Monthly Archives: May 2009

The Day of Pentecost

0060-0503-0117-2406 Today is Pentecost Sunday in churches all across the globe. Much as Easter is celebrated on one day, though each Sunday is truly Easter Sunday, so it is with Pentecost. Every Sunday we remember that the Holy Spirit is with us, and in us, and that we have the Comforter, the "spirit of Jesus" living in our soul, personally and collectively as believers.

The term Pentecost comes from the Greek name for the Jewish Feast of Weeks at the close of the grain harvest fifty days after Passover and Unleavened Bread. In the early church Pentecost at first designated the whole period of fifty days from Easter; only later did it refer particularly to the fiftieth day, which became a feast in its own right.

The fifty days that celebrated the resurrection in the ancient church were "the first fruits of the end, one great Sunday" (Athanasius) and "the most joyful season" (Tertullian). Augustine said the "Alleluia" was

By |May 31st, 2009|Categories: Church Tradition|

A Prayer for the Illinois House of Representatives

Matt & John May 17 Most of you know that my son is a pastor and serves a church plant in nearby Streamwood, Illinois. (I preached there on May 10 and 17. The photo above is of Matt introducing me to his flock to preach.) Matt, his wife Adriana, and their two beautiful girls, Gracie and Abbie, drove to Springfield on Thursday afternoon in order to be in the Illinois House of Representatives for Friday's morning session. Gracie and Abbie served as "pages" for the day while Matthew gave the invocation to the House. Little did any of us know when Matt accepted this invitation that the government of this state would be in such a mess over ethics, budgets and power and that the end of their present session loomed with ominous overtones as they try to settle a number of perils the state now faces. In my forty years in this state I have never seen the legislature in such a conflicted state. Much like

By |May 30th, 2009|Categories: Prayer|

The Best Athletes in Professional Sports?

DSC00833 Among fans of professional sports there is a debate now and then about which sport requires the most athleticism. I have no doubt that the answer is "hockey." Friends know that I love baseball and college football best. (I have written about them both on this blog over the years.) But I have always enjoyed hockey. I do not get to see NHL games very often because of the cost of a ticket. This season was no exception since the Chicago played really well for the first time in years and cheap tickets were not easily available. In fact, the Hawks made it to the Campbell Conference finals against the Detroit Red Wings and lost a second overtime game Wednesday night to end that series. They won only one game against the far superior Detroit team. My prediction is simple—Detroit will win the Stanley Cup! Sorry Pittsburgh Penguins fans but Detroit is still too good to beat in my book. They will

By |May 29th, 2009|Categories: Personal|

"We All Live By Luck!"

The sovereign activity of God can be seen in many instances in Scripture. In fact, the truth is found throughout the entire biblical record. This is part of what led to my own embrace of this powerful truth almost forty years ago. Christians disagree about the particulars, at least in terms of how they define man's will and God's sovereignty, but they should not disagree about the basic fact of divine providence.

Heidelberg Providence is the doctrine of God's care for the creation, involving his preservation of it and his guiding it to his intended ends. The famous Heidelberg Catechism, personally my favorite catechism, says that providence is: "The almighty and everywhere present power of God, whereby, as it were by His hand, He still upholds heaven, earth, and all creatures, and so governs them that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yea, all things, comes not by chance but

By |May 28th, 2009|Categories: Biblical Theology|

Basic Christianity: The Right Approach

Sott Yesterday, I referred to the fiftieth anniversary edition of John R. Stott's classic book, Basic Christianity. Today I return to this incredibly useful book to comment on Stott's opening chapter where he lays our what he calls: "The Right Approach."

Stott says that the first four words of the Bible are more than an introduction to the creation story or the book of Genesis. "They supply the key which opens our understanding to the Bible as a whole" (11). What these four words tell us, all interpretive issues regarding Genesis aside, is that the religion of the Bible is the religion in which God takes the initiative. Again, Stott has the ability to cut away so much that is less than central to the faith to get at what really, truly matters. Here is how he puts it:

You can never take God by surprise. You can never anticipate him. He always makes the first move. He is always

By |May 27th, 2009|Categories: Biblical Theology|

Basic Christianity: A True Classic

Books No modern author has given the church a greater written treasure, at least regarding what is essential to Christianity and real faith, than John R. Stott. I have written about John R. Stott in several previous blogs over the last four years or so. I love to encourage a new generation of readers to discover the importance of his work for evangelism, apologetics and solid biblical theology. Stott's small book, Basic Christianity (first published in 1958) was recently released in a fiftieth anniversary edition, thus making it a true classic now available in a new format and special edition. I use this particular book to teach young believers. I also use it to guide those who have never had a "basic" introduction to the central truths of Christian faith, even if they've been in the church for decades. This is a book that both Catholic and evangelical readers can profit from precisely because Stott addresses the "fundamental claims of Christianity" not the polemical issues that still

By |May 26th, 2009|Categories: Biblical Theology|

A "Holy Day" In America

Unkwn2 Today is truly one of America's national "holy days." I am not saying this either as a form of judgment or of complete approval. It simple is what it is, a day to remember our national experience and the incredible sacrifice of our own to protect and defend this nation. I am grateful for the day myself. The tomb of the unknown soldier, seen at the left, still moves me very deeply every time I visit this site. I have friends who gave their lives for me and this nation. I respect and honor their sacrifice.

But I believe we who are Christians first and foremost ought to understand that this celebration is intimately connected to civil religion, a form of national religious expression that has nothing to do with the kingdom of God, at least not directly. It certainly has nothing to do with the Church and her mission to make disciples. 

Church and State

A Weekend for Family

DSC00857 God gave me a unique and Christ-centered family heritage. My dad has been gone for twenty-three years in June and my mom passed away in November of 2007. I have one brother, almost four years older than me. He likes to remind me that he is also four years smarter. I don't tend to argue.

Like most siblings we had our share of rivalry growing up but we generally got along well, with me tagging along a great deal with the older boys. Since we were always four years apart our teachers were always comparing us in some ways. (Tom would finish elementary school, junior high school, or high school, and then I would come along, etc.) This did not create a problem but it did generate a few laughs along the way. Thomas William Armstrong (1945) was born at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, where our father was an army officer serving as a dentist during World War

By |May 24th, 2009|Categories: Personal|

Catherine of Genoa: Discovering the Love of God

Catherine Catherine of Genoa (1447–1510), named after Catherine of Siena, was born into an illustrious family named Guelph. Two from her father’s family were popes. Her father was the viceroy of Naples, and a cousin was a member of the College of Cardinals. In 1463 she was married to Giuliano Adorno, a wealthy and very worldly individual, with whom she had almost nothing in common. (Those who praise “arranged marriage” with sentimentality, or an embrace of patriarchy, should take note!) Some ten years after marriage Catherine was converted to a contemplative life. In the same year her husband lost his fortune. With their remaining income they sought simple quarters among the poor of Genoa. Giuliano underwent what appears to be a genuine conversion and became a member of the Third Order of St. Francis. They both worked among the poor and the ill. In 1479 they left to live in the hospital and give their time in service to the sick and dying. A year later Giuliano

By |May 23rd, 2009|Categories: Spirituality|

The Great American Religious Switch

We are a nation that “switches” a lot of personal choices. A recent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life says we change, or switch, our religious preferences often as well. Indeed, the AP says “we are a nation of drifters.” About half of Americans switch faith affiliation at least once during their lives.

05_25_3_thumb Nothing in this report surprises anyone who has been a Christian in America for long. Brand names—Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic, etc.—mean less and less. But the reasons for swapping do vary according to the survey. If one grows up Roman Catholic they are more likely to leave their church because they stopped believing its teaching. Many Protestants change churches too, but less because of teaching and more because of changed circumstances in one’s life. I have long felt this was the case, based purely on anecdote, so this evidence served to confirm my sense of things.

What did surprise me was the reason those

By |May 22nd, 2009|Categories: The Church|

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