Tuesday, February 28, 2006


Did you know that mp3 aficionados can now attend “iPod U” by listening to lectures from university professors from, say, Stanford or MIT? This is called “coursecasting” and means you can shuffle from Shania Twain to “Nano-to-Macro Transport Processes” and then back to Shania Twain again! However, coursecasting demands considerably more mental energy, so it is more likely that the average, multitasking iPod shuffler will more often stick with Shania.

In the Sunday edition of the New Jersey Star-Ledger, this story was accompanied by another concerning iPods in the workplace. One psychologist lamented workers who seal themselves off in “auditory caves” by keeping music close to their ears at all times. On the other hand, an iWorker responded that “there’s IM-ing, e-mail, [and] people who literally walk over and tap you on the shoulder. There are so many ways people can get your attention, it’s a non-issue.”

Getting people’s attention is always an issue for preachers. Thus, I would like to put a plug in for "sermoncasting," or "wordcasting," as well. I frequently download sermons by Tim Keller, such as these. He is a favorite Bible teacher of mine and, incidentally, was discussed here in Sunday’s New York Times. Wordcasting is a good use of an iPod’s vaults of memory, in my opinion.

But back to the workplace. It is interesting how work and leisure are often combined in our lives today. We often have leisure time within our work (whether listening to music, checking email, or reading Bible in the Basement); and we often take work home with us, or even on vacation with us. Some people prefer to take work on vacation!
I do not believe it necessarily wrong to combine work and leisure, but this discussion leads me to ponder when it has gone too far. Consider these insights from Scripture:

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might.” (Ecclesiastes 9:10)

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31)

We need to put ourselves into our activities enough that we can benefit from them, and that God can be glorified in them. We don’t want to live in a half baked world!

Friday, February 24, 2006

News Roundup

And now, a new feature of this blog: the news roundup!

International News: Iraq is sadly spiralling into civil war, ever since the destruction of a mosque's golden dome. It's interesting how these events spark sound byte versions of national values. President Bush remarked that this was done by (you guessed it) "the enemies of freedom." On the other hand, a Muslim leader remarked that this was done by those "who are enemies of God and justice." Don't you wish our guy would have said that?

National News: In South Dakota, the Congress and Senate passed a bill banning abortion in most all cases. This is pretty huge news, and is seen as a test case for the new faces on the Supreme Court. Said one pro-abortion spokesperson, who was dismayed by this turn of events: "We are a nation split 50/50 on this issue, though truth be told many people favor bans on late term abortions anyway. So if the tide is turning against our side, that's really only fair. This is a democracy, after all, and we need to submit to laws that clearly reflect the state's majority opinion." (Note: This is not an actual quote, but we can only assume this would be the kind of response that would be given.)

Sporting News: Lindsey Jacobellis frustrated fans by showboating instead of snowboarding. A last minute "addition" resulted in a tumble -- and instead of gaining gold she settled for silver. When she remarked, "Oh well, it happens," some concluded she didn't take her event seriously. One columnist remarked, "Hey, it's her life. It's her Olympics. It was her race to win or lose, her medal to be gold, silver or bronze." I have nothing against this young woman and personally am not concerned about her tumble. But this strikes me as an interesting window into American values: was this "her Olympics," as the columnist said, or the United States' Olympics? Was she representing herself or her country? Are we a nation of individuals...or just a bunch of individuals?

Well, that's the news. Now you're caught up!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Devil and All That

“Do you believe in God and the devil and all that?”

This question was asked to me by an intellectual coworker when I was a teenager. I answered sheepishly and affirmatively.

It’s not so bad to believe in “God” these days, as long as you don’t claim to know who He is. But to believe in “the devil and all that” seems fanciful to many. Images of a red troll with pointy horns don’t help! Yet alongside the biblical teaching of sin and personal responsibility, both testaments affirm the existence of a powerful spiritual adversary.

The existence of Satan implies that evil in our world is not merely an abstract concept. Evil is personal. Human wickedness springs not only from our own rebellion against God’s word, but also from external temptation.

If we are to understand the evils of our day, and especially if we are going to seek to fight against them, we must understand the spiritual backdrop of our human struggle. We ignore the devil at our own peril.

Keith Green wrote a song a few decades back that still rings true. In the song, the devil boasts, “I used to have to sneak around, but now they just open their door. It’s getting very easy now since no one believes in me anymore!”

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

It Looks so Natural!

Last night found me once again admiring the skill involved in Olympic figure skating. I was compelled to watch because four years ago, my wife and I enjoyed watching Sarah Hughes become "gold medalist Sarah Hughes." This year, her sister Emily was rushed into the Olympics last minute. Often called by her sister Sarah's name by accident, Emily commented humorously (and wisely), "I don't mind being compared to a gold medalist."

As I watched last night, I thought about how natural and elegant skating appears - even though it requires such strenuous effort. It is only when a skater or two takes a tumble onto the ice (and downward in the rankings) that we fully appreciate the next skater's successful spin or jump.

Could it be said that everything beautiful is buttressed by hard work?

Consider any work of art. What delights our imagination, or simply decorates our living room, was produced through training, patience, practice, and skill.

A wedding ceremony may be elegant, and even moving, yet it is made possible only by months (sometimes years) of careful planning.

Even more moving is the faithful husband who, at eighty years old, still opens the door for his fading bride. A simple act, yet accomplished through years of working hard on that marriage - so that it remains intact so many years later.

And can anything surpass the beauty of God's creation? I've seen the California sunset, the Grand Canyon, and my share of brilliant autumn trees, and I say no. This beauty is possible because of God's incomprehensible creative power, his great feats of creation - and also his daily sustanence. And he makes it all look so natural!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Icy Relationships

I read the headlines yesterday morning about how, one after another, ice skating pairs at the Winter Olympics took tumbles on the slippery ice.

Is "slippery ice" redundant? In any case, the tumbles were.

Couples' figure skating, like dancing, seems to carry with it a host of lessons for relationships - in particular, marriages. Especially in these slippery times.

Perhaps the biggest lesson came from the biggest headline: the "icy stare" given by Barbara Fusar Poli to her partner Marizio Margaglio (Italy). After their tumble, she clearly knew who to blame: the man. She gave a long, unforgiving stare to the one she knew was responsible for the fall.

One of the most important lessons in any relationship is forgiveness. Ephesians 4 tells Christians, "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. [Instead,] be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you." Words to live by indeed! One book on marriage says that this is, in fact, the key to a successful marriage - forgiveness.

When the Italian couple skated out the following night, hand and hand, the crowd cheered. No spills this time. But that's really not the most important thing, is it?

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Law and Gospel

Martin Luther studied to be a lawyer, but ended up a monk after making a vow to St. Anne during a thunder storm. His lawyer’s mind helped him understand the perfect law of God – and how he failed to attain to it. This crisis led to the rediscovery of the Biblical gospel and the Protestant Reformation.

Another Reformer, John Calvin, had also studied to be a lawyer. After Calvin’s conversion, his lawyer’s mind was employed in the careful examination of God’s will – as revealed in the Scriptures – and in the religious and political reorganization of society.

No wonder there are so few Christian lawyers.

This week, my friend John Malki hopes to balance some of these historical losses to the law profession. John planned to be a pastor, and is indeed a good Bible teacher and leader. However, he and Kelli (pictured here with son Nathan) changed directions a few years ago when John realized his strongest vocational interest is law. He has now completed law school and will take the bar exam this week.

Pastors are intended to be servants to those who can share the gospel, and live the gospel, in all spheres of life. Therefore, as a pastor, I find great pleasure in seeing Christians put their talents to work in all areas of society. Lawyer jokes notwithstanding, I think this includes – especially includes – the law profession.

Please pray for John as he takes the bar this week. Pray that he will pass! And pray that through this, God would confirm John’s calling to live out the gospel in the world of the law.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Olympic Gold

Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 1 Corinithians 9:24-25

One of my seminary professors used to say, “The devil knows what we want, and what we half want.” For example, many would say they want to eat better – but their lifestyle proves they only “half want” to eat better. It’s not a want that is strong enough to break bad habits or resist another slice of pizza.

On the other hand, those who compete for Olympic gold have clearly set their sights on something they want – really want – and are willing to train their body and their wills in order to obtain it. Even if they fall short of the gold, they have experienced something unforgettable.

No wonder the Apostle Paul in the New Testament frequently refers to the Olympics when describing the Christian life. We should want – really want – the eternal rewards that surpass Olympic gold. If we only half want it, the devil knows it and will easily find ways to slow us down or trip us up.

Now, this realization can lead you to despair or lead you to prayer. It could (and should) lead to despair if you view the spiritual competition as a “one on one” against the devil. If you acknowledge your weakness, and his wiles, what hope is there?

However, victory in the spiritual contest is made possible by One working within us who can exceed our feeble desires. If we realize this, we will be led to prayer: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come [in me!], thy will be done [in me!]…” We should also remember that we are on a team, and pray not only for ourselves but for our fellow runners: “Our Father… Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Let’s pray for God’s power to enable us to run our race. Eternal rewards are never stripped away.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Fight to Win

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)

Then Jesus said to him, "Be gone, Satan! For it is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.' Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. (Matthew 4:10-11)

If we fight, we win.

(Are we fighting?)

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Bible in the Basement Housekeeping

The purpose of this site is to help rouse Christian thought and personal devotion. Thank you for visiting.

I have changed the comments feature so they are no longer "moderated." While comments are not essential, they are enjoyed and appreciated. Now they will appear immediately, whereas there used to be a delay. Hopefully this will prevent confusion.

I have added some friends' links on the right side. I have enjoyed these blogs, and I hope you will too.

Finally: If you would like weekly updates concerning the site, you may leave a comment to that effect or send an email.

Enjoy the site!

Timing is Everything

What's true of comedians is also true for the rest of us: timing is everything. Consider:

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

Psalm 1:1-3

"That yields its fruit in its season." It may not be today, or even tomorrow, that our life is most fruitful. But if we are drawing our nourishment from God's word, the fruitful season will come. We are not called to be like grass or weeds, but like trees.

If you look for it, you'll see this theme throughout Scripture. God fulfilled his great redemptive plan over a long stretch of time and "when the fullness of time had come, sent his Son" (Galatians 4). His Son likewise was never hasty, often to the chagrin of his disciples (for example, see John 11). In fact, Jesus compared the march of the kingdom of God to a mustard seed which, after small beginnings, eventually becomes the largest of all plants - and eventually a tree (Matthew 13).

Should it be any different with God's work in us? It's a great work, and therefore cannot be done hastily. The wise person knows this, and plans accordingly.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Snow Day

Check out these snowdrifts!

In Isaiah 55 God says: "As the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth ... so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it."

A friend of mine, Tom, once commented on this passage. He noted how snow gets everywhere, it even blows into unintended corners. Today, it's covering my cars, bushes, dogs, and more.

This is a great way to illustrate what I was speaking about last time - God in high definition. I promised to answer the question, "How does it come to pass that God becomes more vivid to us, more real to us, than so many other lesser pleasures?"

First, Jesus says that "we must be born again" (John 3). When this happens, the wind of the Spirit will blow in our lives in unexpected ways. His word will reach into corners we didn't expect. This reality appears when we place our trust in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord.

For those who do have their trust in God through Jesus Christ, God becomes "more real" to us as we meditate on his word. We do not necessarily see God clearer as we pray, and not even through the act of reading the Bible. We must combine the two. As we read the Bible, we must pray that truths before us will blanket our lives, like the snow descending and blowing into every corner.

When God's word is combined with a trusting and praying spirit, the result is beautiful. Psalm 1: "Blessed is the man...whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers."

Remember, snow eventually melts. The hard earth becomes soft, and colorful plants spring up.

Friday, February 10, 2006

High Definition Religion

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up (Isaiah 6:1).

Attending a prayer retreat Wednesday, the question was posed to me: “Are you a pastor who prays, or a praying pastor?” There is a difference between a soul that regularly lifts itself up to God, and one that is relatively self-content and therefore prays only as an afterthought. And this question can be posed to anyone: Are you a praying Christian, or a Christian who prays?

How do you become one who honors God, and gains personal heart-satisfaction as well, through a deeper prayer life?

During this prayer conference, a couple images came to mind. One was of the Christian who thinks he needs to “pray more” in order to get God to answer this him. This is like rubbing a lantern longer and longer, hoping the genie will eventually appear. These motives, I submit, does not honor God – it barely rises above paganism.

The second image that came to mind was the difference between “black & white” and “high definition.” As I look at what hinders prayer in my own life, it is that God becomes more and more “black and white” while other desires become “high definition.” Other desires become more real, more interesting, and more captivating. Pursuing God through prayer becomes remote – and perfunctory.

However, if the truths of God’s word, the Gospel, and God himself captivate us – how can we not pray? How can we not seek him more fervently?

In my next post I will discuss how we might “see” God more clearly, how he might become more “defined” in our minds. Because unlike high definition TV, you cannot just click a remote and experience God. He has not ordained his relationship to us be something quite so…perfunctory.

Meanwhile, I encourage you to simply ask yourself: What is it in your life that is high definition? What tends to captivate you more than the God who created all things, and why?

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

I Love This Photo!

Okay, you've probably read about this already, but I can't help but comment... New animal species were recently discovered in New Guinea by a team of scientists, like the one pictured here. This is Kris Helgen, holding a golden-mantled tree kangaroo (photo from Conservation International.)

Praise God for the wonderful and interesting world he created!

The full story is here. One of the lead scientists said, "This is as close to the garden of Eden as you're going to get." That's true... Imagine the fun Dr. Helgen had as he hung out with the animals and maybe even named them.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Christian Freedom - Let Loose or Dig Deeper

Following up on yesterday's post about Christian freedom, I want to quote Francis Schaeffer. It took me a while to dig through his books to find tthe quotation stuck in my head - I hope you'll benefit from it!

Schaeffer is describing a group of young people who were tired of the "dos and don'ts" kind of religion that we sometimes call "fundamentalist" or "legalistic."

The Christian life, or true spirituality, is more than refraining from a certain external list of taboos in a mechanical way. Because this is true, almost always there is a reaction: another group of Christians begins to work against such a list of taboos; thus there is a tendency toward a struggle in Christian circles between those who set up a certain list of taboos and those who, feeling there is something wrong with this, say, "Away with all taboos, away with lists." Both of these groups can be right and both can be wrong, depending on how they approach the matter. I was impressed by this one Saturday night at L'Abri... On that particular night everybody present was a Christian, many of them from groups in countries where "lists" had been very much accentuated. They began to talk against the use of taboos, and at first, as I listened to them, I rather agreed with the direction they were going. But as I listened further to this conversation, and as they spoke against the taboos in their own countries, it became quite clear to me that what they really wanted was merely to be able to do the things which the taboos were against. What they really wanted was a more lax Christian life. But we must see that in giving up such lists, in feeling the limitation of the "list" mentality, we must not do this in order to be able to live a looser life: it must be for something deeper.

(From "True Spirituality" by Francis Schaeffer)

This illustrates yesterday's main point. We must understand Christian freedom, but also utilize our freedom in a noble way. Our freedom in Christ should be used to draw us nearer to him, not to push him away.

It seems this is much like the history of our country. At first, liberty was seen as freedom to worship according to conscience. Freedom was accompanied by a certain nobility and desire to see the nation flourish. Now, however, freedom is frequently a foil to tear down society: we demand freedom from religion, freedom from standards of morality, and so forth.

May it not be said among us, as believers in Jesus Christ, that our freedom is used in order to resist Christ - but to better serve him!

Monday, February 06, 2006

Super Bowl Sabbath

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” Exodus 20:8

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1

In 1618, King James I of England issued the Declaration of Sports which enumerated which sports may be lawfully played on Sunday. Football was not one of them, but then again American football had not yet been invented. In any case, this declaration ruffled Puritan ministers of the time, who were committed to more strict “Sabbath” observance (recognizing Sunday as the “Christian Sabbath”). This debate blazed for decades, with the Declaration publicly burned by the Parliament in 1643.

Today, American Christians aren’t too worked up about sporting on the Sabbath. Nevertheless, there is an underlying issue that we must each examine: How exactly do we understand Christian freedom—that liberty we enjoy as sons and daughters of God through Jesus Christ? What does it mean to be freed from the rigor of the Old Testament law, and how does this relate in particular to the Ten Commandments (“Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy” is number four)?

Based on Galatians 4, I look at Christian freedom this way: You might tell your 5 year old child, “Don’t touch the stove!” But when he is grown, you allow him full access to the stove. You don’t give him extended freedom so he can burn his hand on the stove or stick his head in the oven, but because you expect him to have the wisdom to use it wisely. Similarly, God our Father gave us rules to follow in the Old Testament when we were “young.” Now that we are “grown,” we are expected to possess a greater maturity so that we can see behind the precise rules to their purpose. We are not expected to abuse our freedom (sticking our head in the oven) but take advantage of it (heat up our own frozen pizza).

How does this relate, then, to the Fourth Commandment in particular? God laid down many rules for Sabbath observance in the Law and the Prophets. For example, you could not pick up sticks on the Sabbath. Now that Jesus has come and the Scriptures are complete, we are expected to see the manifold wisdom of the Fourth Commandment and apply it accordingly. As spiritual grown ups, we should understand our needs for communion with God, fellowship with other believers, and true rest. We should also understand our responsibilities—to Christ’s church and to our families, friends, and neighbors. As we manage these needs and responsibilities, however, we are given freedom. To invite friends over for the Super Bowl, toss around a football with our son, or pick up sticks in the yard is our call; the Law is no longer acting as a referee.

But notice something: We are not to trample on God’s law like rebellious teenagers, but to honor God’s law like responsible young adults. Practically speaking, this means that we really think about how we use our time (or money, or whatever), and think about how we might use our freedom to honor our heavenly Father. God is not so concerned about whether we watch the Super Bowl or pick up sticks, but about the motivation behind these actions.

The Puritans were sometimes puritanical. However, their motivation was to honor God in all areas of life—and this is something we Americans need to learn a lot more about.

Friday, February 03, 2006

The Perfect Marriage

Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:31-32)

Yesterday, we looked at the perfect wife. So I figured, why not follow that up with a look at the perfect marriage? Following is one of my favorite quotations from Martin Luther, taken from his Freedom of the Christian published in 1520:

Faith unites the soul with Christ as a bride is united with her bridegroom. By this mystery, as the apostle teaches, Christ and the soul become one flesh (Ephesians 5.31-2) and if they are one flesh and there is between them a true marriage – indeed the most perfect of all marriages, since human marriages are but poor examples of this one true marriage – it follows that they have everything in common, good as well as the evil. Accordingly the believing soul can boast of, and glory in, whatever Christ has as though it were his own. Let us compare these and we shall see inestimable benefits. Christ is full of grace, life, and salvation. The soul is full of sins, death and damnation. Now let faith come between them, and sins, death and damnation will be Christ’s, while grace, life and salvation will be the soul’s; for if Christ is the bridegroom, he must take upon himself the things which are his bride’s and bestow upon her the things that are his.

Some call such an exchange "marrying up." I can't help but think that if we really believe this today, we will experience a kind of peace rarely found in our busy world.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

A Strong Woman

“An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.” Proverbs 31:10

I was surprised to find that the word our Bibles translate as “excellent,” “noble,” or “virtuous” is actually a word concerning strength. So this could read: “A strong wife (or woman) who can find?” And this is fitting, because the woman described here is a diligent, energetic woman: “She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household…” (31:15)

Yet she is strong in more ways than one. “She opens her hands to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy.” (31:20). To exhibit such Christlike compassion and healing requires strength of character – a personal confidence and contentment that can freely give to others. Like Christ, this strong woman is also a teacher: “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue” (31:26).

To see the entire description of this wonder woman, click here.

I can imagine that many women must read this chapter with frustration and shame. “Who can live up to this? I always wanted the Bible to say more about women, but couldn’t it have set a more obtainable standard?” This is why men and women alike need Jesus Christ. Only he fulfilled God’s law perfectly. If your faith is in him, you are married to him and will be counted as perfect in God’s sight.

Furthermore, what is set forth in this chapter is not gained simply by hard work. A woman becomes more and more spiritually beautiful as she does one thing: fears the Lord.

“Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain. But a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” (Proverbs 31:30)

John MacArthur once asked the question: “If our society and our culture could design a woman, what would that woman be like?” She would certainly be beautiful. She might be charming. She might even be strong, that is, aggressive and self-assertive. But would she fear the Lord, and thereby possess the life giving strength seen here?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Count Your Blessings - Carefully

Please think with me today: What are your blessings? And what are the blessings you seek?

I heard the following contrast in a sermon the other day (by Charles Zimmerman of Calvary Church in Souderton, PA):

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

That was Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount. On the other hand…

Blessed are the rich, for they will acquire for they will acquire whatever they desire.
Blessed are the self-confident, for they will achieve whatever they set out to do.
Blessed are the physically attractive, for they will be admired by all.
Blessed are those who have no problems, for they will enjoy life.
Blessed are the powerful, for they will rule the earth.
Blessed are those who seek pleasure, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the self-absorbed for they will be untroubled by the plight of others.
Blessed are those who have seared their conscience, for they will suffer no guilt.
Blessed are those who intimidate others, for they will win all personal battles.
Blessed are those who blend in with culture, for they will experience no persecution.

Your reaction may be similar to mine. At first I thought, “Okay, that’s cute…”

But as I thought more deeply, I realized just how true – and troubling - it is. We live by that second value system all too often, certainly key portions of it. Maybe the problem is that we think Jesus’ words are merely “cute” – and fail to take them to heart.