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!