Tuesday, December 30, 2008

James - Day 4

And so we leave v. 4 of James with rather happy thoughts... Perhaps, "Hooray! We will be lacking in nothing! How wonderful!"

V. 5 then tells us: "BUT, if you are lacking in something..." Figures.

James then takes a step aside to focus in on something. Not to say that he's really getting off topic or anything, but he wants to specifically hit on something before he keeps moving forward with his previous thought. He touches on wisdom.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God...

I did some research: the Greek word for this wisdom is sophia, which specifically refers to "knowledge of how to regulate one's relationship with God, related to goodness." (That's how my Bible puts it anyway.) So we're not just talking about helping people or algebra wisdom, we're talking about the interactions we have with God wisdom.

It then makes sense that we would ask God for this wisdom (I mean, who else would have the answer?).

... who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

If we ask God for this wisdom, we will be given it. Now a quick word: the word "ask" is actually more like "beg," so we really have to want this wisdom. It's not just something we throw into the end of our prayers - "Oh, and some wisdom too, God. Amen."

I've been reading on this topic recently in Dallas Willard's The Divine Conspiracy. In the chapter "The Community of Prayerful Love" he has a section on "the request." Essentially, he makes a point that if we're authentically asking God to give us something that both He wants and that we want, why in the world would He not give it to us? Makes sense. So if we ask for this wisdom, God is probably going to give it to us.

But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.

Here, the word doubting refers to division. Specifically, in the mind. In other words, someone who doubts would be someone who is not really sure about what they are asking for. They don't really want it wholeheartedly (or, rather, wholemindedly).

And then the simile. The simile makes sense if we remember what we realized last time. One of the things that defines wisdom is the fact that its nature doesn't change. If something is true, it doesn't become untrue later. So if someone doubts and their mind is thrown around like a wave in the sea, well then they really have some work to do before they start getting close to this wisdom thing. If they can't even be sure about asking for wisdom, then they will never really get wisdom. It's a sort of catch 22.

This naturally leads to...

For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

So it's not that we should believe that we will get wisdom from God if we ask for it, but we shouldn't expect to get it - that's what I would have thought before. Instead, if we sincerely ask for this wisdom and really want it, God will give it to us. But if we're not sure about asking, we certainly won't get it, because that just goes to show that we don't want it.

If this is at all interesting, I highly advise the book by Willard. You can also read Matthew 7: 7-11.

We're starting to see James come out of his shell. And he'll unravel more of this later. But this passage was kind of a tangent in a way. In v. 9, he continues from what he was saying in v. 4.

Friday, December 26, 2008

James - Day 3

And the journey continues...

James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion:

We read the first verse in James and learn that the author (James) is fully devoted to God. And in the next verse, he'll say "brothers," which means he is writing to an audience that has a similar background as he does (Jewish Christians).

This is where we start.

Count it all joy, my brothers...

The first thing to notice is "all joy." My ESV and NASB translations both say it this way. James is talking about something that when we look back on things and really put them in perspective, when we "count" them so to speak, we realize that that something gave birth to nothing but joy.

... when you meet trials of various kinds...

Oh. Something = Bad times. Keep reading.

... for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (ESV)

For starters, I prefer the word endurance to steadfastness. It's more understandable to us today. And one of the first observations I made when I read through this passage the first time was that this endurance sort of takes care of itself. All we have to do is step aside and let it run its course.

Now James sort of gives away what the human goal is right here in the beginning: to be perfect and complete. (Naturally, if we are complete, we're not lacking anything either.) So that's what we're aiming for. With that in mind, let's go back to the beginning of that verse.

When James talks about the testing of our faith, he's referring to something mental. From what I can tell, the Greek word used there suggests persuasion and knowledge. So what he's saying is that when our minds and thoughts are challenged, we start to develop this sort of endurance.

So here's where I would make a point:

One could say that developing this mental endurance (or steadfastness) allows us to firmly and entirely hold on to truth without swaying. In other words, allowing us to gain perfect wisdom (not lacking anything) and never losing it.

This is how we start off the letter. With mentioning what the goal is, and a way in which it is attained.

But we have more questions: Is that the only way we can be perfect? Why should we be perfect? What happens to us then? What if we don't have these trials that you speak of?

Luckily, the letter keeps going. And maybe we will see some of these questions answered...

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

James - Day 2

So we move forward in our study of James.

I just did some basic background research on what we know about the author, his reason for writing, and the historical situation. And obviously, there may be some disagreements, but I will simply do my best as I am forced to depend on the few written resources that I have.

The author of the book is probably James, and most believe this James to be the older brother of Jesus. He is believed to have written this sometime between 40 A.D. and 60 A.D, after a number of years of church leadership in Jerusalem.

At this point in history, an oppressive Roman government had a reputation of persecuting Christians because of their "disloyalty" to the Roman government. And James was without a doubt writing to Christians affected by this.

More specifically, James was probably writing to Jews who had converted to Christianity. And this explains most of the topics he covers. Those Christians in particular had a reputation for trying to get by with simply "intellectual agreement" being the same as faith. In his writing, as we have already seen, James stresses action. More than just belief.

Some believe also that James wrote after seeing some of Paul's letters in order to sort of offset Paul's emphasis on faith, in a sense. Not to contradict him (or maybe he was trying to; I don't know), but to show people that just staying at home and believing certain facts to be true was not enough. (Interesting... that sounds familiar.)

The only observation I made on my own without outside help was simply that James was really old when he wrote this. I am lead to believe even that he wrote this with a thought that his death was coming soon. He was probably close to 50 years old. It's almost as if he wanted to get this message out before it was too late.

As we can see, these few observations already connect with some of the thoughts I had on day 1. Also, we can see that American Christians today have something to learn from James: knowing nice things about Jesus doesn't cut it. That's probably why we like Paul so much. He's nicer about that kind of stuff when we don't look into it too much.

A Christmas Paradox

Wes had some thoughts on Christmas. See?

He writes of hope and power that we can find in the Christmas story. The joy of knowing what God has done for us.

And I can't disagree. The thing that Christmas represents is really something quite amazing. I mean, think about it: God of everything, Creator of the Universe, Designer of blue skies, Architect of the Grand Canyon... chose to be surrounded in our crazy, selfish, sinful lives.

But there is something else. Often we think of the joy of Christmas, but don't truly acknowledge the pain that a Father must have felt that first Christmas morning (probably in March).

There is an enormous amount of sacrifice and pain and anguish that must have been felt. I mean really. Seeing Your son and knowing that he's going to die a miserable death at the hands of misguided government officials. And just giving him up? There must have been suffering and pain there.

But obviously there was joy. There was a bigger picture. And so despite the tears and anguish, there was utter relief in knowing that His children would finally be able to see life. Real life. An eternal life beginning here on earth. And that is the joy of Christmas.

I cannot think of a stronger paradox. Ultimate suffering allowing for everlasting joy.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

What Jon Foreman Is Up To

As if he wasn't doing enough before, Jon Foreman's got a new project.

Fiction Family - When She's Near from ATO Records on Vimeo.

Monday, December 22, 2008

James - Day 1

As I mentioned before, I'm going through a book about how to study the Bible. So as an exercise, our whole group is reading and studying through the book of James to see how much we learn. So yesterday I began by just reading through the whole book in one sitting. Here's a couple things I noticed (and for the record, so far, this is without any outside reference):

The book is split into several sections. The first verse is obviously the introduction.

Then from 1:2 to 2:26, James covers actions. He starts with trials, then talks about doing v. hearing, and finally how we behave.

The next section is kind of 3:1 to 4:10. Here, James discusses words, wisdom, and then how we behave again.

And before the conclusion, James advises us how to act from 4:11 to 5:6.

Then the conclusion takes place from 5:7 to 5:20 in which James talks about patience, words, and closes with the importance of prayer.

Now, granted, these may not be the best choices for sections, or even the topics covered in each of my sections. But that wasn't my goal when I set out to create them.

What I wanted to do was pick up on themes or reoccurring topics in the book. I wrote this down in my notes, and I think it sums up what I did pretty well:

This book is largely about what we do. There is a big difference between our faith and our actions. And what we say is a major part of our actions, as is wisdom seeing as how it determines them. Also, one of the most important actions we can actually do is pray.

We shall soon see (hopefully) that with these thoughts James wrote his letter.

Viva La Vida

So I finally listened to Coldplay's new album last night from start to finish. And it was good, but I did feel like it was hyped up just a little bit too much. I mean, I'd buy it, and even listen to it, but it's not the most spectacular piece of metal I've uploaded to iTunes my entire life. I guess I'm just not really sure what everyone likes so much about it that sets it apart. I mean, it's definitely better than Coldplay's other stuff...

Help me out...

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Other Mark

I've been reading again. This time from Living By the Book: The Art and Science of Reading the Bible by Howard Hendricks. I'm reading it with a men's group from church, and it's been very insightful and has helped me enormously with picking out observations in the text.

This morning I read a section called "Getting the Big Picture" and worked with chapters 4 & 5 of Mark (the gospel - not me). At the beginning of Hendrick's book we'd look at just one verse, then we did just a paragraph, and now we're here.

So I whipped out my hip Extreme Teen Bible (NCV) since it was the first thing I found after moving back home for Christmas. I opened to Mark 4 and read the two chapters straight through.

Verses 1-34 of chapter 4 cover Jesus' teaching on the kingdom of God. And from what I can tell, this is really the only part of Mark that really hammers out kingdom teaching. The topic comes up again, but not this extensively.

Then the end of ch. 4 and all of 5 cover 4 miracles: the calming of the storm, the man with demons, the bleeding woman, and Jairus' daughter.

After my brief read-through, I decided to get some background, so I went back to Mark 1 and sort of skimmed through to gain some context. I made some interesting finds.

Mark seems to write in a very specific way. He moves forward chronologically, but covers only one particular aspect of Jesus' life at a time. He starts with Jesus preparing for ministry from the call of John the Baptist, through the baptism, and then to the desert with fasting and temptation. Mark spends hardly any time on these details which would lead the reader to believe that this is not what he wants to talk about.

Then Jesus picks some followers.

Then he begins healing people.

Now both the followers and the healings are reoccurring events in this gospel. Over and over, Mark will describe how Jesus separates his followers from the crowds that follow him around (4:11). The followers were told that they could "know the secret about the kingdom of God." Mark also makes a distinction between Jesus' first few followers and when he officially picks his twelve apostles (3:14). I think this attention to Jesus' disciples is very important. But I want to focus more on what happens at the healings. Or the first several at least.

Before even the first chapter is finished, Mark records Jesus forcing out an evil spirit. The text says that the spirit knows who Jesus is - "God's Holy One." Jesus immediately responds, "Be quiet!"

The next subheading in my Bible is "Jesus Heals Many People." And 1:34 says Jesus "would not allow the demons to speak, because they knew who he was." And the next morning when Jesus finds out people are looking for him, he tells his disciples that they should go to other towns.

Verse 44: "Don't tell anyone about this," Jesus says after healing a sick man.

Then Mark moves his focus to people criticizing Jesus and his followers, the section which will end with the Pharisees plotting to kill Jesus for the first time.

Like you probably are beginning to notice, I observed that Jesus was developing a habit of telling people to keep quiet about what he was doing.

Why in the world would Jesus do this? I feel like this was a question raised in Sunday School a couple times. We'd read just the one little passage ending with this statement, and then were asked why Jesus would do this. But I've never noticed before that Jesus did this all the time.

Could it be because once the wrong people caught wind of this, Jesus knew he was going to be in trouble? Possibly. Could it simply be because Jesus was humble? Possibly.

Maybe Jesus was just worried that these people just would not understand. After all he told his followers that if they couldn't even understand the parable stories, then how could they understand the actual kingdom of God?

Fast forward to the demoniac. He was crazy with a lot of demons (5,000 if his name was literal). Jesus healed him, and then told him, "Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and how he has had mercy on you." The text says people were amazed at the story.

So why was Jesus not okay with people talking about his healings, but then it was okay for this guy?

To be honest, I don't know. Maybe an in-depth study on Mark as a whole would help us find out.

In the very next story, Jesus tells Jairus not to tell anyone about him bringing his daughter back to life.

It makes sense that Jesus did not want to be killed yet. It makes sense that he still had work to do. But why is it ok to just give one guy permission?

Maybe it was just geography. Maybe the place this guy was from (Decapolis) had no other way of hearing or witnessing news like this.

I think the point I'm trying to make is that Jesus kept his work a secret. And it's important that we find out why. If we don't, then our evangelizing might be all wrong. What if our perspective is skewed and we're not doing it right?

The life of Jesus is fascinating. But it is a model that we are supposed to use in our own lives. And if we choose to just shrug something like this off, I think we've missed why Jesus even came here in the first place (Christmas reference).

I encourage you to look into this. And I will too. Chances are there will be another blog about it soon.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Crazy Love

I started in on Francis Chan's new book. I'll admit that I wasn't too impressed with the first thirty or so pages. But then he impressed me. Check out some of these quotes:

We don't get to decide who God is. "God said to Moses, 'I am who I am'" (Ex. 3:14). We don't change that. (p. 31)

Don't we live as though God is created for us, to do our bidding, to bless us, and to take care of our loved ones?
... we keep questioning Him: "Why... are so many people dying of starvation? Why... is my family so messed up?"
... The answer to each of these questions is simply this: because He's God. He has more of a right to ask us why so many people are starving. (p. 33)

Can you worship a God who isn't obligated to explain His actions to you? Could it be your arrogance that makes you think God owes you an explanation? (p. 33)

God is the only Being who is good, and the standards are set by Him. Because God hates sin, He has to punish those guilty of sin. Maybe that's not an appealing standard. But to put it bluntly, when you get your own universe, you can make your own standards. (p. 34)

Now I'm not very far in the book, but I found these statements in particular both challenging and comforting. Knowing that there is a God like this is humbling. Knowing that my God is this in control I'm ok with. But that also means that sometimes I don't get the answers I want. And the reason for this is because I'm not in charge. Obvious, yes, but overlooked.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Caleb the Genius

If you know me, you probably know that I have worn black, thick-rimmed glasses for quite a while. It seems that of lately though, there has been an outbreak of mockery against me. I have seen around APU's campus a number of people who wear black, thick-rimmed glasses, but without prescription lenses. Sometimes they have no lenses at all!


Perhaps you do not understand the enormity of the situation.

This is where Caleb comes in. I told him about this after seeing a girl wear these fake glasses. I believe she and the others that do this are trying to look rebellious or cool or something.

"It really bothers me," I told him. "It's like they're taking this thing away from me that I was forced into. It's almost like they are mocking my poor eyesight."

He said this:

"It's like if I rode around in a wheelchair just for fun."

Exactly, Caleb. Exactly.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Slowing? I Don't Think So

So I had this thought driving to APU at 12:45 am.

I was thinking about how helpless I feel sometimes to relax. Or even just to keep up with all the things I am involved in. It's like no matter how bad I want to do it all, no matter how much time I want to devote to this or that, it's just not going to happen. And that makes me sad. I don't want it to be that way.

And for some reason my mind drifted to the thought of Sabbath. A God-intended time of rest. And I totally feel completely unable to acknowledge this wonderful day that I can only dream about. So I started thinking... "What can I do to change this?"

To be honest, I became a little disappointed. Because I soon realized that I go to a Christian school that keeps my schedule wrapped up seven days a week, every week. There's no time to rest. And if I show up to my concert tonight unprepared, I don't really think my director will take my "day of rest" as an excuse for not knowing my part.

I think the problem is bigger than APU though. This problem is a national epidemic. We Americans are unable to slow down. And I feel the stress tugging at my heart. I constantly think to myself, "I need to practice my trombone tonight, but it's already 1:30 am." Or, "I should stop practicing. It's 12:30 am, and I need to start my homework."

That's not the worst of it though. The worst of it comes when my girlfriend shows me that I can't even devote a single day of my week to relationships. Not just with her. There's no day that I can drop all the schoolwork, all the churchwork, and just be. With God. With people. Period. There's always something to do. Something I'm behind on. Something that's due the next day.

How is that for flat out rejecting God's plan for human beings?

It's interesting too that at APU this semester one of the morning chapel themes has to do with slowing. But APU itself does not allow its students to slow down. The professors aren't keeping in mind that students need a day of rest. (Granted, most students wouldn't take a day of rest anyway, but that's another conversation.)

Not just APU students, but every single person across the nation finds himself or herself bombarded with work to do every single day of the week. There's no time for "rest." No time for "Sabbath."

This points me to another chapel topic. I think the only way that humans will ever begin finding a day of rest, the only way that we will ever embrace God's calling us to "Sabbath" is if we take up Woody Morwood's Kaleo theme and stand up as revolutionaries in a hectic world full of insane schedules, and stop.

Just stop.

We stand and say, "No. I don't care if culture says that I am supposed to literally work myself to death. I'll take the kingdom life instead. The one that my Creator has already designed. The life that actually works properly."

Until we start doing this nothing changes. Until we become revolutionaries and stop ourselves in this spinning world, things will not get better. Stress will grow. Relationships will diminish.

And this is my last point. This is all quite timely considering that in a few hours my church begins the 40 Days of Love. I got the book early and have read a whopping one chapter and already realized how much I have neglected one of the most important aspects of my life due to a busy schedule. I'm beginning to think that Sabbath is all about relationships. All we have to do is stop.

We need to stop our spinning world. We need to find our Sabbath. And we need to embrace it and find the purpose of our lives again.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


So today was the day. I finally took my Strengths test! Hooray!

Here were my results. I thought a couple of them were absolutely true (input, empathy, adaptability). Then I didn't expect the other two, but after reading the descriptions they made sense. So here they are in order, starting from my top strength: (Danny will be pleased)

1. Connectedness: I believe things happen for a reason in a purposeful manner.

2. Adaptability: I easily adjust to my environment, I'm a "go-with-the-flow" person, and live in the moment.

3. Input: I want to know more; I crave information.

4. Empathy: I can sense what it feels like to be someone else.

5. Achiever: I am busy and productive, and I don't require external motivation.

Well done, Strengthsquest. I would say that you describe me well.

Friday, September 12, 2008


Jon Stewart, you are amazing.

On Michelle Obama:

She's got to. She's a Democrat. She must prove she loves America.

As opposed to Republicans who everyone knows love America. They just hate half the people living in it.

Watch the whole episode here.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Are You A...?

Caitlin and I found ourselves discussing some of our friends and the situations they find themselves in. By the end of the conversation, we felt we had made some neat little categories that most people fall into.

Clashers, wobblers, cyclers, and fidgeters.

The way we named our groups is primarily based on how each personality interacts with other people. See what I mean...

Clashers are aggressive and like attention. They tend to direct conversations in a certain way, and they're not afraid to approach people with a cheerful voice and a big smile. You know that guy at the party that has a whole room full of people intently listening to his story? That guy is a clasher.

Fidgeters, on the other hand, are almost completely the opposite. They feel uncomfortable at the center of attention. They don't really enjoy conversations with people they don't already know, and if they are approached by someone else (like a clasher for example), you can bet the farm that the fidgeter isn't going to give the conversation any substance.

Wobblers and cyclers are in the middle of the two extremes.

Wobblers and cyclers can both handle attention, although they don't really prefer it (well, maybe sometimes they don't mind a little reinforcement). These personalities have both the ability to happily allow someone else do the talking (clasher) and to fill in the gaps for someone who really doesn't want to do any talking (fidgeter). In a few moments we'll get to how wobblers and fidgeters are different.

You're probably wondering where these names are coming from. Well, let me continue...

Caitlin and I began talking about how these different people function in the context of relationships.

Clashers tend to prefer excitement and new experiences. It is difficult for them to simply settle indefinitely because it is enjoyable for them to meet new people, gain new experiences, and express themselves to many different people. There are times though for clashers when they encounter other clashers and the two people are forced to, in a sense, battle it out for the attention in a particular scenario. The result is usually some confrontation, or "clash" you could say.

Fidgeters like to settle though. They like consistency. It makes them feel stronger, and sort of compensates for the fear of creating new relationships with other people. It also allows the fidgeter to "attach" themselves with - to almost find an identity in someone, which they like. Unfortunately, if this attachment were to for some reason or another break, the person's entire world will be affected. We used the term fidgeters because these people don't really come into contact with too many people and sort of keep to themselves. (Imagine a super shy person sort of shaking in fear alone in the corner. I know it's sad as well as an exaggeration, but you sort of get the idea.)

Here's where wobblers and cyclers separate:

Wobblers can hold their own. They can recover from relationships without much long-term damage. They can shake it off. They get "bumped," but don't really go anywhere; nothing really happens. They just.... wobble.

Cyclers are the people that make the same mistakes over and over again. They think they've got what they want figured out, so every time a relationship goes under, they start a new one the exact same way. And that relationship simply results the same way as the first one. They go through cycles (obviously).

So, as I see it, this pretty much categorizes everyone I think I've ever met. There are some exceptions - of course. But for the most part, I bet you can put yourself into one of these categories. So which one is it?

By the way, I should mention that each group is equally balanced between its pro and cons even though I didn't represent them fairly all the time. So I hope you're not afraid to call yourself a clasher for example, or ashamed to call yourself a fidgeter.

Tell me what you think!

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Brilliance of Dallas Willard

So I've been reading The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God by Dallas Willard, and let me first say: "Amazing book." I highly recommend it to anyone.

Obviously (if you've read it you'd understand), there is a ton going on that I could choose to blog about. But frankly, I don't really need to. Willard really does everything for you. And I really don't need to clear anything up or further discuss much. The book is excellently put together!

There was one thing he said, however, that I felt I simply needed to repeat. It's absolutely brilliant. I found it on p. 155 of my copy in the fifth chapter (The Rightness of the Kingdom Heart: Beyond the Goodness of Scribes and Pharisees). So here it is:

When I go to New York City, I do not have to think about not going to London or Atlanta. People do not meet me at the airport or station and exclaim over what a great thing I did in not going somewhere else. I took the steps to go to New York City, and that took care of everything.

Likewise, when I treasure those around me and see them as God's creatures designed for his eternal purposes, I do not make an additional point of not hating them or calling them twerps or fools. Not doing those things is simply part of the package. "He that loves has fulfilled the law," Paul said (Rom. 13:8). Really.

On the other hand, not going to London or Atlanta is a poor plan for going to New York. And being wrongly angry and so on is a poor plan for treating people with love. It will not work. And, of course, Jesus never intended it to be such a plan. For all their necessity, goodness, and beauty, laws that deal only with actions, such as the Ten Commandments, simply cannot reach the human heart, the source of actions.

Well put, Mr. Willard. Well put.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Plants Are Asking: "Why I Am I Here?"

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener."

A while ago in Sunday School, we covered this passage. Ty asked me to lead a group of three: Chad, Serena, and Jessica.

Chad and Serena are two stereotypical children of fundamental, conservative, Christian parents. Jessica, on the other hand, may not even be a Christian. She's a friend of Chad's and has attended church maybe three or four times before.

So we start in on John 15, starting from verse 1: "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener."

Ty had given us a list of questions to go over, but I only glanced at them. I don't like when a person dictates a conversation when they're not even a part of it.

"What do we know?" I asked the three of them.

They looked at me with blank faces. I tried again. "Who's speaking?"

"Jesus," Serena confidently stated. It's one of those "Sunday School answers" that almost never goes wrong.

"Right," I responded. "And who is he talking to?"

More blank faces. To be fair, they didn't have Bibles, so this one was a little tougher.

"He's talking to his disciples," I decided to help. "His best friends. His followers."

Another question: "So what is Jesus doing here?" Blank faces. I tried to help a little bit: "It's a literary device... when you compare two unlike things without using the words 'like' or 'as.'"

Jessica stepped up. "A metaphor."

"Good," I replied. "And what is Jesus comparing?" I read them the first part of the passage again: "I am the true vine." Blank faces. I was beginning to wonder whether they legitimately didn't know, or if they just didn't care.

I decided to move things along a little bit. "Jesus is comparing himself to a vine. What is a vine a part of?"

This wasn't really a Bible question, so it surprised me a little when Chad guessed a tree (which to be fair is close). Serena suggested a plant.

"Close," I said. "A particular fruit grows on vines though..."

"Grapes." It was Jessica. I'm starting to like her.

"Good. Grapes grow on vines." I drew a picture of a tree and identified the trunk. I told them that the vine was kind of like the trunk of a tree. It's the sturdy part that everything else grows out of. In this case, it's the sturdy part that branches would grow out of, and grapes would grow out of those branches.

"... and my Father is the gardener." We were moving slow, but that's okay. We were beginning to make some progress. "What is this?" I asked, this time expecting to see blank faces.

I was surprised to hear "Metaphor," but I wasn't surprised it was Jessica. I'm really starting to like her.

I recapped: "So Jesus is talking to his disciples. He says that he is like a vine or a tree trunk. And God is like a gardener. What does a gardener do?"

"Takes care of the plants." I think it was Serena this time. Good thing... There's more to the answer, but I let it go for the time being.

"Good." Moving forward...

"He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful." We're only at verse 2, but I decided that we would stay here until we understood what was happening.

The questions start getting tougher.

"What is the purpose of a plant?" Blank faces were a guarantee this time. I knew it. But this was a tough question.

"What do plants do?"

Serena said slowly and questioningly, "Grow?"

"Yes," I said. "You're really close..."

I realized that that was as good as it was going to get.

"Plants bear fruit. Their purpose is to provide food."

Their faces sort of relax. The answer's not too complicated as they probably thought it would be.

I continued. "Let's keep going with these metaphors. If Jesus is the vine, and God is the gardener, then what are we?" I realized that we hadn't gotten very far in the passage so I skipped forward to verse 5: "I am the vine; you are the branches."

"We are the branches, right?" I asked. "So then what do we do? What is our job?"

Jessica answered, "To bear fruit?"

Somebody was with me. "So what does that mean?"

I never would have expected Jessica to even have a clue with this one, so I turned to Chad and Serena: "What does it mean to bear fruit? You guys hear this phrase all the time in church. What does it mean?"

Chad laughed, embarrassed that he didn't know. Serena was embarrassed too, but I asked again. She offered, "To preach the Gospel." This was a better answer than she thought.

"That's a really good answer," I told her. "So what's the Gospel?"

Blank faces.

"You don't know what the Gospel is?"

Chad tried to answer: "That Jesus died for our sins." The best example of a Sunday school answer that I could have dreamed of. But this time, it wasn't completely right.

"That's a piece of it, I guess," I responded. "But there's a lot more to it than that."

Time was running out. I decided to try and go over what we did know.

"The gardener's job is to help plants fulfill their purpose. In this case, the gardener, cuts off branches that don't grow grapes. And he makes sure that the branches that are growing grapes are getting water and sunlight. Now let's apply this to our situation here in the real world. God is supposed to then help us fulfill our purpose. So what does that mean?"

Jessica understood enough. "He's supposed to help us bear fruit."

She was so close. "And that means..."

"He's supposed to help us preach the Gospel."

She nailed it.

What's so interesting about this passage is that Chad and Serena were missing the real point of the passage. They've been trained to answer with shallow responses that miss the real point. They've minimized the Gospel to "Jesus died for my sins." And that misses so much of the point.

Now, I'm not trying to criticize Chad and Serena in any way. However, I would point the finger at the church. Specifically though, parents. Parents need to help their children grow in their faith so that they can have more to say than a fifth grader who just finished a week of VBS. But I would also say that when you're a sophomore in high school, you need to do something yourself and study so that your faith has some legitimacy.

Jessica, on the other hand, was getting it. And she doesn't have a boatload of these Sunday School answers packed away in her brain to fake her faith with. I think Christians today need to let go of their presuppositions that they've gotten so comfortable with in the past, and they need to step up and learn, study, ask questions, and answer questions.

Nothing pleases an atheist more than to see Christians answer questions with words that they themselves don't really understand.

Monday, April 14, 2008


So I realize that my last post might have been kind of weird (especially if, like Wes, you're wondering what this all has to do with the novel 1984). To be honest, it was really just me wanting to feel smart and to prove that I know enough about the Old Testament to point out Fromm's inaccurate statement.

Anyway, in continuation... I will be the first to admit that as a whole (and pretty much everything else that Fromm says other than that one statement in the beginning) is really insightful. (Actually, there was one more statement that I was curious about, but I'll save that for later.)

Fromm begins his commentary on 1984 by discussing a common perception of "end times" long ago. In Greek and Roman thinking (as well as the Old Testament), there was a hope that man will eventually be able to "create a world of justice and peace." This was the mindset for most of the world's history. And during the Renaissance, a form of writing developed to express how people thought things might work out. It was called utopian literature and was first seen in Thomas More's Utopia.

(Interesting fact: "utopia" literally means "nowhere.")

In this particular book, More "combined a most penetrating criticism of his own society, its irrationality and its injustice, with the picture of which, though perhaps not perfect, had solved most of the human problems which sounded insoluble to his own contemporaries." This society also catered to the "deepest longings of man."

This view of the future continued through the writings of the Enlightenment philosophers of the 1700's and the socialist thinkers of the 1800's, and really wasn't reconsidered until the end of World War 1.

It was then during that first world war that we began to realize what humans were capable of, and the hope that we had embraced so strongly began to fade. We saw millions die in the war, we saw Stalin drive a country mad, we saw Hitler demolish an ethnicity, we watched atomic bombs disintegrate populations.

It is precisely the significance of Orwell's book that it expresses the new mood of hopelessness which pervades our age before this mood has become manifest and taken hold of the consciousness of people.

Other books did the same: Zamyatin's We and Huxley's Brave New World. But I've only read 1984, so I won't talk about those.

This new genre was identified as negative utopian literature and marked the beginning of a new way of thinking. A loss of hope.

Fromm (keep in mind, he wrote this in 1961) also points out the paradox in this transformation: Our "hope-filled" time before WWI had economic justification for slavery & exploitation and science was looked to in order to make things better; it is here at the beginning of modern development that we find hope.

Then, when the hopes are realizable, when enough food could actually be made for everybody and war is unnecessary, when world peace begins to come within our grasp, "when man is on the verge of realizing his hope, he begins to lose it."

Interesting, no?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Finished, and Huh?

So I've just now finished George Orwell's 1984 - good read.

And I'm all excited because I want to blog about some of the things I've kind of been thinking about, but then I began the afterword by a guy named Erich Fromm, and I'm already confused. You think you know a book until you begin reading criticisms...

Fromm says...

The Old Testament philosophy of history assumes that man grows and unfolds in history and eventually becomes what he potentially is. It assumes that he develops his powers of reason and love fully, and thus is enabled to grasp the world, being one with his fellow man and nature, at the same time preserving his individuality and his integrity. Universal peace and justice are the goals of man, and the prophets have faith that in spite of all errors and sins, eventually this "end of days" will arrive, symbolized by the figure of the Messiah.

This really doesn't make sense to me. I don't know if the problem is that this inaccurate or untrue, or if I just don't like the language he uses. This really doesn't have much to do with the book, it just stuck out to me as unusual. What do you think?

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


Several times in the Old Testament, God refers to Himself as a "jealous God." Most of the time I would read this and think to myself, "Isn't that a bad thing?" I mean, isn't jealousy bad?

Recently, my look at jealousy has changed. I've learned this from my awesome girlfriend, Caitlin. And, I wouldn't have expected it, but she has told me herself that she is a "jealous girlfriend." What she meant was that when I spend my time with other people, she becomes jealous, in a sense, that I am not spending my time with her. This may sound selfish, but it really isn't. Regardless, I'm beginning to understand what God means.

Think of someone you care about immensely, preferably a loved one, but I guess it doesn't have to be. But it should be someone that you constantly want to spend your time with. Got it? Good.

Now imagine, you start seeing this person hang out with other people all the time or just doing things that don't involve you. You want to be those people so bad just so that you could be with your loved one. Or you want to be involved in whatever that thing is that doesn't have to do with you. Your own self-esteem begins to falter because you feel that you're not good enough for this person. They would rather spend their time with those people or that thing than you. It sort of hurts, doesn't it?

Well, surprise! God feels the exact same way. He's jealous of the things you spend your time with. He's jealous of your computer and your TV. He's jealous of your schoolwork, your girlfriend - anything that you seem to want to spend your time with that isn't Him.

And why shouldn't He? It makes sense doesn't it? The Creator of the Universe wants to spend time with you... but there is a really good episode of Lost on this week (for the record, I don't actually watch the show), or you're just really, really tired.

Now don't get me wrong here. Think about it. In this sense, jealousy is a sign of pure love. For Caitlin, it shows me that she loves me because she wants to be a part of my life. For God, it shows us that He wants to be involved with us. That's amazing!

I think our perception of idolatry needs to change. I consider myself a pretty knowledgeable Christian at times, but even I can't help but think of a large golden image (or a chocolate bunny for my Veggie Tale sympathizers) when I hear the word "idolatry."

Idolatry is spending time with things that don't involve God. And it's a big deal. It really is. That's why God gets so worked up about it all over the Old Testament. It insults the very nature of who He is. It insults the idea that He is worth every single breath in your being. And we're all guilty of it.

I should also mention that those things I mentioned earlier (girlfriend, computer, etc.) are not examples of idolatry in themselves. But what we need to do is use our time in a way that involves God in our lives. And hopefully, even better yet, we should be striving to the point where not only is He involved, but God becomes the focus and motivation of every single one of our activities.

I leave you with Deuteronomy 4:23-24:

"Be careful not to forget the covenant of the LORD your God that he made with you; do not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything the LORD your God has forbidden. For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God."

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

I Plege Allegiance to the... Desk?

This is not a new issue for most. Everyday, during second period, the girl that sits next to me refuses to stand during the Pledge of Allegiance.

Now, it's not the lack of patriotism or anything that bothers me (believe me). Here's what it is: she'll be talking, and mid-sentence, the announcements come on. She stops and sits - as if to make a public declaration - as if to make an additional effort to go against the grain and draw attention to herself.

Now granted, she's not the only one. In fact, she's not only the even person in that class who sits during the Pledge... But that's not the point.

As I talked to Danny a couple of hours ago, he was mentioning that he stands during the Pledge at the school he works at... to show respect - but he doesn't say anything. Fine, I respond. To be honest, I don't really care about that.

I've heard some arguments.

For atheists, it's "under God" that they don't like, and instead of leaving that part out, they pit themselves against the principle of the entire thing and neglect the Pledge altogether.

For some, it's "I don't like the idea of giving allegiance to a flag." In my humble opinion though, isn't an inanimate object the best possible thing to give allegiance to? I mean, think about it: it can't do anything wrong. It seems like the only logical thing to give allegiance to.

I guess my point is this. If you don't like the Pledge, fine. If you don't want to say it, all right. If you think you're being brainwashed, so be it. If it contradicts the God you don't believe in, okay. But why do you have to make it a spectacle? Why do you have to be so facetious for something so unimportant? Is it really that big of a deal?

This isn't a religious or patriotic issue for me. It's a "Why are you wasting your time making this statement?" There are others to spend your time on. For the girl next to me, I know you can talk about how much you hate the President or the War. Talk about those to someone... and do something about how you feel. Support the causes you believe in. But you're not accomplishing anything by trying to draw attention to yourself during the Pledge. At least stand up. It's a bunch of high school seniors: they don't care anyway.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Kingdom of Heaven Is Like a King...

"Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.'" Most of us are familiar with the story found in Matthew 22, right? We went over it in Sunday School on (you guessed it!) Sunday. But so many new ideas started to reveal themselves to me while I was reading...

The story starts with the king calling on those whom he invited - a typical Jewish custom I learned. So he calls on his friends. They "refused to come." A little surprising to say the least. Let's call this Invitation #1.

More servants are sent, because obviously these people don't understand how good the food is. But they don't really seem to care much. In fact, some even decided that they didn't care so much, they killed the servants (a logical course of action). This made the king mad (to say the least). I mean it's one thing to say no to a party... twice. But it's another to literally kill the messenger. Invitation #2.

The king sends out servants a last time, but this time not to the invited ones. They are told to go to the street corners and invite anyone they can find (Invitation #3). The servants continue to obey - they get good people, bad people, and I assume the okay people (I like to refer to them as the purgatory people... sorry - bad joke).

When the king looks at his guests, he notices a guy who seems to have a wardrobe malfunction, and sends him to hell.

(Actually, if you want to know what really happens, see Matthew 22:1-14.)

So here's what I'm thinking, and I might be way off, or this might really be obvious, I don't know. But as an 18-year-old without any formal Bible background, I gave myself a pat on the back for this one.

The first invite gave me the image of Eden: God setting aside a place for us to have communion with Him. Why would anyone pass it up, right? Well, we all know what happened just two chapters later. Adam rejected the invitation. We rejected the invitation.

The second: Torah. God asks again: "Why don't you just come and join me?" And yet, ultimately the Israelites decide that Torah is not for them. We reject the second invitation.

#3: One needs only a quick peek at the prophets to see that "the king" is pretty mad. So Jesus is introduced. And if you actually read anything about Jesus in the gospels, you will find in no time that he extended this invitation to the poor, to the outcast - the previously uninvited. The call to communion with Yahweh is not only for the select few any more. The select few didn't want to come... we didn't want to come.

So lots and lots of people are coming to the party now... notice: none of them were originally invited (kind of scary, right?). But there is a man who doesn't belong. Somehow he slipped in, wasn't wearing wedding clothes, and the king throws him out. There's lots of directions I could go with just this: who invited him and didn't tell him about the clothes? They must feel bad. Or maybe: is that a description of hell that he is sent to? I don't even want to begin down that road... Wes?

No... I want to focus on the bigger issue of the story. This man missed out on the banquet because he wasn't dressed properly. Bringing in the metaphor: this man missed out on the kingdom of heaven because he didn't take care of something relatively basic.

Now notice the entire time that I have linked "us" with the Israelites. Because it is us that breaks Shaalom. It us us that ignores Torah. It is us that decides that food prepared by the God of the universe is just.... eh - not really for us.

It takes beggars to appreciate this food. It takes the humble to say yes to the invitation. It takes the broken, the outcast, the ones that no one cares about, to admit, "Hey, I could go for a meal right now with Somebody... it's all I have going for me." Maybe this is why a few chapters earlier Jesus said that it is the "poor in spirit" who actually have the kingdom of heaven.

And then there's a poor man who wasn't wearing wedding clothes... Maybe he couldn't afford them. If so, that servant would be responsible for the hell he ends up going through (pardon the figurative language). Or maybe one of the invited would have been able to buy him some proper attire.

Or maybe that's not the case. Maybe the guy was a slob. Maybe he was lazy.

Moral of the story:

Shopping = Salvation

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Liar

He ponders the petition with unquestioning composure;
Close to the response in typical fashion,
Ringed with the pleading scent, he settles.

The beating heart beneath him races;
He draws from his exalted wisdom,
And like a politician he smiles.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Myth Called the Bible

I wrote this speech for my debate class. My teacher is a really hard-core atheist, and there's a cluster of Jews in the front corner... this may clear up a few of the references.... Enjoy!

Our particular classroom is composed of basically three groups of people: Christians, Jews, and atheists. And Catholics are Christians - if you don't know that by now, you are in no place to criticize the subject of which I am about to delve into. My speech seeks to educate all of you on a subject that we all enjoy criticizing so much: the Bible. Atheists always joke about knowing more about the Bible than most Christians – while most of them have never actually read through one. And most Christians claim to understand the Bible – or they accept it as literally true – without ever having actually studied it. And by the way, there is a difference between reading and studying. Oh, and the Jews present also are lumped into this because it is your people’s history I am constantly referring to. The following benefits everyone in this room: for the Christians, you will learn about the Bible and the perspectives it was written from. For the Jews, this is a major component of the Israelites’ response to the Torah. And for the atheists (and the Jewish atheists which personally I don’t really get), I am simply fueling your arguments when you confront a Christian about their holy and perfect book. So you’re probably all waiting in eager anticipation for my topic, right? Well here it is: ancient near eastern cosmology.

Not to be confused of course with cosmetology – as Laurel will talk about. No, cosmology, for starters, is a type of world view. It is a person’s view on how the world works - the natural order of the universe, or the cosmos. So naturally, it is called cosmology. But Mark, what does this have to do with the Bible? Well, thanks for asking… let me tell you. In the Old Testament times, the writers of the Bible did not have as much scientific knowledge as we do now. They perceived the world as flat. Yes, that’s right – just like Columbus and his buddies. But that was just the staring point. But wait, I'm getting ahead of myself. The idea here is to paint a picture of the universe in terms of Hebrew thought since after all, it was the Hebrews who wrote everything the Bible is based around. In other words: what better way to start learning about the Bible than to understand how its writers saw the universe? This is where it all starts.

So the earth is the center of all things: according to the Hebrews. Now yea whatever... Galileo disproved that or something. Not the point. The Hebrews believed that they were the center of the universe. And so did the Catholic Church up until just a couple years ago. This idea more than anything else came from common sense (well, at least at the time). You know how it goes: the sun is moving, and I am not. So naturally the sun is moving around me. Again, I am not saying this is accurate, but this is the perspective from which the Bible was written.

So now we have the earth; it is the center of the universe. Ok. This is called geocentrism. So why is it important? Well, you will soon see how everything is else is literally based around this concept. The Hebrews believed that their earth was flat – not a sphere. There were edges (which explains numerous references to “the ends of the earth” in the Bible) and below the earth was this sort of sea thing. The flat earth was held up by giant pillars. (By the way, were you were to ask someone from India around this time, they would most likely tell you that these were not pillars, but giant elephants holding up the earth. Similar idea with different details.) Anyway, these pillars were based at the bottom of this large dome in which the flat earth sits. And at the bottom of this dome, we have this raging ocean sort of thing. This is where we will begin looking at the Bible – and we'll work from the ground up.

There are several references in the Torah (this is the Hebrew law which hopefully our Jewish friends know a lot about) pertaining to the “water under the earth.” What in the world would this be referring to if you didn't understand Hebrew cosmology? Well, it would seem that the Hebrews (and I guess God as well) were not particularly fond of these waters. First of all – it contained fish and other creatures which God and Moses made clear not to worship. But right next to the waters, or rather, above, was the underworld, or Sheol. This place could only be entered through the grave, and would kind of be like an equivalent to hell today – but not exactly, so don't get too caught up on that one. Sheol was the place where dead Israelites would go if they were to be cut off from their inheritance, and in their culture, that was a really big deal. So both Sheol and these waters were not very well-liked.

Moving up now, we find that there is flat earth on pillars (and continue remembering that their earth is flat – that's important later). These pillars were thought to be very strong (I mean, after all, they do hold up the entire world). But the earth itself was also very firm. In fact, as we will examine in a little bit, the earth is actually responsible for holding up the heavens. This explains the enormity of statements such as God shaking the foundations of the earth. When the foundations hold up not only earth, but the heavens as well, it takes a lot of strength to shake them. This strength contributed to the way Hebrews viewed their God: strong and powerful.

Continuing upward: earth, and then sky and then... what? According to the Hebrews you would have found yourself at the rim of the dome mentioned earlier. This dome was believed to contain all the items mentioned earlier and much more. Along this dome Hebrews believed there were tracks that the sun and the moon and the stars traveled along. They believed stars to be nothing more than small dots of light that could theoretically fall off the sky if they became dislodged. It was almost as if stars were glued to the ceiling of their universe – kind of like the glow-in-the-dark stars we can buy at the store today (see, if you get nothing else out of this speech you can learn that those glow-in-the-dark stars are similar to ancient near eastern cosmology). And the sky and the moon were thought of in similar ways.

But now, let's analyze this sky some more. Hebrews considered the sky more like a tent than an atmosphere. And in the Bible it is referred to as a “firmament.” The role of a firmament is to separate. In the Bible, it is said that there is a firmament between the waters. Today, that phrase makes no sense whatsoever. But outside this dome, the Hebrews believed that there was more water, and the sky's job was to keep the water from getting inside and drowning us. However, when God gets mad, he opens the floodgates on the top of the sky dome and drowns everyone (unless you're stuck on a boat with a ton of animals). This is also how rain and snow get in.

But wait – speaking of God, where is He in all this? Well, truth be told, the surrounding water does not just go on forever, but actually has its own dome. However, outside of that dome is God's territory – the Heaven of Heavens as it was called. Now many scholars believe that the Hebrews believed there to actually be seven domes. While I am not choosing to refute or qualify this claim, I am choosing to let it go so that I can get to the main idea instead. So maybe there were more domes, but for the sake of time – let's just stick with what we already have. God essentially just sort of hung out on top of all the domes observing earth from there – at least to start with. Now there are several passages in the Bible that refer to God seeing all the kingdoms of the world (and even suggesting simultaneously). Well, since the earth was flat, a high vantage point enabled God to see the entire world without having to rotate the globe.

Now, throughout the course of the Bible, the reader watches God descend slowly from the Heaven of Heavens and get closer and closer to us – the people. First He was dome God. Then during his early teen years, God went through an experimental phase and led the Israelites out of Egypt as a blazing pillar of fire – my small group leader prefers to refer to this as God's adolescent or pubescent stage. Then He appeared on Mount Sinai to meet with Moses – Mountain God. Then the arc of the covenant was made (Indiana Jones) and He was Box God. Then God decided to settle down for a bit and became Temple God. After the temple was destroyed, Jesus was born (merry Christmas!) and He was Jesus God. After Jesus was killed, He became the Holy Spirit – or as I like to say, People God. And all of these progressions started with Dome God over a flat earth.

By now, I hope you've gained an idea of what was going through the writer's head when he was writing the beginnings of the Bible. Obviously, this has not been an argument about whether or not God exists. That is an unwinnable and unprovable debate for another time. What I have tried to do, however, is show you a little background. It doesn't make sense to attack the Bible for contradicting itself or being disproven unless you understand how it was written. The best interpretation I've heard about what the Bible is is this: God moves, man experiences, man records. In man's recording of these events, he is obviously going to write from his own perspective. So how are we supposed to understand what the Bible is saying unless we understand where the author is coming from?

I hope that now when you discuss the Bible, whether you're tearing a high schooler's faith apart, reading it for wisdom, or you're forced to memorize the Torah, that it maybe makes a little more sense and that you are more knowledgeable than you were ten minutes ago. Hopefully, you will now know about what you're talking about before you claim to know everything about a book you've never actually opened.