Welcome to Pennsylvania

Ohio is ideal for biking. College memories of summers spent cruising along the bike path on my 10 speed have one thing in common: no change in elevation. Occasionally the sun would make you unpleasantly hot, the wooded sections of the path might give you mosquitos to fight, there might be cars coming every time the path crosses the road, forcing you to stop and dismount; but you could always count on the path to be flat.

Full disclosure, there were actually two hills. One in each direction. But both forgivable.

Leave home heading south and you shortly come across the first. It’s the kind geriatrics use to increase their heart rates – a gentle upward slope only perceptible to those who are the source of their own locomotion.

Leave home heading north and at the end of the path there is another formed by a bridge over train tracks. But it’s at the end of the path and no one forces you to ride that last tenth of a mile. Cut that stretch out and you’re guaranteed a smooth journey.

These abnormalities aside, biking in Ohio only requires sitting on your bicycle and pedaling, no altimeter necessary.

Pennsylvania is bad for biking. I’ve yet to encounter mosquitoes or frustratingly busy roads. But all rides have one thing in common: unwelcome climbs. In fact, the moment you leave the driveway, climb is your only option. If your parents walked to school uphill both ways, it’s because school was in Pennsylvania.

Question: Is this even possible? Do not the laws of space, time, and topography preclude every trip from being an ascent? If you start at point A, ride uphill to point B, turn around and ride back to point A along the same route, won’t the return be downhill?

Answer: it will not. Nature conspires against the shrewdest logicians.

This past weekend I went for a ride. I spent a good portion of time and energy climbing the hill on Fitzwatertown. As I crested the hill I relished the idea of speedily coasting in the opposite direction on my return. It would be due payment for the work I put in to get 300 feet closer to the sun.

On my return, as I approached this decent, I shifted into a higher gear. Legs churning, I anticipated gravity would pull me down the hill at speeds faster than I could manage on my own. Four pedal pumps into my descent I was ambushed by an angry headwind.

The moment I should have been accelerating with ease found me pushing pedals that had fossilized – frozen mid-rotation for future generations to look at with wonder. Not caring about what future generations would or would not be able to look at with wonder, I forced the pedals to continue turning. Though slowed by the wind’s ambuscade, I wouldn’t have it bring me to a complete stop.

By the time I made it to the bottom of the hill I was traveling the same speed I was going when, earlier, I had crested this earthen formation. Welcome to Pennsylvania, where coasting downhill is climbing up.

“He controls everything.”

“When God’s people are beset by temptation or persecution, a revelation of God’s character and glory is the best remedy. His power guarantees the final victory, his justice guarantees vindication of the right, and his goodness and magnificence guarantee blessing and comfort. The blood of the Lamb demonstrates that solid redemption has already been accomplished. Even in the midst of trials and persecutions, God is still the ruler. He controls everything.”

– Vern Poythress, The Returning King: A Guide to the Book of Revelation, 97.

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Robins

I walk around making strong eye contact with the floor. Though generally flat and non-responsive, it’s often more help than animate objects. I can fall on it, salt it with my tears, and beat it with my fists. I haven’t yet tried that combination on a human. My hunch is that it wouldn’t go well. There’s something about the idea of receiving blows that scares most people off. And the ones it doesn’t scare off aren’t the type of people I like to be around.

Problems like the indoors. They stay inside because they’re allergic to the sun. Knowing this, I step outside for a walk. The high-pitched laughter of robins greets me. Their sounds ride on a breeze and call to memory Jesus’ words about their Keeper. “Look at the birds… your heavenly Father feeds them.”

“God cares for you, dude,” I shout up to the one standing on the telephone wire. I want to remind him, lest he forget. But I’m only returning the favor. He reminded me first.

“Forgive Us For Using You”

“Heavenly Father, you are the Lord of Armies, the commander of the universe. Though we belong to you we confess that we often have cold, hard hearts toward you.

We know your voice, yet we often fail to obey it, preferring to go our own way. We serve you with mixed motives, secretly hoping that our obedience will purchase your favor, and that it will motivate you to serve us as we think you should.

We don’t see our hearts clearly until we ask for things and you do not give us what we want: when we suffer and you won’t take the pain away; when we’re scared and you don’t remove those feelings; when we’re depressed and anxious and the black despair won’t depart.

Then we get confused and think our circumstances reveal how you feel about us. We spin off into sinful patterns of escape, hopelessness and revenge. Father, forgive us for using you and for failing to listen to your voice.”

Christ Presbyterian Church, Prayer of Confession, 4/23/17

The Father Himself

In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request of the Father on your behalf; for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came forth from the Father.” (John 16:26-27)

The Father himself loves you.
The Father himself loves you.
The Father himself loves you.
The Father himself love you.

The Father himself loves you.

Soak in that for a lifetime.

The Smallest Detail

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“The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.”

– Proverbs 16:33

“But even in all these normal things – including the casting of lots – we may see God’s leading. His providence covers everything, even the outcome of rolling dice. The lot is simply cast in the lap; and especially if that act ‘simply’ occurs in a game, you might imagine that God is not involved. But the smallest detail of our lives is in His hand.”

– J. Douma, The Ten Commandments: Manual for the Christian Life, 105.

On Living, Really Living

“Living means decisions. Living means writing your every word and action and thought and drool spot down in forever. It means writing your story within the Story. It means being terrible at it. It means failing and knowing that, somehow, all of our messes will still contribute, that the creative God has merely given Himself a greater challenge – drawing glory from our clumsy botching of the past. We are like factory workers in a slapstick comedy, standing at our positions beside the too-fast conveyor belt that flings the future and all of our possible actions at us. Corn syrup and food coloring everywhere (along with cheese and ceramic figurines).

Do your best. Live. Create. Fail.
How many thieves can we fit on this cross?How many of us can be dead in Lazarus’s tomb?
Is there room for more dry bones in this valley? Because I could lie down.
I can complain in a wilderness.
Or maybe deny Christ three times?
Resent the righteous?
Shoo away some children?
Fail to grow figs?
Panic in a storm?
Forget God’s law?
Pursue my lusts?
Sell out my Maker?
Hang myself in a field?
So glad I could help.

And from it all, from the compost of our efforts, God brings glory – a world of ripe grain in the wind.

By His grace, we are the water made wine. We are the dust made flesh made dust made flesh again. We are the whores made brides and the thieves made saints and the killers made apostles. We are the dead made living.

We are His cross.”

– N.D. Wilson, Death by Living (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2013), 166-67.

After I Realized I Had Been Robbed

Were I quicker on my feet I would have said the following to the college student at the coffee shop who, I believe, stole my pen:

“Eh-hem… I realize that I’m fallible, so forgive me if my postulation is wrong. But, I came here with a pen which I used and set down there. I asked you to watch my stuff while I went to the bathroom. Now the pen is gone. I’ve thoroughly checked my backpack and the surrounding area to no avail. I don’t have the pen on my person and you said that you didn’t see anything happen to it.

“If the pen is not lying around here, if I don’t have it, and if nobody else took it then I’d like to postulate that you closed your eyes, grabbed my pen and are currently in possession of it. I’d like to let you know that stealing is both rude and wrong, as is lying.

“None the less, I’d like you to keep my pen as a gift from me. I hope it lasts long and writes smoothly for you. If you ever attend a Billy Graham Crusade, I hope you use it to sign your ‘decision card for Jesus.’ Have a nice day. Goodbye.”

However, insofar as I’m not quicker on my feet, I simply furrowed my brow and went home; one pen poorer than before.

“Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.”

Batter my heart, three-personed God; for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like a usurpt town, to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your Viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betrothed unto your enemy.
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again;
Take me to you, imprison me, for I
Except you enthrall me never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

– John Donne, Holy Sonnets, XIV.

Gandalf the Exegete

“‘Good morning!’ said Bilbo, and he meant it. The sun was shining, and the grass was very green. But Gandalf looked at him from under long bushy eyebrows that stuck out further than the brim of his shady hat.

“‘What do you mean?’ he said. ‘Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning, or that it is a morning to be good on?'”

– The Hobbit (New York: Ballantine Books, 1985), 17-18.

“The man Jesus Christ laid death in his grave”

Though the Earth cried out for blood
Satisfied her hunger was
Her billows calmed on raging seas
For the souls on men she craved

Sun and moon from balcony
Turned their head in disbelief
Their precious Love would taste the sting
Disfigured and disdained

On Friday a thief
On Sunday a King
Laid down in grief
But awoke with the keys
Of Hell on that day
The first born of the slain
The Man Jesus Christ
Laid death in his grave

So three days in darkness slept
The Morning Sun of righteousness
But rose to shame the throes of death
And over turn his rule

Now daughters and the sons of men
Would pay not their dues again
The debt of blood they owed was rent
When the day rolled a new

On Friday a thief
On Sunday a King
Laid down in grief
But awoke holding keys
To Hell on that day
The first born of the slain
The Man Jesus Christ
Laid death in his grave

On Friday a thief
On Sunday a King
Laid down in grief
But awoke with keys
Of Hell on that day
The first born of the slain
The Man Jesus Christ
Laid death in his grave

He has cheated
Hell and seated
Us above the fall
In desperate places
He paid our wages
One time once and for all

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Learn Biblical Hebrew

Not sure about you, but if I ever endeavor to learn biblical Hebrew it is not going to be from a website named “eteacherbiblical.com”. Additionally, I would hope that whoever runs the advertising program for wherever it is that I may learn Hebrew from would realize that, in English, words like “courses,” “proficient,” “demo” and “lesson” are not supposed to be capitalized when used in the middle of a sentence.

And “eteacherbiblical.com”? For real? What the heck kind of a domain name is that?!

UPDATE: As was just pointed out to me, eteacherbiblical.com says that they are accredited by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which, I would assume, lends about as much credibility to eteacherbiblical.com as one could hope for. None the less, I still think the domain name is ridiculous.

“The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.”

“God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea and rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines of never failing skill,
He treasures up His bright designs and works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; the clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break in blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err and scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter, and He will make it plain.”

– William Cowper

photo: source

I Cannot But Rejoice

“Sometimes a light surprises, the Christian while he sings,
It is the Lord Who rises, with healing in His wings;
When comforts are declining, He grants the soul again,
A season of clear shining, to cheer it after the rain.

In holy contemplation, we sweetly then pursue,
The theme of God’s salvation, and find it ever new;
Set free from present sorrow, we cheerfully can say,
Let the unknown tomorrow, bring with it what it may.

Tomorrow can bring us nothing, but He will bear us through:
Who gives the lilies clothing, will clothe His people, too;
Beneath the spreading heavens, no creature but is fed;
And He Who feeds the ravens, will give His children bread.

Though vine nor fig tree neither, their wonted fruit should bear,
Though all the fields should wither, nor flocks or herds be there,
Yet God the same abiding, His praise shall tune my voice;
For while in Him confiding, I cannot but rejoice.”

– William Cowper

photo: apdk

No Need to Go Nuts

God, who has “established his throne in the heavens,” also crowns individuals with steadfast love (Psalm 103:19 and 5).

The One whose “kingdom rules over all” is the same One whose steadfast love is “from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him” (Psalm 103:19 and 17).

God’s sovereign rule over everything is not exercised independent from his steadfast love. In fact, God is continually demonstrating his steadfast love in his sovereign rule.

photo: source