Milan (337-397), paraphrased by Martin Luther

Friday, November 18, 2011

Blessed by Affliction

Affliction is one of God’s medicines. By it He often teaches lessons which would be learned in no other way. By it He often draws souls away from sin and the world, which would otherwise have perished everlastingly. Health is a great blessing, but sanctified disease is a greater. Prosperity and worldly comfort, are what all naturally desire; but losses and crosses are far better for us, if they lead us to Christ. Thousands at the last day will testify with David, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted.” (Psalm. 119:71).
- J.C. Ryle from his Expository Thoughts on the Gospels: John, Volume 1 (H/T: J.C. Ryle Quotes)

Friday, November 4, 2011


Last week I started on night-float which means I'm the doctor in the hospital on-call between 5 at night and 7 in the morning. So if anything goes wrong with one of the patients in the middle of the night, I get paged. Some people try to take cat-naps during the night and then stay up part of the day when they're not at work. I elected for complete day-night reversal so I've been staying up all night and then sleeping all day. And although I always kind of feel like I'm in a weird kind of fog these days with my circadian rhythm all screwed up, I've actually really enjoyed night float.

The hospital at night is so quiet and deserted and I like the feeling of being one who keeps watch until the morning. There's also a sense of team-work with the nurses who are on overnight which isn't quite there during the day.

My favorite thing though has been having enough free time to just have some good conversations with patients. At the beginning of the night I like to go check in on most of those I'll be responsible for over the next 14 hours. When I'm seeing patients during the day it's always very focused on getting a medical history and doing a physical exam and the time is always short. But at night I just round by myself and check in with people. Sometimes I'll do elements of a physical exam but usually it's just me saying hello, letting the patients know that I'm the doctor responsible for them overnight and asking if they have any questions.

Without the usual day-time expectations of doctoring I've been able to have some interesting conversations with some elderly patients. I listened to the life story of a 95 year old gentleman last night. He told me of his one-armed grandfather who was a doctor in Mississippi. He told me of fighting in the Philippines and New Guinea in WWII, of coming back after the war to Rhode Island, of how he met his wife when he saw her getting on the train and helped her with her heavy suitcase, of how she sent him a post-card with the Empire State Building on it, of how he stole her away from the rich man she was to marry, and of raising a family with her in Texas. Then he told me of his sadness when she died in '98 and how the first thing he does "if he makes it through the pearly gates will be to go to the complaint desk." This saddened me but I understood. He was still telling me his story when we were interrupted by the "beep beep beep" of my pager. As I rose to answer the page I could tell he was thankful that someone had listened and he asked me to come back again. If he's still in the hospital tomorrow night maybe I'll stop by to hear some more.

I also spent some time with a 91 year old man who told me of his time stationed in Morocco after the war and how he and his wife toured Europe in the early 1960s.

Thankfully there haven't been any emergencies over the past few nights I felt like I couldn't handle. But I know that they will come and I know that like every other thing I felt like I couldn't handle being an intern (and there have been a great many) that with God's strength and providence I'll get by.

On the first night I drove to the hospital, dreading the 14 hours ahead of me, feeling relatively alone and responsible for so much, a prayer came to mind which is one of my favorites from the Compline service in the Book of Common Prayer. I thought of myself and the nurses watching, of my patients suffering and perhaps dying and of their families weeping. So this is my nightly prayer this week...

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep.

Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love's sake.


Monday, October 31, 2011

Reformation Day: "All works are condemned"

Now, if there must be error, those who say that the grace of God is priced high, and account it dear and costly, err less shamefully and presumptuously than those who teach that its price is a tiny trifle, and account it cheap and contemptible. Paul, however, pounds both errors to a single pulp with one word when he says that all are justified freely, without the law, and without the works of the law. The assertion that justification is free to all that are justified leaves none to work, merit or prepare themselves, and leaves no work that can be said to carry either congruent or condign merit. By the one cast of this thunderbolt, Paul shatters both the Pelagians with their total merit and the Sophists with their tiny merit. Free justification does not permit you to set men working for it, for free donation and preparation by working are manifestly incompatible. Furthermore, justification by grace does not permit you to regard the worthiness of any person, as Paul says in the eleventh chapter [of Romans]: 'If by grace, then it is no more of works; otherwise, grace is not grace' (v. 6). So, too, he says in the fourth chapter: 'Now to him that worketh the reward is reckoned, not of grace, but of debt' (v. 4). And so my good Paul, the scourge of 'free-will', stands undefeated! He lays low two armies with a single word! For we are justified without works, all works are condemned, whether small or great; Paul exempts none, but thunders impartially against all.

-Martin Luther,
The Bondage of the Will

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Heavens are telling the Glory of God

My last post made me think of one of my favorite pieces of classical music from Haydn's "The Creation." I liked what the Wikipedia article had to say about Haydn and his creation of this masterpiece:

It was also a profound act of faith for this deeply religious man, who appended the words "Praise to God" at the end of every completed composition. He later remarked, "I was never so devout as when I was at work on The Creation; I fell on my knees each day and begged God to give me the strength to finish the work."


The heavens are telling the glory of God.

The wonder of his works displays the firmament.

Gabriel, Uriel, Raphael:

To day, that is coming, speaks it the day;
the night, that is gone, to following night.


The heavens are telling the glory of God.
The wonder of works displays the firmament.

Gabriel, Uriel, Raphael:

In the all the land resounds the word,
never unperceived, ever understood.


The heavens are telling the glory of God.
The wonder of his works displays the firmament.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Heavens Declare the Glory of God

I snapped this picture this morning during rounds. I'm thankful for reminders of God's presence and sovereignty, especially during challenging times.

(Picture is Mt. Rainier at sunrise, casting a shadow on the clouds)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

C.S. Lewis on Tyndale and Protestantism

In reality Tyndale is trying to express an obstinate fact which meets us long before we venture into the realm of theology; the fact that morality or duty (what he calls ‘the Law’) never yet made a man happy in himself or dear to others. It is shocking, but it is undeniable. We do not wish either to be, or to live among, people who are clean or honest or kind as a matter of duty: we want to be, and associate with, people who like being clean and honest and kind. The mere suspicion that what seemed an act of spontaneous friendliness or generosity was really done as a duty subtly poisons it. In philosophical language, the ethical category is self-destructive; morality is healthy only when it is trying to abolish itself. In theological language, no man can be saved by works. The whole purpose of the ‘Gospel,’ for Tyndale, is to deliver us from morality. Thus, paradoxically, the ‘Puritan’ of modern imagination—the cold, gloomy heart, doing as duty what happier and richer souls do without thinking of it—is precisely the enemy which historical Protestantism arose and smote.

- C.S. Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century

Saturday, October 8, 2011

In search of PNW History: Centralia

I got off work from the ICU earlier than expected today so I headed home and attempted to take a nap. Unfortunately I had already consumed such a quantity of coffee that the attempt at napping was a failure. So I decided to go on a small adventure to the nearby town of Centralia, Washington about a half hour south from where I live in Lacey, Washington. Centralia has always interested me but even with having probably driven past it about 500 times going north and south on I-5 between the Portland area and the Puget Sound area I had only stopped at the stores and restaurants right off the freeway, I had never been to the historic down-town.

My interest in Centralia had begun at an early age during some sort of history class at Maple Grove Middle School in Battle Ground, Wash. My, perhaps a bit morbid, curiosity as a teenage boy was piqued when I heard the story of a gun-fight and massacre which had occurred in my own home-state of Washington. I never forgot hearing that story and for close to 20 years I've wanted to go check out where the events took place.

On November 11th, 1919, Armistice Day, a conflict between the local chapter of the Wobblies (Industrial Workers of the World) and the local American Legion erupted when the Legionnaires, marching in the Armistice Day Parade came under attack. It seems that there are very different versions of what exactly happened that day from the Wobblies and from the Legionnaires. One version of events would have a Wobbly firing on and killing one of the legionnaires as he stood on the parade route which precipitated the rest of the conflict and the further killings. The other version would have a small group of legionnaires breaking off from those marching in the parade to attack the IWW Union Hall and the Wobblies firing upon the legionnaires in self-defense. Whatever happened exactly, four legionnaires were shot and killed by Wobblies and five others were wounded. One of the Wobblies, also a WWI veteran, who had been arrested for the killings of at least two legionnaires was seized by a mob, beaten and then hung to death from a bridge on the evening of November 11th.

So this afternoon I headed down to Centralia and drove the mile east of the freeway to the historic downtown area that I've wanted to drive for many years but had never seemed to have the time. I was happy to find some free public parking and was pleased by my first impression of the city with its many small businesses and sidewalks busy with pedestrians. I started walking, figuring that I would find something historic without having to ask any questions or consult any maps. My first find was a park with an impressive memorial to veterans who have fallen in WWI up to the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It turns out that this statue called The Sentinel was initially erected in 1924 in honor of the four legionnaires killed. From the park I headed back into town and decided I would ask people if they knew where the events of that November day in 1919 had taken place. To my disappointment the people I asked, including an older couple and long-time residents of Centralia, had no idea what I was talking about.

"The Sentinel"

I remembered that I had read a detailed account of the events on Wikipedia so I pulled out my iPhone and pulled up the page on the Centralia massacre and sure enough it had a location of where the events had taken place, 2nd and Tower streets. So I started walking in that direction. As I got closer to my destination the buildings began looking less and less historical and more and more run-down but I thought maybe I would at least find a plaque or something. But when I got to 2nd and Tower there was basically nothing there, just a grassy lot, a bowling alley and a nursery nearby.

Historic downtown Centralia

This event in Washington State History inspired bitter feelings for
many years. So maybe the people just wanted to forget about it and move on. I can understand that. But as a history-nerd I was a little disappointed. I wanted to find something more. But it was interesting to finally see a town I have driven by many times. It was also good to find a small diversion from all-consuming medicine. Hopefully in the future I'll also have time to go and explore some more local historic places and write some more posts like this one.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Lord Provides: ICU

It's amazing how quickly I can go from being completely overwhelmed by anxiety, thinking "what have I gotten myself into," with this whole medicine thing to thinking "I'm glad I'm a doctor." The beginning of this week were some of the most anxiety-filled days I've ever experienced. I could barely sleep. I was confounded by my own inadequacy.

But yesterday I felt confident for the first time in the ICU, a rotation I started a week ago. I got my first "procedure" as a new intern. As we rounded on our patients in the morning we decided to do a lumbar puncture on a man with altered mental status. The year-2 resident asked for one of us interns to volunteer to do the procedure. He was my patient so I figured it would be bad form for me not to volunteer. So I said I would do it, thinking to myself that I would really just try to do it but probably not succeed. When I told one of my fellow interns what I was going to try to do later he quoted Yoda to me saying, "Do or do not... there is no try." Going into the room, about to perform the lumbar puncture, I asked for God's mercy and I asked for success in getting this procedure.

The other resident and I gowned up under the watchful eye of the ICU attending. I first injected the morphine, just under the skin, then toward the patient's spine where the large lumbar puncture needle would travel. After he was all numbed-up I inserted the much larger needle, first hitting bone then redirecting once and then going much deeper. I felt the deep tissues "give" three times, each time hoping that I had reached the spinal canal with it's precious cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). Each time I felt a give I would withdraw the stylet from the barrel of the hollow needle hoping to see clear cerebrospinal fluid drip from my end of the needle. After withdrawing the stylet twice I thought to myself, "alright, as I expected the resident will have to take over but at least I tried." I replaced the stylet and went a half centimeter deeper with the needle. I felt the tissue give once more. I removed the stylet and there it came, a sight for sore eyes, perfectly clear fluid dripped from my end of the needle, CSF, the last give had been the dura surrounding the patient's spinal canal and now the tip of my needle was within the spinal canal, among the cauda equina of the spinal cord, draining a miniscule quantity of CSF which would help us to diagnose the cause of our patient's problem, potentially guiding us in the treatment of an encephalitis.
Admittedly a lumbar puncture is a pretty simple procedure. But I have seen it unsuccessfully attempted by residents in the past so my success in completing it was definitely not a given. I had only tried it once before my third year of med school and had been unsuccessful then. I left the hospital Friday night happier than I've been in a long time.

And while I am very thankful to God for my success and my current happiness, it does bother me that it takes something like this to make me happy these days. For I know the King of the universe, and I know about His cross, His shed blood in my place, for my sins and the sins of the whole world. I know about His glorious resurrection on the third day when He erased all doubt about His victory over sin, death and the devil. Knowing all of this I should be continually rejoicing and I should be able to obey the words of my Lord, "Therefore do not be anxious (Matt 6:31)." But I fail miserably and I fail daily. And knowing my failure to "trust and obey" I am redirected again to the glorious gospel of God's grace, that my standing with God is not based upon my success or obedience but solely upon Christ's righteousness. And while I often foolishly fail in trusting God to bring me through the every-day trials and struggles of life, I do trust God with complete certainty in one area. And I know that this trust, this faith, has not been manufactured or achieved by me but has been given as a free gift of His grace. And this faith is that Christ died to save sinners, even a sinner like me.

This is my Father's world;

why should my heart be sad?

The Lord is King; let the heavens ring!

God reigns; let the earth be glad!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

2 truths

From the scarcity of blog posts lately perhaps you can guess that the last few months have been challenging for me. This is true. I can say with certainty that I've never in my life worked as hard as I worked when I was on my CCU rotation in August. I truly felt burned out by the end of that month. September has been a bit of a much-needed breather but even my current rotation is very hard work compared to medical school or anything else I did before that.

It has been a mentally exhausting few months and what makes it more difficult is that it's very hard to see much light at the end of the tunnel. I know I am slowly adjusting to the realities of being a resident physician but this adjustment has not been pleasant nor fun.

Two spiritual truths have given me much comfort at times over the past month or so. Thinking about both of these truths has pretty much been birthed at Hockinson Apostolic Lutheran Church where I've been attending whenever I have a 2-day weekend and thus can make the 2 hour drive home to Battle Ground. I was reminded of one truth through hymn-singing and the other through hearing it preached.

The first truth I was reminded of is "He Leadeth Me." We sang this hymn, penned by Joseph Gilmore in 1862 as he meditated on the 23rd Psalm, one Sunday last month and I couldn't get it out of my head. This is one of the rare times when I'm very thankful for a song I can't get out of my head. The refrain goes:

He leadeth me, He leadeth me,
By His own hand He leadeth me;
His faithful follower I would be,
For by His hand He leadeth me.

Some of the verses are:

He leadeth me, O blessèd thought!
O words with heav’nly comfort fraught!
Whate’er I do, where’er I be
Still ’tis God’s hand that leadeth me.

Sometimes mid scenes of deepest gloom,
Sometimes where Eden’s bowers bloom,
By waters still, over troubled sea,
Still ’tis His hand that leadeth me.

And when my task on earth is done,
When by Thy grace the vict’ry’s won,
E’en death’s cold wave I will not flee,
Since God through Jordan leadeth me.

That Sunday night, not looking forward to the long and difficult week ahead, I sought the Lord and worshipped Him, singing this song. I was overwhelmed by the joy it brought me to think that no matter what I face I can be confident that "He leadeth me." A friend recently text-messaged me a verse from Isaiah which confirms this promise of God to lead us, the text reads, "For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, 'fear not, I am the one who helps you (Isaiah 41:13)." When I think of the most difficult days of being an intern, when I want to run from the hospital, truly this truth is "with heav’nly comfort fraught."

The second truth I was reminded of is a truth all Christians should look forward to, that is, Christ's return at the end of the age. I heard two men mention the imminency of Christ's return while preaching, first at the Amboy Grange and then at the Hockinson church by Pastor Holmgren. I realize that the return of Christ is something that Christians have expected in their own lifetime throughout the history of the church. But hearing it preached by men whom I respect filled me with much excitement and also provided great relief. Thinking that "He will come again" and that He could come at any moment made me realize how little and transitory are the worries that tend to completely overwhelm my thoughts lately when thinking of all of my responsibilities as an intern. When we see Christ coming on the clouds all these things which seem so overwhelmingly important will fall down as nothing as every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

So in the midst of much struggle the Lord is providing for this wretched sinner who deserves none of His goodness and who has yet been showered in His goodness since the day I was born. O to grace how great a debtor daily I'm constrained to be!

Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Chesterton: Drink

Jesus Christ also made wine, not a medicine, but a sacrament. But Omar makes it, not a sacrament, but a medicine. He feasts because life is not joyful; he revels because he is not glad. "Drink," he says. "for you know not whence you come nor why. Drink, for you know not when you go nor where. Drink, because the stars are cruel and the world as idle as a humming-top. Drink, because there is nothing worth trusting, nothing worth fighting for. Drink, because all things are lapsed in a base quality and an evil peace." So he stands offering us the cup in his hand. And at the high altar of Christianity stands another figure, in whose hand also is the cup of the vine. "Drink," he says, "for the whole world is as red as this wine, with the crimson of the love and the wrath of God. Drink, for the trumpets are blowing for battle and this is the stirrup-cup. Drink, for this is my blood of the new testament that is shed for you. Drink, for I know of whence you come and why. Drink, for I know of when you go and where."

- G.K. Chesterton, Heretics

Friday, September 2, 2011

Battle Ground Buzz

For any Clark County readers out there or for anyone interested in the goings-on of a small town in Western Washington state I'd like to recommend a new website started by a friend of mine:

Battle Ground is where I grew up and I'm pretty convinced it's the best place on Earth.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Battle Ground: Summer

My family is a family of gardeners. My dad and youngest brother are cultivating a great vegetable garden and my mom has various garden projects around my parent's 5 acres in Battle Ground, Wash. On top of all this the wild plants on the uncultivated areas add to both the fruitfulness and the beauty of this land. Some pictures below:

A sugar-snap pea flower



Young corn-silk, with morning dew



Astrantia major

Salal berries - these grow wild in the hedgerows. A tasty wild treat that was a staple of the Native Americans who inhabited the area.

Wild rose hips - not quite ripe

First-fruits of the blackberries

Pumpkin blossoms and a daddy-long-leg

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The acceptable heresy

A couple of months ago I had a theological sparring session with a fellow young Anglican over the issue of Open Theism. He had written a post on his blog in which he referred to one of Open Theism's chief advocates, Greg Boyd, as "orthodox." I challenged him on this but was somehow not surprised that there was no retreat on his part from his claim that Open Theism can somehow fit into Christian orthodoxy. It also surprises me to see this heresy raising it's ugly head in "evangelical" Anglicanism, a movement that so many have joined out of a deep respect for the tradition and thought of great men and women of God throughout the history of Christ's holy Church. But there is no precedent for the acceptance of Open Theism in Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Reformed or any other major strain of Christian thought throughout the history of the Church. For all of their faults none of those groups claiming to be the "true church" have ever sought to deprecate their concept of God by denying His omniscience. In the quote below, St. Augustine gives a strong refutation of that which has become, in many circles, an acceptable "orthodox" heresy.
For He does not pass from this to that by transition of thought, but beholds all things with absolute unchangeableness; so that of those things which emerge in time, the future, indeed, are not yet, and the present are now, and the past no longer are; but all of these are by Him comprehended in His stable and eternal presence. Neither does He see in one fashion by the eye, in another by the mind, for He is not composed of mind and body; nor does His present knowledge differ from that which it ever was or shall be, for those variations of time, past, present, and future, though they alter our knowledge, do not affect His, "with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." Neither is there any growth from thought to thought in the conceptions of Him in whose spiritual vision all things which He knows are at once embraced. For as without any movement that time can measure, He Himself moves all temporal things, so He knows all times with a knowledge that time cannot measure. And therefore He saw that what He had made was good, when He saw that it was good to make it. And when He saw it made, He had not on that account a twofold nor any way increased knowledge of it; as if He had less knowledge before He made what He saw. For certainly He would not be the perfect worker He is, unless His knowledge were so perfect as to receive no addition from His finished works.
- St. Augustine, City of God

Sunday, July 31, 2011

J. C. Ryle: War and Peace

Sanctification, again, is a thing which does not prevent a man having a great deal of inward spiritual conflict. By conflict I mean a struggle within the heart between the old nature and the new, the flesh and the spirit, which are to be found together in every believer (Gal. 5:17). A deep sense of that struggle, and a vast amount of mental discomfort from it, are no proof that a man is not sanctified. Nay, rather, I believe they are healthy symptoms of our condition, and prove that we are not dead, but alive. A true Christian is one who has not only peace of conscience, but war within.

-J. C. Ryle (H/T: John Piper)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Which Fundamental? (Updated)

My stomach turned a little this morning when I was listening to the news and heard the terrorist who perpetrated the attacks in Norway referred to as a "Christian fundamentalist." My question is, which fundamental of the of Christian religion was on display during the tragedy in Norway? The fact is that anyone who would do such a thing must be very deluded to consider himself a Christian, much less a Christian fundamentalist. It seems akin to taking the Lord's name in vain who said, "But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you," to refer to one as a Christian, a Christ-follower, who would do such a thing to those he considered his enemies.

My prayers are with the people of Norway. May God have mercy on them and may justice come to the guilty.

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep.

Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love's sake. Amen.

UPDATE: An excellent analysis from The Whitehorse Inn here.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

How to make a (Christian) physician's day

Today I got to pray with a patient in clinic. It's the first time I've gotten to pray with a patient since I got my MD and left Loma linda. She had mentioned during the visit that she went to church so at the end of our encounter I asked her if she'd like to pray with me. She was very happy to. It made my day.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Independence Day Collect

Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant, we beseech thee, that we and all the peoples of this land may have grace to maintain these liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
(H/T T19)
The flag on my parent's property in Battle Ground that my dad has always maintained. I'm thankful I was taught to have respect for the flag as a child.

Happy Independence Day to everyone!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Wolves in sheep's clothing and works-righteousness

This morning I worshipped with brothers and sisters at Hockinson Apostolic Lutheran Church in Hockinson, Wash., and was very blessed by the preaching of Pastor Ron Holmgren. We also received the sacrament of Holy Communion this morning and it was a great joy to break bread with these brothers and sisters for the first time. When I make the 2-hour trip home to Battle Ground on the weekend it usually means worshipping either at Battle Ground Foursquare Church or at Hockinson Apostolic Lutheran. Hopefully soon I will also have a church to call home in the Lacey area near where I work.

Pastor Holmgren made two interesting points in his sermon this morning that I wanted to post on this blog. His text was Matthew 7:15-29. The first point he made was from verse 15, the warning about false prophets as ferocious wolves in sheep's clothing. I liked something he said and I'm paraphrasing here but it was something like, the false prophets want the people for themselves - to devour them, but the true prophets, the true preachers of God's Word, also want the people, but they want them for Christ.

I think the two on the surface can have some similarity (sheep's clothing) but for the false preachers, their own worldly benefit is the end for which they preach or prophesy, while for the true prophet or preacher the only end is God and His glory. When I heard Pastor Holmgren's statement I thought of the celebrity culture within so much of Evangelical Christianity where many ministries seem all about the glory of whoever is running the ministry and not about Christ's glory. I think the point being made here is also a good example of the extreme counter-cultural values of Christ's church - while in the world people seek to misuse whatever they've been blessed with to get a good name for themselves or gain riches and power, in the church we should be using properly all the things God has blessed us with to point only to Him, boasting only in Christ and His cross, knowing that every good thing we have is not because of some inherent goodness or merit of our own but solely by the grace of God.

The second point that really hit me from today's sermon was from verses 21 through 23, Christ's warning that not everyone who says to Him "Lord, Lord," on the last day will enter the kingdom of heaven. Pastor Holmgren drew many points from this Scripture but the one that really struck me was that those who said "Lord, Lord," here but do not enter the kingdom of heaven seem to proudly point to their own works, even works done in Christ's name, as a reason why they should be allowed into heaven. I had never thought of this Scripture in this way but it is a frightening example of those who rely on their own works, outwardly "good" works, to get into heaven. But to those finding security in their own works the Lord declares, "I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness."

One thing I've come to appreciate about Pastor Holmgren's preaching is that he always reminds us of the gospel, that all of our hope is in Christ and His work and not in our own. For anyone aware of their sin, for Christians who love the Lord and yet see so much rebellion remaining in their sinful flesh, only this message of Christ and His righteousness imputed to sinners can bring comfort and joy. I was thankful to hear that message this morning.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Pascal on man's plight:

If man is not made for God,

why is he only happy in God?

If man is made for God,

why is he so opposed to God?

- Blaise Pascal, Pensées, as read in R.C. Sproul's The Holiness of God

Saturday, June 18, 2011

12 Ways to Glorify God at Work

A good word from Josh Etter at Desiring God about glorifying God at work. As I look forward with some anxiety to the new job I have before me, the thing that most relieves my anxiety is the knowledge that God will be using me for His glory here. That knowledge can make any work seem bearable and worthwhile. Here's the beginning of Josh's blog post:

Mark Twain once said, "Work is a necessary evil to be avoided." Although there may be days when we feel like he got it right, we know God has ordained work as a stewardship of his created world (Genesis 1:28; 2:15). He has designed work for his glory and our good. But how might we glorify God at work? This list is not exhaustive, but here's at least 12 ways...

Read the rest here:

12 Ways to Glorify God at Work

Saturday, June 11, 2011

For our God is a consuming fire

I picked up a new book yesterday after getting off of work for the weekend. I'm still reading St. Augustine's The City of God but that is going to be a long-term project. The book I picked up yesterday was written by a man for whom I have gained ever-increasing respect over the past few years. The man is R.C. Sproul and the book is The Holiness of God.

Also over the past few years I've become more and more convinced that it is God's holiness which is His attribute most frequently distorted or forgotten in our modern context among Christians from many different churches and denominations. It is this forgetfulness about God's holiness which leads to people rejecting certain stories of the Old Testament which they find unsettling, such as the conquest of Canaan under Joshua or the death of Uzzah as he reached out to steady the Ark of the Covenant. In my opinion, the New Testament presents even greater problems for those who distort or forget God's holiness. This is because when God's holiness is down-played or distorted there is no way to understand the cross while being faithful to Scripture. There is no way that Isaiah 53 can be affirmed as a prophecy concerning the crucifixion of our Lord, much less the words of St. Paul who wrote that Christ saved us from God's wrath in Romans 5:9. Without a proper understanding of God's holiness one can make no sense of the wrath of God which is frequently mentioned in Scripture. It would make no sense that in the saving of sinners that Christ was "crushed for our iniquities," and that upon Him, "was the chastisement that brought us peace (Isaiah 53:5)," much less that, "it was the will of the Lord to crush him (Isaiah 53:10)."

I respect R.C. Sproul for a number of reasons, most importantly for his obvious love of the Lord, but also because he strikes me as a very intelligent man and because he seems to be well-read in Church History. I was very impressed that in the first chapter of The Holiness of God, Sproul interacts a lot with the writings of St. Augustine and even cites Augustine's writings as something which first caused him to be intrigued by the holiness of God. Sproul begins his third chapter with an amazing quote from St. Augustine touching on the holiness of God which I will conclude with:

What is that which gleams through me
and smites my heart without wounding it?
I am both a-shudder and aglow.
A-shudder, in so far as I am unlike it,
aglow in so far as I am like it.

- St. Augustine

Friday, June 10, 2011

Random Update: To every thing there is a season

It's been a week now in the new season of life I've entered into. The Lord has provided me a house here that I'm very happy with and hopefully this weekend I'll also find a community of brothers and sisters to worship with over the next three years. I also know at least one other Christian co-worker for whom I'm very thankful.

Anyone who follows this blog most likely knows where I'm at and what kind of job I'm doing but from here on out I'm going to be purposefully vague about my location and work. I look forward to continuing to write about theological reflections and hiking trips among other things.

This Sunday I think I'll check out a nearby church called New Hope Anglican, which, from the website, looks like a great church.

I have already seen so much of God's faithfulness to this unworthy sinner in the last week that I am overwhelmed by His graciousness. It has reminded me of the truth expressed in Romans 2:4, that God's kindness is meant to lead us to repentance.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Greatest Generation

After our graduation Sunday I celebrated with my family, the family of one of my housemates in Loma Linda and also with the family of the boys from San Bernardino with whom we've studied the Word of God for the past 3 years. We had a barbecue which ended up being a great way to say goodbye to Loma Linda.

As the various families visited I realized something. I realized how much I had taken for granted a generation which has now all but passed away in my family, that generation which lived through the Great Depression and fought in WWII.

Growing up, listening to various grandparents and great aunts and uncles tell stories about days-gone-by, I was never bored but I never realized what a gift it was to have those relatives around who could relate a story in-person the way a written account will never be able to.

I also was reminded of the fact that people from the "Greatest Generation" do generally seem to have a kind of respectability, maturity and common-sense which seems to have been lost in the upheavals of the 60's and 70's. Like any generation they had and have their own predominant sins and rebellions against God. But I can't help but think that, as a generation, they do just seem better in some way. I wish I could have been as thankful for them while they were still alive as I think I would be now.

With the last remaining relative from the "Greatest Generation" in my family, my 93 year-old Aunt Jo.