Thursday, April 30, 2009

In Christ Alone

In Christ alone, will I glory
Though I could pride myself in battles won
For I've been blessed beyond measure
And by His strength alone I overcome
Oh I could stop and count successes like diamonds in my hands
But those trophies could not equal to the grace by which I stand

In Christ alone
I place my trust
And find my glory in the power of the cross
In every victory
Let it be said of me
My source of strength
My source of hope
Is Christ alone

In Christ alone will I glory
For only by His grace I am redeemed
And only His tender mercy
Could reach beyond my weakness to my yield
And now I seek no greater honor than just to know Him more
And to count my days with losses to the glory of my Lord

In Christ alone
I place my trust
And find my glory in the power of the cross
In every victory
Let it be said of me
My source of strength
My source of hope

In Christ alone
I place my trust
And find my glory in the power of the cross
In every victory
Let it be said of me
My source of strength
My source of hope
Is Christ alone

by Brian Littrell

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Heavenly Rates

A man dies and goes to heaven. St. Peter meets him at the pearly gates and says, "Here's how it works. You need 100 points to make it into heaven. You tell me all the good things you've done, and I give you a certain number of points for each item, depending on how good it was. When you reach 100 points, you get in."

"Okay," the man says, "I was married to the same woman for 50 years and never cheated on her, even in my heart."

"That's wonderful," says St. Peter, "that's worth three points!"

"Three points?" he says. "Well, I attended church all my life and supported its ministry with my tithe and service."

"Terrific!" says St. Peter, "that's certainly worth a point."

"One point? Golly. How about this: I started a soup kitchen in my city and worked in a shelter for homeless veterans."

"Fantastic, that's good for two more points," he says.

"TWO POINTS!!" the man cries, "At this rate the only way I'll get into heaven is by the grace of God!"

"Come on in!"

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Context, context, context!

I have just finished reading another "assigned" book called "Exegetical Fallacies" by D.A. Carson, research professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. In my opinion, this is an excellent book. But with one predominant theme being "look at the context!", how could it not be, right? Carson equally takes to task, Baptists, Paedo-baptists, Calvinists, as well as Arminians. Indeed, nobody seems totally immune from making some of the very common biblical interpretation errors that he describes.

According to Carson, word-study errors are much more common than grammatical errors. Because grammar is far more complex and variable than words, one might expect to find more grammatical than word-study errors, but this is not the case. Carson gives the reason---most seminary-trained pastors have enough equipment to generate them, but not enough equipment to make some kinds of grammatical mistakes.

"Perhaps the principal reason why word studies constitute a particularly rich source for exegetical fallacies is that many preachers and Bible teachers know Greek only well enough to use concordances, or perhaps a little more. There is little feel for Greek as a language; and so there is the temptation to display what has been learned in study, which as often as not is a great deal of lexical information without the restraining influence of context."

Carson brings out a total of 16 word-study errors, one of which is the root fallacy. This is the presumption that every word has a meaning bound up with its shape or its components. He classifies this as the most enduring of errors. In this view, meaning is determined only by etymology; that is, by the root or roots of a word. Carson pronounces this to be nonsense. He says this is the same as deriving the meaning of "butterfly" from "butter" and "fly," or the meaning of "pineapple" from "pine" and "apple." He does add three caveats to this, however; 1) he is not saying that any word can mean anything because among other things we can determine its meaning by the context;

"Normally we observe that any individual word has a certain limited semantic range, and the context may therefore modify or shape the meaning of a word only within certain boundaries. The total semantic range is not permanently fixed, of course; with time and novel usage, it may shift considerably. Even so, I am not suggesting that words are infinitely plastic. I am simply saying that the meaning of a word cannot be reliably determined by etymology, or that a root, once discovered, always projects a certain semantic load onto any word that incorporates that root."

2) the meaning of a word may reflect its etymology, but we cannot always assume this; however, he admits this can be assumed more often in such synthetic languages as Greek or German because of their relatively high percentages of transparent words (words that have some kind of natural relation to their meaning) than in a language like English, where words are opaque (without natural relation to their meaning); and 3) he is far from suggesting that etymological study is useless, but that "specification of the meaning of a word on the sole basis of etymology can never be more than an educated guess."

Another word-study error Carson talks about is an appeal to unknown or unlikely meanings. He says that some of these spring from poor research, dependence on others without checking the primary sources, or from the desire to make a certain interpretation work out, and the interpreter forsakes even-handedness.

Carson goes on to talk about logical fallacies. I found this section particularly fascinating. He presents a total of 18 errors here. In number 11 he talks about taking unwarranted associative jumps---"when a word or phrase triggers off an associated idea, concept, or experience that bears no close relation to the text at hand, yet is used to interpret the text." Carson states that this error is very easy to commit in textual preaching, overlooking the old saying that "a text without a context becomes a pretext for a prooftext." For example, one verse often mishandled is Philippians 4:13: "I can do everything through him who gives me strength."

"The "everything" cannot be completely unqualified (e.g., jump over the moon, integrate complex mathematical equations in my head, turn sand into gold), so it is commonly expounded as a text that promises Christ's strength to believers in all that they have to do or in all that God sets before them to do. That of course is a biblical thought; but as far as this verse is concerned it pays insufficient attention to the context. The "everything" in this context is contented living in the midst of food or hunger, plenty or want (Phil 4:10-12). Whatever his circumstances, Paul can cope, with contentment, through Christ who gives him strength."

It is in this section of logical fallacies that I started noticing some of Carson's own personal theological prejudices, which became even more pronounced in his section on presuppositional and historical fallacies. But we all do it---it's hard not to. And Carson readily admits it as well.

"But if we sometimes read our own theology into the text, the solution is not to retreat to an attempted neutrality, to try to make one's mind a tabula rasa so we may listen to the text without bias. It cannot be done, and it is a fallacy to think it can be. We must rather discern what our prejudices are and make allowances for them..."

However, by and large I felt he tried very hard not to use this book as a sounding board to vent his own theology.

There is a lot more I could say about this book, it is packed so full and gave me much to think about, but this post is already too long, so I will quit. I do highly recommend this book. And because I have to return this copy to its rightful owner, I plan to run out and buy a copy for myself.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Buttery pie crust

I know from talking to others and many years experience of my own that a good, flaky pie crust is a rare thing indeed. Over the years only two types of pie crust recipes have ever been recommended to me: oil based, and shortening/lard based. Sometimes these recipes turned out fairly well, but many times they were tasteless, tough, and not a bit flaky. They were merely shells in which to put pie ingredients, and quite frankly they detracted from the taste of the pies themselves. Then one day when looking through my newest cookbook for a pear pie recipe, I came upon a butter based crust.

About four years ago we had moved into a new house that had a pear tree in the backyard. It was exciting to have fresh fruit on our own property, but the tree was so loaded down with pears, branches were actually breaking under their weight. I didn't know what in the world I was going to do with all those pears---we could only eat so many fresh from the tree. So, I scoured my cookbooks for different ways to use them and discovered recipes for pear crumble, pear bread, pear sauce, pear coffee cake, and finally, pear pie. The pie was very good in and of itself, but the crust was simply outstanding, and I thought to myself, "I've finally found it---the perfect pie crust recipe!" The only problem was, it was a rather strange recipe in that the crust instructions were actually intertwined within the pie recipe. It took some calculating and quite a bit of trial and error on my part before I successfully extracted the crust from the pie instructions, and I must say it produces the best tasting and flakiest pie crust I've ever come across.

The recipe below is for a 1 crust pie. Of course, you should double it for pie recipes that call for a crust and top.

The Most Flaky and Buttery Pie Crust Recipe Ever

1 1/8 c flour
1/2 tsp salt
6 tbsp butter (don't use margarine, it won't turn out nearly so well)
2-3+ tbsp cold water (don't add too much water or it will be tough)

In a large bowl, combine flour and salt. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in water, a tablespoon at a time, until mixture forms a ball.

Roll dough out to fit a 8 inch pie plate. (If you've never tried this trick, I've found it's easiest to roll out the crust on top a floured piece of wax paper and then use the wax paper to help place the crust into the pie plate.) Press the dough evenly into the bottom and sides of the pie plate.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Word plays

Egotist: One who is me-deep in conversation.

A boiled egg in the morning is hard to beat.

The man, who fell into an upholstery machine, is fully recovered.

Archaeologist: A man whose career lies in ruins.

Every calendar's days are numbered.

How did the pig with laryngitis feel? Dis-gruntled.

When a clock is hungry, it goes back four seconds.

For as long as I can remember, I've had amnesia....

Those, who get too big for their britches, will be exposed in the end.

What do you call three rabbits in a row, hopping backwards simultaneously? A receding hareline.

A backwards poet writes inverse.

A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion.

A grenade thrown into a kitchen in France would result in Linoleum Blownapart.

A bicycle can't stand on its own because it is two-tired.

With her marriage, she got a new name and a dress.

Show me a piano falling down a mineshaft, and I'll show you A-flat minor.

He often broke into song because he couldn't find the key.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The harpsichord

As I write this post, I'm listening to my oldest daughter play the piano downstairs. It's a shame she doesn't get much chance to play anymore because she's very good, having had lessons for almost ten years. But she's home for Easter today, and it's nice to listen to her play again.

The piano wasn't the first keyboard instrument ever made, though. Before its invention (around 1709), what high-society types had sitting in their parlors were harpsichords. It was the foremost instrument for music of the Baroque and early Classical periods, and it is still often played in music from those periods. In fact, a lot of the music from composers like Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi would be hard to perform without it.

The harpsichord had an entirely different sound from the piano. Whereas a piano's strings are hammered with soft felt hammers, the harpsichord's strings were plucked. The harpsichord had little hooks (known as plectra) that rested near the strings, and when a key was pressed, the plectra reached over and plucked the appropriate string. So instead of sounding mellow or rich like the piano sounds, a harpsichord sounded twangy or tinkly.

But for all its classiness, the harpsichord had a disappointing drawback---no matter how hard or soft you struck a key, it would give exactly the same volume. Therefore, when the piano came along, the big attraction was you could change the volume of the notes while playing it. If struck hard it played loud, and if struck lightly, it played softer.

In fact, the word "piano" actually means "the soft" in Italian. Kind of a stupid name, I guess. Actually, the piano was first called the "LoudSoft"---or in Italian, the "Fortepiano." Eventually, this was turned around to "Pianoforte. And as time went by people started shortening that word to just "piano."

However, I really like the sound of the harpsichord. For me, it evokes visions of elaborately dressed ladies and gentlemen dancing in beautiful grand halls.

And here's something rather amusing, but very impressive. This harpsichord is built entirely out of LEGOs---approximately 100,000 black, red, tan and white pieces were used to build this instrument.

The Empty Room

An angel waits beside the door,
His messenger, as times before,
but the news that this day brings
makes weeping voices sing,
for this grave is now a garden, nothing more.

They come in silence, come in grief.
His death has tortured their belief,
but the angel smiles when they
see the stone is rolled away
and he speaks the words that give their souls relief.

Why do you look for life among the dead?
He is not here; He's risen as He said.
And this place you call a tomb
now is just an empty room.
Turn around and follow where His life has led.

We take the cup and bread He gave,
but do you know His pow'r to save?
That the reason for His pain
was to free you from your chains?
So why do you still wait beside the grave?

The angel's message is for you
from God, the Faithful and the True,
that the Flesh who is the Word
has now proven what you've heard.
"Behold," He says, "I'm making all things new."

Why do you look for life among the dead?
He is not here; He's risen as He said.
And this place you call a tomb
now is just an empty room.
Turn around and follow Him.
Turn around and live again.
Turn around and follow where His life has led.

(words by Rick Vale)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Too literal?

Do we have the wrong concept of miracles? Just as we are perhaps too literal when talking about the 7 days of creation because God's day is not the same as ours, should we also look at miracles symbolically and attribute anything good that happens as God's direct intervention and therefore a "miracle?" To me, this is just a form of superstition. Or are we "merely" watering everything down.

There are references in the Bible that say such things as "that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day (2 Pet 3:8), but the fact of the matter is in Genesis it says after each day of creation, "And there was evening and there was morning, one day..." It seems to me that God was going out of His way to tell us that the days of creation were 24 hour days. And look at Ex 20:9-11, "Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy." Should we then interpret this as God worked six indeterminate "days" (perhaps 1,000 years each) and then rested one indeterminate "day", therefore we should do the same?

And as I've said in a previous post, when we see miracles performed in the Bible they were proclaimed (Matt. 4:24; Mark 3:9, 10; 6:56) — they were not performed by stealth. There was no guessing or wondering if they were miracles or not; they were always straight-forward. And there were no doctors, drugs and gradually being healed; miracles were instantaneous — the dead immediately got up and walked, blind men from birth could suddenly see, and the sick were instantly healed, etc...

It scares me to see so many moving away from looking at the Bible in a literal and common sensical way, because once we decide to do that, who's to say what anything in Scripture means. Who's going to be given the final authority to decide?

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Christ has conquered all

Our first Easter concert went very well last night. Here is the closing song prior to the postlude. The words are powerful. It's my favorite song of the whole concert.

Christ Has Conquered All (words and music by Kristie Braselton)

Heavy laden, weary soul,
bearing up a heart of stone,
His Spirit comes to dwell in you,
and Christ, the weight of sin assume.

All my guilt is cast on Christ,
and His righteousness is mine.
What guilt should weigh upon my head?
For Christ has cleared it all!

The sum of all my sacrifice,
though joyful, fails to justify.
I cannot pay for grace that's free,
nor add to work that is complete.

Jesus paid it all for me!
This my ransom and my plea.
What debt I labor to repay?
For Christ has paid it all!

Through the law comes sin and death,
but faith is counted righteousness.
So I will trust in Christ alone,
my debt to pay, my sin atone.

And I stand in confidence,
covered by His righteousness.
What shall become of boasting tongues?
For Christ has done it all!

Where O death is now thy sting?
Swallowed up in victory!
The Lord of glory reigns on high,
sov'reign over earth and sky!

Yes, He triumphed o'er the grave,
and He comes again one day.
What lesser name shall draw our praise?
For Christ has conquered all.

For Christ has conquered all!
Christ has conquered all!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


I don't know that there's anything more exciting than the sound of an orchestra tuning up. It produces such an anticipation of wonderful things to come. Tonight is our final choir and orchestra rehearsal before our Easter concerts this weekend and the orchestra will surely be tuning up as we, the choir members, arrive.

For as long as I can remember, I've enjoyed singing. When I started singing in our church choir over 10 years ago, I sang second alto; however, a couple of years I switched to second soprano because the need was greatest there. There are pros and cons to both parts. I love going for the high notes as a soprano, but I miss singing the harmony as an alto.

Of the many wonderful songs in this upcoming concert, there's one in particular that is especially moving to me:

Even the Heavens are Weeping (words and music by Joseph M. Martin)

Even the heavens are weeping
as a cross is lifted on high.
The tears of the Father are falling
as Jesus goes forth to die.
The sky grows dark as midnight,
the thunder starts to cry.
Even the heavens are weeping
as Jesus goes forth to die.

Even now the earth is shaking
as they crucify the King.
Hills and valleys all are trembling
as the hammer starts to ring.
Hosannas now are silent.
The crowds no longer sing.
Even now the earth is shaking
as they crucify the King.

Even the heavens are weeping
as they take Him from the tree.
The sun in its shame hides in shadows
and the birds refuse to sing.
The hands of those who loved Him
prepare Him for the grave.
Even the heavens are weeping
as they carry the Lord away.

Even the heavens are weeping.
Even the heavens are weeping,