30 December 2008

A Quest For More - Presuming on God

I've used my holiday vacation to relax, re-energize, and spend time with family. As you may have noticed, I've taken back up 'riting. I've laid off on the 'rithmetic. And naturally, I've taken up more reading.

I just finished Paul David Tripp's A Quest For More. The basic premise is that as humans we were made to live for God's kingdom, but our sinful tendency is to live for our own personal kingdoms. I really like how he takes seriously everyday life, avoiding making the material lofty philosophy but instead practical.

Since you likely have your own books to read, I don't expect you to read this one. So I'll give a little excerpt that I found profound. It touches on a concept I once dealt with: I made a deal with God. I told him I would make a certain sacrifice, and in return I trusted that he would bring what I wanted (real vague, I know). Well the basic fact of the matter is God doesn't work like this. The whole thing was my idea, not connected to or based on any promise in Scripture. And so the excerpt:

The problem is that when you elevate your little kingdom desires to "needs," you no longer live with guarantees. But God has not promised to deliver all the things you have hoped, desired, and convinced yourself that you cannot live without. You have attached your happiness to a deeply romantic marriage, but God hasn't promised to give you one. You have connected your identity to a long and successful career, but God has not promised to deliver it...Of course these things are all wonderful to desire and worthwhile to experience, but they are out of your control, and your Redeemer has not guaranteed to give them to you.

Further, when these things control your heart and command your hopes, you will tend to judge God's faithfulness, not by whether he has been true to his promises, but by whether he has given you the things that you have set your heart on. But this is right where the redemptive quandary lies. If God gives you the things that are playing a role in your life that only he is supposed to play, wouldn't he be encouraging in you the very addictions from which his grace is meant to free you?

In fact, I am convinced that much of the resistance we attribute to the enemy is actually the resistance of the Lord. He stands against us, not because he doesn't love us, but because he does love us.
(emphasis in original)

What are you expecting from God? Our hopes will only disappoint if they are not founded upon God's truth.

24 December 2008

Christmas Gifts

I've had blogger's block. Or maybe just lack of time and energy.

Either way, I'm back.

Since it's Christmastime (yep, it's one word), one thing on my mind is gift-giving. Maybe your Christmas gift experiences are full of fulfilling joy and glorify God by exemplifying Him as the giver of every good and perfect gift. But what I see in our culture is far from that.

Giving gifts at Christmas is part of the tradition. And it is the same as any tradition linked to Christianity in that in our sin nature we will always tend to strip the heart from the tradition and reduce it to an empty self-serving ritual.

1Sa 15:22 And Samuel said, "Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.

Ecc 5:1 Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil.

But God instituted the sacrificial system. If it is better to listen and obey than to make burnt offerings, did God mess something up? Or what about commands regarding the Sabbath? The Pharisees provide a prime example of neglecting the spirit of the law, as they condemned Jesus for healing people on the Sabbath. So was the law itself bad? No, but our fallen sinful tendency fouls it.

It is particularly sad when we mess up a tradition like gift-giving that wasn't even instituted by God but is man-made. In this aspect we can see how it is like legalism: you can't keep the law and feel guilty about it, so you make up your own rules that you are able to keep so you can feel good about yourself. We made up the tradition of Christmas gift giving, and we still don't do it with the right spirit, but we pat ourselves on the back for it.

Too much negativity, not enough cheesy nativity? Okay. We don't need to stop the tradition. I hope this Christmastime you make every effort to give in the right spirit, without any expectation of receiving anything in return. And thank God for the gifts He has given you, all of which flow through the greatest gift of Jesus.

2 Peter 1:3 According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue:
4 Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

25 November 2008

End of the Satire (Finally): Selfishness

I have finally arrived at the final stanza:
Yes, I am suffering.
Remind me of Hebrews 12:4

And it makes me happy,

Since I don't have it too bad.

Cause only Jesus had it worse than me.

If you remember, the whole main idea of this satire thing is to take any woeful feelings and exaggerate them to suffering, thereby exposing how ridiculous such feelings are. Along the way I have attempted to weave in concepts of simple living, because at the heart of both feeling sorry for yourself and of simple living is the issue of selfishness. I have argued that to seek simple living is to embrace love for God and love for neighbor, as one whose mind is focused on God and others (not self) will naturally have no desire to gather up earthly stuff or live luxuriously.

Now I come to another aspect of the problem, but at the heart the culprit remains selfishness. In this stanza I am talking about a tendency I have had. It's a tendency I believe many Christians fall for far too often. In our sad times, when life is difficult, we find comfort in the life of Christ; that our Savior is one "who in every respect has been tempted as we are" (Heb 4:15). God became man, and so identifies with the struggles of humans. Mainly this refers to our temptation to sin, but it goes further. I believe it is proper to find comfort when camping in a tent with a dew-frosted sweatshirt for a pillow to remember that my Lord had no place to lay his head. And so when I am sad and remember that Jesus shed his blood for me, I realize I have suffered no where near what he did, as Hebrews 12:4 suggests. Again, I think this is proper.

So where am I going with this? That final satirical line, "Cause only Jesus had it worse than me." You see, the tendency I refer to is to find comfort in Jesus' suffering and then end there. Feeling better about myself is not the end goal. This is where the selfishness creeps in. I must remember that there are in fact other human beings right at this very moment who literally have no place to lay their heads. So, yes, Jesus had it worse than me. But I have it far better than most people.

By no means do I wish to belittle the issues in your life. But for myself, I'd rather not request your prayer over my tight-scheduled, long-hour work week as I think it's selfish to feel that such a situation is all that bad. My attitude ought to be of extreme gratitude for even having a job. And it must be more than lip-service. Are there any in my community of believers without a job? If I am truly grateful, how will I reach out to them?

I will, Lord willing, continue to address these topics, just without the framework of the satire from now on.

16 November 2008

Have Fun!

It's about time I get back to finishing that satire commentary. So hold on to your saddle horns, folks.

I am suffering:

What is there to do? With whom?
I know I'll soon be happy
Come game time, showtime, weekend.

As long as I have fun.

I do not think I exaggerate in saying we live for fun. Consider those without salvation--without hope; what is life, but a day-to-day desperation for pleasure and any possible form of enjoyment? Now consider yourself, if you find yourself in Christ. Aside from maybe some activity in a church, does your daily life look like anything more than a desperation for enjoyment?

"What are you doing this weekend?"
[insert activity]
"Well, have fun!"

"Did you win at your game?"
"Well, did you at least have fun?"

Because all that really matters is if we have fun. Dead or reborn, we live for fun all the same. Should it be so?

The world's lie is that if you aren't having fun then you are missing out. You are missing your purpose or your opportunity. Boredom is suffering. Happiness comes when boredom goes. So, in hypnotic obedience to the lie, we live for the weekend, for the latest movie, for the television, for sports, for You-Tube. Anything to be entertained. Just don't let me suffer with boredom!

I don't think I have anything real profound to say about this. I just wish we'd have less pride in the manner of our fellowship, that it would be marked by "addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all [our] hearts, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ," Eph. 5:19-20.

Workers in the Kingdom should never be bored. That same passage from Ephesians 5 says:
Eph 5:15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise,
Eph 5:16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.
Eph 5:17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

Construction workers sometimes have a reputation of laziness since building projects often get drawn out far beyond the planned timeline. In the same way, building up of the Church often goes dormant when the workers get lazy. The first failure is neglecting our duties to love God and love our neighbor and then getting bored. The next failure is filling that boredom with worldly entertainment. The final failure is the resulting sin from the worldly entertainment's lingering effects. I strongly believe that the biggest influence Satan can have on a child of God is through entertainment. We leave the door wide open to him in renting a movie, flipping channels, or surfing the web. Don't get me wrong: all these things can be very good and God-glorifying. But we are commanded to "give no opportunity to the devil" (Eph 4:27). We ought not be outwitted and ignorant of his designs (2 Cor. 2:11).

Just consider if your thoughts and conversations are dominated by the movie you just saw versus by God's Word.

I suggest that we toss out "have fun" language. There is Biblical precedent to change our manner of colloquial speech:
Jas 4:13 Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit"--
Jas 4:14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.
Jas 4:15 Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that."
Jas 4:16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.

It does not say, "Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, have fun!" Rather, we are to do all things, whatever we do, "to the glory of God," 1 Cor. 10:31. We do not need to get legalistic about this and avoid all forms of enjoyment. To the contrary, we need to embrace the truth that fullness of joy flows from fellowship with God. We must approach time of leisure as an opportunity to live to the glory of God. Not for the shallowness of fun.

"What are you doing this weekend?"
[insert activity]
"Well, live to the glory of God!"

05 November 2008

Obama the Icon. Jesus the Christ.

"God is still on the throne."

These are the words of a black minister in the southern U.S. upon the announcement of Obama's victory. It's amazing how we can look at a situation from completely different perspectives and come to the same conclusion.

Obama had two things going for him: he's (half) African American and he's Democrat. I sat watching my television last night in dumbfounded amazement over the celebrations and couldn't help but think that so many of these people voted for him just because he's (half) black, and that millions more Americans voted for him just because he's Democrat in a time when Bush and Republicans are scape-goated for the worlds ills.

Now, don't read in to me here. The point I want to make is that Barack Obama is not seen as a person. He is an icon. He has been reduced to ideals.

Oprah said last night, "There's a wonderful Bible passage that says, ' What does it, ah, do to gain the world and lose your soul?' And I knew that in this moment in time, in my lifetime, I would have lost a piece of my soul had I not stood up for him."

That's right, folks. Obama saves souls. Jesus was in desperate need of a replacement. Now we have hope!

This shouldn't be surprising. We ought to know that those without salvation in Jesus are without hope, and that they would be eager to try to find some in a president. Actually, their hope is not in Barack Obama but in an icon called Barack Obama. And that's why Obama the person will fail their hope.

Jesus, a person. Jesus, God. God is still on the throne. Jesus is King! Let's get excited about him instead!

Rom 15:11 And again, "Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him."
Rom 15:12 And again Isaiah says, "The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope."
Rom 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

California Propositions 2 and 4

Prop 2 creates a new state statute that prohibits the confinement of farm animals in a manner that does not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs.

Prop 4 would prohibit abortion for unemancipated minors until 48 hours after physician notifies minor’s parent, legal guardian or, if parental abuse has been reported, an alternative adult family member.

Prop 2 passed and prop 4 failed. Go figure.

I understand that there are details to each proposition that I'm overlooking. But consider with me the principle. Compassion for animals is championed while technicalities are questioned over the murdering of humans. Has anyone realized that aborted children are killed before even getting a chance to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs?

Or are we to count limbs fully extended when they go limp?

This is incredible. It's horrific, I know, and I can't stand it anymore.

27 October 2008

Slavery, Abortion, and Rights

In the Virginia state legislature's resolution apologizing for the state's role in slavery (Feb. 2007), it states:
[Slavery] ranks as the most horrendous of all depredations of human rights and violations of our founding ideals in our nation's history.

I am wondering exactly why slavery is thought to be such a bad thing today. Was it abolished on grounds of some rights or principles in the Constitution? Or was it on moral grounds? I think it is an important question for us to ask today in comparing slavery to abortion. If someone finds it self-evident that slavery is bad yet allows for abortion, isn't this inconsistent?

In looking at the slavery comparison, the above quote says slavery is worth apologizing for since it violated "human rights" and "founding ideals in our nation's history." Since "human" rights are referred to, this means one of two things happened: either humanoids of African descent were acknowledged to be humans, or the definition of human was broadened to include African descent humanoids.

We can see an example of broadening the definition of human in certain groups' attempts to extend rights to animals and plants. Isn't it obvious that documents like the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution refer to human beings? But in our morally relativistic postmodern world, why can't "human" also include pigs or rabbits? If you are a plant reading this blog, my advice is to move to Switzerland. You'll have rights there. We should note how evolution is at the root of this. If everything evolved from the same primordial soup, why should there be human dignity if not plant dignity?

Abe Lincoln said,

...I think the negro is included in the word "men" used in the Declaration of Independence.

I believe the declara[tion] that "all men are created equal" is the great fundamental principle upon which our free institutions rest; that negro slavery is violative of that principle; but that, by our frame of government, that principle has not been made one of legal obligation; that by our frame of government, the States which have slavery are to retain it, or surrender it at their own pleasure; and that all others -- individuals, free-states and national government -- are constitutionally bound to leave them alone about it.

Notice that both morals and American ideals are involved: Lincoln believed that slavery violated the principle that all men are created equal. But he knew that only applies if we understand blacks to be included under "men", so Lincoln had to fall back on a moral belief that black men were men--human--just as much as white men. So it seems that there is a political basis, but we can't begin to use it without a moral background.

How does this relate to abortion? I find it ridiculously incredible that the same philosophy that leads to animal rights also leads to no rights at all for unborn humans. As Lincoln recognized that "all men are created equal" includes blacks, we must today recognize that it also includes the unborn. Once we agree on that, we'll still need to deal with how a mother's pursuit of happiness can conflict with her child's right to life. Of course, it is all meaningless without belief in a Creator:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

In a postmodern world, words can mean whatever you want them to mean--and that means all things mean everything, and thus nothing at all. Abe said, "I think Slavery is wrong, morally, and politically." We must return to such clarity and conviction.

Jesus, come.

Food, Sabbath, Etc.

I am going to tidy up the loose ends from the last post, so this one won't be too structured.

A lady asked me a couple weeks ago a question about working on Sundays. She asked, with the given assumption that we as Christians are to do no work on Sunday, if we can replace Sunday with a different day of the week. For example, if my job schedules me to work on a Sunday, can I still be obedient to God if I do no work on Monday instead?

First, I told her that, if we want to be technical, the Sabbath is Saturday. If we are going to be particular about a day, we've already screwed it up by taking Sunday so seriously. Next, what day is it really, anyway? How can we know that last Saturday was an exact multiple of seven days since God rested? (I have no reason to believe it isn't.) As we are soon to fall back our clocks, we've conceded to the fact that time as we reckon it is arbitrary. Likewise, when exactly Sunday begins and ends is arbitrary. So again, anyone who is particular about a day ought to be regarding the time of rest as stretching from sundown to sundown. If instead you go by society's clocks, you've screwed it up.

As Chicago posed, does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care?

Does God care?

I told the lady that the day doesn't matter. The only reason Sunday is important today is because that's when the Body gathers. If I am to be obedient to God and build up the Body, I ought to meet with them. We've decided to do that on Sunday. And, if I am doing good things, Kingdom work, on Sunday, then that is far better than working to see how little I can work.

Now, as it relates to food, here's my thought: Is cooking for yourself on a sabbath day of rest considered work? I didn't research much, but on Leviticus 23 Matthew Henry commented:
On other holy days they were forbidden to do any servile work (Lev 23:7), but on the sabbath, and the day of atonement (which is also called a sabbath), they were to do no work at all, no, not the dressing of meat.

If it is forbidden work then we should prepare our food on Saturday or eat out for every Sunday meal. The problem with eating out is that we've simply passed the buck on to other people who do the work for us. Make someone else sin so I don't have to. Great!

My point is simply that if you are going to make a fuss about Sunday, at least be consistent. But really, don't make a fuss about Sunday. Do some Kingdom work, and meet with God's people.

The last thing I want to say regards tipping servers at restaurants. I was eating out with a Christian brother once, and he made a point to tip generously. He explained to me that since God has been generous to us, of all people in the world we ought to be most generous. Should the tip reflect how well the server performed? Maybe. But I know that if God was generous to me in proportion to how well I perform, it would be some generous wrath. Sure, the server may take the money and squander it. Regardless, I believe it to be an act of worship towards God when I act generously out of gratitude for his generosity. Another point to consider is Jesus' emphasis on serving:

Luk 22:27 "For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves."
Mar 10:45 "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
Luk 12:37 "Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them."

The person that serves us at a restaurant, as insignificant as it may seem, is acting Christlike. So I say tip 'em well.

But decide for yourself.

19 October 2008

Food and Simple Living, Pt 2

I've had some time to think since the last post regarding food, so I'd like to follow it up a bit and address that last line:

Then I'll pick another rest'rant

Mark Driscoll once quoted a woman from India who, after being some time in the US, said she couldn't stomach the rampant idolatry here. While we might think idolatry is far more prevalent in India, he said she was referring to our televisions in every living room, our massive sports arenas, and our restaurants on every corner. She said our stomachs are our god. (As for the televisions, a discussion of entertainment is coming soon...)

Simple living seeks to love our neighbors as ourselves in rejecting selfish arrogance. The other important principle is that it seeks to love God with all we've got by rejoicing in his blessings and rejecting the world's empty promises of happiness. When it comes to eating out, let's be thankful for the opportunity to do so, and give glory to God in enjoying it. After all, He made taste buds. (Although it is interesting to note that the first sin showed itself as a desire to satisfy taste.)

On the other side, we must reject the lie that our happiness is dependent on the food we eat. Consider the great and precious spiritual blessings God has bestowed upon us in heavenly places in Christ (Eph. 1:3). What is food in comparison? Store your treasures in heaven.

As a final word on the primary importance of giving thanks when we eat food, consider the mention in Scripture of "blessing" a meal. People today often say some kind of prayer or "grace" before stuffing their faces. Why is this done? Is it wrong not to pray? Does the food chemically change when it is "blessed" so that we become better nourished?

A friend told me of an experiment: Two identical dishes were ordered. One was prayed over and the other was not. Two out of two taste-testers agreed; the dish prayed over tasted better.

But really, I challenge anyone to find me any bit of Biblical evidence for such an idea. What I find is that blessing a meal and saying a prayer of thanks are the same thing. The phrases seem to be used interchangeably, as in the accounts of Jesus feeding the multitudes or at the Last Supper. I think that it's cool not to pray before a meal if instead you pray in thankfulness with every bite, with a sense of awe in God's sustaining power in even the chemical and biological processes that bring us nourishment and continued physical life. How is it that we can be so religious about prayer before a meal, yet turn around and toss in the trash that for which we claim to be thankful for?

(Check out 1 Tim. 4:3-6, or 1 Cor. 10:30-31.)

There is much more that can be said! There are issues like attending luxurious restaurants in order to flaunt one's status, how to tip your server, and how eating out on Sunday is different. You might guess I feel strongly about this stuff. This and more coming when I get around to it...

07 October 2008

Food and Simple Living

Before continuing on the satirical journey, I want to confirm for you that my last post was Biblical. We only need to look at one passage:

1Ti 6:17 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.
1Ti 6:18 They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share,
1Ti 6:19 thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

Last time I said I shouldn't be arrogant in my desire for comfort, but thankful instead. "Haughty" in verse 17 could be translated "arrogant." Then I said thankfulness should lead to good works, as in verse 18. This passage also never condemns "stuff" in itself, but condemns putting our hope in our stuff. Finally, I admit I don't fully understand the whole "treasure in heaven" thing, so we'll leave that for a later date.

Now for the scheduled programming.

I am suffering:
Too much food hurts my belly.
But someday I'll be happy,
When I'm hungry again.

Then I'll pick another rest'rant.

Whenever I go out to eat I make sure I get my money's worth. This stems from a desire to be a good steward of the money entrusted to me. I don't want to waste it by paying a bunch for barely any food. Naturally the best option (when considering the wallet) is to cook for myself. For now, let's take for granted that occasionally eating out is okay.

If after eating out I decide that I paid too much, I won't eat out again for a while. That's why I love buffets -- I'll never have to leave thinking I got less food than I paid for. Here is where the problem for me comes: "Too much food hurts my belly." In the name of getting my money's worth, I eat to the point of discomfort. Then in my discomfort I think I am suffering. Oh to be hungry again!


One of the primary principles of simple living is to guard against arrogant selfishness. It is to keep in mind those that are truly suffering. Would I moan of my overly full stomach to a child dying of starvation? That's not love for my neighbor.

It is fitting to bring up here that line when food gets wasted. Something like, "There are children starving in Africa that would do anything for that food." I hope the sentiment behind that statement is understood. The point is to jog self-centeredness with a reminder of what's happening in the world. Are you thankful that you aren't dying of starvation? Then why throw food away? Some say in response, "If they are starving in Africa, then just send this food to them!" Yes, we should seek to do something about it. And say I got involved and fed the starving with my own hand. Would it be consistent then to continue to leave food on my plate and throw it away? So even if I don't help anyone, isn't better to at least remember them? We wish to remember Christ, certainly. Well, what we do for them we do unto him (Mat. 25:40).

For that reason, it pains me to see food left on a plate and then thrown away. Arrogance. So I end up eating that food to save it from waste. "Are you gonna eat that?" In a sense, I eat it on the starving's behalf.

Then again, we can do something to help. There are ministries and programs in place that require very little effort to support, yet do a whole lot of good. Just look around. Can I skip eating out a couple times and instead give the money to feed the starving? Sure. Can you?

There is much more I could say. I didn't even get to the last line of the stanza. Next time then.

02 October 2008

Luxury, Comfort and Simple Living

The next satirical stanza:

I am suffering:
I haven't the money for luxury.
But someday I'll be happy,
When I retire for certain.

For now I will be comfortable.

Last time I said that throughout this I address issues that I am seriously dealing with. Here the issue hits at the heart of simple living, work, and the American dream. John Piper said:

Getting old to the glory of God means resolutely resisting the typical American dream of retirement. It means being so satisfied with all that God promises to be for us in Christ that we are set free from the cravings that create so much emptiness and uselessness in retirement. Instead, knowing that we have an infinitely satisfying and everlasting inheritance in God just over the horizon of life makes us zealous in our few remaining years here to spend ourselves in the sacrifices of love, not the accumulation of comforts.

The world says that I need to have luxury. If only I had the excess of money, I would buy that car, that house, that big flatscreen tv. As long as I don't have them, I am suffering.

The world's answer to this problem? Retirement. Just trudge on through the working years, live it up on the weekends to hold you over, and build up some wealth for retirement. Then the real fun begins! Then you get the Cadillac and move to Florida. Luxury! You've earned it, after all.

I am resolved that the next time someone asks me what I plan to buy with my new-found income I will answer, "Happiness." I hope then the inquirer will realize how ridiculous the world's lie is.

Since I'm obviously not biting on this lie, how exactly am I struggling with this issue? It's in the last part with being comfortable. Luxury is not much a temptation, but comfort I refuse to surrender. These words, luxury and comfort, seem to be relative for each person; luxury to me is probably mere comfort to a millionaire, whereas my basic comfort level is likely seen by the impoverished as luxury. For each individual, luxury is extravagantly more and comfort is just a little more. The sin is to say in my lack of luxury and even in my lack of comfort that I am suffering, because that is selfish arrogance. I must keep in mind those who are legitimately suffering. It is not love for my neighbor when I complain, "If only my 1,000,000 square foot home was 10 degrees cooler! This is unbearable!" Arrogance.

I don't wish to say right now that having "stuff" is bad in itself. The danger is losing a sense of gratitude for all that you are given. Yes, it is given, not earned. I am contending that those who continually harbor that thankfulness and a remembrance of people with less will be compelled to help those people. Then the luxuries become sour and the "sacrifices of love" become sweet.

I've heard something of "treasures in heaven." What's that about? Hmmm...we'll get there.

01 October 2008

Loneliness and Simple Living

Too much time has slipped past without a post. I've been spending more time on 'rithmetic lately than 'riting. I guess I could 'rite a post about the 'rithmetic, but that might bore you to the point where it would be better if I never posted. *sigh*

On the satire, I am going to take one stanza at a time and explain what I mean. You probably skimmed over it, said to yourself "Wha??" and went on with your life. Plus, I've been promising a discussion of simple living, so on with it already. Here's the first bit:

I am suffering:
I am lonely.
Someday I'll be happy,
When I marry I'm sure.

And happily ever after.

In each part, I address an issue that I am seriously dealing with. Here it is loneliness. It is easy for me to get real down about it, to the point where I think I am suffering. By calling it suffering, I've exaggerated it so far that it is obviously ridiculous. (Indeed, that's what makes it satire.) So I'm telling myself, "Loneliness? So what? Get over it." Others in the world have it far worse. It is sheer self-centered arrogance to wallow in the self pity of my loneliness.

Then, there is the world's promise of the loneliness cure: marriage. It is easy to believe. But I have this suspicion that it isn't true. I've been told by some with insider information that it isn't true. So I'm telling myself, "Yes, marriage is good. It will help the loneliness. But be prepared to get there and find out my spouse is not a savior." The lie is that marriage is "happily ever after" -- but I'm pretty sure that begins at death.

The title of that post was Suffering and Happiness. In it I described situations that aren't real suffering and proposed solutions that don't bring real happiness. One side of this is brought out by that oft-quoted creatively eloquent description by C.S. Lewis:

If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

Yes, our desires are too weak. The other side of the issue is that when we don't have those temporal pleasures we tend to think we are suffering. So this, my friends, is why simple living is so important: To desire a simple life is to reject the lie that being without fleeting pleasures is suffering and instead embrace the truth that "if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content." To desire a simple life is to reject the lie that "drink and sex and ambition" and "stuff" bring real happiness and instead embrace the truth that in God's presence "there is fullness of joy; at [His] right hand are pleasures forevermore." Finally, to desire a simple life is seek pleasure in God to love Him with all of my being and doing, and to abandon selfishness to love my neighbor as myself.

The next part of the satire is next time, along with more of all this.

20 September 2008

Satire on Suffering and Happiness

The following is my attempt at satire. It's all related to the issues we've been looking at, and we'll discuss it further in the weeks to come.

I am suffering:
I am lonely.
Someday I'll be happy,
When I marry I'm sure.

And happily ever after.

I am suffering:
I haven't the money for luxury.
But someday I'll be happy,
When I retire for certain.

For now I will be comfortable.

I am suffering:
Too much food hurts my belly.
But someday I'll be happy,
When I'm hungry again.

Then I'll pick another rest'rant.

I am suffering:
What is there to do? With whom?
I know I'll soon be happy
Come game time, showtime, weekend.

As long as I have fun.

Yes, I am suffering.
Remind me of Hebrews 12:4
And it makes me happy,
Since I don't have it too bad.

Cause only Jesus had it worse than me.

18 September 2008

Things We Ought To Know #3

This is the third installment of a series where I point out commonly made mistakes. I have changed the title from "you ought to know" to "we ought to know," since I'm not trying to presume that I know so much more than you.

This is for those of us who try to expand our vocabulary but may lack attention to detail. Today's thing we ought to know is the difference between "climatic" and "climactic."

climatic - of or pertaining to climate.
climactic - pertaining to or coming to a climax: the climactic scene of a play.

(courtesy of Dictionary.com)

I thought up this sentence to help remember the difference: The climactic era of the climatic changes could be upon us.

Now we know.

16 September 2008

...Two Lefts...

For those of you still losing sleep over Two Lefts Don't Make a Right, But..., maybe my brother's sketches will help:

07 September 2008

Wise Decisions and God's Will

Should I have been more sensitive to the Holy Spirit in making an iPod decision? I admit I did not seek a sign or "throw a fleece". I just reasoned instead. Should I have better sought God's will?

You might say that the iPod is a small decision. Certainly we don't seek God's will when we decide what socks to wear each day because it just isn't that big a deal. But when making a career decision we often use such "God's will" language. So somewhere in between there is a line. We could debate a long time on where the line is, which decisions are "big enough" and which are insignificant, but I am not going to seek to find that line because I don't subscribe to this decision making method.

If what I'm presenting is foreign to you, I want you to know that I'm not making this up on my own. I had always been uneasy about "seeking God's will" but could not put my finger on why. Reading the book "Decision Making and the Will of God" by Garry Friesen helped me greatly on the whole issue. Perhaps I am uneasy about the common Christian decision making method because it isn't Biblical, which is what Friesen argues. Recently I came across a blog post by Tim Challies that was very encouraging regarding God's will. If you don't read the whole thing, he says:

Later in I began to examine Christianity outside of the Reformed fold... One of my greatest surprises, and one I found most disconcerting, was the constant discussion in mainstream Protestantism about knowing God’s will and receiving guidance from Him. Before leaving Reformed circles I had never heard anyone claim to hear from God nor had I really seen people wrestle with issues of God’s guidance. These were foreign concepts to me.

It took me some time to figure out why this was not a struggle for me. I did not wrestle with issues of God’s guidance because I had been taught firm principles from my years of catechetical instruction.

He goes on to quote Sinclair Ferguson (who will be speaking at this year's Desiring God conference) in his book Faithful God:

Christians in an earlier generation rarely thought of writing books on guidance. There is a reason for that (just as there is a reason why so many of us today are drawn to books that will tell us how to find God’s will). Our forefathers in the faith were catechised, and they taught catechisms to their children. Often as much as half of the catechism would be devoted to an exposition of the answers to questions like the following: Question: Where do we find God’s will? Answer: In the Scriptures. Question: Where in particular in the Scriptures? Answer: In the Commandments that God has given to us.

Why were these questions and answers so important? Because these Christians understood that God’s law provides basic guidelines that cover the whole of life. Indeed, in the vast majority of instances, the answer to the question ‘What does God want me to do?’ will be found by answering the question: ‘How does the law of God apply to this situation? What does the Lord require of me here in his word?’

I heartily agree. The method described by Challies and Ferguson for decision making in my words is the application of wisdom as received by the study of Scripture. Consider some passages. Colossians 1:10 says, "...so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God." That is what Christians should and do desire, to walk in a manner worthy of and fully pleasing the Lord. To do so we often say we need to "seek His will". Well, what does verse nine say?

Col 1:9 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,
Col 1:10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

Notice words like knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. Yes, it refers to his will. What I am suggesting is that the colloquial use of "God's will" is most times not what Scripture intends. Knowing God's will happens through study of Scripture, where God's will is entirely evident, not through mystical sign-seeking.

Or consider 1 Thessalonians 5:

1Th 5:16 Rejoice always,
1Th 5:17 pray without ceasing,
1Th 5:18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

In making a life decision and seeking to know God's will for me, this passage doesn't exactly help. Imagine:

"Is it God's will that I become an engineer?"
"According to 1 Th. 5:18, it is God's will for you that you give thanks in all circumstances."
"Okay, great! So... is it God's will that I become an engineer?"

I believe the fact is the way we talk about God's will wrong. God's will is clear in Scripture: give thanks, pray continually, rejoice always, do justly, love mercy, humble yourself, love Him with all your being, love your neighbor as yourself, be pure, be holy, add to your faith virtue and knowledge and self-control, etc. Is God's will not abundantly clear? This is what I mean when I refer to God's will, and to be clearer I might say God's moral will.

Then our questions on how to make a certain decision still remain. The answer is to be wise. Wisdom is knowing God's (moral) will and knowing how to apply it to life situations.

Does it trouble you that this approach seems to involve God less? Is it abandoning a Holy Spirit sensitivity? It is certainly an abandonment of some kind of Christian mysticism. Really, "seeking God's will" decision making is the abandonment of the Spirit. It is the Spirit who guides us into truth. The Spirit opens our spiritual eyes as we read God's Word. The Spirit brings us wisdom. Instead of seeking God's will, I say we should ask for the Spirit of wisdom (Deu. 34:9, Isa. 11:2, Acts 6:3, 1 Cor. 12:8, Eph. 1:17, etc.).

I really hope you are not waiting for a sign before you put socks on.

30 August 2008

iPod Debate Status

I have not been convinced to buy an iPod.

I appreciate the input given. Basically, I decided there's just no (or no just) reason for me to have one. Many of you described situations where it is beneficial, such as when exercising. (Yes, gym music can be raunchy, I know.) But I'm not sure that use alone justifies a purchase for me.

Through one conversation, I found this to be a simple application of wisdom. When at home, I have music on the computer. When driving, I have a cd player. My computer has a burner and thus a link from computer to car, and the built-in car cd player may even be more convenient than an iPod. When at work I find music distracting (though overhearing co-workers may be more so)--and if I change my mind there's always Pandora. A former roommate had some real good input, suggesting listening to sermons while hiking/biking. Unfortunately I don't bike all that much any more. I'm glad that works for him.

I feel it is proper to ask such questions, what I call an application of wisdom in this case, because to simply buy one for the sake of having one would be sin. There, I said it.

Given my daily life situations, why do I need to figure out a way to have music with me at all times? Why is silence so bad? Is it a human necessity to have music at all times? Maybe it would be better at times to turn off the music and meditate on Scripture, like Deuteronomy 6:5-7. If I bought an iPod and kept it on me like a wallet, I would feel guilty of gluttony of the ear. To develop for myself a dependence on music would be nothing less than idolatry.

But that's just me.

Yes, I know an iPod is a very small thing. I'm sure I have other things that are just as worthless. I also know there must be someone right now in my town where an extra $100 could help tremendously. Will I spend the money on myself and encourage my seclusion, sit on my hands and wallet in an indecision coma, or actually do something to help someone? I mean, if I throw money out the window it may as well fall on a needful lap. So even though an iPod is small, I have the bigger issue in view.

And what is the bigger issue? I have opened several here: using wisdom to make decisions, Christian stewardship, compassion for the poor, and idolatry versus glorifying God (because I know someone will say, "Music isn't my idol, it brings me closer to God!"). Lord willing I will get to all of them and this endeavor will be of some benefit to us.

26 August 2008

Scientific Theory Pt 3: Jesus is Truth

Last time I said that science can only know for certain what is false. I also pointed out that the scientific community is reluctant to admit being wrong. See the problem here?

If science has declared something false then it is certainly false, according to the philosophy behind science as we've discussed. But what if science got it wrong? Then that idea has been categorized as certainly false but in reality may not be. If we then go back to the issue in question some years later and tell the community they've got it wrong, we'll be laughed at. "Everyone knows that isn't possible!" they will say.

Need an example? Flight is a classic one. It wasn't the scientific community that developed the airplane. It was regular people practicing science.

WWI fighter ace Eddie Rickenbacker said, "Aviation is proof that given the will we can do the impossible." But who said it was impossible? How do we know what is impossible versus what society has merely construed as impossible?

This is why author and inventor Arthur Clarke developed three "laws":
  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
  3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
I am one of those fanatics who believes perpetual motion is possible. And I believe miracles are possible. Not scientific you say? Magic? Regarding science and miracles, Ravi Zacharias argued, "The person who demands a sign and at the same time has already determined that anything that cannot be explained scientifically is meaningless is not merely stacking the deck; he is losing at his own game."

We seek truth. Jesus Christ claimed to bear witness to the truth, even to be truth. I said if we are to find truth, it must come without the innate human inclination to sin. Well, Jesus was sinless. Today the scientific mind demands proof of God. Jesus said, "If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead." Arise from death Jesus did, but today's scientific mind will have none of that because it isn't possible. Stacking the deck indeed.

I love science. I would not be typing at this computer if it weren't for technology. Science can be a God-glorifying endeavor to better understand and marvel at His creation. But it is not my source of truth by which to live.

"And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins... If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead." 1 Cor. 15:17,19,20a

"For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world--to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice." - Jesus (Jn. 18:37)

Have you ears to hear? Listen to his voice.

23 August 2008

What is a Theory? Pt 2: Science is not Truth

A while back I posted What is a Theory?, where I tried to describe the meaning of the term theory and some philosophy of science. I am going to continue that thought, so you may want to review it. The approach then was somewhat of a defense of science. I concluded:

So when something is granted the title of Theory, we must know that it has been rigorously tested and has been found to be a very accurate description of reality. The charge that evolution is "just a theory" is the same as charging it as "just science."

Now I'm going to approach this from the other side: to say something may not be true because it is "just science" is actually a good argument.

The reason bodies of ideas in science never graduate from "theory" to "canon" is because nothing is ever proven. There are three categories for ideas: true, false, and maybe true. Science can only determine what is false. Theories that hold are maybe true. Absolutely undeniably true is never reached. In science, all we can know to be true is what is false. Think about that.

The attempt of science to understand the universe is like applying a process of elimination to a multiple choice problem (note the Stephen Hawking quote from last time). We can determine which options are false and thereby conclude the option that must be true. The difference in science is that there are more options than a, b, c and d. Although we'll get closer and closer, we can't use elimination to determine truth.

Terms such as "law" in scientific theory are unfortunate, like law of gravity. It seems to imply that the concept has attained the status of true. The only reason we think nature must abide by a "law" is because we have never observed it to do any differently (ever seen something disobey gravity?). Just because we haven't seen it does not mean it is impossible.

Einstein's prediction that light from distant stars bends around the sun was a great success of the theory of relativity. But it does not prove the theory. The whole thing is still maybe true. When this was taught to me in class, the professor said something like, "Those who are skeptical about relativity just need to look at the observations. Regardless of your beliefs, the facts force you to 'read em and weep'." That has some truth, but is debatable. Note well evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould: "Facts do not 'speak for themselves'; they are read in the light of theory." The only weeping to be done over these facts is that Newton's theory is not completely right. Ok, we've proven something false--same old story.

Anyway, all scientists understand that our theories are constantly being refined and that the current ideas are not dogma. It is unfortunate then that most in the scientific community treat their precious theories as dogma. Who wants to spend a lifetime of effort developing ideas only to find out that you are wrong? The scientific community will boast about its ability to self correct. However, when we get to the bottom of the matter, this is not about scientific ideas but about people. Attack evolution and you are actually attacking the people whose daily work is to study and develop the theory. And they will be offended not because of their dedication to truth but because of their pride. "I don't care if I'm wrong, just don't tell me I'm wasting my time," the prideful heart says. We are all this way.

Yes, science is just another human endeavor, tainted by the same things that humans are tainted with. If we are to find truth, it must come without sin. Evolution may not be true because it is only science, and science cannot tell us what is true. What, or who, can?

18 August 2008

Convince me to buy an iPod

This is something that I have considered posting for a while. Since it has been a while from my last post, I might as well now. It regards a concept we could call "simple living," or maybe "your best life later." But for now I want to look at a specific situation. I want you, reader, to convince me to buy an iPod.

Two weeks ago I began my first full-time salaried job. I have started to generate income. This is a pretty big change coming out of college. I know all of it to be from God's hand.

What has disturbed me when I tell others about my new job and income is this question: "So, what are you going to buy?"

As I said, for now I want to stay specific, so I won't delve into this any further. Someone asked me at work today, quite assumingly, if I have an iPod. To their surprise I told them no. I also noticed that Brett mentioned the iPod on a recent post. So you probably get the hint that convincing me to purchase an iPod will be difficult. Here's what you have going for you:
  • I like music.
  • I am a musician.
  • I sing in the shower (sometimes).
  • I can find music to be positive and encouraging in life (thought not necessarily that music which is dubbed "positive and encouraging").
  • I use iTunes.
I usually don't get many comments on here, but please go ahead. Don't be intimidated. I have not all-out decided that I am right. Perhaps if you have an iPod you can tell me how it benefits you.

10 August 2008

Boyd and Christ's Scope, Pt 3: To Fulfill, Not Abolish

I apologize for the delay on this. My life's routine was suspended due to a move and a new job. Anyway, here we go...

We've looked at Boyd's idea that Jesus taught "unconditional refusal to engage in violence." Another of his ideas is that Christ taught "unconditional love for enemies." I must ask, what enemies? Who is Christ's enemy? Is his victory over sin and death an act of unconditional love toward the prince of darkness? Of course, there is a subtlety here in how we define love, but it is a given in this Kingdom theology that we are talking about something like hippie love, as I've called it. In that sense, we can't say that Christ's defeat of the devil was an act of love towards the devil. Now, you might say that I'm really stretching things here, and that by "enemies" Christ obviously meant certain other humans. But if we must make that qualification then it's no longer unconditional. And that is the point.

The mistake -- what I feel to be at the root of all this -- is attempting to apply Christ's teachings to an improper scope. Jesus had a very specific purpose to accomplish. In his teachings he illuminated that part of the law which seemed to be veiled and forgotten (but was there all along), to love God and your neighbor. In his death and resurrection he made it possible for us to keep that law of love. But Jesus never presented a political platform. The King of kings did not run for president. So the attempt to extrapolate Jesus' teachings to how a society is to be governed is not justified. That's just not what he was talking about.

As we pointed out before, we cannot reduce Christ to an ideology or a bare concept. We have to consider him as a being and consider at least all that he said and did. And one thing he said was, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them," Mat 5:17. Since this is what Jesus prefaced his radical teachings with, we must seek to understand those teachings in light of this. How does Matthew 5:38-39 fulfill the law rather than abolish it? Again, I contend that the answer is in the scope. As the commentator Matthew Henry said on Matthew 5:38 regarding "an eye for an eye":

This we find, Exo 21:24; Lev 24:20; Deu 19:21; in all which places it is appointed to be done by the magistrate, who bears not the sword in vain, but is the minister of God, an avenger to execute wrath, Rom 13:4.

So "an eye for an eye" is to be understood at the scope of a government executing justice. The Jewish people, mostly being without regenerated hearts, were incapable of fulfilling the spirit of the law and consequently took "an eye for an eye" beyond its intentioned governmental scope to the level of personal interactions. Jesus, in fulfilling the law and not abolishing it, unveiled their spiritual eyes to the spirit of the law, where in personal interactions we are to instead turn the other cheek. Just read over Matthew 5:38-47 and consider if the situations describe person-to-person relations as opposed to government-to-person or even nation-to-nation relations.

A strong point of Kingdom theology is its emphasis on being like Christ in person-to-person relations, something we should take to heart. It is unfortunate that this is now being stretched to governmental scope. I admit that in America this is really complicated, since we govern ourselves in some way. But the problem I have addressed is not so much with politics today as it is with understanding the Bible. When this started I asked if we can reconcile "an eye for an eye" with "turn the other cheek." I hope you can see now how it fits, at least in my view.

I think I am done with Boyd, but for further thought I'll refer you to some other bloggers who are discussing similar material. I am watching Pyromaniacs, where Frank Turk has been discussing church and government. Not much has come for a while, so I'm sure when it finally does that it will be good. Another blog of interest is Christianity: Doctrine and Ethics, where "How Would Jesus Vote" is the first post in what appears to be a series. If you have not the time to read it, get the last paragraph at least:

How would Jesus "vote" on the issue of capital punishment? It’s a silly question. We do know, however, that Christ came to do the will of his heavenly Father (cf. John 4:34; 5:30; 6:38). That revealed will involved the killing of those convicted of murder (cf. Gen. 9:6; Ex. 20:13; Deut. 5:17; Rom. 13:1-4). That’s what Jesus would do and that’s how Jesus would think, because God revealed it so.

Amen. Stated far more simply than I ever put it.

29 July 2008

Boyd and Christ's Scope, Pt 2: God as Being vs. Qualities

Last time we looked at some thoughts from Greg Boyd regarding the apparent contradiction in Christ's "love" nature in the New Testament and God's "warrior" nature in the Old Testament. I gave two reasons why I feel Boyd is struggling: his knowledge of Christ's qualities is incomplete, and he is mistaken on the scope to which we are to imitate Christ. I got going on the problem of reducing our view of Christ to unconditionals instead of viewing him as God, a being. And God is big. So I guess another way to formulate this first mistake is that we need to view God (and Jesus) as a being instead of reducing Him to qualities. Let me elaborate on this.

Here is how I would instead formulate the problem presented by Boyd:

- God commanded, "Thou shalt not kill," Deu. 5:17.
- Then God commanded, "You shall kill him," Deu. 13:9.
- God also said, "I kill," Deu. 32:39.

So we see contradictory commands from God to the Israelites, and that God is somehow above the law that he instituted. If the command is not to kill, then killing must be sin. But if God commands to kill, He is commanding sin. And if God kills, He would be sinning. What's going on here?

If there is a moral law over-arched by a principle of love, then why is God a killer?

(In my formulation of the problem, I didn't even present Christ as part of it. I don't think we need to. If we understand Christ's full nature and the proper scope of his teachings, the problem is the same. The fullness of the problem is in the OT, just as I believe God's full nature is seen in the OT.)

The problem, again, is that we tend to try to reduce God to a set of qualities instead of seeing Him as a being. It is important to see the inherent asymmetry when comparing humans to God. He is the Creator; we are the created. He seeks His own glory; we seek not our own glory, but His. Not my will, but His will be done. This helps us understand why it seems that God is above the law. If there is a moral law over-arched by a principle of love, to require God to abide by that law puts God under it. God, by definition, is not under anything. We would need to worship that law as the highest, not God. This is the distinction between God as being and God as mere qualities. As Arthur Pink wrote:

We affirm that he is under no rule or law outside of his own will and nature, that God is a law unto himself, and that he is under no obligation to give an account of his matters to any... In the final analysis, the exercise of God's love must be traced back to his sovereignty, or, otherwise, he would love by rule; and if he loved by rule, then is he under a law of love, and if he is under law of love then is he not supreme, but is himself ruled by law.

So I suggest a different approach. Let's start with the principle that God, being the Creator, is owner of all things and all people (Ps. 24:1, Exo. 19:5, Job 41:11, etc.). All is His. Then, He can kill because life is His to give and His to take. We cannot kill because life is not ours to take. God can command us to kill in specific instances if that is what He desires. After all, it's His stuff. This requires us to understand God as an active being whose ways are higher than ours, instead of reducing him to abstract qualities or unconditionals. It requires us to trust Him.

If this is the case, does God just do whatever He pleases for no reasons at all? I don't think so. His ways are higher than ours (Isa. 55:9), but that alone says that He has ways. And Scripture helps us grasp those ways. So while we should not demand of God a reason for all He does (but understand that He does have a reason), we can seek to understand God's reasons through His qualities as Scripture describes.

What's more in dealing specifically with killing is that man is made in God's image: "Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image," Gen 9:6. So for a man to kill another man is a stab at not only God's stuff, but also God's nature. But for God to kill a man is not a stab at Himself because we now bear a tainted image, one stained with sin. We know that God is just, so for God to take life from a sinful being is entirely proper for Him to do.

So to seek understanding for why God kills and commands the Israelites to kill so brutally, I suggest considering three qualities, or attributes, of God: faithfulness, justice, and love. To proceed we can look directly at the reason God Himself gave:

Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the LORD your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Deu 9:5

God says the Canaanites are to be destroyed because of their wickedness: this is His justice. God says He made a promise and He will fulfill it: this is His faithfulness. God says He will do this despite the stubbornness of His own people: this is His love.

So we see God's qualities showing through His actions, even those actions we might find terrible. We should not turn this on its head by starting with simplified qualities and then force God to adhere. Let's remember the asymmetry, that He is Creator and we are created. And if we ever think that we can reduce the Creator's being to fit in created heads, it is only by His love as shown ultimately in Jesus that we may be humbled to our proper place.

This includes me.

25 July 2008

Boyd's Confusion on Christ's Scope and Nature

A couple posts ago we talked about this thing called Kingdom theology and addressed the concept of imitating Jesus. The fundamental idea we came to is that there is a proper scope and extent to which it is right to imitate Jesus, and a scope or extent to which it is improper.

To further entertain these matters, I have read all of Greg Boyd's blog posts up to the present (starting back on March 14 here) in which he addresses the problem of reconciling the warrior nature of God in the Old Testament to the love nature of Christ in the New Testament. He does not have an answer presently, but rather his blog posts are his thinking-out-loud to hopefully reach a solution. He says, "In my opinion, this is the most challenging objection to the Christian faith and most difficult theological question of the Christian faith."

Let me state right now why I feel Boyd is struggling with this issue. He is mistaken on the scope to which we are to imitate Christ, and his knowledge of Christ's qualities is incomplete.

Let me also say that Boyd is a very smart guy and far better read than me. A better 'riter, too. There's still hope however that I am better at 'rithmetic!

In Boyd's theology:

Jesus Christ is the definitive revelation of God, superseding all previous revelations (Heb. 1:1-3). With his radical teachings about unconditional love for enemies and unconditional refusal to engage in violence, Jesus brings to a pinnacle the unfolding peace tradition of the Old Testament while further confirming that this tradition (not the war tradition) expresses the true heart of God. This beautiful revelation of God’s heart in Christ contrasts with the grotesque divine commands to slaughter people in the strongest possible way.

So to know the true nature of God, he says we are to look at Christ. Any understanding we can get of God's nature from the Old Testament must conform to what we see in Christ. In discussing a book authored by Eller, he says:

Eller rightly sees that we must read the Old Testament in light of Christ, not qualify the revelation of God in Christ on the basis of the Old Testament. He rightly sees that the Old Testament is authoritative to disciples of Jesus only insofar as it points toward, and concurs with, what we learn about God and the Kingdom through Christ.

I can't help but wonder if this whole discussion is nothing more than Boyd trying to figure out why he carries around the Old Testament in his Bible. The only reason he seems to have is that Jesus quoted from the OT, and so in imitating Christ he must use the OT somehow. Sadly, I think many Christians do not think there is much point to the OT either. "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." But I guess even that does not have much force when Boyd throws around the possibility that parts of the OT aren't inspired... oh well.

First, let me address the mistake of an incomplete understanding of Christ's qualities. Notice Boyd was quoted above to say Christ taught "unconditional refusal to engage in violence." This comes from the Sermon on the Mount, I assume, where Jesus teaches, for one, to "turn the other cheek." This certainly seems to be unconditional. But how does this jive with Jesus turning over tables and driving people out of the temple with a whip (Jn 2:15)? Is this an unconditional refusal to engage in violence? I don't see it.

And for you tree-hugging types, you ought to take issue with Jesus cursing a fig tree to its withery death (Mat 21:19). That's not a very gentle Jesus.

So part of the problem with seeing a contradiction between God's warrior nature and Christ's love nature is that Jesus is painted to be void of a warrior nature, when in fact that is incomplete. Kingdom theology seems to have reduced Christ's person to ideologies of pacifism and hippie love. We must agree that Christ "is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature" (Heb 1:3), but that does not warrant us to reduce Christ to unconditionals and call it God's nature. God is not as simple as we might like Him to be.

And in an attempt to keep each post finishable for you in one sitting, I'll have to continue later...

20 July 2008

Spirit-controlled self-control

I have determined to display self-control.

Part of the motivation is that at a certain point sin simply becomes ridiculous, and I say to myself, "Enough! This is stupid."

Another motivation is to live in accordance with 1 Pet. 2:3-11 where we find, "For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with... self-control."

Most times when I determine to do something I follow through, just because of my personality (or maybe German blood). In this case though I knew something had to be different. Here's why: should I overcome sin because of my determination, I might become quite proud of myself. "God must be proud of me! Aren't you pleased with me, God!" would be my response. Something isn't right here.

A part of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) is self-control. So I have come to understand that only when I am in submission to God and "drunk" (Eph. 5:18) in His Spirit can I be empowered to display self-control. It is also important to consider what precedes "for this very reason" in 1st Peter 2. Then I came across this quote of Charles Spurgeon, "Beware of mistaking excitement for the Holy Ghost, or your own resolutions for the deep workings of the Spirit of God in the soul."

With this, the response to a moment of sin overcome becomes, appropriately, "God must be proud of Himself!"

That I find fascinating.

15 July 2008

Two Lefts Don't Make a Right, But...

Imagine you are driving a car that can only turn left. (I guess it would make sense for this car to be blue.) You come to an intersection and need to turn right. What can you do? Assuming the streets are laid out in basic city blocks, you can go straight and then make three consecutive lefts, circling the block (squaring the block?...). Upon returning to the original intersection, you can continue on in the desired direction. Apparently three lefts make a right.


Well, not always. This is only true for flat space (or in better math terms, 2-D Euclidean space). If the space we are talking about is curved then things change. Consider embarking on a journey that begins at the North Pole. You head due south and then make a 90-degree turn east when you hit the equator. After traveling 1/4 around the earth, you make a 90-degree turn back north. Following this path will lead you right back to the North Pole. So we find that two right angle turns will bring us back to where we started. In the city block situation, it took three right angle turns. See the difference? This is the basics of curved space (or space-time).

This means that two lefts can make a right.

For much better pictures than my MS Paint work, see Wikipedia's Non-Euclidean geometry.

11 July 2008


I am thinking about the validity of WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?). My motivation is that in becoming familiar with "Kingdom Theology" I've found many arguments made from looking at what Jesus did and attempting to emulate him. A defining statement of what I'm talking about is from Greg Boyd in Myth of a Christian Nation: “To the extent that an individual or group looks like Jesus — dying for those who crucified him and praying for their forgiveness in the process — to that degree they can be said to manifest the kingdom of God. To the degree that they do not look like this, they do not manifest God’s kingdom.”

For example, this type of reasoning can be seen in Derek Webb's lyrics. I recently acquired his latest album (free download at noisetrade.com). In "I For An I," in arguing for pacifism he says:

this may not work and I don’t guarantee that it will
but I’ve got no choice unless you tell me who Jesus would kill

The argument here is that since Jesus in his life on earth as recorded in the gospels never killed anyone, never advised to have someone killed, and indeed seemed the very opposite in giving of his own life for his sheep, that there is no just basis for going to war if we are to imitate Christ. (Said at Southern did a complete review of the album as well as interviews with Webb.)

Revelation 19 shows us Christ wielding a sword. An image of king Aragorn in battle flashes in my mind.

Rev 19:11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war.
Rev 19:15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.
Rev 19:21 And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse, and all the birds were gorged with their flesh.

Now some may argue that this is figurative. That is another discussion. The basic fact here is that Jesus is depicted as one going to war and killing flesh.

Aside from trying to figure out who Jesus would kill, we need to determine if imitating Christ is how we are to live, and to what scale and what depth. By scale I mean one's individual actions versus something like the policies of a country. By depth I mean becoming like Christ in character versus in physical appearance, for example.

One obvious problem with WWJD is illustrated in Urban Dictionary's example usage:

"I saw this guy in the theater talking on his cell phone. I thought about chunking popcorn at his head until he shut up; then I saw my wrist band that said 'W.W.J.D.' So I lit him on fire and sent him to Hell, I really did feel better to [sic]."

Of course it is my personal desire and goal to become like Christ in his character. But I do not think the depth should go any further. Should we all grow out our hair to look like Aryan Jesus? Should all females become male? Should we all move to the middle-east and hang out at Bethany? An article in Christianity Today 6 years ago titled "Why I Don't Imitate Christ" tells of some radical actions taken in history by people attempting to imitate Christ, such as being willingly whipped bloody to identify with Christ. Isn't this ridiculous?

In a recent post I addressed some of Obama's statements on the Bible. He said that he doubted the Department of Defense would survive application of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. I do not think that is the scale to which Jesus intended anyway. Jesus was not a politician running for president discussing public policy; part of his mission was to change the hearts of individuals. Boyd lumped "individual" and "group" together, as though there is no distinction. Unfortunately such an approach just doesn't hold up in finding a consistent understanding of all Scripture. Do we forget that "eye for an eye" was instituted by God? Can we reconcile it with "turn the other cheek"?

All believers collectively make up the Body of Christ, with Jesus himself as the head (Col 2:19, Eph 5:23). Though as Christians we are to be "little Christs," each of us individually are incapable of exactly emulating him. Do we each have different gifts because Jesus could only handle one at a time, or because we aren't supposed to be exactly like him? The Body is not a fractal. My hand does not look like my head.

I have even come across arguments that say since Jesus never spoke out against homosexuality or abortion that we shouldn't either. Um...what?

Please comment if you have any thoughts on how we are to imitate Christ, in scale and in depth.

10 July 2008

Aryan Jesus

You've probably seen depictions of Jesus. We don't really know what he looked like, so it is safe to say that most images are inaccurate. This particular one and others like it I find disturbing for more than its inaccuracy: Jesus, a Jew, depicted as a blond-haired blue-eyed Aryan. I'm not making any implications; I just think it's messed up.

Image taken from www.jesusposter.net

07 July 2008

Biofuels and the Global Food Crisis

According to UK newspaper The Guardian, "Biofuels have forced global food prices up by 75% - far more than previously estimated - according to a confidential World Bank report obtained by the Guardian." The article may be read at http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/jul/03/biofuels.renewableenergy.

I believe that biofuels are a contributing factor to the food crisis. If its effect is as high as 75%, clearly it's a really big deal. However, I am skeptical that 75% is true for the simple reason that this information came from the World Bank. The World Bank very likely has vested interests in preventing any form of energy source other than oil taking root. "Accidentally" leaking information so condemning of biofuels is suspicious. I guess it is possible, but I can not imagine the World Bank making such a mistake. Yes, I am implying that this move was deliberate. I will not be surprised if this "accident" by the World Bank spells disaster for the biofuel market. It's all speculation, I know.

Whatever the case, I do not think biofuels will be the energy crisis savior. There are better technologies in existence. The situation is extremely complicated on both economic and political levels, making the implementation of any alternative energy technology difficult. The solution must come from a change in people: either those in charge of the world stop being selfish, or we in our communities get fed up with it.

As a final word this moment, none of this is a cause for despair. The incliner of hearts is still in control.

06 July 2008

Things you ought to know #2

You ought to know that the Latin phrase "et cetera" is abbreviated etc., not ect. Just try to pronounce what you are abbreviating, and it should be easy.

27 June 2008

Choose America? The global food crisis

I pull myself from my queen size bed in the morning and complain about the temperature in my apartment (I refuse to turn on the AC because of energy cost). Then I go to the kitchen just to find out I've run out of food again. Eventually I get to my car and the "change oil" light comes on, and my gas tank is once again getting low. Then my day just gets worse because I get stuck in traffic behind someone going 5 mph slower than the speed limit.

As I have a friend without a car right now, I think to myself at least I have a car. Then it hits me: I live in America. I have a bed. I have electricity. I not only have a grocery store nearby, but have plenty others to choose from. I have a job. I have money in the bank. I have a family behind me.

Good thing I chose to be born in America.

Please, let's not be selfish and ignorant, because obviously we did not choose such blessing. Do you know what is happening to people around the world? Many poor can no longer afford to buy food as cost has doubled since a year ago. I recently read of parents who signed their son over to an orphanage since they could not support him. If you are humbled even a little as me, start by educating yourself about the global food crisis: http://www.compassion.com/sponsordonor/global-food-crisis/default

25 June 2008

What is a Theory?

A charge that is sometimes made against evolution, for example, is that it is "just a theory." Evolutionists are quick to point out that such an argument shows that the idea of "theory" is misunderstood. Let's seek to understand it, then.

Science seeks to understand how things work in the universe. In order to do so, we must take things in nature and formulate them in ways that humans can understand. There is always this disconnect between nature's reality, and humanity's nature. You can sense that sunlight on your skin is warm, but the thought in your mind of warmth and warmth itself are two different things.

A theory is, in my words, an attempt at a descriptive abstraction of nature in a way that humans can understand. The disconnect requires that any human description of nature be an abstraction. Because of this, any theory is only as good as our observations of nature. Imagine if everything you see is in shades of blue, and that is all you've ever known. You might develop ideas on how light works based on your observations. Of course, any explanation you give for how nature works will certainly be wrong, since we know that world is not only in shades of blue. Or is it? What is "blue," anyway? How can we know for certain that we all don't suffer from defective senses? But then again what does it matter? We must conclude that science is not concerned about nature in itself, but only about our perception of nature. That is, really, the best we can do.

Now, I carefully crafted my words to say "an attempt." Note well this quote of Stephen Hawking:

"All we ever know is our models, but never the reality that may or may not exist behind the models and casts its shadow upon us who are embedded inside it. We imagine and intuit, then point the finger and wait to see which suspect for truth turns and runs. Our models may get closer and closer, but we will never reach direct perception of reality's thing-in-itself." [As given by George Zebrowski, "The holdouts," Nature, Vol. 408, 14 Dec 2000]

Theories are what science does; they are all it has. A theory can never be proved, it can only be disproved. If an explanation of nature withstands all we throw at it to disprove it, we then tend to think it is true.

A very important facet to a theory is that it can make verifiable predictions of how nature should work in a certain situation. If such predictions turn out to be true, we tend to think even more that the theory is true. For example, Einstein's general relativity predicted that light should bend around the sun. Upon observation, this was confirmed (Einstein's calculated numbers fell within the observation's tolerance), much to the excitement of the scientific community.

So when something is granted the title of Theory, we must know that it has been rigorously tested and has been found to be a very accurate description of reality. The charge that evolution is "just a theory" is the same as charging it as "just science."

Dobson vs. Obama and Religion in Politics

James Dobson of Focus on the Family recently criticized statements made by Barack Obama back in 2006 on the place of religion in politics. Obama's speech can be found here: http://www.barackobama.com/2006/06/28/call_to_renewal_keynote_address.php.

Here is a portion that Dobson addressed:

"And even if we did have only Christians in our midst, if we expelled every non-Christian from the United States of America, whose Christianity would we teach in the schools? Would we go with James Dobson's, or Al Sharpton's? Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is ok and that eating shellfish is abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount - a passage that is so radical that it's doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application? So before we get carried away, let's read our bibles. Folks haven't been reading their bibles."

Dobson charged that Obama deliberately distorted scripture to fit his own world view and distorted theology (http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/06/24/evangelical.vote/index.html). Obama responded by saying that Dobson is "making stuff up."

Now, I was at first going to criticize Obama's words as well. Then I read a greater portion of his speech, as well as quotes on the site http://www.jamesdobsondoesntspeakforme.com/. If the quote above is actually Obama's interpretation of those passages, we've got problems. However, I think that he is actually saying that anyone with such interpretations needs to go back and "read their bibles."

At first reading Dobson's comments, I thought Obama was implying one ought to leave Jesus at home, out of your day job. In fact, that is the very opposite of what Obama argues. Although I don't agree with Obama word for word, I tend to agree with him far more than Dobson. I encourage you to read Obama's speech and weigh things yourself.

20 June 2008

Crop circles and number systems

Check out the latest crop circle:

What is amazing about this one is that the number pi is encoded in it. Start in the center and note the length of each segment. The first one is 30% of a full circle, so 3. Then there is a decimal point. The next is 10% of a full circle, so 3.1. Then we have 40% of a full circle, 3.14, and so on. It goes to nine decimal places.

In considering how this thing got in that field, as I was figuring out how pi is encoded I noticed something. Why make 30% of a circle represent the number 3? This means that 100% represents 10. Now you must know that there is nothing special about ten. We happen to have ten fingers and ten toes. But there is no particular reason for when you turn ten years old that it must be "double digits." Look at nine apples, then look at ten apples. Why should nine apples require one digit, and ten require two? There is no intrinsic natural reason, except maybe it is easier to count on our fingers.

What I am talking about is number systems. Probably the next best known number system to decimal is binary. In binary, two is double digits. Remember this? "There are 10 kinds of people: those who know binary, and those who don't." (If you aren't catching on, "10" in binary is two.) Why not encode pi in a crop circle in binary? You can see the string of zeroes and ones for pi at http://www.befria.nu/elias/pi/binpi.html, for example.

So the whole thing is fishy. There is no natural explanation for pi to be encoded in this crop circle, especially in the formalism of decimal numbers.

Conclusion: the aliens that made it have ten fingers.

19 June 2008

Teen pregnancy: An unchanging God in a changing world

Seventeen teenage girls in Gloucester, Massachusetts are pregnant. It has been discovered that some of these girls agreed to a "pregnancy pact" where they would all get pregnant and raise the children together. You may read the story at http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,369290,00.html

The psychiatrist quoted in the article attributes this behavior to a search for something genuinely human in the midst of a cyber world. I think that is a valid point. I am not that much older than these girls, but I do know that the internet is far more common-place now then it was even five years ago. This young generation does not realize the explosive rate of development of the technology revolution; it is normal life to them. Likewise, we do not realize the effect this has on them. Our society has changed so quickly and drastically in the past decade that it is difficult to predict or accommodate for the ramifications.

This illustrates a basic concept of nature: a transient. I mean a transient as opposed to something that is steady. In electrical engineering, there are "steady state" signals and transient signals. Basically, a transient is the result of a change. Eventually the effects of the change diminish and we get back to steady state. So the principle is that any change in the way things are will produce a transient. We can take this deeper when we look at the rate of change. The basic principle we find then is that nature reacts strangely, perhaps unpredictably or violently, when the change happens quickly. Make abrupt changes in your everyday life and note the differences. One example is quick acceleration, like when a light turns green.

Therefore we might say that this teen pregnancy issue is due to societal whiplash.

What can we possibly do in a society like this? Is there nothing unchanging or firm that we can hold to? "I the LORD do not change," Malachi 3:6. "He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us," Psalm 62:6-8. I suggest that the principles by which God commanded us to live by remain true for all people at all times. Obedience is to our benefit; God knows how he made the world to work, and He told us how to best live. No matter how things change, God's truth transcends all cultures and societies.

One such principle is parenting. "And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise," Deuteronomy 6:6-7. Obviously, that does not describe many homes in America. I have no doubt that a lack of Godly parenting played a role in these young girls' decisions.

Oh God, may I seek to embrace these truths in my life.

What do you think?

17 June 2008

Things you ought to know #1

This is the first installment of "things you ought to know." There may never be any more, so at least the first one will be numbered.

Backslash vs Forward Slash

You ought to know the difference between a backslash and a forward slash. Look up at the address bar of your browser right now. Those are forward slashes. Any web address will contain forward slashes. If you state a web address with backslashes, it is likely wrong. Since forward slashes are so common in this context, we usually just call them slashes. Here is how you can know which is which:

Start with a vertical line: |. Think of it as standing on two feet like a person. Now, since we read left to right, a forward slash will look like it is leaning forward: /. A backslash will look like it is falling backwards: \. Got it?

Regarding 'rithmetic, you ought to know that a forward slash usually denotes division: 1/2 means "one-half" which is the same is "one divided by two."