Prayer in Times of Fear

God of compassion,

In this week of violence and tragedy,
we mourn with those who grieve,
cry with those who weep,
and sit in silence with those in pain,

But what should never happen even once
seems to happen over and over again,
until we are left with nothing
but bloodshot eyes and numb hearts.

Even so, Lord, this is our witness:

You are with us,
and in your presence,
We will not be afraid.

We will not fear the world,
for it is your creation.

We will not fear the future,
for you have already redeemed it.

We will not fear the unknown,
for surely you have seen it.

We will not fear the stranger,
for that person was made in your image,
even as we are made.

We will not fear our weakness,
for you will give us strength.

We will not fear the darkness,
For we carry the light with us.

You are there,
and we are not alone.

We will not be afraid.


Homily for Ash Wednesday

Delivered on February 14, 2018 at NorthHaven Church, Norman, Oklahoma.

Like most people, I have a somewhat love-hate relationship with myself, which means that I also have a love-hate relationship with mirrors. When I pass by a mirror, I can never resist the urge to look, but I’m never completely satisfied with what I see. I look into some mirrors, and I’m confronted with the cold, harsh reality — the ugly truth, as it were. I look into other mirrors, like those found at the carnival, and I like what I see; I’m a bit taller, and a bit thinner.

Neither mirror can give me what I need. The first mirror shows me the truth, but only as it is now, whether I want to see it or not. The second mirror shows me what I want to see, even if it could never be possible. What I need is a mirror that shows me what I truly am, but also gives me a glimpse of what I truly could be. That’s the mirror I need, even if it may not be the mirror I want.

We have such a mirror in Scripture. In fairness, we must confess that we can bend and distort Scripture so much that it functions exactly like those carnival mirrors, showing exactly what we want to see, confirming our desires and reinforcing our biases. There are times, though, when I come to the text openly and honestly, and it shows me who I am, as I cry with David in Psalm 51:

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
and blameless when you pass judgment.
Indeed, I was born guilty,
a sinner when my mother conceived me.

But Scripture can also show me what is genuinely possible — the beauty of a life lived fully in the Kingdom of God; more than just a glimpse of who I am, but a vision of who God wants me to be.

The book of Isaiah was written when the people of Judah desperately needed both of these mirrors. The small nation of Judah, what was left of the once mighty nation of Israel, had not only been defeated by Babylon, but had been taken away in captivity. The people of God were apparently forsaken by their God — prompting the psalmist to lament, “By the rivers of Babylon—there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion.”

Even in the midst of that despair, however, there is a voice of hope. We hear it in what are called the “servant songs” of Isaiah, found sprinkled in the text, from chapter 42 through chapter 53. In these passages, God speaks of his promised servant, who will establish justice in chapter 42, be the light to the nations in chapter 49, be vindicated in the face of humiliation in chapter 50, and exalted and lifted up in chapter 52.

And so, we sit back and wait for the promised servant, the one who will finally do the will of God. Who is this servant? It is difficult to read chapter 53 and not see Jesus there in the text:

But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.

I do believe that this text speaks prophetically of the Crucified Christ, but that doesn’t mean that the servant songs are simply about Jesus, a point that is made clearly in Isaiah 41:8,

But you, Israel, my servant,
Jacob, whom I have chosen,
the offspring of Abraham, my friend;
you whom I took from the ends of the earth,
and called from its farthest corners,
saying to you, ‘You are my servant, ….’

A message that is repeated in chapters 44, 45, and 49. We will see the servant, if we will but look in the mirror. The reflection that we see, however, is harsh and unyielding. It is a clear picture of what God wants us to be: people who seek justice, something that is mentioned three times in the first four verses, yet seek it in a way that is not self-serving. It is a kind of justice that does no harm to the weakest in society — we are to be the light to the nations, helping the blind to see, and freeing those who are in darkness and imprisoned, in a way that does not call attention to ourselves.

It is, at the same time, a beautiful image of what can be, and a devastating contrast to what now is, one that forces me to ask, what is it that I really seek?

Is it justice, or merely my own advantage?

Is it righteousness, or merely my own rights?

Is it to serve, or to be the one who is served?

This day, Ash Wednesday, is the day on which the church is faced with the truth. The ashes are remnants of the palms that we waved on Palm Sunday, a vivid reminder of how quickly our vows of dedication to God become cries of denial and betrayal.

We come before the altar of God to hear the humbling words, “Remember, you are but dust, and to dust you shall return.”

We come, bringing our pride, our pretension, our vanity, and our feelings of superiority to be cleansed in God’s holy fire. Out of the ashes that are left, God has chosen to raise up his servant.

Thanks be to God, for his mercy and grace.


Truth Tables in LaTeX

Typesetting truth tables has never been easy. LaTeX is the gold standard for displaying logic and mathematics, but tables are awkward to edit at best. Tables are much simpler in Microsoft Word, but displaying formulas is a horrible experience.1 Here is my current workflow.

The text that I’m using this semester is Introduction to Formal Logic with Philosophical Applications by Russell Marcus. Instead of arrows and the ampersand, it uses the horseshoe, triple bar, and dot. So, I add the following lines to my LaTeX preamble to simplify entering the symbols.2


Then, I enter the truth table in either Excel or Numbers. For example, this would be a simple one line table determining the truth value of a formula for a given valuation:

Numbers truth table

Copy the cells that you want included in the truth table. Go to Tables Generator, and select “LaTeX Tables” from the top menu bar. Below the top menu bar is a drop-down menu bar. Click on “File” then “Paste table data…” and paste the table data. Table Generator will generate a nicely formatted LaTeX table:

\caption{My caption}
P & Q & R & P & \lif & (\lneg Q & \land & R) \\
1 & 1 & 1 & 1 & 0 & 0 & 0 & 1

I delete the first four lines and the last line, leaving just the table data and the lines declaring the tabular environment:

P & Q & R & P & \lif & (\lneg Q & \land & R) \\
1 & 1 & 1 & 1 & 0 & 0 & 0 & 1

At this point, typesetting will fail because the symbols need to be in math mode. So, I’ve found two options. The first is to put all the commands for the symbols in math mode:

P & Q & R & P & \(\lif\) & (\(\lneg\) Q & \(\land\) & R) \\
1 & 1 & 1 & 1 & 0 & 0 & 0 & 1

The second option is to change “tabular” to “array” and put the entire table into math mode:

P & Q & R & P & \lif & (\lneg Q & \land & R) \\
1 & 1 & 1 & 1 & 0 & 0 & 0 & 1

Arrays are centered on the page. If you would prefer them printed at the left margin, add “fleqn” to the document class options: \documentclass[fleqn]{article} Since the array is in math mode, the letters will be italicized. I use the newtxmath font package, and it has a “frenchmath” option that sets the math font to non-italic. Other math fonts may have a similar option.

Finally, whichever option is used, we need to add two lines. Adding a vertical line character to the table or array formatting options will place a vertical line between the valuation section and the rest of the truth table. Adding the booktabs package to the preamble will allow us to separate the sentence from the rest of the truth table.

This gives us the final version,

P & Q & R & P & \lif & (\lneg Q & \land & R) \\ \midrule
1 & 1 & 1 & 1 & 0 & 0 & 0 & 1

which produces this:

Truth Table

  1. Apple’s Pages now allows users to add formulas with LaTeX. It’s looking like a good solution for those who like more traditional word processors. 
  2. The AMS LaTeX packages already include a command called “\lor” for entering the vee or wedge. 

Move to WordPress

I’m trying to use the iPad for more things now. I liked using both Jekyll and Hugo for static sites, but WordPress is much easier to use on iOS. Years ago, I had a blog on that was still online, so I moved all of my posts there.

Importing was a little tricky – I had to install a local copy of WordPress, and import everything from my RSS feed. I then exported to a WordPress backup file, cleaned that up with Emacs, then re-imported to the local copy of WordPress. Once everything looked reasonably good, I imported it into

There are probably still some posts with formatting problems. I’ll clean those up as I notice them.

Prayer for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

A prayer for Mitch Randall’s last Sunday as pastor of NorthHaven Church, before he takes his new position as executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.

God of peace and joy,

For centuries,
Israel anticipated
the coming of the Messiah;
and as one expectation
was fulfilled,
another was born,
for we still long
for the day when
that same Messiah
will come again.

Christmas is still a day
when old dreams are fulfilled,
and new dreams are born.

We give thanks for what
this church has become
in the years that Mitch
has been with us:

For those who have
been rejected,
it is a place to feel welcome.

For those who have
felt constrained,
a place to be free.

For those whose gifts
have been denied,
a place to serve.

And so it is fitting
that at Christmas
We share with the world.
this gift that we have received,

And may we, through our
words, actions, and gifts,
declare to the world
that there is still
good news of glad tidings,
for all people, everywhere.


Ordination Prayer

This is a prayer for the ordination service of Kim Divelbiss at NorthHaven Church on December 9, 2017

God of grace and hope,

We confess that, sometimes,
we are like Israel in Egypt,
overwhelmed by life and
tempted to believe that
you have abandoned your people.

In this, though, we have hope,
though Israel had forgotten you,
you did not abandon her.
Instead, you called Moses
to be her minister.

And so, from the desert
of our dry and parched lives,
you continue to call —
not from a burning bush,
but from within,
from a heart aflame
with passion for
the kingdom of God
and for your people.

Today, we give thanks for Kim,
a minister with such a heart,
who, like Moses,
has answered your call.

Grant her the vision
to see things as they are,
and the spiritual imagination
to recognize what they could be.

May her laughter be joyful;
her anger, righteous;
her compassion, gentle;
her witness, bold;
and her love, deep.

Fill her with the
power of the Almighty,
who took what was
formless and void
and created the universe,
then declared it good.

May her ministry
be the means by which
you continue to take
what is broken and empty,
and create that which is
new, beautiful and good.

In the name of the Father
who gives us our mission,
and of the Son,
whose obedience is our model,
and of the Spirit,
who gives us strength
for our task.

Three persons,
one God,
forever and ever.


No Democrat Voted for What?

I just saw an internet meme that said, “Not a single Democrat voted to lower your taxes — let that sink in for a moment.”

I guess that’s another way of pointing out that not a single Democrat voted to raise the federal deficit by 1.4 trillion dollars in ten years.

Ethics of War Handout

These are some concepts and terms used in a presentation on the ethics of war, given at Oklahoma Baptist University on December 1, 2017.


Consequentialist Pacifism: Although war is not intrinsically wrong, the benefits of war are always outweighed by the costs.

Deontological Pacifism: War is always intrinsically wrong, regardless of its consequences.

Doctrine of Double Effect

War could be permissible, even if we know that innocent lives will be lost, if

  1. Taking innocent life is not the reason that we go to war,
  2. The lives that are saved are proportionally greater than the lives that will be lost,
  3. Taking innocent life is not the means to saving lives, and
  4. Saving lives is otherwise permissible.

Just War

Jus ad bellum: Conditions that determine when a state can justly go to war.

Jus in bello: Conditions that specify how a war must be fought

Jus post bellum: Conditions that determine when one can justly end hostilities.

Jus ad bellum Jus in bello Jus post bellum
Just cause Obey international law Just cause
Right intention Discrimination Right intention
Proper authority/declaration Proportionality Discrimination
Last resort Humane treatment of POW’s Proportionality
Probability of success No means mala in se
Proportionality No reprisals

Just Peacemaking

Ten principles of just peacemaking: 1

  1. Support nonviolent direct action.
  2. Take independent initiatives to reduce threat.
  3. Use cooperative conflict resolution.
  4. Acknowledge responsibility for conflict and injustice and seek repentance and forgiveness.
  5. Advance democracy, human rights, and religious liberty.
  6. Foster just and sustainable economic development.
  7. Work with emerging cooperative forces in the international system.
  8. Strengthen the United Nations and international efforts for cooperation and human rights.
  9. Reduce offensive weapons and weapons trade.
  10. Encourage grassroots peacemaking groups and voluntary associations.

  1. From Just Peacemaking: Ten Practices for Abolishing War, 2d ed., edited by Glen Stassen (Pilgrim Press, 2004). [return]

Moltmann on Peace

Peace is not merely the absence of war; it is also the overcoming of injustice and oppression. In positive terms, it is life that is blessed, affirmed, loved and successful–life as shalom. Anyone who wants to serve peace must serve life. He must therefore resist war, because this is the deadliest form of discord. But this resistance against war is only one part of a much wider devotion to life. The service of peace is the whole task of life.

Jürgen Moltmann, The Power of the Powerless