Friday, December 30, 2011

Pwned by God

So it's the night before my wedding. I've ordered six pairs of glossy purple shoes for my groomsmen, and six pairs of purple socks. Three pairs of socks have gone missing, but that's no big deal, really. Three of my groomsmen--Aaron, Mickey, and Ollie--have the shoes already. Cameron had a pair previously, but could no longer find them. I go into my room and see three pairs of shoes in the box: "No problem," I think, "Cameron's shoes must have found their way back in here." So I give one pair to Cameron and put the other two into my car to give to my other two groomsmen, Peter and Steven. An hour later I get a text from Ollie: "dude, did you put my shoes somewhere? I can't find them." And so it began.

Were Cameron's shoes lost, and had I mistakenly given Ollie's shoes to him? Or were those indeed Cameron's shoes, and had I misplaced someone else's shoes? Where the crap was that last pair of shoes?

That question would haunt Ollie and I for the next hour. We completely tore up our bedroom, then we completely tore up the living room. We tore up every room that had any chance of containing the shoes. Then we did it again. 

No shoes. No shoes at all. And the wedding is at 12 the next day. Although, on the plus side, we did find the three missing pairs of socks. But we're still missing a pair of shoes. And then my mom, who's been helping us a while, suggests we get together and pray that God will help us find the shoes. Now, I don't really think that'll help. I've been praying on and off for the last hour and it hasn't shown any results. But we do it anyway. We stop what we're doing, gather together, and pray.

Immediately after we're done, I start thinking out loud about what to do, assuming the shoes hasn't been found by tomorrow. Because I've already pretty much given up hope. I do not think we're going to find the shoes. And then, not two minutes after we're done praying, my mom spots a tiny spot of purple poking out of one of the tuxedo sack things. And there are the shoes. We'd walked past the tux bag dozens of times during the previous hour and never seen it.

Here's the crazy thing. We would have found the shoes in the morning, when everyone was getting dressed. But if we hadn't realized they were lost, we never would have found those last three pairs of purple socks. I am confident in saying this is a God thing. God decided to give us a bit of excitement before the wedding, a little reminder that without him everything falls apart... but that he is both able and willing to fix it again, once we trust in him and ask him to do it.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

God does not do meaningless things

“What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, ‘See, this is new?’ It has been already in the ages before us... I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind. What is crooked cannot be made straight, and what is lacking cannot be counted.” Ecclesiastes 1:9-10, 14-15

The world of the author of Ecclesiastes is old and stale. Nothing has any meaning or creates any lasting difference—the author questions, then, whether it is worth it to do anything at all. If the wise die in the same way as the foolish, if the rich suffer the same fate as the poor, if the good man fares the same as the evil man, why even make an effort? Even his last words carry the same sense of melancholy and hopelessness. “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for that is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” Fear God and obey him, because it is your duty: it will not help you in life, it may not help you in death, you will still die the same as an evil man… but it is your duty nonetheless.

And that was the end of the matter. There was nothing more to said, nothing more to be heard, because even the words of the wise were vain and meaningless.

And then something happened that had never happened before. A new star appeared in the heavens and a company of angels sang to the shepherds of Bethlehem, because God had been wrapped in swaddling clothes and was lying in a manger. This was, without a doubt, the most important thing that had happened since creation. And what this meant was… everything.

God was a child. He had friends, he played games with them, he skinned his knees, he was hungry and thirsty and tired. And then God grew up and was a man. He was sarcastic and biting towards some people and utterly kind and gentle towards others. He was enraged at the misuse of the temple and driven to tears by the death of a friend. He had friends and ate and drank and slept under the stars when he could have had an angelic canopy.

And as we think about these things we must remember one simple truth: God does not do meaningless things.

And this does not just apply to his “kingdom work.” The ultimate proof of this is his very first miracle in John 2. This miracle was not planned: this is evident from his response to Mary: “What does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” But he does it anyway: he has the jars filled with water and by the time the first cup reached the master of the feast, it is no longer water but the finest wine that had yet been served.

God does not do meaningless things. There were any number of ways to make his disciples believe in him, if that was his main goal. He could have made the water disappear: he could have turned it into grape juice (as some Christians fervently wish he had). But instead he chose to turn it not only into wine, but into the finest wine, wine so good that it made all the other wine pale in comparison. We are forced to realize this amazing truth: that God did something not just to further his mission, not just to make his disciples believe in him, but to help people celebrate a wedding with wine, the ultimate of extravagant beverages.

God does not do meaningless things. And that means that the world of Ecclesiastes is gone forever. 

Everything is no longer vanity and meaningless: instead, everything assumes a colossal importance. Even “neutral” things like eating or sleeping become full of meaning when we consider that God has done these things as well. When we eat, even a snack, we are reminded that God has done the same. When we sleep, we are reminded that God did too. When we attend a wedding, we remember that in doing so we walk in the footsteps of Christ. Life is full of meaning: I might even say full to bursting. Serving God is no longer a mere duty, but a privilege, an honor, a gift, as we walk this new world and think of Christ taking his first steps in Bethlehem.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A man of light and flesh

I saw a broken world hanging in the broken cosmos, like a broken ornament on a broken tree. It had cracked, and all the meaning had leaked out of it, and it had grown old. There was nothing new under the sun, and the sun gave forth dead light. The world was full of dead bones, a skeleton people. All was vanity and chasing after the wind, and even if one caught the wind he would find that he had not caught it at all: it had escaped his grasp and mocked him as he tried in vain to breathe under the dead sun.

Then the Lord saw that the people were dead for lack of meaning. He saw that they stumbled around in the dark, clicking and clacking in their never-ending chase of the wind. And he said “Who will go for us, and who will make these dead bones live?”

And many spoke, and many were sent, but it was no good: None could be found who were not skeletons. There was no one living to be found among the whole world.

And then, when silence had fallen in heaven, the Lord answered out of the whirlwind and said, “Here I am: send me.”

And the veil, which had been over the earth for so long that it had been forgotten, was torn, and the Lord opened the floodgates of heaven, and the people dwelling in darkness saw a living light. And the angels sang and the heavens danced in honor of the God who did what no god had done before. The light came into the darkness and became flesh, and the darkness understood neither the light nor the flesh, for nothing like this had ever happened before.

The light was a child, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, and the manger and the whole world sagged under his weight. The baby breathed, and there was a freshness in the dead air. Then the babe laughed, and it seemed to those listening that no one had ever laughed before.

The child grew up, and a man of light and flesh walked the dead earth, leaving meaning in his wake. Some were afraid of him, and others followed him, and both did so because they realized that there had never been a man like this before. And those following him began to change: their bones ceased to rattle, and gradually they, too, had flesh. And they realized that they could breathe, and that their new lungs would hold the air. They ate and were filled, they drank and their thirst was quenched, the sun warmed their skin and the green grass tickled their feet. And they ceased to chase the wind and began to live, as no one had done since Adam walked the garden.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Something New

I was driving today, listening to my Christmas music, and I realized I hadn't listened to Barlow Girl's rendition of "Carol of the Bells" lately. I strongly urge you to listen to it here, because it's awesome. Are you listening to it now? Good. Let's begin.

The Christmas Spirit... Every year there are new movies and television specials that attempt to capture it. It is usually thought to have something to do with children or family or giving for the sake of giving--it's generally  shown to be something along the lines of "children are precious," or "family is more important than presents." All of these movies are wrong. These are not "Christmas" things: they're just things. It is true that children are precious, and it is true that family is more important than gifts--but these things have always been true and they always will be true. Christmas, however, is about new things.

Christmas renews old things, and makes them more than they were before. That children are precious is an old thing, and that family is more important than gifts was already known. That first Christmas was something new, something that had never been seen before: finally there was something new under the sun, and the newness radiated out from that cave in Bethlehem and changed the world. It was in the old world that the sun set on Mary and Joseph knocking on locked doors, hoping against hope that a place could be found for them. And it was in the new world that the sun rose to the sound of a crying baby boy lying in a manger--and I think that when Mary heard those cries, she must have thought that she had never heard anything like it.

Every time a baby had been born before that point, it was an occasion of great joy--but always, always, there was the knowledge that the child was born into a world of pain and death and sin, that the child would die, must die. There was the sense that even this celebration of life and birth was vanity and a chasing after the wind. Children were precious... but they would be lost, eventually.

And then a special child was born, a child who would save his people from their sins--and everything was different. It was a birth not only of a child, but of the new world--a new world in which life did not have to be a mere progression towards death. It was a world where life could be a progression towards an even greater life. It was a world where God Himself had become a child, and as a result all children were infinitely more precious and could never be called meaningless again.

Because of Christmas, children can be even more precious to us, and family even more dear to us... but to say that those things are the point of Christmas is to miss it entirely. The meaning of Christmas is not subjective. It in no way depends on the one celebrating it. It is a reminder and celebration of that fixed point in time and space when Something New appeared under the sun, when something was done which had never been done before--it is a reminder of when everything was changed forever.

Christmas, people: accept no substitutes.

Monday, November 21, 2011


I've got three partially finished notes sitting in my drafts, but none of them are coming together. So here's an easy one.

I can't count how many times I've heard people remark how crazy it is that when Jesus tells the disciples "follow me," (Matthew 4:19, Mark 1:17), they follow immediately. It's so crazy, they say, because the disciples have never seen him before. They don't even know who he is! All it takes are those two words, and off they go! Such faith! Wrong. They have seen him before. They know who he is. In fact, when Jesus comes to them on the shore of the lake, they are already his disciples. Remember that Matthew and Mark do not stand alone: they are part of a greater framework, a framework that includes Luke and, more importantly (for this discussion), John.

Let's look at the very beginning of John. Jesus is hanging out where John the Baptist is doing his baptisms and crying out in the wilderness and all that jazz--specifically, in Bethany (1:28), which is nowhere near Galilee. John sees Jesus and says his classic line, "Behold, the Lamb of God." Two of the Baptist's disciples hear this and probably figure that "Lamb of God" sounds way cooler than "The Baptist" (although, now that I think about it, "The Baptist" could be a good name for a professional wrestler). In any case, they follow Jesus and ask him where he's staying. In 1:40, we learn that one of those disciples (of the Baptist, at this point) was Andrew, the brother of Peter. The other unnamed disciple is most likely John (not the Baptist). Andrew gets Peter, there is an implication that John also got his brother, and the next day Phillip and Nathanael are called.

Here's the important bit: Andrew and (probably) John are pointed to Jesus by John the Baptist, who is not in prison at this point. Andrew brings Peter, there is an implication that John brings his brother, then come Phillip and Nathanael. So at least five, but probably six, disciples, before John is put in prison.

Now let's look at Matthew and Mark. Matthew 4:12 specifies the time of the following events: "Now when [Jesus] heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee." Mark has the same qualifier in 1:14. A few verses later, Jesus meets Simon  Andrew, James, and John on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and tells them to follow him. This is after John had been put in prison, meaning that it has to come after the events of John 1. That means that at this point, the disciples have already made an explicit commitment to follow Jesus. They are not following an unknown man, or even a rabbi that they've heard of but never seen or spoken to before. They are already his disciples, which is why they immediately drop what they're doing and follow him.

I may go more into the specifics of the likely chain of events later, but this note is already a little long. Remember: the gospels aren't true in the way that a really good story is true. They don't just tell us something true about human nature, or about God, or about the world. They tell us a true story--a story which actually happened. We cannot afford to shrug off apparent inconsistencies as "not important." We must be ready and prepared to demonstrate the harmony of the gospels--the harmony not only of ideas, but of actual events.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

C. S. Lewis was not a gnostic heretic

"You don't have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body." I recently saw a friend of mine share this quote on facebook, attributing it to C. S. Lewis. According to the internet, a lot of people think this is from Lewis: Mere Christianity, usually. But it's not. Go through Mere Christianity page by page, or any of his other books, and you won't find this anywhere. It's actually a quote from an entirely different book, Canticle for Liebowitz, by an entirely different dude, Walter Miller. I can kind of understand why this would be attributed to Lewis: it's a nice, compact phrase turning a popular notion on its head. It's so deep, right? So true... But it's not, actually. This statement implies a strange separation of the body from "personhood," a notion that the body is something extraneous to the actual person: and this thought is much closer to gnostic heresy than orthodox Christianity. If we let this thought influence us too much, it can begin to dangerously influence how we think and even how we act.

This statement implies that the actual person is the soul. Just the soul. And the body is something extra to the person: take away the body and you still have the complete, whole person. This is completely wrong, and it is addressed directly in the New Testament. The church in Corinth had fallen into gnostic heresy: they thought that the body wasn't important. That was why they had fallen into sexual immorality, "of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans" (1 Cor. 5:1). And they were proud of this immorality, because the fact that they did whatever they wanted with their body demonstrated how spiritual they were: they were so spiritual that they didn't even care what happened to their bodies. I hope you can see what's wrong with this kind of thinking: Paul certainly could. He says, "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you?" (1 Cor. 6: 19).

So the body, specifically, is the temple of the Holy Spirit. If the body actually was something extraneous to the actual person, that would mean that the Holy Spirit would be inside the body, but not inside the actual person: both the soul (person) and the Holy Spirit would be inside the body. Thankfully, this is not the case, as Paul goes on to plainly state that the Holy Spirit is "within you." Note that I am not saying that "person = body," or "soul = body" or anything like that: the body and soul are both integral parts of a person. In this particular passage, the body is clearly identified as an integral part of a human being, meaning that sexual immorality affects the entire person exactly because it affects the body.

But what about when we die? What about when we are resurrected? Paul addresses this too, also in 1 Corinthians. Speaking of the resurrection, he says, "It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body" (1 Cor. 15:44). Even when we die and are resurrected, we retain the body. Surely we won't be resurrected with "extra parts," so to speak: the fact that we are resurrected with our bodies intact demonstrates that the body is an integral part of us. And note that Paul uses distinct plant-seed imagery: the spiritual body comes from the seed of the natural body. Rather, both are instances of the aspect of ourselves that is "body." The resurrected person, as well as the natural person, is not complete without the body.

The vital importance of this idea is seen nowhere so clearly as in the person of Jesus Christ.

That Jesus Christ was and is a human being like ourselves is part of the central tenant of our faith. Paul tells us that "In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily" (Col 2:9).  If the body is only a shell, then we see that the fullness of deity dwells in the body of Christ, but not in his soul, which is a strange thought. Going further, if the body is only a shell, than what people saw in the New Testament wasn't the actual person of Christ.

We must say that John was wrong when he says that with his very hands he touched "that which was from the beginning" (1 John 1:1)--we must say that he merely touched the unimportant outer shell, completely extraneous to the actual person of Christ. The actual person of Christ is then shrouded and hidden from us, absent from the entire New Testament, from our entire history. The Word did not "become" flesh but merely inhabited it, wearing it like the cloak of a Black Rider from The Lord of the Rings, its only purpose to give shape to something otherwise totally unrelated to it. Finally, if the body is only a shell, then Christ didn't actually die for our sins: he let the unimportant outer shell die. If Christ did not die, there is no atonement for sins. If only Christ's unimportant body died and was raised, than only our unimportant bodies are saved: our souls are lost.

"You don't have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body." This statement, fully fleshed out, makes our faith incoherent. It allowed early "Christians" to indulge in blatant immorality because it didn't affect them, only their bodies. It means that John did not touch Jesus, did not see the only Son from the Father: Only his meaningless body was touched and seen. It does away with Christ's death and makes his resurrection meaningless. It destroys our faith. Please stop attributing it to C. S. Lewis.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

They're the same, because the chapter headings say so

If you've grown up in church, you probably know about Jesus cleansing the temple. An account of it appears in all 4 gospels: in the three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), it appears after the Triumphal Entry, during the last week of Jesus' life. John, however, puts the cleansing of the temple at the very beginning of Jesus' ministry, immediately following his first miracle. If you were just skimming the Bible, reading the helpful little subheadings the editors of your particular translation have put in, you would see that both were labeled "Jesus cleanses the temple" or "The cleansing of the temple." And you would be excused for thinking that they were accounts of the same incident, that John had merely moved it to make some kind of point. In reality, though, the event recorded in John is vastly different from that recorded by the synoptics, and there is no reason to conflate (combine) the two. It makes about as much sense as seeing the boyhood journey of Jesus to Jerusalem in Luke and identifying it with the Last Supper in Matthew, which is no sense at all.

There are only two reasons to conflate the two events, and neither of them are good. The first is that they are superficially similar: they look the same if you only read the extra-biblical chapter heading. This is not a good reason, and we'll explore this further in the next couple paragraphs. The second is a really strange assumption that Jesus only ever went to Jerusalem for passover once. This is completely incorrect: for Jesus to be a good Jew, and we know that he was, he would have had to take passover at Jerusalem every year. Which means that according to most models of his earthly ministry, he would have taken his disciples to Jerusalem at least 3 times, only the last of which included the palm branches, hosannas, etc. So before we see the chapter headings and assume they're the same, let's investigate the events themselves.

Let's do the synoptics first. Mark gives us the most complete account, telling us that after Jesus made it into Jerusalem after the triumphal entry, it was already late, so the cleansing of the temple occurred the next day, probably in the morning (Mark 11). In all three accounts, Jesus makes reference to Isaiah 56:7: "For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples." He also refers to Jeremiah 7:11, which accuses Israel of making the temple into a "den of thieves." So he quotes the same two scriptures in all three accounts. Next important thing: immediately following the cleansing, nobody challenges him. At all. The pharisees are furious with him, but they can't do jack to him: after all, he was just praised as the conquering king from YAHWEH himself. In Matthew 21 and Mark 11, the pharisees wait a full day before coming to him with a question: "By what authority are you doing these things?" Jesus answers with a trick question about John the Baptist, owning the pharisees so hard that the only answer they can come up with is "We don't know." Jesus basically says, "Well, since you didn't answer my question, I won't answer yours."

Now let's look at John. John doesn't connect this with the triumphal entry at all. In fact, he seems to connect it with an entirely different trip to Jerusalem: an earlier one, when people were just beginning to believe in him because of his great deeds (John 2-3). There is literally no hint at all, other than the extra-biblical label "Jesus cleanses the temple," that this is the same event recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Let's go further. Take a look at what Jesus says: "Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade." Again, this sounds superficially similar to what he says in the synoptics, but it is completely different. This is not scripture: it is Christ's own words, unquoted from anything else. It mentions neither a house of worship nor a den of thieves. And this sparks a remembrance by the disciples that isn't found in any of the 3 synoptics: the disciples remembered "that it was written, 'Zeal for your house will consume me.'" Then the Jews challenge him, apparently immediately after he's driven out the money-changers and animals. They ask, "What sign do you show us for doing these things?" Jesus answers, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." This is a completely different challenge, and a completely different answer, than the one found in the synoptics.

Let's review. In the synoptics, the event is explicitly linked to the triumphal entry: in John it is not, and seems to be linked to a different trip to Jerusalem. In the synoptics, Jesus quotes scripture, mentioning a house of worship and a den of thieves: in John, Jesus doesn't quote anything, and mentions neither a house of worship nor a den of thieves.  In the synoptics, it is quite clear that the objections come a day later: in John, it seems to be immediate. The objection found in the synoptics is completely different from that found in John: the answers, likewise, are completely different. So literally every single aspect of the event found in John, except for the extremely broad "Jesus cleanses the temple," differs from the account found in the synoptics. Why would we ever assume that they're the same event? It makes about as much sense to look at Luke 2:41-50, see that Jesus is teaching in the temple, and assume it's the same event as that found in John 12:20-42, because they both take place in Jerusalem when Jesus is teaching and astonishing people.

Friday, October 21, 2011

"Perhaps your religion doesn't allow you to accept that..."

I've been watching Bones lately: your standard forensic crime investigator show with just enough uniqueness to make it genuinely enjoyable to watch. The main character is the ultimate empiricist and materialist--she believes in what she can see, touch, or otherwise experience with her physical senses, and nothing else. Talking to a devout Muslim, she mentions a friend in a morally wrong relationship and says condescendingly, "Perhaps your religion doesn't allow you to accept that." Oh, how free she is, unfettered by religion! She is ruled only by science: she knows what her senses can tell her, and nothing else. Except... not really. There is no sensory experience which tells her that murder is wrong and that murderers should be punished--and yet she has based her entire adult life on that premise. This is the fatal flaw of science, which goes unrecognized only because so few materialist scientists are as free from "religious morality" as they think.

Science enables us to preserve and prolong life far beyond what was possible only 100 years ago. It enables us to enforce law, to protect the innocent and punish the guilty. It allows us to speak to loved ones from far away, even see their faces: each achievement seems more impossible than the last, and more impossible to surpass: and yet it always is surpassed. It is truly marvelous what our species has accomplished. But looked at from another perspective, science is practically useless in isolation. Science discovered penicillin, and told us what it cured: but it is unable to tell us why anything should be cured. Science enables us to save the life of a burn victim and ease his pain, but is unable to tell us why we should do either. Science has taught us how to identify a murderer from a single drop of blood: but science is unable to tell us even why murder is wrong or why we should punish those who do it. Science cannot tell us why life is better than death--it cannot even tell us why truth is better than lies. Science cannot even defend itself.

And none of this has been realized yet by the "enlightened" scientific community only because they are not as enlightened as they think. That murder is wrong is not seen as something to be proved or disproved: it is one of the most basic assumptions of almost everyone. If ever a materialist were to seriously question it, he would realize that there is no scientific basis for it.
He may say, "But it is unjust!"
     What do you mean by "just?" You destroyed religious morality: to what sense of justice do you appeal?
He may say, "Alright, not 'unjust,' per se, but... what if everyone behaved that way?"
     Well, what if they did? It's not unjust, is it?
"But society would disintegrate!"
     And what if it did? Why is it better that it should not? Explain to me, using science and empiricism, why it is better that society should not disintegrate.

Now I realize that there are moral, ethical scientists. I know there are various boards and committees devoted to maintaining sound, ethical scientific practices--like preventing harmful experimentation on humans, for one thing. But this sense of morality, this belief that it is somehow wrong to inject people with something when you don't know what it will do, has nothing to do with science--it has everything to do with the old-fashioned, "religious" morality that materialist scientists are trying to get rid of. . If religious morality is ever completely eradicated, there will be no scientific morality to replace it. All sense of morality, of right and wrong, comes from a sense, conscious or unconscious, that there is something else besides this world full of bags of skin and bones and chemicals in the brain. Because if that is all we are, if that is all there is, then there is nothing wrong with harming or destroying such a thing. There is no such thing as "wrong" at all. It is not better that society should endure than that it should end: there is no such thing as "better." There are no more judgement calls. There is not even a reason to practice science: if there is no "good" or "bad", then Truth cannot be better than lies. And this is the great utopia to which we are being led: this is the promised land of scientific materialism.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Loving Father

Many people like to point to the Old Testament and say that the God of Christianity is only one more angry god of ancient times, cruel and proud and bloodthirsty. To say that the God of the Old Testament is an angry God is only fair, after all: it seems as though the Lord's anger is often burning at at least some portion of his people (Ex. 4:14, 2 Kings 23:26, Isaiah 5:25, and those are just 3 results from an internet search). But there are lots of angry gods in the various mythologies of the world. There's Bacchus, who so clouded the mind of a woman that she killed her own son and stuck his head on a pole and paraded it around the city. There's Moloch, who demanded child sacrifice. There are the countless gods of bloodstained altars, whose temples ring with the screams of the unfortunate chosen. All of these gods, as well as the God of the Christians and the Jews, could be fairly called "angry." But it is only the Christian God whose anger is that of a father spanking his child for running out in front of a car. It is only in Christianity that the flames of divine anger are fueled by the fiercer and more fiery flames of divine love.

Now, the modern world doesn't really seem too keen on the whole "spanking" thing, anymore. But to go to my original example: a stranger won't care that some kid ran out into the street. Or if he does care, he won't be angry at the child. The parent, though... the parent will be furious at the child. Because of love. The child carelessly endangered his life, and the parent will speak harshly to the child, even spank the child, in a frantic effort to get him to understand that you do not run out into the street. It's dangerous out there.

This is the God of the Old Testament. This is the loving parent of an unruly, foolhardy child, who loves to not only cross the street without looking but actually engage in a game of hopscotch on the freeway. This is the God who laments that "Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me... Israel does not know, my people do not understand" (Isaiah 1:2-3). It is punishment, yes, even angry punishment: but it is punishment with a goal, an aim, and motivated by love. There is not one life at stake, nor one family: the entire people is at risk, and every mistake made, every child-sacrificer taken in, every false god not driven out, is a threat more deadly than any car. "Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow." And yet Israel fails to get the message. We fail to get the message. And we make mistake after mistake, long after any earthly parent would have given up in despair. And yet God remains, both to ancient Israel and to us, the loving father who is angry at his children, and punishes them, because he loves them so much more than they know.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


One of the main complaints against the Church today is that it is intolerant: intolerant of other beliefs, intolerant of other lifestyles, intolerant of anything that disagrees with it. To this accusation, any self-respecting Christian should gladly plead "guilty." However, the Christian should also point out that, in calling us out on our intolerance, the accuser is himself being intolerant. We say, "You shouldn't do 'x'." The world says, "Oh, you shouldn't say 'shouldn't,' that's being intolerant." And this would be hilarious if the world got the joke. Anyway... you guys know this: this is Logic 101. The real point of this post is to say that tolerance is only the world's garbage version of something Christ had and the Church should have in abundance: love.

For some weird reason, the world sees the two as the same thing, or at least closely linked. They think that if you loved someone, you would be tolerant of their beliefs--if you are intolerant, that is proof that you do not love them. I have frequently seen people say that Christians should act more like Jesus--stop being so intolerant and show some love, you know? Alright, let's see what Jesus did. John 8: the pharisees bring a woman guilty of adultery to Jesus. Jesus blasts the pharisees, right? The pharisees were being intolerant, and Jesus wasn't having any of that! Just look at what he says to the woman: "I do not condemn you." See? Jesus is being so tolerant of the woman's "alternative lifestyle." (Note: this was sarcasm. I only say that because sarcasm is difficult to transmit through text). Read the very next words: "Go, and sin no more." By saying that, Jesus is being intolerant of her lifestyle of sin. He is not going to tolerate it. We do not see "tolerance" from Jesus: neither do we see the hateful garbage that certain "churches" spew on a daily basis. Instead, we see love.

And love is not some sort of crappy, lukewarm "middle ground." Love is fiery and passionate and active and moving--it seeks to change the bad and preserve the good, because it knows that the bad really is bad, and the good really is good. Jesus does not condemn the woman, because she has repented: but he immediately follows up with a command to sin no more. Love must include both of these sentiments, or else it is not love at all. Love is an active combination of acceptance of the person and rejection of the sin--and both acceptance and rejection must be extreme, even fanatical.

I wasn't going to say this, but I feel that this note demands it. Right now, in our fallen world, love has an integral, necessary counterpart: hate. Just as we are commanded to love people, we are commanded to hate what is evil. We cannot love people without hating sin. If we try, we will forget hate, and soon we will forget love. And there will be only silence as we sit and quietly tolerate our world, quite literally, to death.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Who will go for us?

 In Isaiah 6, Isaiah relates a vision he has of the Lord in the temple, attended by seraphim. This vision is absolutely packed with meaning: The glory of the Lord fills the temple, the foundations shake with God's voice, and there is even an anticipation, a glorious anticipation among the unclean people of Israel, of atonement for sin. Towards the end of the vision, Isaiah tells us, "And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?'" And it is here that we find even more meaning.

This is not just a question posed at this time, in this place, to one particular person. This is the driving question behind the story of redemption. This is the question that results in the prophets, judges, and kings, as God, again and again, sends messengers to a sinful and rebellious people, calling for them to return. This the driving question behind almost every act of God.

This question tells us a lot about the character of God and his attitude towards us. First, the question itself is based on a presupposition: that God will send someone. And why does God want to send someone? To call his people back to him. Then we ask: why does God want to call his people back to him? Have they not forsaken the Lord, and despised the Holy One of Israel? Do they not exalt the work of their hands over the Lord?

As Isaiah (and even our own experience tells us), indeed they have, and indeed they do. And the "normal" reaction, or should I say the "human" reaction, would be to do as Caesar does with Christ--to wash one's hands of the matter, and say, "I am innocent of their blood." The human reaction in the face of such utter faithlessness and scorn would be to leave us to our own devices, helpless and hopeless, until we meet our just and deserved death.

How fortunate for us, then, that our Lord is "God, and not a man." So the Lord stands above the earth, looking out upon a wicked and foolish people--and he asks, as if merely talking to himself, "Whom shall I send, and who shall go for us?" Whom shall I send to this wicked people, to call them to repentance? Whom shall I send, to remind this foolish people that I am the Lord, the Holy One of Israel? Who will call this people back to me?

This is the divine reaction to faithlessness: Love, going to greater and still greater lengths to call his people back to him, where they can be safe and happy once more.

And it is to greater and greater lengths. We see the prophets, the judges, the kings, as God involves himself with these mere humans, these created beings made of clay, who consistently and consciously revile and deny him. Again and again God calls to them, pleading with them to return. And after all this, after Moses and Samuel and David and even after Isaiah himself, there is still only a broken people, unwilling and unable to return to God.

And we can imagine the scene, outside this created world, outside time itself, as the Father sees all that is come to pass among his created children. He sees the people killing themselves with their selfishness and their pride and their sin. And then,with His divine voice echoing through eternity, He asks, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" And in that timeless space there are the visions--visions of the one who is despised and rejected, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. A man smitten by God, afflicted, crushed, wounded, oppressed, stricken, cut off from the land of the living. Darkness and an agonized scream from a cross.  And with that hoarse scream of pain and terror still ringing in our ears, we can hear the voice of the eternal Son of God, saying, "Here I am; send me."

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Crown

Check out 2 Timothy. This is the last letter of Paul that has been preserved. As Paul awaits execution in a cold, damp cell (note his request for a cloak, and for Timothy to come before winter: 4:13, 21), he says to Timothy, "I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come." Is Paul defeated? Has he lost hope? By no means! He continues triumphantly, "I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day." As he shivers in his cell, he is comforted by the knowledge that he has conquered. Not only has he conquered, but in conquering he has earned his crown.

 Note that I am not saying he earned his salvation. I am saying that after his salvation, his actions, the manner in which he lived his life, have made him worthy of receiving special recognition, possibly above and beyond that which may be considered "normal." In other places, Paul emphasizes the role of the Lord in our every day life: Galatians 2:20 is a good example of this, where he says, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me." However, there are other places where he emphasizes his own role and responsibility in life, such as this passage in 2 Timothy. He says, "I have fought... I have finished... I have kept the faith." These are things he has done. Additionally, when speaking of his crown of righteousness, he does not say it will be given to him by the God of Grace. That would imply a crown he did not deserve--it would be a pure gift. Instead, he says it will be awarded to him by the God of Righteousness. He emphasizes God's role as a righteous judge, who weighs the facts and judges appropriately. The crown is awarded to Paul, in the same way that medals are awarded to war heroes: they have earned them, and in that sense they are not gifts.

This should make a difference in how we live our lives, I think. We are not mere actors moving listlessly through a pre-determined script, where the actor playing the hero will receive the fake crown for having pretended to do something. Paul tells the men of Athens that one of their poets was right in saying that in God we live and move and have our being. We live, we move, and in doing so we have the choice of whether to finish the race or fight the good fight. Even if we fall, we can get back up, and if we drop our sword, we can take it up again. We are warriors, soldiers of the cross, and God has given us obstacles to conquer, allowing us to be like Christ even in victory and conquest.

"The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne." Rev. 3:21

Thursday, September 22, 2011

What began as a thought at one in the morning...

            When C.S. Lewis wrote Narnia, he was operating from a simple question: what might a world be like if Christ, having taken the form of a man here, took the form of a lion there? With that in mind, at one in the morning I asked a different question: what does the person of Jesus Christ do to our perception of God? (Note: this no longer has anything to do with C. S. Lewis)
Karl Barth, because he’s awesome, and most of the things he says are awesome, finds a special significance in the name “Emmanuel,” or “God with us.” He sees it as primarily a statement about God: “that it is He who is with them as God.” But it is also a statement about us: “It tells us that we ourselves are in the sphere of God. It applies to us by telling us of a history which God wills to share with us and therefore [it tells us] of an invasion of our history—indeed, of the real truth about our history as a history which is by Him, and from Him and to Him.” He goes on to say that ultimately, “God with us,” the primary act and being of God as He relates to us, finds its fulfillment and completion in  Jesus Christ.
Pat of what I think he’s saying is this: Jesus Christ changes everything about our conception of God. He has to change everything.  He changes how we think about God in Himself, and he changes how we think about God in relation to us. Any way of thinking about God that attempts to exclude Christ from the picture will be horribly incomplete.  The God we worship must be the God who came down to us not only as God, but as man. The God we serve must be the God who served us. The God we fight for must be the God who fought for us, and the God we die for must be the God who died for us.
Any God which does not share this sense of patience, of suffering, of condescension, of ultimate faithfulness in the face of ultimate faithlessness, is not our God. Any God who is high without once having chosen to be low is not our God, any God who is strong without once choosing to be weak is not our God.  Any God who is too proud to stoop down to his people is not our God.
This all came up as I was thinking about what to write. As to how this relates… if Jesus Christ is the defining thing in our knowledge of God, that means he is the defining thing in our knowledge of the everything. How, then, am I to write a complete story yet leave him out? That would require a world in which very nearly everything is fundamentally different: and inevitably for the worse. Thoughts?

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Doctor vs. The Great Physician

Relatively recently, Anna became hooked on an extremely long-running British (but surprisingly good) tv show called Dr. Who. It follows an immortal alien who calls himself The Doctor, and he is the last surviving Time Lord. As a Time Lord, he possesses a unique power over a particular aspect of reality: I'll let you guess which one. Anyway, the show follows him as, again and again, he saves the universe, the world, or even just one or two people. There's even a band devoted to the show called Chameleon Circuit, and all of their songs are about the show--this is where it gets interesting, because a lot of the songs written about the Doctor could easily be about Christ (like Traveling Man or Regenerate Me).

This is really cool in a lot of ways. In one episode of the show, a woman, standing next to her husband-to-be, tells the Doctor, "I know we're not important..." The Doctor cuts her off, saying, "Now who says you're not important? I've traveled to all sorts of places, done things you couldn't even imagine, but... you two... I've never heard of a life like that. Yes. I'll try and save you." In another episode, the Doctor says he's been alive "900 years of time and space, and I've never met anyone who wasn't important before." This mirror's Christ's attitude towards us in many ways, and it's really cool to see.

Bear with me for just one more moment. The point is coming. In one episode, the Doctor addresses a group of aliens come to watch the earth's final moments, saying, "If you're waiting for a higher authority, there isn't one." The Doctor is known to some as "the traveling god." He is the highest authority, the last resort to any and all who cry for help. And yet... he loses, sometimes. The latest season has Anna extremely unsure because it begins with the future death of the Doctor, which will presumably be fulfilled at some point (probably the end) of the current season.

Remember the band I told you about? Chameleon Circuit wrote a song about the Doctor losing. You can listen to it here, and I strongly suggest you do: it's a very good song. It's called Nightmares, and it's about the Doctor wondering when, after doing everything that he has done to save the people he cares about (everybody), he will fall. He knows that "Somewhere all my darkest fears are gathering, It's not enough to save the day, I can't escape my nightmares." The first words to catch my attention were the prominent "save the day" in the chorus: it wasn't until the 2nd or third time listening to it that I realized that the point of the song was that it wasn't going to happen. Eventually, the Doctor will fall and the day will not be saved.

This is where things get really cool again. The Doctor is awesome. He may be the awesomest fictional character I have ever heard of. But, for all his parallels to Christ, he doesn't hold a candle to him. How sad it is for the Doctor when he realizes that he is the highest authority in the universe? He, immortal though he is, is not invincible, and he knows that someday he will fall and evil will win. How fortunate for us that there is a higher authority! How incredible for us that we know that Christ, though he died once, is alive forevermore! We are not the highest authority, and we can rest easy knowing that Christ is, and that he will never fall.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Bloody Narcissism

Edit from 2014: This post certainly still accurately describes my feelings towards many who support abortion. HOWEVER, I know that to many women who actually go through with it, it is a difficult choice that often seems like the only viable option. If that is you, or someone you know, I'm sorry: This post was written by a college student who hadn't yet learned that "simple" things are rarely so simple, and that to the desperate and hurting, sometimes a terrible choice can seem like the only option, without ceasing to be terrible. END edit.

A while ago, it seemed as though every time I would drive to Fresno I would see this sign off the side of the freeway. It had a picture of baby in the womb, with the words, "I would have found the cure for cancer" next to it. It was a pro-life sign, implying that abortion has the potential to deprive the world of incredible things that the aborted people would have been able to offer it. As I drove, I thought about how  an abortion advocate would scoff at the sign, saying that an aborted child could just as easily grow up to be a serial killer. They could point out that it is by no means certain that an aborted person would grow up to be a positive influence on society. Then I realized the fundamental problem with using the term "pro-choice" to describe someone in favor of abortion: it is the furthest possible from the truth.

As the sign implied, an aborted child could grow up to discover the cure for cancer. He also might grow up to be a serial killer. The really interesting thing, however, is that this would involve a choice. A choice that child no longer gets to make. In fact, that child no longer gets to make any choices. The act of abortion wipes an entire lifetime of choices from existence. Justify it how you will, if you choose to use the rhetoric of choice to defend abortion, you will lose. You will drown in the sea of choices that will never be made, that can never be made, that should have been and were not. From the view of the child, abortion makes all choices impossible.

What, then, shall we call those who support abortion? In this age of catchy slogans and soundbites, it's important to have a name. Pro-death has been advanced by some--this has the unfortunate disadvantage of being too simplistic: it describes the effect of abortion, but not the cause.  I considered pro-self--and this, while strictly accurate, doesn't carry the full weight of the idea. After a few minutes, I tried ditching the "pro," and as soon as I did so, I realized I had the perfect name: Narcissist.Or if you want a two-part label: Bloody Narcissist.

Wikipedia, the ultimate compendium of all knowledge (mostly) says, "In everyday speech, 'narcissism' often means inflated self-importance, egotism, vanity, conceit, or simple selfishness." This applies perfectly to what we're talking about here. Inflated self-importance. Vanity. Conceit. Ultimately, it comes down to "simple selfishness." By stripping abortion supporters of their falsely worn "pro-choice" and labeling them as Narcissists, we strip abortion down to its most basic premise: my convenience is more important than another person's life. Is this not Narcissism in its most horrible form? Ending a life--killing--for the sake of convenience?

Branching out a little bit...  this just boggles my mind. Think about where we are today. As a society, we have come to a point where killing your own child is not only permitted, but hailed as a glorious exercise of choice. In our self-centered society, Freedom itself has become a god, a crimson idol, soaked daily in the blood of unborn children.

I've been sitting here for over 20 minutes--30, now--trying to figure out how to end this. Nothing. Except--God save us.

ADDENDUM: I do have to address a few points. Let's say a teenage girl is raped and becomes pregnant. That is the go-to scenario for abortion activists. I say: it does not matter. It's horrible, yeah. It may derail your life for 9 months. But it won't derail your entire life. That's what adoption is for. The 9 months that it would inconvenience you is not enough to warrant killing another human being. The only time where I would say it does not come down to a type of narcissism is when the mother's life is endangered. Then it's life for life: and that's a choice I pray that I never have to make.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

"If you will, you can make me clean."

I've been thinking a lot about predestination vs. free will lately. What it comes down to, in my mind, is that going completely predestination, with no sense of real free will, means that Jesus does not want most people to get better.

Think about that.

It means that when Jesus tells all who are burdened and heavy-laden to come to him, it is inevitable to some (those he has already irresistibly called), and a taunt to everyone else, all the poor saps who will never receive rest because Jesus doesn't love them enough. Whatever terms you use, whether you separate divine desire from divine providence or insist on some sort of "totally depraved" free will that is no free will at all, that is ultimately what it comes down to. And that is not the Jesus I see in the Gospels.

Check out Mark 1:40. Jesus is just walking along, going from town to town in Galilee, preaching, and a leper comes to him and says, "If you will, you can make me clean." Most other translations say, "If you want to," or "If you wish." That is what he is saying. The leper says, "I know that you are capable of making me clean. I want you to make me clean. Do you want to make me clean?" Immediately, Jesus is "moved with pity" and says, "I will; be clean." Jesus wants to make him clean. He desires it. He doesn't hesitate. He doesn't test him further. This verse demonstrates Jesus' fundamental attitude towards humanity: "I want to make you clean. Be clean." This is Jesus' attitude towards literally everyone who comes to him or asks him for help. Now let's check out another instance, this time of a person rejecting Jesus' offer of help.

Flip forward to Mark 10:17-22. A young man comes up to Jesus and asks him how to inherit eternal life, saying that he has kept all the commandments since he was a child. And the text says that Jesus, "looking at [the man], loved him," and Jesus tells him that he still lacks one thing: he needs to sell everything he has and give it to the poor, so that he may follow Jesus and receive treasure in heaven. The young man, however, is unable to do this, so he goes away sad. This man comes to Jesus for help. Jesus loves him and tells him what he needs to do, actively calling him to follow. But the man is unwilling to do so and walks away.

Is Jesus just messing with the guy? Did he know that the young man would be unable to follow his teaching? Did he "call" him, but not really call him? It doesn't appear so. It appears as though Jesus loved him sincerely, called him earnestly, told him how to respond to that call... and yet the man walks away anyway. That's what appears to happen.

Reading the Gospels without an underlying assumption of free will makes for a very strange Jesus. Every time Jesus tells the people to come to him, it is either pointless (it would have happened anyway) or a taunt (they are literally incapable of following him). Pure predestination amounts to Jesus telling the lame man to pick up his mat and walk without healing the man’s lameness. Put that into spiritual terms and you have what the Calvinist Jesus does to all the non-elect. It is Jesus telling the Centurion that his son has been healed when in fact he has not, Jesus smearing mud on the blind man’s face not to restore his sight but merely to remind the man that he is blind and will never see.  It is mere mockery—mockery of the hapless damned, offering them glimpses of something that Christ has no intention of giving them.

To all Calvinist brothers and sisters in Christ: I think you're wrong, but I love you. I pray that all of us continually strive for and, in fact, achieve greater maturity in the faith, as Hebrews 5:11-6:3 teaches.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Blessed be the Name of the Lord

A good friend of mine recently told me that sometimes they feel guilty when worshiping. They get excited, singing praises to God, and then feel guilty when they get to a song that they aren't really "feeling." The song is not true to their immediate experience with God, and so they wonder if they should even sing it at all. I myself have felt this at times--I suspect that most Christians have, at some point in their lives. We don't always feel like worshiping God. How fortunate for all of us, then, that possibly the most epic book of the Old Testament relates the story of another man's struggle with this feeling--not only his struggle, but his epic, vindicating victory over it.

I told this friend of mind to read Job. It's usually a good piece of advice. Job is a pretty good book--in fact, Job is a pretty cool guy. He vindicated God's trust in him and doesn't afraid of anything (internet meme, don't worry about it). Job loses almost everything in the space of about 2 minutes: all of his cattle, the entirety of his wealth, are either taken by enemies or burned by the fires of heaven. His children are all killed in an instant. All he has left are his house (tent, maybe?), wife, and the four servants who were the ones to tell him of all the disasters that just happened to him. His response to losing almost everything he had? He tore his robe--a sign of mourning. He shaved his head--also a sign of mourning. And he fell on the ground and worshiped--also a sign of--no, wait, never mind.

In the midst of this great mourning--mourning for his 7 sons, 3 daughters, very many servants, and literally thousands of cattle--he worships. He says, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord." The first part of this will never be made into a worship song, and even the song "Blessed be the name of the Lord" shoehorns the giving and taking away into the bridge, not even part of the chorus. It is not a cheerful statement.  But it is worship nonetheless. "Blessed be the name of the Lord." We need to recognize that Job does not see the disasters as merely some chance occurrence. This is not bad luck. Job recognizes that this is something direct from God himself. And immediately after he voices this recognition, he praises God. "Blessed be the name of the Lord."

Job is not happy when he says this. He is not some kind of robot who doesn't care that all of earthly possessions besides his wife (who doesn't seem to have been entirely helpful throughout the ordeal) have been taken from him in an instant. He mourns the loss of his children deeply. He probably didn't really feel like praising God. But he did it anyway.

Worship can be about expressing the feeling that you already have towards God. And when it is that, it is a wonderful, joyous occasion, and you can sing and clap spontaneously, practically dancing in the aisles (unless you're Mennonite) . But it can also be about recognizing the objective fact that God is worthy of praise--not just abstractly worthy of praise, but worthy of your praise in particular. It can be about recognizing that God is worthy of praise even when he does not seem present to you, or when his gifts seem to turn to curses. In that case, worship is the conscious decision to offer him the praise he deserves, without regard for your own personal circumstances. And that kind of worship, while not so easy, nor so pleasurable, as the first kind, is a victory worthy of Job.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The God of Peace

Anna has recently learned that I have this bad habit when I'm in a church service or Bible study. The pastor or study leader will have us turn to a particular passage, and after I read it, I sometimes keep going. I can get so into what I'm reading that before I know it, I'm on the next page and not really paying attention to what is being said. This seems like a good trait for personal study: not so great when you're supposed to be learning from someone else. Anyway, this is only to explain to you how I came to notice the particular passage this note is focusing on. I was in church, and Pastor Pat was reading from Romans: I can't even remember where, exactly. I got caught up, and soon I was at the very end, reading Romans 16:20: "The God of peace will soon crush Satan under our feet." This verse, with it's sense of an inherently peaceful crushing of Satan, got me so excited that I had to grab a pencil and jot a couple things down. Here they are, expanded.

"The God of peace will soon crush Satan under our feet." "The God of Peace" isn't a terribly well-known title for God, but most people, when thinking about God, do have this sort of assumption of peacefulness. When we think about peace, we think of... I don't know, clouds drifting slowly across the sky. Green meadows. Bunnies. That kind of thing. "Crushing" does not usually come into it. "Crushing" anything, whether it's Satan or only a soda can, seems like an inherently violent act, jarring us out of our daydream of bunnies frolicking in green meadows while clouds drift lazily by over-head. And indeed crushing is an inherently violent act. It is a forceful suppression and breaking-down of something. And yet it is apparently not opposed to peacefulness.

Paul deliberately uses this title. He does not say "The God of righteousness," or "the God of wrath." He purposely says "the God of peace," and that means that he sees the crushing of Satan as an inherently peaceful thing. It is not enough to look at this and grudgingly admit that crushing may not be contradictory to the peace of God. We must look at this and see that the crushing of evil is a necessary, integral part of God's peace. God would not be "the God of peace" if he did not crush Satan under the feet of his saints. At some point in the history of our world, God will crush Satan, and his peace will be fulfilled.

Nor is this some purely abstract theological truth with no bearing on ourselves. This is a fundamental truth of how the world works. There are people, even Christians (in some cases, especially Christians) who advocate "peace at any cost"--they will make any sacrifice or any compromise in order to "keep the peace" with evil. This passage shows that true peace cannot exist in the presence of evil. A peace that is achieved by allowing evil to remain is no peace at all--ultimately, then, "peace at any cost" results, at best, in the absence of peace. At worst, it results in the victory of evil. This applies to the church, both individual churches and the visible church as a whole. This applies to nations. This applies to our physical world. And ultimately this applies to everything, visible and invisible. Peace will not be achieved while evil remains at large.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


What is prayer? Talking to God. Every Christian knows that. But what are you talking to God about? What is your purpose in praying? That's where you start getting different answers depending on who you ask, and where and when you ask them. Because you can talk to God about anything, for any reason. But what I want to talk about right now is petitionary prayer: when you ask God for something.

Not the earliest, but probably the most well-known, instance of petitionary prayer is found in the Lord's prayer: give us this day our daily bread. Asking God to give you your food for the day. But there's more. James tells us "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him" (James 1:5). What's more, 1 John tells us that "If we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him." (1 John 5:14). Possibly the coolest example of petitionary prayer is found in Daniel. Daniel sees a vision and fasts for three weeks, praying to God that he may understand the vision. At the end of the three weeks, an angel appears and says, "Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words" (Daniel 10:12).

James links the giving of wisdom to the asking for wisdom, and John says God hears us "if we ask." Some Christians seem to think that the only purpose prayer has is to draw us closer, spiritually, to God. To align ourselves more closely with him. And that is indeed one of the main purposes of prayer, possibly the main purpose. But it is not the only purpose. Look at Daniel's prayer. The angel has come "because of [Daniel's] words." Daniel's prayer literally sets celestial events into motion, resulting not only in an answered prayer but also an angelic showdown between the "prince of Persia" and Michael the freaking archangel. That is unbelievably awesome.

Prayer has the power to literally change the world: without Daniel's prayer, we don't have that vision. We don't have the explanation--at least, not in the same way. The Bible would be different if the authors had not prayed.  And I think Christians every day operate on this basic assumption that prayer can change things, even if unconsciously. When you pray for someone to get well, what are you praying for? Are you asking God to merely watch something happen that was already going to happen naturally? Ludicrous. Why are you praying at all, if you are asking that? You are asking God to supernaturally heal someone. To change the world, or at least the small bit of the world that you and your friend inhabit. Christians have the unique privilege of talking to God, and the Bible teaches us that when we ask God to change the world, he will. We need to use that privilege.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Cheap Shots

So, I was in Germany for 2 weeks at an English Camp. Near our camp was a missionary school-type thing (I think) called Black Forest Academy, and it seemed pretty cool. There was also a church associated with it, that spoke English but had a translator for German. We went there one Sunday, and for the most part, it was pretty alright. But there was one thing that really bugged me. Irritated me, even. Ticked me off.

The sermon was about the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. The pastor had some good stuff, focusing on Jesus' rebuttals and why they were important and appropriate. And then (I don't really recall how), it segued into a discussion on the absolute necessity of Christ and the inherent hopelessness of man on his own. Amen. I am all for that. He talked about the rise of humanism, talking about how many people now believed that people could do it all on their own: that they could find salvation and meaning in their own selves, without God. Yes, it is true that people say that, and it is true that they are wrong. But then, issuing a number of one-liners targeting and ridiculing these people (humanists), he said, "And some say 'Love wins!'" And the tone was so contemptuous that I was shocked.

Now, Rob Bell, a controversial contemporary theologian, recently wrote a book called "Love Wins," which, while it doesn't directly say that Christian Universalism is the correct view, at least calls it better than the traditional view of eternal suffering for non-believers (Christian Universalism is the belief that all people, while inherently sinful and broken, will eventually be saved through Jesus Christ). This is undoubtedly what the pastor had in mind when he took this incredible cheap shot. And a cheap shot it was indeed, because Bell's views, wrong though they are, have nothing to do with humanism. Humanism believes that humanity can do it on it's own. That humanity is not essentially broken, or if it is, it can fix itself. This view is directly anti-thetical to the Christian faith. Bell would agree that it is impossible to hold to humanism while claiming to be Christian.

I am all for correcting false teaching (which I believe "Love Wins" to be). But it must be done correctly. Criticizing "Love Wins" for being humanistic is ignorant and actually harmful to the cause of orthodox Christianity, because it demonstrates that the one doing the criticizing doesn't know what he's talking about. Criticizing is not important: correcting is. And correction requires a knowledge both of truth and what you are trying to correct. Otherwise you just sound dumb.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Literally mocking a crippled dude

Another blog post, for reals this time. In Germany, the staff went through the first few chapters of John over the course of the camp. When we got to John 5, I winced a little, because I had a good idea of what was coming. We read John 5:1-15, which is the story of the crippled dude who had been at the pool for 38 years, trying to get in and get healed. Jesus asks him if he wants to be healed, and the man says, "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps in before me." At least 3 or 4 times, when I have been in a study where we read this passage, the person leading it asks, in a particularly leading voice, what the man's answer was. After a couple people point out that he didn't actually answer "yes, I want to be healed," someone starts "rephrasing" his answer in a very whiny voice: "well, it's just so hard, and I can never get into the pool and everyone always goes in front of me." And everyone laughs. This has happened, as I said, multiple times, and you may also have experienced it.

Are you freaking kidding me? Mocking a disabled guy? If you have read the passage in this manner, you have literally been making fun of a crippled guy--for being crippled. This man is an "invalid." Since Jesus commands him to take up his bed and walk, it is almost certain that he is paralyzed, lacking the use of his legs. He cannot walk. And he has been waiting at the pool for thirty eight years.

The whole reason someone points out his answer is so that they can say that he doesn't really want to get well. That he's just making excuses for why he hasn't already gotten better. Again: are you freaking kidding me? The fact that he has been at the pool for 38 years is testimony enough to his desire to get better. 38 years. 13,870 days. And why hasn't he been able to get into the pool? Because he's paralyzed! He literally cannot walk. He is not whining when he tells Jesus why he has been unable to get into the pool. He is stating the plain facts of the matter, without embellishment.

Lastly: if he was whining, and if he didn't really want to get better, Jesus wouldn't have healed him. When people say the wrong thing to Jesus, he lets them know. When they say the right thing to him, he rewards them. Please stop making fun of the crippled dude. Thank you.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

2 Swords (just for fun)

We all know the story of Peter trying to protect Jesus by cutting off the ear of Malchus with a sword (John 18:10). While researching for my story, I was forced to ask: why the heck does Peter have a sword? And why, having a sword, is he so incredibly bad with it? At first, only those two facts are apparent: Peter has a sword, and he doesn't know how to use it. The Bible doesn't directly tell us how he got it, or when or where, but there is an interesting verse in Luke that possibly sheds light on the issue.

Luke 22, Luke's account of the passover, contains several interesting passages, including a controversial passage concerning the proper conduct of Christians following the death of Christ (not gonna cover that now, because I'm in the mood for something easy and non-controversial right now). Jesus mentions the need for a sword in the coming days, saying that the need is so great that one should sell his cloak and buy a sword if he does not already have one (the controversy is whether he is speaking of a literal sword or a figurative one). Immediately following this (Luke 22:36), the disciples, not having understood very much of what Jesus was saying, latch onto one thing: swords. Their response? "Look, Lord, here are two swords" (Luke 22:38).

This is an interesting verse, and I think it offers a good explanation of why Peter has his sword. (Note that I did not come up with this explanation: I read it in Lenski's commentary on Luke, and it fits Peter's story far better than any other explanation I have heard). They are not talking about the passover knives: the word consistently means "sword." So they are definitely talking about two literal, physical blades, almost certainly Roman short-swords. Why, then, are there two swords here at Passover? Even if it were true that Jewish men were in the habit of carrying swords (and this probably was not the case), why would two of them (and only two) have swords on Passover? Actually at the Passover feast, in Jerusalem, where only days before the entire city had welcomed Jesus and supported him?

Lenski offers an alternate explanation. The proper reading of "Look, Lord, here are two swords," is not "Hey, Jesus, we brought two swords with us." Instead, it should be read, "Check it out! There are two swords right here in this room!" Lenski theorizes that two swords were hung up as decoration in the upper room, and that Peter just takes one. Peter is probably thinking, "Awesome! I've always wanted a sword! This is gonna be sweeeet." Jesus is talking about swords, saying they really need them now, and that things are going to be super crappy for them now. Why not just take the sword? Maybe it'll come in handy.

I love this explanation. It fits perfectly. It explains how Peter, a fisherman from Capernaum, came to posses a sword: not only possessing a sword, but having it on him on Passover in Jerusalem. It also explains why he is so terribly bad with it. He attacks, not a trained soldier, but a servant of the high priest, and he only succeeds in cutting off an ear. He doesn't even do enough damage to make arresting him worth while for the soldiers. He has clearly never handled a sword before.

Just a bit of fun, something interesting that I learned while writing my story. Later.

If you enjoyed this post (which was written in 2011), you should check out my recently published book (2014), Simon, Who Is Called Peter!

Saturday, July 30, 2011


So here I am in Germany, serving as Activities Director and Counselor, doing my first devotional time with my five guys. Afterwards, I open it up to questions about anything: me, God, the U.S., even game-time tomorrow. Nothing. Not even crickets. Just as I'm standing up and getting ready to leave, one of my campers asks me in a thick German accent: "Do you believe in... theory of Darwin?"

Things just got REAL.

I answered him, telling him that I did not believe it and why (different subject for a different post). I don't know what he thought of my answer. He just nodded and leaned back in his seat.  I hope that I said the right things, but I just don't know. Then, after confirming that there were no more questions, I went back to my room. My first thought, on entering my room, was "Holy flip. What was that?" My second thought was, "Thank you, God, for prodding me to pray for wisdom before that question." I was drained. I felt as though I'd just gone through a long test back in school. I was both physically and mentally exhausted. I flopped down on my bed, flipped open my Bible, and read a couple of chapters and prayed, and I could feel some energy coming back to me. Then I thought about edges.

We are on the edge here--the edge between light and darkness. We are tasked with taking the light into places that are dark, and sometimes we can forget what that means: stepping into the dark places so that they may become light, not stepping into them once they are already well-lit. That's what Jesus did, when he first came into the world. "The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned" (Matthew 4:16). And John tells us that "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5). Jesus stepped over the edge, into the darkness, so that his light could shine and be seen. Because it is here, on the edge, that things can happen. It is here that the great battles are fought, and it is on the edge that great deeds are accomplished. And these are accomplished with struggle. Jesus himself was exhausted at times, weary and troubled and sorrowful, and Paul saw himself as being poured out like a drink offering (2 Tim. 4:6). But the struggle is well worth it, because it is on the edge that souls can be saved.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

If the [Christian] faith is true...

I was halfway through what was going to be a monster of a post when, purely by accident, I found my thesis for the post: if you are a Christian and are ok with Christianity being taught as merely one of many options, or neglected altogether, than you have not thought sufficiently about it. Either that, or you do not really believe the Christian faith to be really objectively true.

John Henry Newman talks about a University being a place of universal knowledge, and by knowledge he means "absolute and objective truth." He theorizes about a University which specifically excludes theology from its field of studies, and he has this to say of the founders of such a University:  "Did they in their hearts believe that their private views of religion, whatever they are, were absolutely and objectively true, is is inconceivable that they would so insult them as to consent to their omission in an Institution" which, by definition, teaches universal knowledge. Later on, Newman states his thesis in the clearest terms possible: "If the Catholic Faith is true, a University cannot exist externally to the Catholic pale [enclosure], for it cannot teach Universal Knowledge if it does not teach Catholic theology." While I do not agree with the specific statement about Catholicism, I do agree with the statement he is making about objective truth and how we should react to such objective truth.

If you believe, really believe, that Christianity really is absolutely and objectively true, you should not be content with it being left out of the curriculum.  Nor should you be content with it being taught merely as one of many options, each of which are equally valid. Because Christianity is not merely one of many options: it is the only option. And its competitors are not equally valid: they are not valid at all. If you believe that Christianity is true, than you must believe that all other religions, philosophies, and worldviews are at best horribly incomplete and insufficient. If you teach someone that atheism and Christianity are equally viable worldviews, you are telling them a lie. It is no less a lie than telling a small child that 2 + 2 = 5: it is worse, for the lie about math does not concern the child's eternal destiny.

Finally, some will say that we should not force our beliefs on others, or that we should let them choose: they say that even though we believe one of the choices to be better than the other, we should let each person decide for himself or herself. Hopefully, after the last few paragraphs, you see that neither of these objections make sense. A teacher telling a child that 2 + 2 = 4 is, indeed, forcing his or her belief on that child: it is right for the teacher to do so, because the teacher's belief is right, and all other beliefs concerning the outcome of 2 + 2 are wrong. Jesus forced his beliefs on others: he did not offer alternate interpretations. Jesus did not say "I believe this is right, but why don't you choose whatever you like best." Jesus said, "I am the way... no one comes to the Father except through me." Paul was the same way. "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed." One path. One right answer. No other options. If you really believe Christianity to be absolutely, objectively true, you must proclaim all other beliefs to be false. Any other action you take has the potential to lead others away from the truth you yourself claim to believe... and you should read Luke 17:2 to see what Jesus thinks about that.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Peter: Introduction

This is the first small segment of my Peter story, titled "Simon, Who is Called Peter." If you want to read the whole thing, you can email me or comment on this post. I will be attempting to self-publish through Amazon for the Kindle and other e-readers at the end of the summer. Enjoy!

Rome, 50-60 AD
“I will soon leave this tent,”[1] I whisper, as I do every day upon awakening in this prison cell. And a cold, wet tent it is—it is always damp in these cells. I rise slowly, and as I pull myself up with shaking hands I am reminded—I am old. Soon, I think, what the Lord told me will come to pass.[2] The scars from years of fishing pull at my palms as I raise them up to pray, and I say the words that the Lord Jesus taught us so many years ago: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” I’d heard the Father’s voice, once, on a mountain, the day Moses and Elijah came and talked with Jesus. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread…” And he did. Every day, the food came—of course, it wasn’t really bread, but still sufficient. “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” I swear that I do not know the man! Simon, son of John, do you love me? Yes, Lord, you know I love you. “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.”
            I lower my eyes and my hands, both raised towards heaven, and look around the small cell. There isn’t much to look at. A stone slab, both for sitting and sleeping. A pot in one corner. And in another corner a pile of papyri, the oldest of them already starting to decay in the perpetual damp. Letters. Paul is here, somewhere, in Rome—I have not been allowed to see him. Mark and Silvanus have, however, and they have brought me copies of his letters. The Spirit of God has given him great wisdom. He is like the prophets of old—bold, inspired, and often confusing. Mark would often have questions about them when he came to visit me, and I would do my best to answer them with the words God gave me.[3]
            Mark. My son. He was with me for a long time, listening to my preaching, writing things down (a fisherman seldom needs to write).[4] He and Silvanus helped me write my letters to the church.[5] He is gone, now, gone with Paul’s disciple Timothy. Silvanus, too, has gone. Luke is still in Rome, though, and he visits me to talk about the Lord in his days on earth.[6] He, like Mark, is always writing things down. He says it is important to get the account from “eyewitnesses,” as he calls them, so that it will be trustworthy and accurate.[7] That is good. 
            There is not much to do in this prison cell. I am unable to leave, and now that Mark has left, I do not receive many visitors aside from Luke, and he does not come as often now. I understand why Paul writes so many letters—doubtless part of it is to keep the boredom at bay. I do not have that option, so I spend most of my time thinking, and praying, and remembering my time with Jesus. It is all so clear, in my mind, every memory fresh and crisp—like the smell of the sea early in the morning. Like when Jesus came to us, when all of it was just beginning, and we were only fishermen.

[3]2 Peter 3:15-16. Peter displays more than a passing familiarity with Paul’s letters. That he can say Paul does the same thing “in all his letters” means, presumably, that he has read them all, and that he acknowledges they cause confusion implies he has experienced people being confused by them.
[4]Tradition has Mark as the translator and scribe for Peter. Many scholars now dispute this, but Bauckham (Eywitnesses 125) and Hengel (Underestimated Apostle 47) see evidence for it, not only in the tradition, but in the way the gospel of Mark is constructed.
[6]2 Timothy 4:11 places Luke in Rome and Mark with or near Timothy. If Luke was in Rome at this time, it is likely that he would have visited Peter and recorded his account of Jesus.

Note: the footnotes seem to be messed up for some reason. I don't know why.

Update: Rather than self-publish, I was able to go through an actual publishing house, resulting in Simon, Who Is Called Peter! The result is a much more polished and researched book, and you will definitely enjoy it. 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Some Sort of Crazy Lover-Fighter Hybrid...

"I'm a lover, not a fighter." You have likely heard this phrase before: since its debut in the 1994 film "Little Rascals," it has become very popular indeed. Taken as a semi-witty justification of a lack of violence and/or violent acts originating from one's person, it's pretty alright. However, it can also be taken another way--as a philosophical statement pointing out a dichotomy (contrast or division between two things) between a "lover," presumably one who loves, and a "fighter," one who fights. Taken in this way, it is completely and utterly false.

This is apparent even from the movie which popularized the phrase. Alfalfa claims to be a lover, as opposed to a fighter, early on: by the end, he surely realizes the silliness of saying something like that as he finds himself fighting, yes, fighting, for the love of Darla. This is not mere semantics, mere wordplay. Being a fighter is a necessary part of being a lover. How can you claim to be a lover, yet deny being a fighter? How can you say you love something, yet in the same breath deny your willingness to fight for it? The statement is inherently nonsensical.

Enough Little Rascals. Let's talk God. "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son..." God is the ultimate Lover. God invented love. Yet... "'Behold, I am against you,' declares the Lord of Hosts, 'and I will burn your chariots in smoke'" (Nahum 2:13). How about "Have you entered the storehouses of the snow, or have you seen the storehouses of the hail, which I have reserved for the time of trouble, for the day of battle and war?" (Job 38:22-3). You might be tempted to polarize these statements, to say that one demonstrates the love of God and that the other two demonstrate the wrath of God: one shows the lover and the others show the fighter. Not true. God's love, as shown in the first verse, is not passive. It is moving and active, and the sending of his Son was nothing less than an act of war on Satan, the ruler of this world (John 12:31). In the same way, God's love is demonstrated in the second two verses: he fights for his chosen people, for his beloved. The lover and the fighter cannot be separated: he who truly loves must fight, or else his love is no love at all.

Now to us. Many people claim to love good, and they say that it is because they love good that they are unwilling to fight evil. These people separate love from fighting, and they separate "good" from fighting as well. This is a false dichotomy. One who does not fight evil cannot truly love good, for the love of good is the hatred of evil.

One last thing: do not think that I am saying that all fighting is good, or that fighting necessarily means physical violence (I think that it can, but that's not the point). It's clear that fighting and violence can be evil: but they are not, in and of themselves, opposed to love and good. That much is clear from Scripture, from both the Father's and Christ's actions. Be a lover and a fighter. Love what is good. Hate what is evil. And remember why the Bible is called a sword.