Saturday, October 27, 2012

I believe in the prosperity gospel


I had a sickening epiphany today. I realized that I believe in the Prosperity Gospel. In spite of the fact that I think it’s one of the most widespread and destructive lies of Satan in the church today I realized that, to a degree, I’ve come to believe in that which I hate. Residency has been tough spiritually. The struggle with temptation and sin has often been a losing battle. Compared to the past year, my life in medical school and in seminary before that looked like “victorious living.” I’ve also become more cynical in the past year. This morning I realized why. It’s because I’ve developed a sense of entitlement that God should just take it all away. In spite of praying for decades that various sinful desires would leave me they are still here and as strong as ever. Sometimes, by God’s grace, I feel strong and those temptations seem to have little power over me. But other times I’m weak, like in the past year, and those temptations have much power over me. But the temptation to sin has never completely left me even at my best times.

And somehow I came to the place where subconsciously, at least until this morning, I felt that God was not holding up His end of the bargain. The belief that God will make our lives easy has a name. It’s called prosperity theology. Instead of Christ alone being our portion, instead of Christ alone being enough, we must add on financial prosperity, good health, success in business and victory over sin. If these “blessings” are not seen in the life of the Christian it is attributed to not praying the right
magic words, or not having enough faith, or perhaps not “declaring” correctly, whatever that means. And while I find Word of Faith style Christianity to be ridiculous I realized this morning that because of my frequent prayers and Bible-reading and participation in the Sacrament I had somehow come to expect that God was going to make things easy.

I realize that there are Bible verses which seem to indicate that God sometimes blesses with financial prosperity or with healing and with other tangible material goods. But I’m perfectly willing to get into a proof-texting battle with anyone and remind them that we’re also promised the hatred of the world (John 15:8), tribulations (John 16:33), family strife (Matt. 10:34), suffering (1 Peter 3:17), persecution (Matt. 5:11), the painful-feeling discipline of God (Hebrews 12:11), thorns in the flesh which remain in spite of prayer (2 Cor. 12:7), and captivity to the law of sin which dwells in our flesh (Romans 7:23). Prosperity and good health may be blessings from God although in our sinful state, needful of constant humbling (2 Cor. 12:7), I think the Psalmist’s words “It is good for me that I was afflicted (Ps. 119:71)” are more likely to reflect what truly is a blessing.

Ultimately
, true blessedness has nothing to do either with prosperity or affliction. True blessedness is that which can say, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:12-13).” True blessedness is that which is based on the objective reality of Christ and His work outside of ourselves, outside of our poverty or prosperity, outside of our sickness or health, outside of our victory or failure. The Psalmist speaks of the true blessedness when he writes, “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him (Psalm 32:2).” Christ Himself speaks of this blessedness when he corrects his own disciples who were mistaken about the locus of true blessedness. When the seventy-two returned to Christ they were rejoicing over the fact that the demons were subject to them. They were rejoicing in the miraculous, in that which is tangible in the here and now. But Christ offers them a word of correction – He commands them not to rejoice in these things but instead to rejoice that their names are written in heaven (Luke 10:17-20). Instead of being filled with sorrow because the false expectations of a damnable and false “gospel” are not fulfilled in me I should rejoice in the fact that my name is written in heaven and has been since I was baptized as a little baby in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. It is only this assurance, this looking to Christ, who sympathizes with us in our temptations, and Christ's perfect work on the cross, where He became sin who knew no sin, which will ever give me the strength to resist sin and to seek after God. Instead of believing that God is going to make things easy I must know that His grace is enough even in the midst of the worst strife. I pray that God will cleanse me from the delusion of “prosperity,” and that He will rid His holy Church of this evil leaven.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life


This morning I finished a two-week block that I'd been dreading ever since I got my schedule for my second year of residency a few months ago. I spent the last two weeks on MOD night-float. MOD is an acronym for "Medical Officer of the Day," a term which originated in military medicine but which is widely used in both civilian and military settings. Basically when you are the MOD you are the go-to person for all of the internal medicine patients in the hospital and also for all of the patients in the ER or in clinics who need to be admitted to the internal medicine service. So I spent the past two weeks working from 6:30PM to 8:00AM admitting patients to the hospital overnight. It's been two weeks of the most independence and responsibility I've ever had as a doctor. And it was quite stressful at times but by God's grace I made it through. On average I took about 4 patients per night, evaluating them in the ER, making a diagnosis or diagnoses and starting the work-up and course of treatment I thought was appropriate. Everyone survived and for the most part I think I was correct in my diagnoses and initial work up and treatment. On my busiest night I was paged on and evaluated 8 patients, admitting 7 to the medicine service. The majority of the complaints were pulmonary - COPD exacerbations and pneumonias. I admitted a few patients with heart failure exacerbations, a couple of syncopes and GI bleeds, and one each of ascending cholangitis, diverticulitis, cellulitis and pyelonephritis.  I also admitted a man whom the ER had just diagnosed with likely metastatic hepatocellular carcinoma. I think I must have admitted about 50 patients to the hospital over the past two weeks. It seems I should have some deep philosophical reflection on the automatic intimacy you have with people in their darkest and most frightening hours in the middle of the night but disappointingly I don't. The greatest hope and fear I had over the past few weeks was the hope that I had done the best for my patients and the fear I had missed something important. Unfortunately I didn't get to pray with anyone but I did get to encourage an elderly lady I admitted for a heart-failure exacerbation who had recently lost her husband. Somehow we got to talking about Scripture while I was admitting her and we ended up talking about our favorite Psalms.

As with all of residency the past two weeks have been a challenge spiritually. I've been praying through the 119th Psalm every evening before work and reading from 2 Corinthians every morning before passing out. I think the Psalms are prayers for God's people so I like to pray them out loud but sometimes I come across one that I feel like I can't pray. This happened to me a couple of times in the 119th. Verse 97 reads "Oh how I love your law!" and verse 121 reads "I have done what is just and right." But as I try to pray verses like these I have this constant nagging thought which goes something like, "For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. . . For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out (Rom 7:14-15, 18)." I know the law of God is perfect but often times I don't love it and it is that very law which shows me that I have not done what is "just and right."

This morning after leaving the hospital I headed to St. James Anglican Church for the first time in a good number of weeks. I was exhausted but thankful to be in the fellowship of believers and the presence of God. As the liturgy, the Creed and the Lord's prayer were said I was thankful to be uttering things infinitely more true and important than anything I had said or written with so much angst in the hospital over the preceding two weeks. Our priest is an excellent preacher and a very wise man and he preached from 2 Corinthians chapter 3 focusing on the verses "Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Cor 3:5-6)." After praying through the 119th Psalm and also reading 2 Corinthians in the past couple of weeks I was thankful for a sermon which touched on many of the thoughts I've been struggling with. I don't have some great synthesis or epiphany to share but I was reminded that my hope, my sufficiency, is in the One who did keep the law perfectly and died because I haven't and never will in this life. My hope is in Christ who promised the Spirit who gives life after we've been slain by the law (John 14:15, Romans 7:10). Ultimately I am reminded of one of my favorite verses, also in 2 Corinthians, and a promise I will cling to forever, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Heav'n rescued land


An artist's rendering of the bombardment of Ft. McHenry in 1814 which inspired Key's poem "Defense of Ft. McHenry," which became known as "The Star Spangled Banner.

O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war's desolation.
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the Heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

-Francis Scott Key, from The Star-Spangled Banner

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Longest Year



This morning I walked into the hospital as an intern and this evening walked out a resident. I guess I didn't think I'd feel anything but the usual exhaustion after a long call day on the wards but I was surprised by the sense of a monumental task having been completed. This year has been perhaps the hardest year of my life. Feelings of frustration and anxiety about notes, assessments, procedures or presentations which could have gone better have frequently been my chief emotions. I remember calling one of my best friends in the first few months of this year and telling him I didn't think I could do it. Many things have been neglected, including this blog, in the past year. In spite of all this the one reality undimmed is the reality of Christ and His gospel.

God has provided for me abundantly this year. During some of the hardest times of internship it was only meditating on Christ and His Death and Resurrection which gave perseverance. I know that this meditation on Christ comes only by the grace of God and not from some innate good within myself. I've been reminded of this by seeing temptation and sin rear its ugly head to a disappointing degree this year. I could look at my life and become discouraged and despair but in the words of John Newton I remember two things, "That I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior." Seeing that God has given me the grace to know this, to believe the Gospel and to know the Person of Christ, is the only wellspring of joy which can be taken away by no disappointments or failures in life.

God has provided for me in His holy catholic Church. Two churches in particular have kept me fed with the Word of the Gospel preached and the sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ broken. These are Hockinson Apostolic Lutheran Church and St. James Anglican Church. If most people, whether Christian or not, were to observe these two churches in their respective worship services they might see little in common. But one thing is held in common by the two, Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, is preached. I am directed toward the objective reality of Christ, and what was done by Him, outside of me, on the cross. All of heaven is mine because of Jesus and his shed blood in atonement for my sins and the sins of the whole world. This year has often brought me to my knees - literally, but one of the many things I am thankful for is that I've been reminded again and again that I have nothing to offer God. And yet amazingly, in spite of this, in spite of my sin and frequent failings, I am convinced by the Word of God that I should have an unshakable hope and joy in Christ and His shed blood, and nothing else.

Things aren't going to get any easier. Many say that the second year of residency is actually more challenging. But I do believe that God will continue to provide, encourage and discipline as He has thus far.

Still the small inward voice I hear,
That whispers all my sins forgiven;
Still the atoning blood is near,
That quenched the wrath of hostile Heaven.
I feel the life His wounds impart;
I feel the Savior in my heart.

-C. Wesley



Sunday, May 27, 2012

Pentecost: And I believe in the Holy Ghost

The Holy Ghost, then, always existed, and exists, and always will exist. He neither had a beginning, nor will He have an end; but He was everlastingly ranged with and numbered with the Father and the Son. For it was not ever fitting that either the Son should be wanting to the Father, or the Spirit to the Son. For then Deity would be shorn of Its Glory in its greatest respect, for It would seem to have arrived at the consummation of perfection as if by an afterthought. Therefore He was ever being partaken, but not partaking; perfecting, not being perfected; sanctifying, not being sanctified; deifying, not being deified; Himself ever the same with Himself, and with Those with Whom He is ranged; invisible, eternal, incomprehensible, unchangeable, without quality, without quantity, without form, impalpable, self-moving, eternally moving, with free-will, self-powerful, All-powerful (even though all that is of the Spirit is referable to the First Cause, just as is all that is of the Only-begotten); Life and Lifegiver; Light and Lightgiver; absolute Good, and Spring of Goodness; the Right, the Princely Spirit; the Lord, the Sender, the Separator; Builder of His own Temple; leading, working as He wills; distributing His own Gifts; the Spirit of Adoption, of Truth, of Wisdom, of Understanding, of Knowledge, of Godliness, of Counsel, of Fear (which are ascribed to Him) by Whom the Father is known and the Son is glorified; and by Whom alone He is known; one class, one service, worship, power, perfection, sanctification. Why make a long discourse of it? All that the Father hath the Son hath also, except the being Unbegotten; and all that the Son hath the Spirit hath also, except the Generation. And these two matters do not divide the Substance, as I understand it, but rather are divisions within the Substance.
-Gregory of Nazianzus, On Pentecost (Oration XLI)

Friday, May 18, 2012

And I believe in one Catholic and Apostolic Church


For anyone who checks this blog still, you've probably noticed that there hasn't been much activity here. I've not felt much inspiration to write lately and, to be honest, have been struggling spiritually. And while I do struggle I trust in God's grace and power in Christ to keep me.

I recently had a few encouraging experiences in the past week though so figured I'd blog about them.

The first happened on an extremely stressful and busy day when I was admitting patients from the ER to the hospital. I went down to evaluate a guy with new-onset atrial flutter, an abnormal heart rhythm. When I got to the bedside I noticed that his elderly Korean wife seemed excited to see me. She called me by my name and talked to me as if I should recognize her. I didn't recognize her at first but she successfully jogged my memory by saying "you prayed for me in clinic." I then remembered that I had prayed for her during a clinic visit about 6 months earlier. She told me she had prayed for me every day since that visit! I was amazed. I love Kingdom economics. Before the visit was over she took me aside and told me she was awaiting the return of Jesus Christ. Just hearing His name was so encouraging in the midst of a day when everything seemed out of control and I didn't feel I had the strength to make it through.

A few days later I headed home to Battle Ground to have dinner at my girlfriend's house with some of her family and with a Christian doctor from India who is also a pastor and missionary there. Over dinner we discussed the persecution that Christians face there. He told of how fellow pastors have been poisoned to death by Hindu extremists because of their faith. This man of God faced the same persecution but you could see his joy in Christ. It was encouraging to see how all that he did in terms of the medicine he practices in India is motivated by a desire to spread the gospel.

Lastly, I was paged to talk with the family of a patient I'm taking care of who has terminal metastatic colon cancer. The nurse told me that this man's pastor was in the room and wished to speak with the doctor. I went to the room and the patient gave me permission to talk about his case with his pastor. This patient is a Japanese man with a Korean wife and their pastor is an African American. We went to another room and I had a somewhat difficult conversation with the pastor and the patient's wife. At the end of the conversation I asked if we could pray for the patient. Both of their eyes lit up and they clasped my hands. We prayed for my patient. It was pretty powerful.

So in the midst of much struggle the Lord has encouraged me and reminded my of His goodness and faithfulness in spite of all my sin. Thanks be to God!


Sunday, April 8, 2012

Dawn of the New Creation

On the third day the friends of Christ coming at daybreak to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away. In varying ways they realised the new wonder; but even they hardly realised that the world had died in the night. What they were looking at was the first day of the new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in the semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but the dawn. 
-G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday: What we have merited


St. Bernard was so terror-stricken by Christ’s sufferings that he said: I imagined I was secure and I knew nothing of the eternal judgment passed upon me in heaven, until I saw the eternal Son of God took mercy upon me, stepped forward and offered himself on my behalf in the same judgment. Ah, it does not become me still to play and remain secure when such earnestness is behind those sufferings. Hence he commanded the women: “Weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children.” Lk 23:28; and gives in the 31st verse the reason: “For if they do these things in the green tree, what shall be done in the dry?” As if to say: Learn from my martyrdom what you have merited and how you should be rewarded. For here it is true that a little dog was slain in order to terrorize a big one. Likewise the prophet also said: “All generations shall lament and bewail themselves more than him”; it is not said they shall lament him, but themselves rather than him. Likewise were also the apostles terror-stricken in Acts 2:37, as mentioned before, so that they said to the apostles: “O, brethren, what shall we do?” So the church also sings: I will diligently meditate thereon, and thus my soul in me will exhaust itself.
Martin Luther 



Sunday, April 1, 2012

Calvin: Christ's design on Palm Sunday



In the first place, we ought to remember Christ’s design, which was, that he came to Jerusalem of his own accord, to offer himself to die; for it was necessary that his death should be voluntary, because the wrath of God could be appeased only by a sacrifice of obedience. And, indeed, he well knew what would be the result; but before he is dragged to the cross, he wishes to be solemnly acknowledged by the people as their King; nay, he openly declares that he commences his reign by advancing to death, but though his approach was celebrated by a vast crowd of people, still he remained unknown to his enemies until, by the fulfillment of prophecies, which we shall afterwards see in their own place, he proved that he was the true Messiah; for he wished to omit nothing that would contribute to the full confirmation of our faith.

-John Calvin, Commentaries - John 12:12



Monday, March 26, 2012

Hope for those condemned by the law


But the Gospel is properly such a doctrine as teaches what man who has not observed the Law, and therefore is condemned by it, is to believe, namely, that Christ has expiated and made satisfaction for all sins, and has obtained and acquired for him, without any merit of his [no merit of the sinner intervening],  forgiveness of sins, righteousness that avails before God, and eternal life. 


- Formula of Concord, from Article V

Saturday, March 17, 2012

For His Name's sake unfalteringly

"It was not any grace in me, but God who conquereth in me, and He resisted them all, so that I came to the heathen of Ireland to preach the Gospel and to bear insults from unbelievers, to hear the reproach of my going abroad and to endure many persecutions even unto bonds, the while that I was surrendering my liberty as a man of free condition for the profit of others. And if I should be found worthy, I am ready to give even my life for His name's sake unfalteringly and gladly, and there (in Ireland) I desire to spend it until I die, if our Lord should grant it to me."

-St. Patrick (A.D. 387-461), from his Confession


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Chronological Snobbery: A rant


Man can only find life among the dead.
-Chesterton

When I walk into a Christian bookstore I often feel a mixture of disgust and anger. Whether it's the visual insult of garish "Christian" "art" which usually involves an out-of-context Bible verse or some cheesy statement with no relationship whatsoever to Scripture slapped onto a tacky painting or the mind-numbing vacuity of most of the "literature" present, Christian bookstores are a place I generally try to avoid.  The thing that bothers me the most, though, is that in the great majority of Christian bookstores 99% of the books present were written by authors who are still living. Sure, they'll throw in some C.S. Lewis among the prosperity theologians and the writers of contentless sweet-nothings to tickle the ears but actual theological profundity is something very hard to come by.

The problem, in my opinion, is what has been called "chronological snobbery." C.S. Lewis likely coined the term and it is mentioned in his excellent autobiography, Surprised by Joy. The basic idea of "chronological snobbery" is that ideas and books and art that is made in our own time is somehow better or maybe more applicable than ideas and books and art from ages past. I think that this assumption, that the new is somehow better, is one of the worst and most damaging beliefs commonly held in Evangelical Christianity today - and it is held by nearly everyone.

Some of the best writing on this idea of chronological snobbery comes from G.K. Chesterton, before Lewis had ever coined the term. In his book, What's Wrong with the World, Chesterton wrote of "the modern mind," being "forced towards the future by a certain sense of fatigue, not unmixed with terror, with which it regards the past." He writes profoundly that "the future is a refuge from the fierce competition of our forefathers," and "I can make the future as narrow as myself; the past is obliged to be as broad and turbulent as humanity." Another idea I've seen expressed somewhere and with which I fully agree is that when we listen to the voices of ages past we live in a much more democratic world. This idea would also apply to the Church. Why do we accept the undemocratic idea that only those Christians currently living should have a vote when it comes to the interpretation of Scripture or the order of worship or the Christian life? Perhaps it is because the Church is not a democracy. But this fact does not save the modernist or post-modernist from scrutiny. Christ promised that the Holy Spirit would guide us into all truth (John 16:13) and I've often heard this verse used as a rationalization for some novel theology or practice among Christians. But if this promise is true, that the Holy Spirit has been guiding His people into all truth, then He has been doing it for the past 2000 years and not for the past 50 or 100 as most Evangelicals seem to understand it. Therefore when Christians have understood Scripture to say something about a theological issue for many centuries, their understanding should have more weight than whatever fads are currently affecting the Church.

If Christ has not returned in 500 years I am certain that nearly all modern writers will have passed out of the memory of the populace and of the Church. Perhaps C.S. Lewis will still be remembered and read. But I am certain that Athanasius and Augustine and Luther and Calvin will still be read and will still have a profound influence on God's people. So my question is, why do we waste our time on writers who will not stand the test of time when great riches of thought and theology and devotion by saints unquestionably inspired (not as Scripture is inspired) by God are readily available? I think the clear answer is arrogance. We audaciously think we have discovered a better Christianity or a clearer understanding of Scripture than they had. We should spurn that "refuge" of the future and instead keep company with that great communion of saints which has gone before us. We should commune with them in their understandings of Scripture, in the liturgy and in the sacraments which we share.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The waves and winds still know




Be still, my soul; the Lord is on thy side;
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul; thy best, thy heavenly, Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
Be still, my soul; thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.
Be still, my soul, though dearest friends depart
And all is darkened in the vale of tears;
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrows and thy fears.
Be still, my soul; thy Jesus can repay
From His own fulness all He takes away.
Be still, my soul; the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love's purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul; when change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.
-Catharina von Schlegel, 1697-?



Thursday, February 23, 2012

John Bunyan for Lent

Lent has begun and I normally like to write an Ash Wednesday-post but did not have access to my blog yesterday. I wasn’t able to make it to an Ash Wednesday service but spent yesterday evening with a Christian friend and ended up reading out-loud one of my favorite sections from one of the most influential books in my life, John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. I think this section also made a good Ash Wednesday and Lenten reading:
But now, in this valley of Humiliation, poor Christian was hard put to it; for he had gone but a little way before he espied a foul fiend coming over the field to meet him: his name is Apollyon. Then did Christian begin to be afraid, and to cast in his mind whether to go back, or to stand his ground. But he considered again, that he had no armor for his back, and therefore thought that to turn the back to him might give him greater advantage with ease to pierce him with his darts; therefore he resolved to venture and stand his ground: for, thought he, had I no more in mine eye than the saving of my life, it would be the best way to stand.
So he went on, and Apollyon met him. Now the monster was hideous to behold: he was clothed with scales like a fish, and they are his pride; he had wings like a dragon, and feet like a bear, and out of his belly came fire and smoke; and his mouth was as the mouth of a lion. When he was come up to Christian, he beheld him with a disdainful countenance, and thus began to question him.
Apollyon: Whence came you, and whither are you bound?
Christian: I am come from the city of Destruction, which is the place of all evil, and I am going to the city of Zion.
Apollyon: By this I perceive thou art one of my subjects; for all that country is mine, and I am the prince and god of it. How is it, then, that thou hast run away from thy king? Were it not that I hope thou mayest do me more service, I would strike thee now at one blow to the ground.
Christian: I was, indeed, born in your dominions, but your service was hard, and your wages such as a man could not live on; for the wages of sin is death, (Rom. 6:23); therefore, when I was come to years, I did, as other considerate persons do, look out if perhaps I might mend myself.
Apollyon: There is no prince that will thus lightly lose his subjects, neither will I as yet lose thee; but since thou complainest of thy service and wages, be content to go back, and what our country will afford I do here promise to give thee.
Christian: But I have let myself to another, even to the King of princes; and how can I with fairness go back with thee?
Apollyon: Thou hast done in this according to the proverb, “changed a bad for a worse;” but it is ordinary for those that have professed themselves his servants, after a while to give him the slip, and return again to me. Do thou so to, and all shall be well.
Christian: I have given him my faith, and sworn my allegiance to him; how then can I go back from this, and not be hanged as a traitor.
- John Bunyan (1628-1688), The Pilgrim's Progress


Friday, February 10, 2012

Random Update #8: Neurology → Nephrology

Well, my blog has reached a low ebb in the last few weeks. For one reason or another I've lacked all inspiration to write. But there have been a few things happening...

1. I just spent a month working on the inpatient neurology service at the hospital, taking care of mostly stroke patients, seizure patients and a random assortment of other neurological disorders. Even with some very long hours at times it was an enjoyable month which makes me realize I'm finally settling into this doctor thing a little bit. I got to do another lumbar puncture which ended up going very well - I got a "champagne tap" which means there were no red blood cells in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) samples I collected. Frequently you will nick a small blood vessel as you insert the needle deep into the patient's back, thus contaminating your sample with a small amount of blood. I was able to avoid this complication and received the traditional gift of a bottle of white wine - CSF (without blood in it) is clear - from my attending. Technically the traditional gift is a bottle of champagne but the colonel reasoned that no one really drinks champagne. Unfortunately I'm not much of a wine drinker either.

2. Today I started working in the Nephrology clinic and that's where I'll be for the next month except for a week of leave I'm taking starting on the 18th.

3. I've occasionally been able to read a few pages of the Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation. It's an amazing work of history and of literature. Two men about whom I knew little were St. Augustine of Canterbury (d. AD 604) (not to be confused with "of Hippo") and Pope Gregory the Great (AD 540 - 604). Both of these men played a great role in the evangelization of my ancestors and the formation of the English Church. For that I am grateful to them and more so to God who chooses such sinners for tasks so great.

A snowy drive to work
4. I passed my final board exam (USMLE Step 3) to be a licensed physician. I took it in Puyallup, Washington just before most people in the Puget Sound area got socked-in by a huge snow and ice-storm or "snowpocalypse 2012" as us residents who had to drive to the hospital each morning at 4:30AM in spite of the weather referred to it (and yes I grew up on the West-side of the Cascade Mountains so I am a snow-wimp like the majority of Portlanders and Seattleites).



5. While I haven't been writing on my blog I have gotten myself involved in a facebook debate about baptism with a bunch of Lutherans (with whom I mostly agree) and Baptists (with whom I mostly disagree). And by Baptist I mean "Non-denominational," "Charismatic," "Pentecostal," and also all those with the honesty just to call themselves "Baptist." With that said I know a lot of great Christians who are Baptists (heck, just look at my favorite Christians blogs on the right-hand of your screen - 4 out of the 7 are Baptists). But the debate I've been in has made me examine my own thoughts on baptism, and to be honest it's something I've probably tried not to think too much about in order to avoid debates with a good percentage of my Christian friends. A friend challenged me on a statement I made denying the intrinsic efficacy of baptism as a means of grace. He confronted me not with some systematic theology and not with some sappy platitude but with a fairly clear and plain-sounding statement from God's word: "Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience." Hmm... Doesn't really seem to fit with what I had written.

6. St. Augustine wrote: "For whatever unbaptized persons die confessing Christ, this confession is of the same efficacy for the remission of sins as if they were washed in the sacred font of baptism." (City of God, Book XIII, chapter 7.)

"Baptism of St. Augustine" (of Hippo) - Troyes 
7. John Calvin wrote: "We must at the same time beware of another evil, such as prevails among the Papists; for as they distinguish not as they ought between the thing and the sign, they stop at the outward element, and on that fix their hope of salvation. Therefore the sight of the water takes away their thoughts from the blood of Christ and the power of the Spirit. They do not regard Christ as the only author of all the blessings therein offered to us; they transfer the glory of his death to the water, they tie the secret power of the Spirit to the visible sign." (Commentary on 1st Peter 3:21)

8. On the subject of Baptists and scriptural fidelity, I recently visited a nearby "Non-denominational" (read Baptist) church because they had a Saturday night service and it was my only chance to go to church that week. It was a pretty hip place, lots of 20-somethings with cool-looking clothes and the very latest in praise music. But I was thoroughly unimpressed by the preaching, which was topical and during which a very few Bible verses were used (likely misused) in making the preacher's somewhat questionable points. And then I started thinking about how the Lutheran church I sometimes attend when I'm in the Portland area and the Anglican church I like to worship at in Olympia have sermons that are absolutely saturated with Scripture. I can also think of quite a few other Non-denominational churches I've been to where very little Scripture is read during the service. The thing that gets me is that it's often these same people who will accuse Lutherans and Anglicans of being too beholden to "tradition" while they supposedly simply follow the Word of God.

9. Much of the best, most Scripture-saturated and Christ-centered preaching I've ever heard was at Cornerstone Bible Church (Baptistic in theology) in Riverside, California during medical school. It's a complicated world we live in.

Monday, January 23, 2012

What of it?


One of my favorite movies is the 2003 "Luther," starring Joseph Fiennes. One of my favorite lines from the movie comes from Luther preaching in the Wittenburg church. I had assumed that the makers of the film may have taken some artisitic license in creating this sermon. But it turns out that some of the words come directly from a letter written by Martin Luther to his friend, Jerome Weller, in 1530. Here is the excellent quote for your edification:
When the devil throws our sins up to us and declares we deserve death and hell, we ought to speak thus: 
“I admit that I deserve death and hell. 
What of it? 
Does this mean that I shall be sentenced to eternal damnation? 
By no means. 
For I know One who suffered and made a satisfaction in my behalf. 
His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 
Where he is, there I shall be also.”
-Martin Luther, h/t Justin Taylor

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Impressive


Kevin DeYoung: Following up on the Jesus/Religion Video

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!
-Psalm 133:1

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Cheap marketing tricks, anti-intellectualism and the "I hate religion" crowd


There's a popular video going around facebook lately where a young man, whom I believe is a brother in Christ, waxes poetic about how he hates religion. I've heard this many times before, how religion supposedly is the worst evil imaginable and how it is a direct antithesis to a relationship with Jesus Christ. It's always grated on me but I guess this video, and the number of times I saw it reposted by Christian friends on facebook, kind of pushed me over the edge.

I think this "religion is evil" axiom is one of the best examples of the anti-intellectualism with which Evangelicalism is rife and also an example of a marketing trick employed to make Christianity look more palatable as an evangelism tool. It's anti-intellectual because it is a redefinition of the word "religion." As another facebook friend recently kindly pointed out, religion has traditionally been defined as,  "a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances." And while many heretics would deny it, there is a set of propositions which must be believed in order to be a Christian, or to have a relationship with Christ. The most obvious of these propositions would be that one must believe that there is a God before being a Christian or having a relationship with Christ. I would also say that if one denies the Trinity, the Virgin birth, the substitutionary atonement and the physical resurrection of Christ, among many other truths then one is not a Christian. And while some would deny it I would also say that devotional and ritual observances are also an integral part of Christianity. I don't believe that baptism or the eucharist save, but if they are not being practiced, then true Christianity is not being practiced either. Christianity is of course different from every other religion in that it is the only religion which is also a relationship with the one true God. But let me repeat, it is a religion.

The "religion is evil" axiom is also a good example of a cheap marketing tool to try to make Christianity more palatable to the world. If we can only separate Christianity from all of those evil things which have been done in the name of religion then maybe we can win a few more converts. But the fact is Christians have done evil things in the name of Christ just like believers in every other religion have done evil things. The difference, I believe, is that those men, some of whom probably were true Christians, who did evil things in the name of Christ were being disobedient to Christ when they did them. When a Muslim, on the other hand, kills a family member for converting to Christ, I'm not so convinced that they are being disobedient to Allah. So when a Christian does evil things in the name of his faith he is not living up to the demands of his faith, and none of us do, but when a person belonging to some other religion does something evil in the name of their faith I think they might very well be living up to whatever their faith commands.

The thing I find most frustrating is that I actually agreed with almost everything this guy said in his video. I just disagree with misusing the English language, anti-intellectualism and marketing tricks to try to make Christ look more appealing. And I think I'm in good company when it comes to not hating religion, the Apostle James wrote, "religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." (James 1:27)

And here's the video:



Friday, January 6, 2012

Chrysostom on Epiphany: Magi Saved by Grace through Faith


The Magi, teachers of a false faith, could never have come to know Christ Our Lord, had they not been illumined by the grace of this divine condescension. Indeed the grace of God overflowed at the Birth of Christ, so that each single soul might be enlightened by His Truth. The Magi are enlightened so that the goodness of God may be made manifest: so that no one need despair, doubting that salvation through faith will be given to him, seeing He bestowed it on the Magi. The Magi therefore were the first from the Gentiles chosen for salvation, so that through them a door might be opened to all the Gentiles.
-St. John Chrysostom (347-407) from an Epiphany sermon