Monday, July 26, 2021

Writing Break

I wasn't planning to take another week off from the blog this summer, but this week's schedule has necessitated it. This is the final week before my deadline to submit the contracted manuscript for my theology book. I'd greatly appreciate your prayers as I wrap up my work on this stage of the project. Normal blog posts will resume next Monday, August 2.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Saturday Synaxis

May the love of Jesus fill me
As the waters fill the sea.
Him exalting, self abasing:
This is victory.

- Kate B. Wilkinson

Friday, July 23, 2021

Everyday Ascetic: Using Hunger-Fast Prayers

I admitted last week to being a wannabe monk, and to spending some time devising various "rules of life" for myself (most of which I struggled to keep). I thought I'd give a few more reflections this week on one practice that I've found helpful in my own journey, and it may provide an opening for use by others as well.
One of my particular difficulties, as for many in our culture, is finding healthy ways to manage my eating. I've been blessed with a genome that seems specifically designed to prepare for an upcoming famine, such that my metabolism is excellent at stocking away every possible calorie around my midsection for any future needs. I suppose this was a good quality some centuries ago, when my ancestors lived lives of toil and hardship in the hills of Scandinavia, but nowadays it's a rather irksome quality. One of its many downsides, aside from ensuring a relatively well-rounded figure, is that any effort to lose weight seems to require feeling significantly (sometimes even painfully) hungry a good deal of the time. Unlike some people, I cannot lose unwanted weight simply by just shaving calories here or there, by exercising more, or by switching out certain foods to aim for a healthier diet (I already eat a fairly healthy diet based around whole foods). No, for me to convince my body to shake off its famine reserves, I need to feel like I'm actually in a famine, and just get used to carrying around hunger-pangs multiple times a day.
This used to annoy me. Being physically hungry a lot of the time is not pleasant. But as I reflected upon it while doing some readings in the early church fathers, it struck me that many of my greatest heroes would have seen this quality as a positive thing, not a negative one. The desert fathers (contrary to popular belief) tended to advise a fairly steady, healthy, and measured approach to eating and fasting. Their advice, in fact, matched up perfectly with what my body seemed geared to do. They counseled people to eat just a little less than they desired to eat, and to do this every day. In this way, the needs of the body would be attended to in a healthy and wholesome way, but you would also leave a little room for hunger in your life. Hunger, you see, was a reminder of our needs, a sharp little poke built into our bellies to force us to recognize that we are contingent beings, reliant upon God and his blessings for our very survival. (It should be noted, then, that the desert fathers did not advise extreme fasting as a normal practice, nor the pursuit of hunger for its own sake; and as always, any attempt at a program of diet or fasting should begin with a consultation with a medical professional, especially if you have any underlying conditions to consider.)
In this structured, well-measured framework of daily eating, each moment of hunger gives us the opportunity to turn our attention Godward, to express--with body and soul together--our longing for a wholeness and a satiety that only truly comes from him. We can offer our hunger up to God as an expression of our longing for him, the true bread of life. Further, hunger can function as a built-in reminder to be interceding for those around us. Rather than infrequently dedicating a whole day to fasting in prayer for something, this method allows one to remember to lift up our intercessions through dozens to little mini-fasts that pop up throughout our week in the normal course of our daily lives.
This, then, is how I've come to live. I still can't always outwit my body's ferocious inclination to prepare for the deprivations of the next cataclysm (and who knows?--maybe someday I'll need it for that), but I can use its tendencies to remind me to stay focused on God and to intercede for the work of his kingdom. So now I tend not to think too much about dieting; I just do what the desert fathers did. I eat three well-balanced, healthy meals, knowing that my ridiculous body will start demanding more before I get to my next meal. So three times a day my body will remind me that it's time to pray. I get to offer my hunger up to God, use it to pour out my intercessions, and then go and enjoy the blessings of God's provision at my next meal. Often I'll even plan out my prayers around these little hunger-fasts, devoting my pre-lunch morning hunger to praying for my family, my afternoon hunger to praying for my church and local area, and my evening hunger for praying for the world. What I used to consider an annoyance, then, has become a blessing, and given me space to grow in my hunger toward God.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Historical Theology Series

A few years ago, in my evening service teaching times at my church, I launched a series of historical theology studies, and I'll be posting one of them here each week. The series runs from the first century through the nineteenth century and examines some of the great questions of Christian theology that came up across the grand sweep of church history, from Paul's disputes with Judaizing Christians to the denominational diversification of the 1800s. The series gives insight into some of the most important questions of Christian theology in an entertaining, narrative-based way, and helps to explain the origins and positions of the many diverse communities within Christianity today. As with my Heroes of the Faith studies, each post will include a set of notes and a link to an audio lecture. While the notes contain some useful information, please listen to the audio lecture for the best experience of this series.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Photo of the Week

Glory and praise be given 
Now to the Savior King,
Up from the whole creation,
Loud let His praises ring;
For His works in every place
And the wonders of His grace
Show forth His marvelous handiwork,
And day unto day His praise soundeth forth. 
- adapted from a hymn by George O. Webster

Monday, July 19, 2021

Quote of the Week

"Christ is the door that opens into God’s presence."


- William Gurnall, 17th-century Anglican divine and author of The Christian in Complete Armour

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Saturday Synaxis

Write Thy blessed name, O Lord, upon my heart, 
there to remain so indelibly engraven
that no prosperity and no adversity
shall ever move me from Thy love. 
Be Thou to me a strong tower of defense, 
a comforter in tribulation, a deliverer in distress, 
a very present help in trouble, and a guide to heaven 
through the many temptations 
and dangers of this life. 
- Thomas à Kempis 

Friday, July 16, 2021

The Simple Way

I'm something of a wannabe monk, at least in terms of longing to apply myself to an ordered rule of life, rich in prayer, discipline, and contemplation. Over the years, I've written many monastic "rules" of this sort (a rule in the sense not of a single ordinance, but a whole ordered scheme of how to live one's life). Ultimately, I found that I was not very good at keeping any highly-specific rule. So I've ended up following a general philosophy of life which, while based on monastic sensibilities, is also rich with the freedom of Christian joy. I call it "the Simple Way," and I offer it here as something that may bless you, inspire you, or at least grant you the momentary pleasure of curiosity at seeing what a strikingly odd fellow I can be. I've phrased my version of the Simple Way to address some of my own growth-areas, but it can easily be adapted to many others.

 The Simple Way

Choose Life (real life!)

Real practices, real food, and real adventures by in-joying the sacrament of the present moment

When choices of activities present themselves, choose those that will make for a life well lived: memory-making adventures filled with simple pleasures and good relationships.

There are no overly stringent requirements for what you must accomplish in a given day or week beyond doing your duty with gratitude and contentment—in all other choices for living, focus simply on being present in the moment and on abiding in the presence of God. Allow yourself to be the truly yourself in the reality of the present moment, taking it as a gift of God's grace, whether the moment is easy or hard, and share the experience with those whom God has given you to bless and to be a blessing unto you.

Therefore, avoid fake living—diminish idle screen time as much as possible, in favor of reading books, enjoying the beauty of God's world, doing creative tasks, and interpersonal time.

Feed on true goodness—not processed or unhealthy foods—choose real food, eaten at normal times, to meet (but not exceed) the real needs of the body.

The bottom line is this: live along the grain of reality, which is nothing less than the love of God experienced in the particularity of the present moment of your own life.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Future "Heroes of the Faith" Studies

At this point, I've posted all of my "Heroes of the Faith" talks currently available. It does not constitute an exhaustive list, however. New biographical studies in church history are a regular staple of my teaching at my church's Sunday evening services, and I plan to get back to doing them every now and then after my series in apologetics is complete. The apologetics series (which I'll also be making available here on the blog) will run throughout the fall of 2021, so I'll likely to have a few new Heroes of the Faith studies in 2022. If so, I'll post them in the main feed as they occur, and I'll also add them to the running list of links, so remember to throw an occasional glance to the Heroes of the Faith page (always available under the "Resources" tab and in the "Full Series" menu in the sidebar). Below is a list of possible studies I'll do in the future (though not in chronological order as listed):

- Friends and Proteges of the Apostles: Clement, Papias, Thecla, etc.
- Irenaeus 
- Tertullian 
- Clement of Alexandria
- Early martyrs: Perpetua, martyrs of Lyons, etc.
- Origen
- Cyprian of Carthage 
- Early soldier-saints (George, Sergius & Bacchus, Soldier-Martyrs, etc.)  
- Hippolytus & Lawrence of Rome  
- Gregory Thaumaturgus, Gregory the Illuminator & Nina  
- Desert Fathers: Macarius, Pambo, Poemen, John Kolobos, etc. 
- Ephrem the Syrian  
- Cyril of Jerusalem  
- Hilary of Poitiers  
- Boethius  
- Maximus the Confessor  
- Gregory the Great & Augustine of Canterbury 
- Celtic Saints: Brendan, Brigid etc.  
- John of Damascus  
- Bede, Alcuin, and the Anglo-Saxon church  
- Good King Wenceslas  
- Symeon the New Theologian  
- Anskar and the Conversion of Scandinavia  
- Gregory Palamas & Athosian Hesychasm  
- Anselm  
- Hildegard of Bingen (and other women mystics)  
- Ramon Lull & Muslim outreach  
- Dante  
- Scholars: Bonaventure, Duns Scotus, Erasmus, etc.  
- Reformation fathers: Bucer, Melanchthon, Beza, etc.  
- Renaissance-era Christian artists: Michelangelo, Rublev, Rembrandt, Tintoretto, etc.  
- Christian Believers in the Age of Science: Bacon, Galileo, Copernicus, etc.  
- Great Christian Musicians: Bach, Handel, Purcell, Byrd, etc.  
- John Donne  
- John Amos Comenius  
- Caspar Schwenckfeld  
- Blaise Pascal  
- Philip Spener & the Pietists  
- Anglican divines: William Law, Richard Hooker, etc.  
- Hymnwriters: Romanos, Watts, Crosby, Bliss, etc.  
- Missionaries to Native Americans: Eliot, etc.  
- Francis Asbury  
- Molinos, Madame Guyon, and the Quietists  
- The Quakers (Fox, Penn, Woolman, Kelly)  
- Puritan Fathers: John Owen, Richard Baxter, etc.  
- Brother Lawrence & John-Pierre de Caussade  
- Seraphim of Sarov & John of Kronstadt 
- Writers: Fyodor Dostoevsky, George McDonald, T. S. Eliot, etc. 
- C. T. Studd 
- Henry Martyn 
- John Williams & John Paton 
- Samuel Zwemer 
- Robert Moffatt 
- Mary Slessor 
- Alexander Mackay 
- Robert Murray M’Cheyne & Horatius Bonar 
- Therese of Lisieux  
- John Henry Newman 
- Watchman Nee  
- Oswald Chambers  
- Andrew Murray  
- Albert Schweitzer  
- Eric Liddell  
- John R. Mott  
- E. Stanley Jones  
- Billy Sunday  
- Karl Barth  
- Corrie ten Boom  
- Amy Carmichael  
- African evangelists of the 19th and 20th centuries 
- Frank Laubach  
- A. W. Tozer  
- Martin Luther King, Jr.  
- Oscar Romero  
- Francis Schaeffer  
- Bob Pierce (World Vision)  
- Bill Bright (Campus Crusade for Christ)  
- George Verwer (Operation Mobilization)  
- Brother Andrew (Open Doors)   
- Richard Wurmbrand (Voice of the Martyrs)  
- Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn & Alexander Men  
- Frere Roger & the Taize Community  
- John Stott  
- Chuck Colson  
- Elias Chacour & Christianity in Israel/Palestine 
- Brother Yun & modern heroes of the Chinese Church

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Photo of the Week

As I pray, dear Jesus, hear me;
Let your words in me take root.
May your Spirit e'er be near me,
That I bear abundant fruit.

- from v.4 of the hymn "Speak, O Savior, I Am Listening,"
by Anna Sophia von Hessen-Darmstadt, 17th century

Monday, July 12, 2021

Quote of the Week


"No person has the power to have everything they want, but it is in their power not to want what they don't have, and to cheerfully put to good use what they do have." 

- Seneca, Roman statesman and Stoic philosopher from the 1st century AD

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Saturday Synaxis

Almighty and everlasting God, 
the Brightness of faithful souls, 
fill the world with Thy glory, we pray Thee, 
and show Thyself, by the radiance of Thy light, 
to all the nations of the world, 
through Jesus Christ, our Lord. 
- from the Gregorian Sacramentary

Friday, July 09, 2021

Bible Reading Plans

As a pastor, I'm often asked to recommend a Bible reading plan that people can follow in their individual devotional times. There are a lot of good reading plans out there, and I'll highlight a few of my favorites below. For this year, though, we're running a voluntary challenge as a church to read together through the Bible in a year. So my top recommendation for this year is to do that, and it's perfectly fine to jump in with us halfway through. (Our current month's plan is available at our church website, as you scroll through the announcement slides: 

Now here are some of my other top recommendations:

- Variations on Reading through the Bible in a Year

There are a lot of different Bible-reading plans available out there, and most of them you can find just with a simple Google search. Through-the-Bible-in-a-Year plans have a lot of different forms, from a basic 4-chapters-a-day approach (which has the advantage of leaving a handful of spare days at the end of the year in case you need a little catch-up), to more complicated schemes. The one we're currently using at our church is a blended model, in which we read some of the Old Testament and some of the New Testament every day. There are also plans that do even more blending, and give you a daily reading in OT, NT, and Psalms (and sometimes Proverbs).

All the above options tend to proceed sequentially, starting with the first books in a given section and then working straight through. But another option is the chronological Bible study plan, which presents the biblical material from earliest to latest, working chronologically through the historical story of the Bible. This is really helpful when you get to the OT historical books and the prophets, because it nicely sets each prophet's message in its historical context. You first read the portion of Israel's history and get a sense of what was happening at that time, and then read the message that the prophets were speaking in those very circumstances.

[Dr. Boli's humorous take on Bible reading plans]
Another twist on reading the Bible in a year is to admit that that's a pretty hard task for most of us, and to opt for a plan that reads the Bible in two years instead. You can do this by committing to read two chapters a day, or you can look up a sequential or chronological plan that lays it out for you. (You can even buy a Bible already laid out for this reading pattern, as you also can for most of those already mentioned.) Of course, you could stretch it out even further and do a chapter a day, which would lead you through the Bible in a bit less than 4 years, but I've found that most people, if they commit to a daily practice, have no problem getting through in 2 years or less.

- Plans that Re-balance the Mix

One of the downsides of the traditional through-the-Bible plans, whether chronological or sequential, is that you just end up spending a lot more time in the Old Testament than the New, simply because the Old is so much longer. You're generally reading 3x more from the OT than the NT. Some plans have sought to adjust for this. A very popular option is the M'Cheyne reading plan (first arranged by the great Scottish pastor Robert Murray M'Cheyne). This plan allows you to do the New Testament and the Psalms twice each in a given year, while doing the rest of the OT material only once (and the material is nicely balanced so that you're reading just about the same amount every day, often still just four chapters). If doing it in one year is too much, you can easily cut the readings in half and do it in two, which brings you through the NT and Psalms once per year, and through the rest of the OT once every two years.

My current favorite works along these lines. I like to use the Psalms as a staple of my prayer life, and so I've developed a simple plan where I just read sequentially through the Bible, doing an OT chapter, a NT chapter, and a Psalm every day. So in the span of every two years, I get almost all the way through the Old Testament, and I will have done the Psalms nearly five times and the NT nearly three times, which strikes just about the balance I'm looking for in my devotional reading. It also avoids the stress of having to stick to a rigorous timeline with a fixed end-date; I just keep reading the next three chapters of OT, NT, and Psalms, picking up from wherever I was.

- Lectionary

Another of my favorites is the lectionary-based reading plan. My church doesn't really use the lectionary system (though some churches in my denomination do), but it's a widely-practiced way of reading the Bible that is used by millions of Christians across the world, particularly in their weekly church services. The lectionary is an arranged set of Bible readings that churches use on Sundays, and in the course of three years, it brings each church through a course of readings that run through the whole biblical story and offer weekly passages from the OT, Psalms, NT, and Gospels. Along with the weekly in-church readings, many lectionaries have also developed reading plans for individual Christians to use during the week, which lead you through passages that are relevant to the overall themes of the Sunday passages. If you're in a lectionary-using church, this is a beautiful thing, because you can be working through Bible passages all week long that will prepare your heart for Sunday, and at the same time get a really broad exposure to all sections of the Bible. Even if your church doesn't use the lectionary, there's something really appealing about knowing that you're reading and praying along with millions of other Christians around the world, who are all reading the same passages as you. You can find the current lectionary reading plan (RCL, Year B) by clicking on this link, and the overall lectionary cycle here.

Thursday, July 08, 2021

Heroes of the Faith: Billy Graham

[This is] the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. 
- Romans 10:8b-10
Billy Graham: Basic Facts

- Billy Graham (b. 1918) is a world-renowned evangelist, perhaps the most prominent voice for the Gospel of salvation in the second half of the 20th century. He has spoken in 187 countries or territories, has written 29 books, has presented his message through radio and television to a global audience of 2.2 billion, and has had more than 3.2 million people respond in faith to invitations at his crusade events.

- Graham perfected many of the revival-crusade techniques passed down to him by Whitefield, Finney, and Moody: the practice of an altar call, of using Gospel music, and of staging multiple-day events in open-access public arenas.

- Graham has been a prominent voice of spiritual guidance to many US presidents. He also aided the campaigns against communism and apartheid, and at times added his support to the civil rights movement in the ‘60s.  

Timeline of Graham's Early Life & Ministry:

1934 – At age 16, Graham is converted to faith in Christ after attending a revival service by the evangelist Mordecai Ham. He applies for membership in a youth group of a local church, but is turned down for being “too worldly.”

1936-38 – Graham studies at Bob Jones College and Florida Bible Institute before transferring to Wheaton College. It is at Florida that he receives his calling as a pastor/evangelist.

1939-43 – Graham studies at Wheaton College and graduates with a degree in anthropology. At Wheaton he meets a fellow student, Ruth Bell, and they wed shortly after graduating. Ruth described Billy at that time as “wanting to please God more than any man I’d ever met.”

1943-45 – Graham pastors a local church and takes over a faltering radio program, Songs in the Night. Graham recruits a baritone named George Beverly Shea to help him with the musical part of the program. (Shea would later go on to perform Gospel music at many Billy Graham crusades.)

1947 – At age 30, Graham becomes the youngest person to serve as a sitting college president during his tenure at Northwestern Bible College.

1949 – Graham becomes a traveling evangelist with Youth for Christ International. He organizes a revival crusade in Los Angeles which stretches on for 5 weeks and garners national attention in the media. This catapults Graham into a prominence which will last for the rest of his life.

Graham's Legacy:

- During his ministry, Graham met with 12 different US presidents, sometimes acting as a special advisor on spiritual matters. He is often seen as the “national pastor,” officiating at special services and memorials of national importance.

- While traveling for his worldwide crusades, he was often invited to speak in places where no one else would have been permitted, including behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War, and in North Korea in 1992.

- Graham’s organization, the Billy Graham Evangelical Association, has been responsible for creating several landmark institutions in American Christian life: the Hour of Decision radio program, broadcast worldwide for more than 50 years; the magazines Decision and Christianity Today; and the Christian movie group WorldWide Pictures.

- Graham’s legacy continues in his family. Many of his children and grandchildren are in ministry. Most prominent are his son Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse and Graham’s successor in the BGEA; daughter Anne Graham Lotz, an author and speaker; and grandson Tullian Tchvidjian, pastor of the Coral Ridge megachurch.


“Being a Christian is more than just an instantaneous conversion - it is a daily process whereby you grow to be more and more like Christ.”

“God is more interested in your future and your relationships than you are.”

“God proved His love on the Cross. When Christ hung, and bled, and died, it was God saying to the world, ‘I love you.’”

“Man has two great spiritual needs. One is for forgiveness. The other is for goodness.”

“My home is in Heaven. I'm just traveling through this world.”

“No, I don’t know the future, but I do know this: the best is yet to be! Heaven awaits us, and that will be far, far more glorious than anything we can ever imagine. I know that soon my life will be over. I thank God for it, and for all He has given me in this life. But I look forward to Heaven. I look forward to the reunion with friends and loved ones who have gone on before. I look forward to Heaven’s freedom from sorrow and pain. I also look forward to serving God in ways we can’t begin to imagine, for the Bible makes it clear that Heaven is not a place of idleness. And most of all, I look forward to seeing Christ and bowing before Him in praise and gratitude for all He has done for us, and for using me on this earth by His grace—just as I am.”