Three ways to live

Which is your way?

Stranger than fiction

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 6:04 pm on Sunday, September 9, 2007

Stranger than fiction is the title of the movie I would really like to see. Why, you may ask me? Well, Books & Culture calls it the most profoundly theological film of 2006. In 1941, Dorothy L. Sayers published the now famous The Mind of the Maker, a work which suggests that the relationship between an author and her creations parallels the relationship between God and human creation. I have tried reading this book on several occasions, but its sheer depth has made me stop until I find a more appropriate time. Sayers suggests that the relationship between the writer’s idea and its fulfillment in the written word parallels the relationship between Creator God and the incarnated Christ. Here are a few quotes from Books & Culture:

Stranger Than Fiction adeptly illustrates her [Sayers’] theory in the relationship between Harold and his maker, Kay. Kay Eiffel (played by Emma Thompson) is a novelist who always kills off her protagonists. At first oblivious to his creator, Harold suddenly becomes aware of a guiding presence in his life. Nevertheless, after his moment of revelation, Harold sometimes hears Kay’s narration and other times does not, just as we are sometimes intensely conscious of God’s guiding presence in our lives and other times not. Reminiscent of Jesus’ prayer of angst in the garden of Gethsemane, Harold pleads with Kay to spare his life. But upon reading his maker’s book, Harold submits his life to his narrator’s will, telling her, “I love [the story]. There is only one way it can end. I love your book.” Therefore, just as Jesus “set his face toward Jerusalem” and his inevitable death, we watch with intrigue as Harold calmly, with resignation, prepares to die.

Wow, that has left me salivating. I hope my rental shop carries it.

D.A. Carson is coming to town!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 9:57 pm on Friday, September 7, 2007

DA Carson, one of the most respected Bible scholars today is coming to Singapore! He will be speaking at Singapore Bible College on Oct. 28-29 on the book of Nehemiah. Registration fee is $30 (before Oct. 1) and $40 after. For more details, see Project Timothy webpage.

He has edited and written more than 45 books, including major commentaries on Matthew and John, Introduction to New Testament, Exegetical Fallacies, and many others. There is a very nice collection of his talks and lectures in mp3 format, assembled by Andy Naselli.

What is one thing that God wants?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 9:15 am on Thursday, September 6, 2007

Bible speaks of many things that God desires – our obedience, faithfulness, sacrifices, love, praise, worship, etc. But is it possible to summarize all his desires in just one? This desire would then be the main purpose for which He created the world.

Reformed theology, which came out of Reformation and theology of John Calvin, and is now a foundation of Presbyterian church, provides the following answer:

1. God’s goal in all that he does is his glory, in the sense of displaying his moral excellence to his creatures and evoking their praise for what they see
2. Man’s goal in all his actions must be God’s glory in the sense of praise by word and deed.
3. God so made us that we find the duty of praise
to be our supreme delight

This coinciding of duty with interest and devotion with fulfillment was classically formulated in the first answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: ‘Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.’

If you want to know more, read John Piper’s book “God’s Passion for His Glory“, which is basically a long preface by John Piper to a book by Jonathan Edwards “The End for which God created the world” (the Edward’s book is also included). You can also download the book for free (in pdf format) from

Summary of Study: Hosea 6 & 7

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 10:08 pm on Monday, September 3, 2007

Main Points – Hosea 6 & 7

1. Israel is never learning from its mistakes, as follows from v.3-5. According to v.3, the imagery of the dawn symbolizes certainty of God’s restoration. Yet the mood changes in v.5, where the light of dawn symbolizes judgment. In other words, even though God restores people with a new day, their love disappears almost immediately with the rising son and hence leads to new judgment.
2. The key to understanding why this happens is in v.6.

First of all, the word translated as “mercy” is Hebrew “hesed”, which can mean either loyal love (when applied to God’s love to us) or kindness (between people). See earlier post for more translation nuances.

So God says he would rather us show kindness to other people than to offer him sacrifices. The second part of verse 6 says that the knowledge of God is also more important than sacrifices. But what does it mean to know God? Surprisingly, in the context of Hosea it most likely to mean to have kindness toward other people.

The Hebrew word “knowledge” usually implies intimate knowledge of something or somebody that results in appropriate action. For example, to know ones wife is to have sexual relationship with her. So the knowledge of God is best defined as understanding of his deep desires, which would naturally bring our desire to fulfill them. What are the God’s desires? To see at least some them, consider the following verses that show what God desires more than sacrifices:

1 Sam 15:22 (Obedience)
Psalm 50:7–15; (Confession and praise)
Psalm 51:16 (Broken spirit and contrite heart)
Psalm 147:11 (People who fear God and put their hope in God’s unfailing love)
Prov 21:3 (For us to do what is right and just)
Isaiah 1:17 (For us to do right, seek justice, encourage the oppressed, defend the cause of fatherless and widows)
Jeremiah 9:24 (kindness, justice and righteousness)
Mark 12:33 (Love of God and our neighbors)

One of the strongest God’s desires for us to love and show kindness and mercy toward others. So, to know God means at least to understand that this is one of his main desires. The following verse makes it even clearer:

Jeremiah 22:15-16 (NIV)

Israelites did not know God – they didn’t understand his deep desires. They were following his commands “blindly”, possibly to get his favor or blessing. Prophet Isaiah, who prophesized at about the same time as Hosea, also speaks about this problem:

Isaiah 58:2-9 (NIV)

1. Jews, while tried, utterly failed to really understand what pleases God. How can we, as Christians, do that?

Things that pleased God then are the same things that please Him now. But we must see that we cannot simply please God by fulfilling all his desires.

First, we need to understand another reason why God did not desire sacrifices.

Hebrews 10:1-10

The real reason God didn’t desire sacrifices and offerings is because they can never take away our sin completely. Similarly, when a teacher of the law tried to clarify what it means to love your neighbor, Jesus reply (parable of a Good Samaritan) makes it clear it means much more than we can ever do. If sacrifices in the form of offerings were all that were required from us, some of us could have claimed that they’ve done it, they have satisfied God’s standards. Yet when we see that God’s real standards are mercy and intimate knowledge of Him, we will never be able to say, We have done it.

Only when we understand and admit that we cannot please God by our works, he will come and teach us how to really please Him, through the work of Holy Spirit within us. This process is called sanctification:

Ezekiel 36:25-27 (NIV)

The realization of the new birth, which comes through faith in Jesus Christ, and the work the Holy Spirit in our lives is the only acceptable way for us to please God.

Some thoughts on Russian orthodoxy

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 7:03 pm on Sunday, September 2, 2007

I was born and spent a great deal of my life in Russia, until leaving at the age of 24 to US to pursue PhD studies. The memories of being there still invoke many conflicting emotions in me (more negative than positive), but this is mostly to do with the fact that my early adulthood years (1991-97) were some of the worst years in Russian history – collapse of Communism and total chaos and poverty that followed. I also have quite a negative view of Russian Orthodox church, which, during my childhood years, I firmly associated with death.

Yet times are changing, Russia is changing, I am changing. I am slowly rediscovering Russian novelists I used to hate because I had to study them for school (Tolstoy, Dostoevsky). And I am reconsidering my views on Russian orthodoxy, which was primarily caused by discovering the teachings of an interesting Russian apologist, Andrey Kuraev.

This guy is the first in Russia (according to my knowledge) who tries to contextualize Christianity, e.g. adopt its message so that the culture can understand it. While contextualization movement have been going on in the West for many years, Russia (mainly due to its communist regime) never followed the suit. Things seem set for a change and I am really looking forward to it.

Andrey wrote some 30+ books that are freely available for download from his website (sorry, all in Russian). Here are some of the titles: “Harry Potter and the Church”, “Movie industry – overload by God’s word”, “Can a Christian believe in evolution?”, “To protestants about Orthodox Christianity”. I am really looking forward to studying these and will share some of the insights in this blog.

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