Saturday, February 26, 2005


The Inescapable God -- revised

I've made some revisions to one of my earlier articles:

The Inescapable God

I owe the improvements in this article largely to comments made by one of my pastors in a recent Sunday School class regarding the presuppositional nature of atheism. If you haven't read this article before, please check it out.

Also, don't neglect my archived articles. Some of my readers found my blog after my earliest articles were moved over to the archives, so if you want to get a full picture of what's been on my mind, you'll want to look at them. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, February 24, 2005


A light affliction

So far, I've lived an unusually peaceful and uneventful life. Oh, God has taught me a great deal about patience and perseverence, but thankfully he's used relatively light afflictions to accomplish that.

Take, for instance, this hectic week at the office. I'm exhausted just thinking about it, but I'll try to fill you in anyway. :-) The fun began on Tuesday morning. I've known for some time that my office was due for remodeling, so I'd partially packed my stuff, but had procrastinated on the rest because I'd been promised that I'd have a week's advance notice of when I'd need to move to my temporary quarters. Tuesday morning, I got word that the movers would be coming to take away my old furniture the very next morning, so I needed to get everything out by the end of the work day. It was a lot of work, but by God's grace I managed to get everything loaded up on a large metal cart, and with the help of two of my coworkers pushed the cart to my temporary office. Once I got there, all that remained was for me to hook up my desktop and laptop PCs. Now, I've had years and years of experience with unhooking and hooking PCs, so I assumed that if I just took my time and took care to reconnect everything correctly that all would be well.

Wow, was I wrong! :-( The trouble was with my desktop PC. Even though I've had it less than a year, its hard drive started to go flaky partway through the boot, with all sorts of alarming messages about I/O errors. To make the situation even more exciting, I'd gotten to this point in my move just minutes before I had to leave work for an appointment, so I went home not knowing what was in store for me the next morning. Perhaps the trouble was just a loose cable, or maybe it was something worse. Until the next morning, only the Lord knew what was in store.

On this PC, I'd installed two operating systems, Linux and Windows XP, with a menu to choose between the two. This scheme had worked well before I moved the PC, but now the boot menu refused to boot Linux, saying something about how it was beyond 1024 cylinders. "Well, yes it is", I thought, "but you never complained about that before!" On the other hand, I could boot Windows XP, but since I use this PC almost entirely under Linux, that fact didn't bring me much joy. The worst thing of all was that there were files on the Linux part of the hard drive, files such as address books and email folders, for which I had no backups. If I couldn't get the files off that hard drive, they were lost to me forever.

(Yes, yes, I know I should have had backups. I'm a computer professional, so I always tell people to keep backups, but in this case I was both lazy and complacent, spoiled by the stability that I'd enjoyed with my Linux PCs up to that time. Now at last I think I've learned my lesson: hard drives break, so keep backups. :-) )

This brought me to Wednesday night. I went, as always, to my church's midweek service, and got to talking with some of my fellow full-time and part-time nerds. We bounced around various ideas until our resident teenage Linux wizard suggested that I try running a Windows program that could read Linux files. After all, I could boot Windows, couldn't I? It seemed like a crazy idea. In my experience, Windows has caused me many, many headaches and aggravations, but never has it really saved me from a disaster. Still, I was pretty much out of ideas, so I decided I may as well give his idea a try.

Well, it looks as though I owe Bill Gates a thank-you card. :-) On account of a flaky feature of Windows, it managed to disregard the error on my hard drive well enough to read all of my irreplaceable Linux files and copy them to a Windows partition. My data was saved!!! Now all I have to do is install Linux on a new hard drive and copy my data back. Oh yes, I'll be setting up a daily backup scheme, too.

Thus, as on so many occasions in my life, God helped me with a difficult situation in such a way as to make it really a very light affliction, taught me wisdom through it, and brought me out ahead in several ways. Moreover, he'd used past afflictions to teach me the patience and perseverence I'd need to endure this affliction. No, I don't always appreciate the difficult providences he brings into my life, light though they are, but I must admit that he has always been faithful to deliver me out of every one. Therefore, I can be confident that as the last great affliction of my life--death--draws near, that he will make even that terrible foe into nothing, because on account of the finished work of Christ on my behalf he will raise me from death unto life forevermore. At that time, types, shadows, and object lessons will no longer be necessary, but until then, I daresay that I sometimes see glimpses of the great deliverance to come reflected in the smaller deliverances God so graciously grants me daily.

Sunday, February 20, 2005


Whatever you do

As I mentioned in a previous article, one of the first spiritual trials I underwent as a new Christian was all in my head: was I willing to serve God as a missionary, even in deepest Africa? The notion was a rather frightening one to me at that time, but in the end I was able to truthfully confess that I was willing to serve God in that capacity if it was his will.

However, as it turned out, it hasn't been God's will (so far) for me to serve him in such a capacity. Instead, I've continued on in secular work, first as a college instructor, later as a computer programmer. I enjoy what I do very much, but it's not particularly "spiritual" work. I doubt that I've saved any souls by virtue of fixing a broken computer program, and I've not even managed to convert anyone from Windows to Linux by preaching a fervent sermon.

But is it really true that I'm not doing "spiritual" work? I'm not doing what's generally considered to be "ministry" work on even a part-time basis, but does this imply that I'm not glorifying and honoring God? No, not if I take the Scriptures at their word. Take for instance 1 Corinthians 10:31:

Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

I don't know about you, but I enjoy eating and drinking, especially if the bill of fare is pleasant to taste. However, I wouldn't say that eating and drinking is particularly "spiritual". In fact, I eat and drink mainly in order to sustain my body, the same body that will one day return to the dust from whence it came. Also, the other things I do from day to day aren't super-spiritual either: working, reading, shopping, sleeping, etc.. So, am I glorifying God in doing these things, or must I quit my job, go off to seminary, and go into the full-time ministry?

No, there's no need for me to go into full-time ministry, or wait until this or that circumstance changes in my life, in order to glorify God. As a matter of fact, God has charged me to glorify and honor him in every aspect of my life, to do so today. If I work, I ought to work as unto the Lord. If I eat or drink, I do so unto the the Lord. If I read a book, watch a movie, or listen to music, I do so unto the Lord. Whatever I do, I do to the glory of God.

So, what are we do make of all this? Certainly not that full-time ministry is dishonorable to God; quite the contrary! Thank God for faithful ministers of the Word; they are true gifts from God! Instead, we ought to realize that whatever you and I are doing now can and ought to be done for the glory of God. We ought to glorify God in the calling in which we find ourselves today and need not--nay, must not!--wait until tomorrow. This is not to say that it is wrong to pursue change, improvement, or growth in our lives. As a single man, I hope that God will soon give me a suitable wife, but in the meantime I am free to glorify God in my singleness. You may have a desire to teach Sunday School, write hymns, preach the Gospel in your town or in faraway places. If so, by all means pursue that desire as God gives you leave to do so, but you ought not wait to glorify him until you attain your goal. Your present station and calling may be low and mundane, but it is God's will that you do whatever you do to his glory. This is your privilege, so take care that you live according to it while it is still called today!

Saturday, February 19, 2005


Today's vast wasteland

If you've read much of my blog, you've no doubt noticed that I like old stuff: old movies, old records, old books, old-time religion, etc.. It's not that I dislike new stuff in and of itself. For instance, I'm writing this article on a fairly new PC on one of the latest releases of the excellent Linux operating system, and I'm continug to build on a large and comprehensive DVD collection. Insofar as technology is concerned, I have no qualms about using the best of what's new, at least once the bugs have been worked out. :-)

However, I find much of what passes for artistic expression nowadays, whether serious art or popular art, to be sorely lacking. Aside from the all-too-common emphasis on the ugly and crude at the expense of the beautiful and virtuous, i find a certain coldness or heartlessness at the core of much of modern cinema, music, etc..

Let's take the movies for instance. Now, I can't deny that the technology that's available to modern moviemakers is marvelous. Just the other night I saw a movie that seamlessly integrated live actors with CGI-generated backgrounds and special effects. Except for a few props and the actors themselves, the whole movie was computer generated. Even on a small TV screen, the effect was extremely impressive visually and sonically. However, the overall effect of the movie was cold and lacking in passion. No wonder, given that the very purpose of the movie was to pay homage to the pop culture--science fiction, comic books, architecture, etc.--of the early 20th Century, in the form of a deadpan cliche-filled psuedo-adventure. Given the subject matter and viewpoint of the film, it was evident that the producers intended it to be detached, camp, arch, ironic, you name it. I'm certain the film turned out exactly what it was intended to be.

In my opinion, much of today's music could be described in much the same way. Now, sound quality is better than ever, thanks to digital recording and multi-tracking, and musicianship can be excellent in a technical sense, but much of the new music I hear falls into two major categories: (1) technically adept but highly derivative performances in styles of the past or (2) more adventurous performances that strongly emphasize the alleged ugliness of the "real world". When I hear most modern music, I either think, "I've heard this done before, but better," or "What in the world were they thinking?"

So far I've been writing about the arts in general, so I should point out, with sadness, that my impressions apply to much of the artistic product of professing Christians, too. Now, I'm happy to say ugliness and harshness are found much less in Christian art and music than in the product of the world as a whole, but that doesn't mean that it's quality art. Sadly, much of the Christian stuff I see and hear these days is extremely derivative. For instance, much contemporary Christian music sounds almost exactly like secular music, albeit with cleaned-up words and less-skilled musicianship, and much Christian art and illustration is cold, superficial, or simply derivative.

My friends, this ought not be! What has become of cinema, music, literature, and art of wit, passion, and beauty? Has it all truly been said before? Is there nothing left for us to do than to ape what has been said before? Is the only alternative to the ugliness and cynicism of the world to be bland, saccharine sweetness and light? Has the church forgotten that it is God's will that we do all things--yes, including our art!--for his glory? Why then do we so often settle for imitating the world? Are we not to be salt and light in this present age? If so, where is our voice?

Although I've not done an exhaustive search of the contemporary arts, I've seen several examples that may point to a better way. In the cinema, some of the literary adaptations such as the A&E/BBC "Pride and Prejudice" or the movies of "Sense and Sensibility" and "Persuasion" allow a degree of beauty and virtue to come through, and the recent biopic of "Luther" has many virtues in its own right. Quality music seems to be harder to come by. In particular, I've yet to find a modern performance of classic or contemporary hymns that combines doctrinal integrity (i.e., includes most or all of the verses) and quality musicianship. Of course, my search has not been exhaustive, so I'd welcome pointers to good modern films, music, literature, art, etc., whether Christian or secular.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005


Under construction

If you happen to visit Stately Dave Manor this summer, things might appear a bit, er, disorderly. If the weather is dry, the air will be filled with dust, but if things are wet, there's going to be more than enough mud to suit any family of pigs. Yes, that's right: road construction is coming to my neighborhood, and from the sounds of things, it's going to be an ongoing headache for just less than six months. However, the news isn't all bad. Once the construction is over, it sounds as though I'm going to get several benefits. Instead of a two-lane country-style blacktop with gravel shoulders, I'll have a city street with curbs and gutters and actual storm sewer drainage. On-street parking will be available on one side of the street, and there will be--joy of joys--sidewalks on both side of the street! Although I'm sure some folks, especially schoolkids, will continue to walk across my lawn, at least they won't be forced to do so. :-)

In order to learn more about the road construction project, I attended a meeting the other night. While I was there, I found myself thinking about how similar the Christian life is to a life-long construction project. Difficulties, trials, etc., are the means that God uses to sanctify us: to crucify the flesh, and comform us more and more to the likeness of Christ. As sanctification progresses, it can be rather, er, messy. God sometimes uses some very difficult providences to accomplish our sanctification: sickness, financial woes, relationship struggles, the loss of a job, the death of a loved one, etc., etc., etc.. None of this in itself is pleasant, nor does God mean it to be so. But, as God's work progresses, fruit slowly but surely becomes visible. As Paul wrote in Romans:

Chapter 5
3 And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing
that tribulation worketh patience;
4 And patience, experience; and experience, hope:
5 And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed
abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.

Paul is not saying, of course, that we ought to glory the tribulations themselves--even Christ despised the shame of the Cross as he endured it for the glory set before him--but rather that we ought to glory in the good that God intends to work through the tribulations.

Thus, the Christian ought not lose heart when his life appears to be in something of a mess or when he seems to be losing rather than gaining ground for a season. We have God's Word for it: we are under construction, and in due time we will see and enjoy the benefits of the wonderful work he's doing in us.

Monday, February 14, 2005


True vs. false confidence

I've just figured out how to do a "trackback" to someone else's blog. Here's my first such link. It's an article written by my ol' buddy Janet Lee that effectively explains how true confidence must be placed in God rather than in anything else:
Confidence - True or False?

Check it out. It's a great article!

Sunday, February 13, 2005


Strangers in our midst

It was just over twenty years ago, shortly after God made me willing to trust Christ as my Lord and Savior, that I spent some time wrestling with a peculiar question, "Am I willing to go to Africa as a missionary?" For a new believer, this was a very intimidating notion, so it took me quite a while to say, "Yes, Lord, I'm willing." As it turned out, God was (as far as I can tell) only testing my willingness to obey him, and I've been safe and sound in the good ol' USA ever since, without any strong inclination to pursue missions work.

Actually, subsequent events weren't all that simple, because in a way I have had occasion to be a missionary to people from several different parts of the world, including various countries in Asia, Africa, and Central and South America. Most of these folks were students I met while they were attending the university at which I work. Many were already Christians, but some were not. During the time I spent fellowshipping with these students, I learned quite a bit about how to get along with folks whose backgrounds are very different from my own. Here's a few of the most important things I learned:

  • Treat a stranger just like you'd treat someone who's from the same ethnic background as yourself. Treat each person with respect and as an individual. Especially if they're new to your part of the world, they may feel strange or alone, so they'll greatly appreciate it if you just treat them as a regular person.

  • At the same time, treat a stranger with special respect. They've taken a long journey to end up in your neighborhood, so make them feel welcome. Even as you treat them as a normal person, take care to show special interest in what makes them special.

  • Be flexible. Be prepared to do things in different ways. If you have the opportunity, take advantage of any chance to just "hang out" with a family or other group of strangers. Remember that they are strangers, after all, and may feel isolated from the mainstream culture, so they may very likely welcome it when someone from the broader community reaches out in friendship.

  • If there have been times or situations in your life when you've felt as though you were something of a stranger or "odd man out", you may be well on your way to understanding how a foreigner feels when he's newly arrived in your country. Treat him as you'd wanted to be treated when you felt yourself to be a stranger.

  • Practically speaking, be prepared to eat anything. One of the best bridge-building tools I found was to willingly and enthusiastically try pretty much all of the food and drinks my friends prepared. You wouldn't believe all of the dinner invitations I received as a result! If you're a person who likes just certain kinds of food, try to broaden your diet a bit. Who knows what opportunities for friendship may open up as a result?

    So, when you see an unfamiliar face in your neighborhood, workplace, or shopping center, reach out and be a friend. If you will do so with an attitude of true love and respect, you are very likely to build a bridge that may very well provide you with an opportunity to share your faith with them.

    The strangers in our midst are really not that strange. They are men and women of like passions as you and me. With you and me they fell into sin and judgment in Adam, and like you and me they are in desperate need of a Savior. You may not need to go overseas to meet them, because as our world "shrinks" through air travel, the peoples of the world are mixing more and more, with the result that the stranger is becoming, in fact, our next-door neighbor.

  • Friday, February 11, 2005


    "Like the mind of God"?

    You know, when you look around it's not hard to find violations of God's Law, but it's only occasionally that I find one in huge print right on the cover of a magazine. The magazine in question is the January 2005 issue of MIT's Technology Review, and the topic has to do with the war between Google and competing Web search engines, in particular a new one from Microsoft. On the table of contents, we read that "Google wants to organize all digital information." This, I suppose, is the "reason" why the editors chose to put the following on the cover, in huge type, with the first word in the style of the famous Google logo:

    God. But for How Long?

    Inside the magazine, we find a quote from one of the founders of Google, Sergey Brin, who says, "The perfect search engine would be like the mind of God." Perhaps this quote is the inspiration for the magazine's cover.

    For my money, these abuses of the name of God is yet another example of how fallen humanity strives to ignore and belittle Almighty God, thinking so lightly of him as to think nothing of attributing deity to a man-made entity, in this case a mere Web search engine. Oh, I'm sure that in this instance the reference to "God" was made in jest, and may not have been made with any intention of causing offense, but in any case I have a news flash: taking the name of God lightly does indeed qualify as taking his name in vain, a violation of the Third of the famous Ten Commandments.

    With all due respect to the powerful and extremely useful services which Google provides--services which I myself use almost daily--it will never approach the perfect knowledge of God, so I submit that Mr. Brin and the editors of Technology Review have some repenting to do for their abuse of the name of Deity, not because I say so, but because the Bible says that he will by no means clear the guilty. There would be no sin in asserting Google to be a powerful and excellent service, but a line is crossed when it is compared to God in any way, shape, or form, even in a light-hearted manner. They may scoff at such a notion if they like, but as I wrote the other day, they cannot and will not escape the Almighty, Sovereign, Inescapable God, no matter how they try to laugh or scoff him out of their minds.

    Thursday, February 10, 2005


    The Inescapable God

    [Revised 02/27/2005]

    If you've hung out on the Internet for very long, you may have noticed that a great deal of words have poured forth regarding one of the major questions of modern civilization: was the universe and life created by God or by natural processes? In a way it's fitting that so much time and effort has been invested into this debate, because there are few matters of greater importance, and surely few matters with greater implications, because the question "creation vs. evolution" really boils down to this far greater question, "Is there a God and what is he like?" If evolution is indeed the cause for life as we know it, then what need is there for God, but if the cause is creation, then there is every need for God and every need to pay heed to whatever he would wish to teach his Creation. Thus, the debate over Creation is really, at its core, a debate over the Creator, God, but it is a debate that is often focused on matters of science that can never settle the issue one way or another.

    If you are acquainted with the Christian Scriptures, you are no doubt well acquainted with their teaching regarding the attributes of God: his omnipotence, omniscience, sovereignty, goodness, holiness, justice, etc.. In all these attributes he is far and away without peer. Indeed, he is perfect in absolutely every way. There is no created being, much less any man or woman, who can come remotely close to approaching his utter perfection in any of these attributes, so it is futile for any creature to try to take away anything from his perfection.

    But yet, that is exactly what men try to do on a daily basis. All over the world, in countless ways, men strive to belittle God, to remove him from his rightful Throne. As they do so, they mistake his long-suffering, his great patience, for proof that he either doesn't care or doesn't exist, so they persist in their utter foolishness.

    Such it is, I fear, in certain sectors of the world of science. Now, science in and of itself is no enemy to God. There is absolutely nothing wrong with researching and probing into the countless mysteries of God's Creation, but all too often those who speak as men or women of science claim that they have found no need for God in this or that aspect of the universe. They will say that they have found some law of nature or some natural process that explains this or that phenomenon, then go on to say or at least imply that this law or process operates entirely on its own, without any need for God.

    It is my impression that the theory of evolution as held by so many in the scientific community is at its heart an effort to dethrone God as Creator, leaving in its place the laws of Nature and random chance. Countless effort has been put into research and experiments to investigate this or that aspect of evolution, with the intent being to confirm or strengthen the theory. I'm sure it goes without saying that many useful observations have been made about natural processes in the course of this research. Especially during the last few hundred years, we've learned a great deal about genetics, mutations, DNA, RNA, etc., thus giving much insight into the way nature operates. Surely many more insights will come as the research continues, as I hope it will.

    Although I cannot predict all of the mysteries that will be unlocked as science continues to probe into the secrets of nature, I can make one fearless prediction: no matter what they discover, they will never be able to remove the almighty, omniscient, omnipresent, sovereign, all-wise, all-good, all-just God from his Throne. Never. The reason why I say this has to do with his many perfections. The fact of the matter is this: if God is in fact as the Bible says he is, he can do absolutely anything he pleases. In particular, he has absolute control after everything that takes place in creation, up to and including the very laws of nature, the laws which he himself set into motion.

    To put it another way, a God who is as perfect as the Bible says he is is absolutely and utterly inescapable. It doesn't matter what natural process you discover or what gene you find: the God of the Bible is behind it all. By probing into the workings of nature, you will merely learn about God's workings in greater detail. Oh, it may appear to you that the laws of nature operate unassisted by any God, but if God is sovereign and almighty, appearances have deceived you.

    Science does indeed have its place, but it is limited to the realm that can be observed by the five senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. When it confines itself to its rightful place, science can and does tell us a great deal of value. Conversely, science cannot look into what cannot be observed with these five senses. Thus, the reality of a God who exists beyond the perception of the five senses cannot be confirmed or denied by science. To pronounce that nothing exists beyond what can be observed with the senses, or that there is indeed an almighty God who created all things, is to make a presupposition, a statement that can neither be proven or disproven by science.

    So, even if science were to find answers and explanations for every natural process, including those which govern the creation and sustenance of life itself, it could in no way escape a God who created all things and put those processes into effect. It doesn't matter if every theory and hypothesis of science proves to be true. For instance, if macroevolution did in fact take place--that is, if one species did in fact evolve into another--even that wouldn't disprove the reality of a sovereign, almighty God, because in that case that God would be well able to control all of the necessary micro-mutations.[1] Regardless of what natural process you may discover, an almighty God would be in control of it. Whether or not this God is real or not cannot be determined by science.

    Christianity at its core makes two basic presuppositions: (1) that there is a God, and (2) the Bible is his revealed Word. Just as the atheist presupposes there is no God by pronouncing that what we see is all there is, the Christian presupposes God and his inerrant word. Arguments can be made based on these presuppositions, and evidence can be found to support them, but like the great presupposition of the atheist, the Christian faith's two great presuppositions must in the final analysis be accepted by faith. Thus, it is faith rather than science that must determine whether we accept or deny the reality of God. This is not to say that whether or not God and the Bible are true is up to you or me. God is true and real regardless of what you or I may think, just as I exist whether or not you accept my existence.

    Thus, every effort to replace the almighty, sovereign Creator God with any other god or force or process through the means of science is doomed to failure. He is the God whose presence and control cannot be avoided by any creature or man-made theory. Even the philosophy of naturalism cannot avoid him. He is the God who is inescapable.

    [1] I believe that Genesis 1 teaches that God created each creature individually, species by species, so I am persuaded the Scriptures refute any notion that he used anything like macroevolution to accomplish his creative work.


    I Know How To Abound

    [I received this quote from Charles Spurgeon via my church email list. As a Christian man who is desiring certain blessings from God, and who has often wondered why God in his turn has given me so many opportunities to cultivate the graces of patience and humility, these words from the "Prince of Preachers" help me to better understand God's dealings with me.]

    "I know how to abound."
    Philippians 4:12

    There are many who know "how to be abased" who have not learned "how to abound." When they are set upon the top of a pinnacle their heads grow dizzy, and they are ready to fall. The Christian far oftener disgraces his profession in prosperity than in adversity. It is a dangerous thing to be prosperous. The crucible of adversity is a less severe trial to the Christian than the refining pot of prosperity. Oh, what leanness of soul and neglect of spiritual things have been brought on through the very mercies and bounties of God! Yet this is not a matter of necessity, for the apostle tells us that he knew how to abound. When he had much he knew how to use it. Abundant grace enabled him to bear abundant prosperity. When he had a full sail he was loaded with much ballast, and so floated safely. It needs more than human skill to carry the brimming cup of mortal joy with a steady hand, yet Paul had learned that skill, for he declares, "In all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry." It is a divine lesson to know how to be full, for the Israelites were full once, but while the flesh was yet in their mouth, the wrath of God came upon them. Many have asked for mercies that they might satisfy their own hearts' lust. Fulness of bread has often made fulness of blood, and that has brought on wantonness of spirit. When we have much of God's providential mercies, it often happens that we have but little of God's grace, and little gratitude for the bounties we have received. We are full and we forget God: satisfied with earth, we are content to do without heaven. Rest assured it is harder to know how to be full than it is to know how to be hungry--so desperate is the tendency of human nature to pride and forgetfulness of God. Take care that you ask in your prayers that God would teach you "how to be full."

    "Let not the gifts thy love bestows
    Estrange our hearts from thee."

    Charles Spurgeon

    Wednesday, February 09, 2005


    Motives for respect

    Since writing the other day's post about manners and respect, I've had some more thoughts about the subject, especially that good manners avail little or nothing without respect, and that one must respect one's neighbor for right reasons. Also, as we strive to treat others with respect, we need to take care to not judge others too harshly if they don't treat us as we'd like to be treated. In other words, we ought to strive to treat others in a loving manner out of a sincere desire to serve them. In other words, as Almighty God put it in His Word, we ought to love our neighbor as ourself. This kind of love must always be the preeminent reason why we treat others with respect.

    Moreover, we need to take care that we don't allow manners and customs to become a law in their own right. Only the Law written in the Word of God, the Bible, is binding on the conscience of all men. Men can and do come up with many other laws, both written and unwritten. When these laws come from the governing authorities, we ought to submit to them so long as they don't contradict God's Law. In addition to the laws of government, every society has many other laws, most of them unwritten. For lack of a better word, I'll call these laws "customs". Customs ought to be evaluated in the light of Scripture. If following a local custom would cause me to violate God's Law, then I must not follow that custom, but if the local custom causes no conflict with God's Law, then my conscience is free. This means that I am free to follow or disregard the custom as I see fit. However, I also need to bear in mind the law of brotherly love. That is, if a custom doesn't conflict with the Word of God and keeping it will communicate respect to my neighbor, then I will do well to keep it, not because the custom in itself is binding on my conscience, but because God's commandment that I "love thy neighbor" is binding on my conscience. Thus, it is good and right in many cases for the Christian to respect local customs.

    However, there are still murkier waters afoot, because in practice each individual may have certain standards of behavior which they consider to define respectful conduct. Although their standard may be based neither on God's Law nor local customs, they may hold it to be mandatory all the same, and may take offense if you happen to violate their standard. Now, when I'm aware of my friend's unique standards, I'll do my best to honor them out of love and respect for him, but when I'm ignorant of his standards, I may inadvertently cause offense.

    Confession time: regarding local customs I've been something of a slow learner (although I'm doing very well in recent years), so in the past I've caused unintentional offense on a number of occasions. I've been single all my life (I hope to marry someday), and have only entered into courtship on one occasion, so my experience with the finer points of courtship etiquette is less than might be expected for a guy in his mid-forties. Also, having been single for so long and often having a small circle of friends, I haven't always gotten as much input into the unwritten "dos and don'ts" of our society as might be usual. I say all this only to explain that I am not a malicious rebel against society, but rather a slow learner. As people get to know me, they realize that the reason why I don't always know to say or do exactly the right thing is on account of ignorance rather than malice, not to mention that I am quick to "reform" my behavior when I do learn that I've caused unintentional offense, but sometimes when an acquaintance is new and a person doesn't understand this, they have thought that something is amiss with my attitude, when in fact the problem is much more superficial than that, and far be it from being a deep-seated character flaw, it is a fault that is easily remedied.

    I share all of this to illustrate why, as we strive to treat those around us with greater respect, that we need to be careful to be patient with and forgiving towards others. Whereas it's good to examine our own heart strictly, it's good to give others every benefit of the doubt. So, as we strive to implement the lessons we can learn from the writings of Jane Austen and the best customs of the past, let's do so with kindness, patience, and charity to all!

    Monday, February 07, 2005


    Snap, Crackle, and Pop

    Oh, about that funny noise you hear when you come to visit my house,
    Stately Dave Manor: that snap, crackle, and pop. What's with that
    noise, anyway?

    Well, that's easy: it's the sound of the vintage recordings I often play on my sound system. Part of my setup is very high-tech--the XMMS media player running under the Fedora Core 2 Linux distribution, playing MP3 and OGG format audio files--but much of the music I enjoy was recorded before 1960. Until magnetic tape recording became common in the late 1940s, pretty much all commercial records were recorded "direct to disk" and pressed onto 78 RPM shellac records. The snap, crackle, and pop comes from the unique qualities of the compounds used to make the records, and the limited fidelity is on account of the relatively primitive recording technology that was used before magnetic tape.

    But, don't let the low fidelity and the background noise throw you, because what matters here is the music, and the music that's in the grooves of the best of these old records is very, very fine indeed. Countless performers made their best recordings in the 78 RPM era.

    In future posts, I hope to single some of them out for special attention, but for now, I'd like to mention some of the qualities that makes the best vintage recordings so special:

    Having said all that in favor of this old music and old technology, one thing I must say in favor of the new technology is the way I can create playlists of a few or many songs and ask the music player software to play the songs in random order. The result is a custom mix of songs, played one after another, with each new song being a surprise. I find this is especially enjoyable when I create a playlist that mixes songs from many different genres. It's a lot of fun to jump between a pop crooner, a hot jazz band, and a mournful country ballad. To add icing to the cake, I've got a low-power FM transmitter that lets me beam the music to all of the FM radios in my house. The result is I have my own radio station that plays only the music I enjoy. Who could ask for anything more?

    Sunday, February 06, 2005


    With All Due Respect

    As I mentioned in my introductory post, I'm something of a Jane Austen fan, a fact that got me booted from the Official Nerd Society several years ago (a most humiliating event for a guy who's also a big Linux nut :-) ). I've read all of Austen's novels and own on DVD more than one video dramatization of most of them.

    Now, as a single guy who's in search of a suitable spouse, I must admit that I do enjoy the "boy meets/courts/marries girl" aspect of Austen's stories, but that's far from the only attraction her work holds for me. In fact, as I get better acquainted with Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Persuasion, and the rest, the more I appreciate Austen's insightful, ironic observations of the people and manners of her time: late 18th and early 19th Century England. In her works, I get a picture of a society with many flaws but at the same time many virtues that people of the early 21st Century may do well to emulate.

    I'm a US citizen, having been both born and raised in the USA. Since I was born in the early 1960s, I've seen our society evolve in various ways. One of the most noticable changes I've seen is the move towards informality. When I was a young boy I was taught to address grown-ups as "Mr. Smith" or "Mrs. Jones", and I was expected to "dress up" for special occasions, such as the periodic family trip to visit the relatives. What a change I've seen since then! Now, it seems that everyone is on a first-name basis, and everyone dresses in casual attire (jeans and T-shirt, etc.) almost all the time. I've even had young children address me by my first name.

    How different the world of Miss Austen must have been! Compared to today, manners were much more formal. The ways in which you addressed a person or which you dressed for a particular occasion were drastically different depending on whether you were at home with your family, shopping in the marketplace, directing your servants, or visiting your social superior. First names were reserved for your immediate family or very intimate friends. In Austen's novels, the first time a gentleman called his intended spouse by her first name is when he proposed marriage to her. Up to then, she was Miss Bennet (if she was the eldest daughter) or Miss Elizabeth Bennet (if a younger daughter). People of distinction were addressed by title, such as Sir or Lady Bertram. As for dress and overall behavior, how you presented yourself in company was very different than how you behaved when you were alone with family or very intimate friends. If you were a gentleman's daughter such as Miss Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, you'd want to wear one of your best dresses if you were invited to dine with Lady Catherine de Bourgh at Rosings, taking care to not dress so fine as to outshine her ladyship.

    Although I've obviously not lived in Miss Austen's world, I can well imagine that keeping track of all of the dos and don'ts of her society was hard work. I, for one, have no desire to return to those days, and I see many advantages to the social leveling we've seen since then. In particular, I think we've made much positive progress insofar as respect towards women and various ethnic groups since Miss Austen's day (although the recent movement towards political correctness has, I fear, often taken things too far). However, I think there is much good that we can glean from the manners and customs of that long-ago day.

    I am of the opinion that 21st Century American society would benefit immensely from a revival of respect. Whereas in our informal society it seems that what's most important to us is our own personal comfort, we would do better to treat others with proper respect, as though they are better than ourselves. By using respectful terms of address, wearing suitable attire, paying attention to personal grooming, etc., we communicate respect for those around us, so long as we do these things out of a sincere attitude of respect. (Feigned respect is no respect at all; it would be far better to be sincerely informal!) Moreover, through good manners we grant "space" to those with whom we are not intimate, a practice which in my experience helps rather than hinders the process of getting acquainted with a person. In such a scheme, there would be ample time to be casual or "laid back", but that time would be reserved for the occasions when we are with those with whom we are truly intimate.

    Although I am of the opinion that a movement towards greater formality and improved manners in our society would be of great overall benefit, I ought to emphasize the many advantages such a scheme would have for the process of courtship. Today, a guy meets a girl, asks her out for a date, and from then on they're pretty much on their own, but with courtship, the guy starts out by asking the girl's father for permission to court her, and remains accountable to him throughout the process. Far from hindering the process of getting acquainted, such a method I think provides beneficial safeguards that make it easier for the man and woman to resist the temptation towards premature intimacy. Intimacy would, of course, come in due time: on the day that they are married. I could write much more about this important subject, but that will have to wait for some other time.

    So, if you haven't taken the time to check out the works of Jane Austen, I encourage you to do so. My recommendation: start with the A&E DVD of Pride and Prejudice, then read the novel. After that, try out her other novels and the corresponding video adaptations. (I especially recommend Mansfield Park, a novel in which virtue is richly rewarded in the end. Avoid the 1999 movie which is spiced up with several 20th Century idiosyncracies, and track down the fine 1980s BBC miniseries instead.) As you immerse yourself in her works, take some time to think about how you might apply her insights into your day-to-day life. If your experience is like mine, you may learn some very interesting lessons.

    Saturday, February 05, 2005


    One mixed-up guy

    I admit it: in some ways, I'm a bit of a nerd. If you were to visit my house, it wouldn't take you long to notice that I have two PCs networked together, a home entertainment system that visually dominates the living room, and Lego models scattered hither and yon. To further confirm the prognosis, I've been working with computers of all sizes since the early 1980s, and I run the Linux operating system in place of Windows on both PCs. What's more, my upstairs hall is filled with large collections of CDs and DVDs. All things considered, how much more nerdish could I get?

    But, please take another look. Sure, I've got the whole house wired for sound, but what's with that music that's coming out of the speakers? What with the background crackle and the quaint old performance style it sounds as though it was recorded half a century ago! Also, notice all the books on music, history, culture, and art on my bookshelves, not to mention the fact that the vast majority of the movies on my DVD racks were produced before 1960. Why, most of them were made in _black and white_, and many of those that are in color are adaptations of classic literature such as the novels of Jane Austen. What kind of nerd would be caught dead with this kind of stuff?

    If you look even closer, you'll notice that I have a strong interest--actually, a compelling faith--in something even older: the Reformed Christian faith. At least one-third of my bookshelves are filled with solid Christian literature by both old and new writers: John Bunyan, the Puritans, C. H. Spurgeon, John MacArthur, R. C. Sproul, etc.. Given that the Gospel in which I believe was put into written form over two thousand years ago, and was in fact ordained by God in distant eternity, before He created the heavens and earth, I would daresay that my outlook on life, despite all of the computers and electronics, could hardly be more old-fashioned.

    Well, I suppose that this brief article makes me sound like a pretty mixed-up guy, but in fact I have found no contradiction in taking advantage of the best from both the past and the present. In this blog, I hope to draw on what I've learned from the past and what I observe in the present, sharing what I hope will be useful insights into how we might employ lessons from the past to our lives in the early 21st Century.

    If you're interested, I invite you to visit this blog often to see what morsels I have to share. I hope you will give them fair consideration and in turn share any comments that you may have.

    Thanks for reading!

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