Thursday, December 20, 2007

This guy just cracks me up:

"Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has said he watched his father, the late Michigan governor George Romney, in a 1960s civil rights march in Michigan with Martin Luther King Jr.

On Wednesday, Romney's campaign said his recollections of watching his father, an ardent civil rights supporter, march with King were meant to be figurative."

Hey, well no one claimed Gov. Romney's words were inerrant.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Bible teaches a number of forms of submission to human authority: children to parents, wives to husbands, citizens to governments, church-goers to church leader, and even (yikes) slaves to masters. However, the primary virtue of submission isn’t submission itself. The primary virtue of submission is faith.

By submitting to an authority above you, you’re not saying “this is great because we all know the authorities above us are never wrong.” No, what you’re saying—if you’re submitting in the biblical sense—is that “I believe that although someone is above me, ultimately God is above them.”

Often, people’s complaints about the Bible’s teachings on submission focus on the fact that the person in authority is often wrong about something in relation to the person under that person’s authority. However, this isn’t the point. The point isn’t primarily about the particular authority and the person under authority, rather it’s about God’s ultimate sovereignty over all things. So, in fact, the Bible suggests that there is particular blessing for submitting to an authority that is in the wrong because then it is most clear that you are putting your faith in God’s authority that will ultimately redress that wrong (there are exceptions such as Nazis and abusive spouses); whereas if one takes matters into their own hands and rebels against authority, he or she is trusting in themselves rather than God.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The mark of human corruption: not sex but violence

When I think of human beings’ wickedness, I doubt I’m the only one who often thinks of sexual sin. But at the Flood, the problem was not sex, but violence. “I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them.” (Genesis 6:13). This seems to be a punishment that fits the crime.
The Psychological Approach to the Presidential Election

Here's my current primary criterion for the President: I have to like his personality.

By this, I mean that his personality must be suited to how I believe he'll perform in the job, not necessarily that I think he'd tell the best anecdotes at a dinner party.

I contrast this against strictly voting for someone based on an abstract alignment of his or her policy positions with mine.

The reason for this is philosophical. I believe in two contested philosophical positions: 1) I believe in Natural Law, and 2) I believe it the meaningful (if not perfect) ascertainability of Natural Law. As this applies to a President, what I believe is that most policy questions have right answers in an absolute (if approximate) sense. And so I believe the right kind of personality should be able to get to the right answers most of the time, or at least more often than the wrong type of personality.

However, what I have seen is that most politicians have personalities poorly suited for this process I've outlined of getting to the right answers. For example, President Bush has shown a strong tendency to be stubborn, unwilling to make thoughtful inquiry into matters, and unwilling listen to positions that contradict his own. I think a reasonable relationship can be seen between this and our entrance into the Iraq war (details of this are abundant, and I won't outline them here) (also, compare this to what I don't mean by personality, as it appears that President Bush would make a fairly amiable dinner guest).

This I why I currently prefer in order Sen. Obama, and then probably either Sen. Biden or Sen. McCain. (btw: can we perhaps refer to these men and women who are running for leader of the free world by their titles, giving them they honor they are due, as opposed to by their first names?). I've seen all of these men display remarkable candor and thoughtfulness, which for me are marks of good personalities for the pursuit of getting right answers to hard questions.

(update: I just reviewed Gov. Huckabees proposals for healthcare and taxes, and basically they strike me as ludicrous to the point he's fallen off my list of good policy is relevant to disproving a certain candidate's ability to get to the right answers)

This isn't to say policy positions play no role in my thinking, but, for example, my currently policy positions are actually fairly well aligned with Gov. Romney's. However, Gov. Romney has shown me so far a lack of candor and thoughtfulness, not to mention notable changes of policy positions over the years that are consistent with his reputation for self-serving expediency, and so I don't trust him to implement policies I agree with. I voted for President Bush in 2000 based on our shared pro-life position (which he has stuck to); however I've learned during his tenure that issues will arise during a presidency that are outside the scope of the policy positions the candidate took during the election season--when the unknown arises, I want a certain type of person there to meet that challenge. And further, the fact that a person articulates a desire to bring about a certain policy has only a tenuous relationship with whether that policy will be implemented due to numerous circumstances outside that person's control.

Another factor which has some bearing on the issue is a candidate's experience. The best prior job I can imagine to prepare a person for being president is possibly the vice presidency. But the Vice President isn't running, and it's not clear to me that any senator, governor or former First Lady has a clear leg up on the other candidate in terms of relevant prior experience.

So, that's why my primary reason for favoring certain candidates is their personality which I perceive as thoughtful and truthful.

Go ahead and tell me if you think this is crazy. I'm sure at least one of you does.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

How Paul interpreted Scripture

In Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas are teaching in Pisidian Antioch, which is in present day Turkey (I think). Paul has an interesting moment in his sermon where he interprets Psalm 16:10, which says 'You will not let your Holy One see decay.'

Originally, this Psalm appears to be written by David while he flees Saul's persecution, and it seems like the natural, original interpretation would have been that David believed God wouldn't let Saul kill him.

However, in Acts, Paul puts a different spin on it. He notes that despite this verse, David did in fact die, and presumably decay. But having come to believe in the Gospel, Paul argues that Psalm 16:10 in fact refers to the resurrected Christ, who in fact, unlike David, did not decay because of his resurrection.

I can imagine an interesting thought process behind this. I can imagine a younger Paul (Saul) sitting in his Bible classes reading Psalm 16:10 and asking Gamaliel (a famous rabbi Paul is said to have learned from) "yeah, but didn't David actually decay? So what does this psalm mean?" and I can imagine Gamaliel responding, "well, here decay actually means death at the hands of Saul." Maybe Paul accepts this at the time as the only logical interpretation; maybe he thinks 'well, that's an odd way to write the verse, but okay...'

But then years later after Paul comes to believe in the Gospel, he says, "Oh, now I get what Psalm 16:10 really meant: it refers to the resurrected Jesus Christ."

A recent post suggested that often Scripture doesn't err, but we err in our understanding it. That's probably right. I'm also encouraged by Paul's reinterpretation of the Psalm because sometimes I read the Psalms and Scripture generally and wonder if I completely believe what's being said. For example, Psalm 103 describes God as one "who heals all your diseases." But if I read this to simply mean God restores bodily health, I don't fully believe it because while sometimes that's arguably true, other times it's demonstrably false. So in what way is this true? Well, I'm not sure--but I wouldn't be surprised if the answer came from the same place as Paul's interpretation of Psalm 16:10: God heals all our diseases in the resurrected Christ.

So, I'm encouraged both by the possibility that there are greater and stunningly literal interpretations of Scripture that I may one day learn, and also by the notion that all the Scripture is fulfilled in Christ.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Incoherent Gov. Romney:

From Romney, my second least favorite candidate (behind Edwards):

"There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church's distinctive doctrines. To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the constitution. No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith. For if he becomes president he will need the prayers of the people of all faiths.",2933,315486,00.html

This is just incoherent. The "very religious test" the founders prohibited in the constitution is that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." Asking a candidate to discuss how his religious beliefs might affect his execution of his constitutional duties as president does not violate the first amendment, Gov. Romney.

Also, this quote just affirms for me what I think of Romney: 1) he's not being forthcoming, that is he doesn't want to answer questions about his faith because he knows it will hurts his candidacy if he told the truth or 2) he's not very thoughtful and doesn't understand these issues very well. Both of these personality traits disqualify him for me. We've had enough of that weak sauce for the past eight years.

In the words of my favorite political figure, Bradley Whitford: "He's a hairdo!"

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

What is the primary thing you look for in a church?

For me, it's the centrality of the Gospel. I particularly appreciate it if the worship and the teaching is strong on taking every aspect of life and interpreting through the meaning of Christ's finished work on the cross.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

"God breathed" in the light of Romans 13:1

Most of you know I do not believe in the so-called "Inerrancy" of Scripture. That said, I've had to wrestle with the argument, based on 2 Tim. 3:16, which says "all Scripture is God-breathed." That argument basically says, if God inspired Scripture, how could God have inspired any errors? Good argument; I'll grant that.

But I have, if not a perfect answer, a verse that helps me. Romans 13:1 says "there is no authority except that which is established by God." Yet, no one claims that all governments are "inerrant" just because they are established by God.

So how could God inspire Scripture that was not "inerrant"? I'm not sure, but perhaps it's in the same way that He could establish a government that was not inerrant.

Or, perhaps, to go further, the same way in which He could create a universe that was not perfect.

This isn't so much an answer to the question, but rather an attack on the logic of the question.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

In praise of President Bush

President Bush has been exactly what Evangelicals voted for, particularly in 2000: a staunch pro-life President. One of the things he did early in his presidency was prevent scientific experimentation on human embryos.

Now, a remarkable scientific breakthrough has occurred, in which scientists have been able to create the equivalent of embryonic stem cells from not embryos, but skin. While this breakthrough is new, and the long-term benefits are uncertain, nevertheless it's being hailed as a major step toward being able to do stem cell research without the dubious ethical practice of using human embryos.

This breakthrough would have been much less likely to occur without President Bush's opposition to embryonic stem cell research--as it would have been unnecessary for scientists to seek alternate ways to conduct stem cell research. The breakthrough should be seen as a major victory for his presidency.

(which is not to say I'm not voting for Barack Obama next time around)

Monday, November 26, 2007

The problem with the “context” argument

One of the most popular methods for reinterpreting the plain meaning of a biblical text is to say “well, the context of that passage is different than our current context.” The way this argument is put usually goes like this: “we need to keep in mind that this was a letter Paul was writing to address a certain situation in a certain time in a certain place.” The argument then eventually says “now we’re in a different time and situation, so that text is not directly applicable.” (The teaching that is being reinterpreted is almost always one that offends contemporary politically correct views).

There’s plenty that can be said in favor of understanding the context of a biblical passage. But, I’d also like to point out a major weakness of this method: it can be used to undermine every aspect of Scripture. In law school this is what we called an argument that “proved too much.” What I mean is that, although it’s true that Paul’s writings on (women/sexuality/authority/you-name-it) were meant to address a particular situation, the same is true of all the writings of the Bible. So, to the extent this notion of “context” calls into question any given teaching (say, women’s roles in church), it equally calls into question any other teaching (say, salvation by grace through faith). This is not to suggest that we should question our central doctrines because of context, but rather it’s to suggest that the “context” method is often being used not in pursuit of truth but in the pushing of an agenda.

This isn’t to say that understanding context isn’t important. But it is to say that pointing out that a biblical epistle was addressed to a particular context is often simplistically misapplied by people desiring to justify a convenient re-interpretation of Scripture.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Emptiness, Ecstasy, Hope

In this life, my soul has never been completely satisfied. Often I feel empty inside. I’ve typically dealt with this in one of two ways: 1) distract myself with pleasure (license) or 2) try to discipline the unsatisfied desire to death (law).

Recently, however, I think God taught me something. The desire is real and legitimate. But it can’t be met by illegitimate means (worldly pleasure), yet it can’t be removed either (through discipline or asceticism or lobotomy). Instead, it’s to be directed heavenward. And God taught me a prayer to express this:

“My soul thirst for God, for the living God, when shall I go and appear before God?” (Psalm 42:2).

This has been helpful in two ways. Once, while I was feeling dissatisfied with life, I prayed this and was met with fairly strong internal joy. It’s my guess that was a small version of what some Christians have called “ecstatic experiences, visions or swoons.” This only happened the once, but I’ve only tried a few times. The other times, I prayed this only briefly and did not feel any ecstasy, but it was helpful nevertheless because it was comforting to be able to properly identify my experience. My heartfelt desires aren’t just my Mr. Jekyll trying to get out, but I also have a soul that thirsts for God, and on this side of the Valley of the Shadow of Death, that desire will never be fully satisfied. But my faith tells me that there is a time when it will be, and properly understanding my unsatiated desire helps me direct my energy toward the trek toward Home.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! ... (1 John 3:1)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Clanging Gongs

I was thinking of starting a theological/philosophical club for Christians who know a lot but don't love a lot. (1 Cor. 13:1-2). I'd call it the 'Clanging Gongs.'

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

We love because he first loved us (John 4:19).

This verse is a good illustration of how Christianity works. The greatest commandment for the Christian is “to love” God and neighbor, but the Christian is not called upon to summon love from within himself. Instead, he is to be compelled by the love he first received from God.

Please post your thoughts on the ways in which God has loved us.

Monday, November 05, 2007

The free-for-all Bible study

I'm pretty frustrated with a certain form of Bible study or small group which I will designate the "free-for-all" Bible study (I've heard it less charitably referred to as the "share your ignorance" Bible study). And essentially the mode of this study is that a passage is selected and everyone shows up and says whatever they want about it. Most of what is said is a long way from good interpretation of Scripture, but the point is that it's very democratic--everyone gets their say.

I'm tired of this because I feel nobody gets anything from it except for the chance to voice their opinions and see if they can't make them sound biblical, but, since it's such a prevalent model, I thought I'd put it out there to see if other people can articulate the value of this kind of Bible study.

Friday, November 02, 2007

God answers prayer

Earlier this week my wife and I were entrenched in a disagreement, and it was not getting better; in fact, our efforts seemed to be making it worse. But then we prayed, a few others prayed for us, and amazingly, in the middle of a conversation, something changed and things got immediately better. It was weird, and I take it as an answer to prayer.

(Tangent: it just occurred to me that "luck" is a far more dubious concept than "prayer".)

Post your own answered prayers or prayer requests.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Late Night Agnostic (new version)

Are you awake,
aching to fill your heart
with the perfect tv show?

Are you so hungry
you eat all the cookies
to see if God is in the chocolate chips?

Do you pray
to the Internet,
each ‘click’ a little plea
for just a pittance of distraction?

Does your only relief
from the painful waiting
come when your vigil fails
and you fall asleep?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Reno, the West, the PCA

I've lived a few places now, and it's shown me that Reno really is the modern day "Wild West," which is to be distinguished from the Left Coast of California. So by that, I mean that Reno really has a spirit of the frontier. And I love the open range feel of the place. People are largely allowed to make their own way and are given room to do it.

However, I've also seen that Reno lacks connections to some of the most beneficial cultural institutions, namely the university and the church. Although, Reno has a university, for some reason Reno is not a "college town." (Historical note: the Church invented the University). And it you've ever been to a college town, well, they've got not only charming coffee shops, but also music, drama, literature, stimulating dialogue, and lots of thinking people. I have no idea why the University of Nevada doesn't really have this effect on Reno.

But what I'm more interested in is the lack of a connection to the best Christian traditions (teachings, worship, and practice that are deep and vital), and the denomination that I think is currently best connected to these traditions this is the Presbyetrian Church in America (PCA). So, that's why I'm hoping to get a PCA congregation started in Reno one day.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Content: religion vs. everything else

I try to stick to matters pertaining to the Christian faith on this blog basically because I want to focus on "what matters," and not clog the blogosphere with my personal frivolity. But I've also been wondering if that creates a false picture of my faith, as if all I do all the time is sit around frothing at the mouth over the glory of God. I don't; in fact, I spend most of my time obsessing about other topics.

So, I put it to you, readers, for whom I blog, what do you want? All religion, all the time? Or more of the real Zealous Convert, who unfortunately is not actually as zealous as he'd like to be? I'm never going to be the kind of blogger who puts up a bunch of YouTube clips, but I could make my content more representative of my actual life.

I put it to your vote: 'yay' if you'd like a broader range of topics; 'nay' if you'd rather I stick to talking that Old Time Religion.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Do not judge

"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." (Matt. 7:1-2)

"You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things." (Romans 2:1)

"Do not judge others and you will not be judged. Do not punish others, and you will not be punished. Let others go free and God will let you go free. Give to people and they will give to you. They will fill your cup, press it down, shake it, and let it run over. That is what they will give to you. How much you give to others is how much God will give to you.'" (Luke 6:37-38)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

God's grief

God was grieved that He had made man because of man’s pervasive wickedness. (Gen. 6:5-11). A couple of questions arise: did God make a mistake when He made man? That He is grieved by his own creation seems to suggest a flaw in the Creator: unless God intended to be grieved. And this should be intuitively understandable to all of us who like stories that make us sad. And many of us particularly like sad stories that turn out happy. Similarly, we like to see our sports teams in danger of losing, only to win. God also likes this kind of contrast, as Paul writes that God made some people for wrath so that he could off-set them against those people He showed mercy (Rom. 9:20-23).

This is a hard teaching, but not one beyond our intuitive understanding.

Friday, October 19, 2007

A call to politics?

James writes "Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you . . . Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you . . . You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence . . . You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you." (Jas 5:1-6).

Now, I haven't witheld anyone's wages and I certainly haven't murdered anyone . . . at least not with my own two hands. But I'm afraid I may be implicated in these things through my citizenship in the USA.

This isn't meant to be an anti-America jeremiad. But, the only way that I can see that I may have murdered or oppressed is through the efforts of my government, for which I have some responsibility since I can vote and participate in the political process, and since I reap the rewards of being a citizen.

For the last couple of years, I've said, somewhat cynically, 'politics doesn't have any of the answers.' But it may be that I'm responsible for attending to the polis because of the effects it has on others.

Monday, October 15, 2007

A experiment in revision

I've thought it would be interesting to post an early draft of a poem, and then revise it based on comments. So here's a first draft (now second or third) of a poem. Let me know how to improve it, and you may see your ideas incorporated into a updated post:

Late Night Agnostic (version 2)

Are you awake,
aching to fill your heart
with the perfect tv show?

Are you so hungry
you eat all the cookies
to see if God is in the chocolate chips?

Do you strike out
under frosty stars
and wonder at how beautiful they are
and how distant?

Do you return
from the cold search
to the warm silence
of your empty apartment?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

"God is not angry at you."

To hear an amazing sermon on this wonderful topic, click the link for "Mike Hsu, Grace Chapel" to the right under "sermons" and listen to the September 16, 2007 sermon, 'The Lost Son.'

Friday, October 05, 2007

The Hellfire and Damnation Church: fact or fiction?

There’s a prevalent sense among Christians right now that one of the Church’s big problems is its judgmental tendencies, the preaching of ‘hellfire and damnation’ instead of ‘grace,’ so to speak.

But I think this is a boogeyman and a straw man. I haven’t seen this or experienced this. Of course there are outliers, people on the fringe like Fred Phelps ( or the guy who drives around town with a bull horn yelling ‘Repent!’

But is this really representative of most Evangelical or Christian churches? I don’t think so; in fact, I believe we’re in a great phase of bending over backwards to not be this way (and, frankly, I’m somewhat suspicious of our motives).

But, maybe I’m wrong, and I’m inviting you to prove to me that the Church is currently so judgmental and hung up on others sins. Send me URLS and links to sources that prove that mainstream Evangelical or Christian groups are like this.


Sunday, September 30, 2007

Got Philosophy?

Both Christians and “Scientists”* need some.

Christians’ key philosophical mistake is in the area of epistemology (‘what can be known and how do we know it?’).

--The Mistake: basing their epistemology on the inerrancy of Scripture.

--The Problem: makes Christians too easy to dismiss.

--The Correction: realizing the case for Christ is stronger without the doctrine of inerrancy.

“Scientists’ ” key philosophical mistake is also in the area of epistemology.

--The Mistake: accepting an epistemology of “naturalism.” Naturalism is the idea that the only thing that’s real is what can be empirically observed.

--The Retort: “Like that could even possibly be known!”

--The Problem: it makes people irrationally dismiss God.

--The Correction: admitting that looking for God with a microscope is like looking for a rainbow with a stethescope.

* by "scientists," I mean people who co-opt science and misapply it to politics, religion, and ethics. Unfortunately this is a common practice, and some scientists are also "scientists." But, Jesus, I think, has no problemo with real science.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Crazy Noah (Genesis 6:5-14)

So Noah is living in a generation of great wickedness, but Noah himself was a righteous man. God decides to destroy the earth, and tells Noah to build a boat. Much is often made of how people would have thought Noah was crazy for building this boat, and how he would have been ridiculed by them. But this wouldn’t have been the first time Noah had been persecuted. He was the one righteous person out of a generation; he was accustomed to being an outsider, and perhaps his years of being an alien in the world made it that much easier for him to obey God when asked to build the Ark. It’s a thought for all believers: our daily obedience now may be necessary for us to be able to take larger steps of faith in the future.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Addition by Subtraction

When I was a younger Christian, I thought that I’d eventually have it “all together.” I expected to become the “complete package,” strong in every important spiritual quality. But I have been greatly disappointed. Not only have I not achieved completeness in any spiritual quality, I have only come to learn I am so far from being complete that I’ll never get even close—that I’ll always be incomplete in just the ways that I had deemed it important to be complete.

But, amazingly, this has turned out to be good news. In my incompleteness, I have been forced to turn to God and found that in Christ, I am complete. In fact, I now suspect this was the point all along, not for me to become complete in and of myself, but rather to learn I needed Christ to make me perfect, and, hallelujah, that He had done so.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Genesis 6:1-6: The Nephilim, man's wickedness, God's judgment, the book of Enoch

Genesis contains some stories that are fantastic by any measure. Genesis 6, contains the story of the Nephilim, who are the children of the “sons of God” and human women. The Nephilim were extraordinary: “they were the heroes of old, men of renown.” (v. 4).

It’s hard to know what to make of such a passage. Humorously, Matthew Henry’s commentary does not even refer to the Nephilim. He must have simply decided it was too bizarre to exegete.

The story of the Nephilim is more fully detailed in the Book of Enoch. Enoch is an interesting book because although it is not canonized, it is quoted in the NT book of Jude. Several early church fathers considered it inspired. Enoch says that 200 fallen angels came to earth, took human wives, and had children who were “giants.” The giants ultimately turn on mankind and begin killing humans and animal life.

God ultimately intervenes, sending angels Michael, Uriel, Raphael, and Gabriel to earth. Michael and Raphael bind up the fallen angels and imprison them to await the judgment, and Gabriel destroys the Nephilim.

Apparently, the fallen angels had also been teaching mankind all sorts of warfare, magic, and corruption. And it appears that the earth must be destroyed because of all of this. Uriel is sent to Noah to warn him about a coming apocalypse.

Genesis 6:5 “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become…”

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Cain and his offspring build civilization (Genesis 4:17-24)

Cain and his offspring give birth to civilization. He’s the first to be seen building a city. His direct descendant Jabal seems to be a rancher or farmer. Jabal’s brother, Jubal, is the first musician. And another descendent of Cain, Tubal-Cain, is a blacksmith.
Lamech, the father of Jabal, Jubal, and Tubal-Cain, kills a young man, committing the second recorded murder (4:23). But then he goes beyond Cain’s misdeed by becoming presumptuous and arrogant about his crime. Cain concealed his murder (4:9), presumably feeling at least some guilt about it. But Lamech calls together his two wives (he’s our first polygamist) and announces that he’s committed murder. And this is no act of contrition; it’s his opportunity to mimic the words of God (4:15) when he says “If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.” Who proclaimed the punishment for harming Cain? God. Who proclaimed the punishment for harming Lamech? Lamech. Lamech is an arrogant murder who does not hesitate to take the place of God as an avenger.

It’s suspicious that civilizations springs up among the descendents of muderers.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

You must master sin (Genesis 4:7)

When God rejects Cain’s offering, He warns him that “…if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you but you must master it.” (4:7).

We must master sin, and this is the only attitude any biblical writer ever takes toward the subject. Yet, sometimes we get complacent or even comfortable with our sin. Most evangelical churches, praise God, preach strictly “grace alone.” But when we hear this message, aren’t we sometimes relieved that the preacher does not go further and insist that we master our sin? Don’t some of our teachers fall into the temptation of preaching the crown but not the cross? But we cheapen grace when we do this, using our spouse’s unconditional love as license to commit adultery. If “grace alone” has come to mean for us “and don’t worry about sin” then we’re misunderstanding the Gospel. The merciful touch of God is always followed by His telling us to “go and sin no more.” Sin desires to have you but you must master it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Burly street preacher

Late summer, early evening,
on the Starbucks patio,
corner of O and 12th.

College students are out
(they’re mostly still sober),
and I’m sipping a latte,
reading Kafka on the Shore.

But I’m distracted by the bellowing
of a burly street preacher
who’s got propped on his shoulder
a 20-foot cross.

He’s barking “sin” and “judgment,”
courtesy of our Lord and Savior,
and I grimace
as some teens snicker.
I cringe as he snarls, “you didn’t come from no monkey!”
to jeering, bepectacled humanists
who're holding a banner reading
God hates wet dreams, Deuteronomy 23:10’.
The preacher threatens hell
to a man in tattoos and black,
and I brace myself as the rebel
angrily yells back "you're the one who's gonna burn!"

I wish I’d brought my ear plugs.
I’m just trying to read Murakami.
Still – even if I’ve got to pick them out
between grating spiritual epithets
– still –
I never get tired of hearing
the balmy words, “Jesus Christ.”

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Second Curse, mercy on a murder, the message of a non-literal Genesis

Cain’s punishment for killing Abel is that the ground will no longer yield its crops to him. It was bad enough that Man’s work was cursed, that he was to labor in pain and eat by the sweat of his brow. But now the ground will no longer produce anything at all for Cain, sweat or no. Furthermore, Cain will have no home, and he will be a restless wanderer.

The notion that exile from one’s home is the greatest punishment is attested to by Homer, Socrates, and Shakespeare—and before these men said it we see it here in Cain’s curse. Only a chapter ago, Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden. This gets to be a pattern, as we will eventually see the Jews driven from Jerusalem. This is the cursed condition of human beings: we are not at home. Instead we are in a cursed world where even inanimate objects like the ground oppose us. Perhaps all fantasy for the past or the future, heaven or utopia, is rooted in this basic human condition of homelessness. We all ache for a place not like this one. One of our greatest quests in life is to find a “home.”

God is so merciful that even His curse of Cain, the first murderer, is accompanied is tinged by mercy. Cain despairs that as he wanders the earth, other people will kill him. But God proclaims that this shall not be allowed, and God gives Cain a protective mark. What kind of God has mercy on the first murderer? A God who sees human beings, even the most sinful, as his wayward children. God did not hesitate to kill an animal (3:21), but God protects the life of a human murderer.

From passages like these we can see that the Bible portrays human life as sacred. And it’s based on passages like these that may Christians to this day reject abortion, embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, and the like.

Also, note another non-literal moment in Genesis. Cain is worried about others in the world who would kill him. Who are these others? It’s not clear, and to this point Genesis has not suggested there were any others. However, who these others are or where they came from is largely beside the point. And I use “non-literal” here loosely, only to suggest that Genesis does not ask us to read it like a news article or a passage from a modern history textbook. If it did expect this, then it is a very poorly written book—leaving such a gaping hole in its facts. But we know that it is not a poorly written book—therefore we should surmise that Genesis does not ask us to be too concerned about who the other people about whom Cain is worried, or where they came from. Genesis does not purport to be history or journalism in the modern sense. Rather, Genesis wants us to know about the fundamental human predicament: we are the creations of a good and loving God, but we are alienated from God by our sin.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Cain's Anger

The LORD asks Cain why he is angry, and there appear to be two reasons. First, Cain is angry because God has rejected his efforts. This attitude is common today. Many people are angry at God because God rejects what the person has done. This is particularly evident in sexual ethics and among ethical people. Some people are angry that God would impinge upon their sexual desires. Other people are angry that God would not think they were good people, because by their own lights they are good people. In short, these people are angry at being called sinners, and most of us—Christian and non-Christian alike--have the same reaction when we feel accused of sin.

Cain is also angry that he has been rejected, but Abel has been accepted. Being found wanting as compared to another person is something we human beings find insufferable. In part this has to do with our insecurity in the universe: in a world where resources are scarce, where we play a zero-sum game – another person’s success could mean our failure. If someone gets a job, we can’t get it. If someone else is the center of attention, we are ignored. We’re often jealous for people’s affection, and if someone loves one person, we worry that he or she cares less for us. Perhaps Cain feels that he’s competing with Abel and losing.

But God assures Cain that there is enough love to go around: “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?” (4:7). Cain’s problem is not that Abel has usurped his place with God, but that he has not acted acceptably. But God assures Cain there is no impediment to being accepted except changing his ways. The decision lies with Cain; it does not hinge on Abel.

As Christians we should particularly keep this in mind, since our jealousies are most likely to be aroused by our fellow Christians. We often live in closest proximity to our fellow Christians, and so it is easy to begin comparing our lives to theirs. We can compare our lives to theirs in standard terms (who has a better this, that, or the other thing), but we can also add a “spiritual” dimension to our jealousy, and to some extent begin to see other Christians’ blessings as proof that they have a better relationship with God than we do. But God’s statement to Cain suggests that God would not have any problem accepting all of his children—the only issue is whether they will conform their ways to God’s ways.

Unfortunately, Cain is unwilling to change his ways.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The encouragement of Mother Teresa’s dark night

Recently, much ado has been made about Mother Teresa’s experience of doubting God. It’s largely been portrayed as a discouragement to the faithful. This article makes a good argument that we should see it otherwise:

“The dark night of Mother Teresa presents us with an even greater interpretive challenge than her visions and locutions. It means that the missionary foundress who called herself “God’s pencil” was not the God-intoxicated saint many of us had assumed her to be. We may prefer to think that she spent her days in a state of ecstatic mystical union with God, because that would get us ordinary worldlings off the hook.”

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Cain’s works leading to death; Christ's conflict with the Pharisees foreshadowed (Gen. 4:1-8)

We next meet Adam and Eve after the birth of their sons, Cain and Abel. Cain works the soil, but Abel kept flocks.

It is said that Man will work the ground, from which he is taken (3:23), and “for dust you are, and to dust you will return.” (3:19) In this, there’s a sense of the futility of Man’s efforts at works-based self-sufficiency. It’s futile because even though he labors painfully to keep himself alive, he will still die. Ultimately, Man will not be able to sustain himself by his working the ground. This image is like Man’s attempt to justify himself before God by his own works of righteousness, which we will see more fully in the life of Cain.

Cain, in accordance with the Curse, works the soil. (3:23, 4:2). But notably Abel does not work the soil, but instead keeps flocks. This becomes significant because when they bring sacrifices from their respective professions, Cain’s fruits are rejected while Abel’s fat portions are accepted.

Again, the produce of the soil is an image of Man’s works, and here they are presented as an attempt to please God. But God is not pleased with Man’s works of self-sufficiency.

Instead, God is pleased with Abel’s fat portions—offerings which do not come from Man’s cursed efforts at self-sufficiency. Rather, they involve the sacrifice of a living being.

This sacrifice of an animal and conflict with Cain appears to be a foreshadowing of Christ and his conflict with the Jewish religious establishment. The Pharisees, like Cain, are said to believe that they were justified before God by their own efforts, but God required the sacrifice of Christ. The parallels between Cain and Able and the Pharisees and Christ is even more striking when we see what Cain does to Abel. Cain’s sacrifice is found wanting particularly when compared to Abel’s sacrifice, and this angers Cain and so he kills Abel. In the same way, the Pharisees conspired to have Christ killed because Christ exposed their efforts at religious observance as godless self-reliance.
Do you agree with this statement?

"...all consists in one hearty renunciation of everything which we are sensible does not lead to GOD..."

-- Brother Lawrence:

In the Christian life is there any place for diversion, recreation, etc? Is it part of God's plan for people that they simply enjoy themselves with no other purpose in mind?

A related question: is there any place for the Christian to spend surplus money on themselves when there are people dying from poverty?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Brother Lawerence on sin and grace:

"That when he had failed in his duty, he only confessed his fault, saying to GOD, I shall never do otherwise, if You leave me to myself; ’tis You must hinder my falling, and mend what is amiss. That after this, he gave himself no further uneasiness about it...

"That he was very sensible of his faults, but not discouraged by them; that he confessed them to GOD, and did not plead against Him to excuse them. When he had so done, he peaceably resumed his usual practice of love and adoration...

"That we ought, without anxiety, to expect the pardon of our sins from the Blood of JESUS CHRIST, only endeavouring to love Him with all our hearts. That GOD seemed to have granted the greatest favours to the greatest sinners, as more signal monuments of His mercy...

- Brother Lawrence's book, 'The Practice of the Presence of God,' is a wonderful encouragement, and an easy and short read:

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Banished (Genesis 3:23-24)

This scene is so sad, as God dresses his children before banishing them from the Garden. It looks like a parent who is forced to put their rebellious teenager out of the house—it’s a tragedy for all involved. Then the door slams: God is on the inside; Adam and Eve are on the outside. They are prevented from returning by the flashing sword of the cherubim. Man is now alienated from God.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Curse: the Man

Man’s work is cursed and he will die. (Genesis 3:17-19)

In eating from the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Man showed that he wanted to rely on himself for knowledge and judgment, not God. In this sense, Man’s sin is like Satan’s because it shows a desire to displace God. However, in Man’s Emersonian self-reliance, he will die (‘return to the dust’). This curse is fitting because it is exactly what God warned would happen. And it also shows that Man cannot rely on himself, cannot be literally self-sufficient, cannot be God. And as Man’s work has been made painful, so has God’s work been made painful (recall that before God’s work was all “very good”).

It’s sometimes said that men find too much of their identity in their work (e.g., when we meet someone one of the first things we ask is ‘what do you do?’). We find much of our self-worth in our work: status in society can be quickly determined based on your job. Yet few people really like their work (as in, they’d rather be doing something else), and their work often interferes with other aspects of their lives. This predicament can be explained by Genesis. Man’s purpose was to work (1:28, 2:5), but this essential aspect of Man was cursed. So now our labor is painful.
Answered prayers?

Post your recent answered prayers, for the encouragement of others and the Glory of God.

About a month ago, I was thinking about how biblical discipleship seems to involve the discipler (e.g., Jesus) calling the disciple, and not the other way around. In the past I’ve sought out the people I wanted to mentor me (except for Larry, who I’ve mentioned before), but this time I prayed to God, “if you want me to be discipled, I’m just going to do nothing and wait until a someone calls me.”

About two days later, I received an e-mail from a man asking if I’d like to start meeting for discipleship.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

My good friend and mentor, Larry, has a blog where he's done a series of posts on church elders, which from a practical stand-point may be the most important aspect of a church because the congregation can only go where its leaders take it. Here's the link:

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Curse: the Woman

God curses essential aspects of the Woman, her childbearing and her relationship with Man.

Woman is created with two purposes. She is a companion to Man (2:18), and she is to bear children (1:28). Both are cursed.

1- Her companionship with Man is cursed in that her desire will be for him, and he will rule over her. Men have mostly dominated women throughout history, politically and relationally. This curse particularly fits the crime because it was Woman who led Man astray, but now Man will lead her as a curse. Since it is a curse, women chafe against it, and history is replete with instances of struggle between the sexes.

Although the curse is the status quo, it shouldn’t be taken for the Christian ideal. The Gospel teaches post-curse living, and so Christian men should not abuse their natural dominance over women, but instead should serve them.

2- Woman's child bearing is cursed. Woman, along with man, was told to “be fruitful and multiply,” but women must bear the children. Now her work will be with pain, similarly to how the man’s work will be painful (1:16-17), and this parallels how God’s work in bringing about his children will be painful. Woman wanted to know good from evil, and now she will know the evil of pain.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Curse: the Serpent

After God determines the Man and Woman ate of the Tree based on the temptation of the Serpent, He curses them all. The Curse fits the crime.

The Serpent’s curse is fitting in two ways: 1) most Christians believe that the Serpent is Satan, who was cast from heaven for his pride in wanting to take God’s place. So Satan attempted to take the highest place and was cursed by being assigned the lowest place. 2) The Serpent sought to kill Man and Woman, but it will be the Serpent that dies.

Verse 3:15 is said to contain the first messianic prophecy: ‘I will put enmity between…your seed and (the woman’s seed),; he will crush your head and you will strike his heel.’ The prophecy is similar to the later notion that Death took Christ for three days (‘you will strike his heel’), but that Christ ultimately defeated Death for all-time (‘he will crush your head’). Christ was injured, but Death was destroyed. The serpent brought death to humanity, but the prophecy describes an battle in which the Woman’s Seed (Christ) is ultimately victorious over Death.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

A new short story of mine got published in Storyglossia:

It's a fun, relatively short piece about a guy who gets obsessed with a noise coming from his fridge.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Genesis 3:7-8: lost intimacy with God

When Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they’re eyes were opened, and they realized they were naked. They immediately made clothes to cover their nudity.

Clothes conceal our private body parts and our physical imperfections. They also protect us from the heat and cold. Adam and Eve know that something has changed in the universe, and they prepare themselves against the coming changes by getting dressed. It is also a great symbol of our flawed attempts to cover our sin. Adam and Eve become very concerned with being naked – but the problem wasn’t their nudity. It was that they’d eaten of the forbidden tree. Don’t we often do the same thing? Our sin may be wanting to usurp God’s throne or to worship creation rather than the Creator, and our self-fashioned remedy will be to say we’ll pray more or memorize more Bible verses or do more of this or less of that not go to that place again or not do that thing again.

Also, this shows another typical reaction to sin: hiding. Often, our first reaction to our sin is not to repent, but to conceal the sin. Our first concern is not always that we have sinned, but that we’ll get caught and punished. It is almost comical how Adam and Eve go about this: sewing fig aprons seems certain to draw attention to their sin rather than to conceal it. But this too is an accurate depiction of human nature – we often give ourselves away as we stumble about in our sin, like Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment. Perhaps this is because Man is not meant to lie, and thus looks unnatural and unhappy doing it, just as many sins give themselves away by the misery they create.

Why is their nudity a source of shame? It does not appear that their physical appearance has changed – they haven’t grown scales. Instead, it’s something about what they already were – naked – but had not previously known. Nakedness is a state of vulnerability, intimacy, trust, and safety. However, Man can no longer feel safe with God because of his disobedience. Man, with the serpent’s help, has inserted a distance between himself and God. And we continue to feel this today, that things between us and God are problematic due to who He is and who we are and the things we’ve done.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The serpent’s craftiness (Genesis 3:1-5)

Three tactics of the serpent: 1) question the commandment of God, 2) deny the consequences of disobedience, 3) cast aspersions on the character of God.

The serpent is described as crafty, and his temptation of Woman shows this craftiness.
The serpent’s goal is to get the Woman to defy God and eat from the Tree. However, the serpent does not suggest this directly.

Tactic 1: question the commandment of God

The serpent questions the woman, like a lawyer, charting her understanding of the situation, and perhaps challenging whether God has issued a command at all

It is often suggested to us, either from an external source or even our own minds, that perhaps God did not issue a certain command at all. (“Did God really say ‘don’t look at attractive people’?” “Did God really say that it was wrong to be rich?” “By ‘thou shalt not steal,’ was God really thinking about office supplies or taking overly long lunches?”)

This questioning of the command seems to cause us to begin to deconstruct the commandment, as if it were up to us to judge the edicts of God. Also, stating the grounds for the commandment in this context opens up lines of attack (the serpent will next attack the rationale for the command), particularly if we’ve failed to know or understand the command.

What is the difference between a bad-faith deconstruction of a command and a good-faith inquiry into the nature of a command? Perhaps it is the motivation – if we begin questioning the command during temptation, that may be a sign of a bad-faith motive.

Tactic 2: deny the consequences of disobedience.

The second tactic, the undermining of the consequence of disobedience, is used perhaps even more frequently than the first tactic. The Woman says that if they eat of the tree they will die; the serpent denies this. (Notice that the line of attack was opened up by the initial questioning of the command – the woman explained that if they touched or ate from the tree they would die).

This is done today by believers and non-believers alike. From the non-believer, it often comes in the form of academic and popular criticism, and the most obvious current examples are in the realm of sexual activity, for example:

The command: sex must only occur in marriage. This is because it is good for people (for whatever reason, fill in the blank).

The counter-argument: “sex outside of biblical norms is not bad or harmful. In fact, it is good for you, and you should enjoy it, particularly if it is between two people who love each other.”


The command: lying is wrong. This is because (insert rationale).

Counter-argument: lying is actually often-times good for you and the person you lie to.

The underlying point is that these activities which are prohibited by God, are in fact good for you – and the underlying argument is that you should partake of the prohibited activity.

However, Christians often make this argument to themselves.

The command: do not sin. This is because of (name your negative consequence as described in the Bible).

Counter-argument: God will forgive your sin, so there will be no negative consequence.

However, we know that the Woman did die, even though it did not come to pass exactly as she may have expected.

Sometimes Christians even engage is offering reasons for a commandment, for example Christians will describe the hidden benefits of some of the stranger Levitical commands. We should be careful with this because the serpent may challenge our rationale, and we need to remember that the command is controlling, not the rationale.

Tactic 3: Cast aspersions on God’s motives.

Another tactic of the serpent is to cast aspersions on God’s motives for his command. ‘You will surely not die! The real reason for God’s command is that He knows you will become like him, knowing good from evil.’

This same statement is commonly recited now as ‘the reason for the commands of the church is that certain men wanted to keep everyone under their thumb.’ It was similarly stated that ‘Puritanism is the haunting fear that someone, somewhere is having fun.’

The Woman should have kept in mind the benevolence of God as testified to by the goodness of the garden, and the goodness of God’s treatment of her and Man. Further, she appears to have had access to God, and she should have talked to him about it.

We similarly should keep in mind God’s goodness to us, the goodness of even a fallen creation, and the sacrifice of his Son when we’re tempted to doubt God’s goodness. We should also keep in mind that this is a common tactic of the serpent.


1) If you see any of these tactics, watch out! There may be a snake nearby.
2) Don’t answer the Devil’s questions; do theology with Christians, not the Devil.
3) Obey the command, regardless of the rationale.
4) Remember God’s goodness; don’t believe lies about his character.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Genesis 1:27-3:1: non-literal, beauty separate from functionality, man's purpose is to work, evil is a mystery

Creation account is non-literal

The Creation account indicates that its style is non-literal because in chapter 1, it is said that plant-life is created on the third day (1:11), but man is created on the sixth day (1:26, 31). But in chapter two, it says man was created before there was any plant-life (2:6-7).
The book of Genesis shows profound wisdom, and if such a story were written by a contemporary author we would call it ‘brilliant’ or ‘genius,’ so it is unlikely the writer was so inept and careless as to not notice this contradiction at the literal level. Instead, it is more likely that descriptions were not meant to be contrasted and interpreted in a literal manner.

Beauty, morality, and utility are separate, but go together.

Beauty and utility are separate, but go together. The trees of the LORD are both “pleasing to the eye” and “good for food.” Evolutionary biology currently teaches that humans find things “beautiful” because they are promote survival, they are ‘good for food,’ so to speak. The same argument is used regarding morality – that morality is only short-hand for what promotes survival for the species. (This view is the impetus for the continual stream of articles explaining why everything from gossip to men's taste for blondes to sexual activity to eating ice cream has an evolutionary survival value).

Moral and aesthetic judgments are similar because they are intuitive and unprovable. They relate to Natural Law, which points to God. The moral and ethical result of the evolutionary-biology view that beauty and morality are only misnomers or short-hand for utility is to make utility the chief good; beauty and morality are not independent values. Then a leap is made, which is that if something can be shown to be functional, it is morally acceptable. Similarly, moral and aesthetic judgments can be put aside as long as their survival-value can be extracted. The result of putting aside the moral and aesthetic judgment leads to sin and the casting aside of the compass, our intuitive recognition of Natural Law, that points to God.

The evolutionary-biology view, however, is not a good enough theory (in what way is a beautiful sunset good for survival?) The Genesis view, instead, offers a fuller and richer view: God makes things that are both beautiful and functional. He is not a narrow, one-dimensional God creating a craven, desperate universe where every living thing simply strives to survive and where there is no such thing as beauty but only utility. Instead, He is like any good craftsman who makes his goods both pleasing to the eye and useful for their user.

Man’s purpose is to work. (Gen. 2:5, 15).

Man is meant to live and work in community. (Gen. 2:18). Woman is portrayed as a distinctly suitable helper for man. After the other beasts and birds are considered as companions and helpers for man, they are found unsuitable, so with that in mind, God creates woman. This must be why it is so common for males and females to become partners.

Evil is both a mystery and a fact of life.

It is difficult not to ask, 'if in Genesis 1 God views all of creation as “very good” (1:31), how in Genesis 3 is there a crafty serpent who tempts Eve?' This is the well-known 'problem of pain.'

On one hand, it seems reasonable and common for humans to ask these questions. On the other, it is better to relegate the answers to these questions to the mysterious ways of God rather than to the lucidity of finite human reasoning. While Genesis purports to tell us what happened in the beginning, it does not purport to tell us everything that ever happened.

Further, human beings are probably incapable of understanding everything that ever happened – in fact, we don’t really even understand the things we claim to know: Who knows every fact of recorded history? Who fully understands quantum physics? Who fully understands himself or his best friend? No one, and yet these are fields of which we claim to have actual knowledge. What then of the deepest questions?

It is often smugly argued that ‘if God is all good, all knowing, and all powerful – then He would not have allowed for evil.’ But what do we humans know about omniscience, omnipotence, omnibenevolence, or the orgin or nature of evil? All we know is the speculation of our finite minds. There is nothing wrong with the speculation of our finite minds, but it’s best to acknowledge that it does not constitute actual knowledge, and probably constitutes incomplete knowledge. To the extent we fail to understand the deepest questions regarding the ways of God, it is better to call the answer a mystery than to presume to know more than we do.

Evil is a fact of life in this world. Evil's mysterious arrival at our door-step is a common experience. Who has not started a day at peace and with the best of intentions and yet ended the day having committed sin and wondering how and why?

Genesis may not give every answer, but it gives a startlingly accurate description of life.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Genesis 1:26 : the dignity of man rooted in God

Man is accorded profound dignity in the beginning: he is a ruler, and he is made like God.

It’s a astonishing fact that man is made in God’s image and likeness. While not losing sight of our sinful condition and many valid reasons for humility, we should also properly marvel that we are wonderfully made, designed like God.

What does it mean to be made in God’s image and likeness? In other words, what characteristics and qualities in us that are also in God? A non-exhaustive list: we are creative (no one does not create – even the least artsy jock re-‘creates’ when he creates a game out of a ball and lines in the ground); we have minds, wills, and emotions; we are moral actors; we can act upon the world.

To see how wonderful this is, simply imagine if a rock said to you 'I have an idea...' or even if your cat or dog came to you with a water-color painting it had made.

As a political, moral, philosophical, and aesthetic matter, our dignity and worth is rooted in being created in God’s image. This is why some argue that our country must acknowledge God – because to do otherwise unmoors us from the very source of our worth. If a man is not made in the image of God, then he is just another beast.

Man is immediately established as ruler over the other animals on earth. Here is one example of God’s establishment of authority (others are government/citizen, husband/wife, parent/child, elder/congregation, Jesus/everything).

Circling back around to man being made in God’s image and likeness, this is something profound and helpful to meditate on. In our cynical, competitive world we do not look upon ourselves and others as God-like. Would we slander each other if we thought of each other as God-like? Would we cut each other off in traffic? Would we kill each other? Would we not love each other more if we considered each other God-like? Would we not enjoy each other and ourselves more? Wouldn’t we be more secure and more happy if we thought of ourselves as a God-like race instead of members of the rat race?

There is a movement in the world to make human beings believe they are nothing but animals, driven by bestial urges just like rats and chimps. This is a lie. You and your neighbor are like God.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Genesis 1: the Bible’s authority, God’s sensibility of abundant life

Children and adults alike wonder at how things, good and bad, came to be. Why is the sky blue? Why do we fight wars? Why am I the way I am? While men grapple with these questions and put forth speculative answers, the Bible answers plainly and clearly: “In the beginning God…”

By this concise assertion, the Bible holds itself out as a primal authority on all things. The first assertions of the authority of the Bible did not come when Paul wrote 2 Timothy 3:16 (…all scripture is God-breathed…). The Bible first asserts its authority in the first sentence of its first page when it purports to speak of the beginning of our existence. When one says anything, one implicitly claims authority to say it and the validity of what is said – or else one speaks nonsense. And the nature and extent of the authority is also implicitly asserted by nature of the thing said. If you say a small thing like “take a right to get to the park,” you assert a small knowledge and authority. If a large thing is said, like “the greatest commandment is to love the Lord,” then one implicitly asserts large authority. Here, the Bible presumes to speak on the primary chronological fact, which can only be based on the knowledge of someone who was there – or at least someone who knows someone who was there. By presuming to tell us what happened “in the beginning” the Bible implicitly asserts great authority.

The first character in the story is God. How important of a truth is that? Yet how often do we forget it. This life, this religion, this Bible, is primarily God’s story. Anyone who attempts to take the starring role other than Him is a usurper, and the story will be full of those. Also, those who attempt to take on the role of God, whether it’s the ego-maniacal Satan or simply you or me, will find the role far more difficult than we imagined, and that we don’t have the strength to carry the burden. The role of God is for God alone, and it is both right for us and good for us to keep that straight. Yet, despite this, God seems willing and eager to share the stage. It is not too difficult to imagine a story about God in which nothing of consequence is ever done by anyone other than God. I bet God did interesting things before any of us came around. Yet we know that this Bible God is more than full of stories of other people, even other people doing God’s work as his co-laborers. And even at the very beginning of the story, we’re about to be introduced to our fore-parents.

Note both from the pages of Genesis and also from a glance out your window the type of things God creates. He has a distinct style, wouldn’t you agree? If anyone has a favorite artist, he knows that each work of art by the singer, painter, writer, or whoever always bears the distinct marks of the maker, whether it’s the subject matter, the tone, the sensibility, etc. So, with God’s creation, for example, God’s inanimate works have a tendency toward the beautiful, the majestic, the spectacular, the bountiful. God is also notable as a creator for His range. Many artists can do only one thing well – but God can do the ocean and the desert, the jungle and the meadow. Yet, despite the range and the contrast, there is coherence. Also, in wildlife, one again notes both consistency and contrast, from the tiger to the duck. All of this probably speaks of God’s personality as one of vast range as well, since it is difficult to imagine a creator who is morbid making a light-hearted comedy or someone who is extremely cheerful and kind making a work of sadism. God is probably as fierce as a bear, strong as a mountain, playful as a puppy, and gentle as a breeze. Of course, one can go only so far with this level of interpretation – but nevertheless it generally seems plausible that the vast range of creation suggests the vast range of God’s personality.

When I consider the wondrous creation with all of its liveliness and beauty, I can’t help but find the view of the universe held by a fatalist or a determinist to be absurd. This is just my intuition, but to imagine that blind fate drove the universe to possess sea creatures that create pearls, sunsets that steal one’s breath, and flowers that thrill the eyes and the nose – it just seems really hard to believe. If a universe is really a grim machine running on ‘cause and effect’ and ‘survival of the fittest,’ it just seems you’d have a grim, ugly universe – perhaps full of gray, beastly monsters, or robots like those from the Matrix. But a Golden Retriever? Yes, I’ve heard that if you gave a group of monkeys an infinite amount of time to bang on type-writers they’d eventually write Hamlet…but if that’s the analogy that encapsulates your view of the universe, doesn’t it seem your thinking has perhaps gone to the circus?

(One scientist, Richard Dawkins, who is very hostile to Christianity compares Christians’ belief in God to a belief in a Spaghetti Monster. I’m saying, however, that the view of monkeys writing Hamlet is much more Spaghetti Monster-esque, than believing in a God who created the incomparable universe we live in.)

Also, notice the bounty of creation, the fertility. “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky. God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems...God blessed them and said ‘Be fruitful and multiply…’…God said, ‘Let the land produce living creatures…livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals…” Gen. 1:20-24.

Again, note God’s personality and consider it for application to your life. God creates abundant life. God could have been a minimalist, abstract painter. He could have left the earth formless and void. We often fear what God will do to our lives because we think he has something draconian and inhuman in mind. But look what God did at creation: His sensibility is abundant life.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Back at Duke....

Finished the bar exam...

just met Christian Laettner!

Friday, July 20, 2007

"Make a phone call, keep a friend. Neglect a phone call, lose a friend."

- Andree Seu, 'Normal Kingdom Business'.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Maybe I do believe in inerrancy.... least as articulated in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy:

This is a choice passage from the expository statement:

"So history must be treated as history, poetry as poetry, hyperbole and metaphor as hyperbole and metaphor, generalization and approximation as what they are, and so forth. Differences between literary conventions in Bible times and in ours must also be observed: since, for instance, non-chronological narration and imprecise citation were conventional and acceptable and violated no expectations in those days, we must not regard these things as faults when we find them in Bible writers. When total precision of a particular kind was not expected nor aimed at, it is no error not to have achieved it. Scripture is inerrant, not in the sense of being absolutely precise by modern standards, but in the sense of making good its claims and achieving that measure of focused truth at which its authors aimed."

However, there are some surprising claims here:

1 - Inerrancy can include incorrect citations.

2 - Inerrancy can include imprecise factual statements if such factual statements would not have been considered a big deal to the human author.

Some observations:

This is fine with me, but it's funny to call it inerrancy. Do we really believe God would misquote Scripture?

This clearly allows for not taking Genesis literally if a writer in that milieu would not have necessarily written literally.

This makes dubious many sermons and doctrines I've heard from Evangelicals basing doctrines out of fine points of grammar or word choice. For example, many cessasionists base their belief on the word "perfect" in 1 Cor. 13.

So, where this seems to leave the inerrantist saying that 'sure, there might be a mistake in the text (by our contemporary definition), but God chose a writer who he knew would make that mistake, and so it's still inerrant.'

So in this sense, I'm okay with inerrancy, but it's a silly doctrine as opposed to simply saying that the text is authoritative based on the validation of Christ and his appointed apostles.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


It seems like a major point of Anglicanism is the belief in localities possessing independent authority, one from another. So, for example, the Archbishop of Cantebury (sp?) is not the English Pope, the supreme head of the Anglican Church. Instead, he is considered "first among equals," along with other clergy.

So, if I've come to believe that God ordained authority (apostolic succession?) is primary, I don't think I want to buy into a church that seems to not practice this. The point of putting your faith in authority is to believe the ladder runs all the way to the top.

So, it begs the question, why not become Catholic?

Monday, July 09, 2007


Anglicanism turns out to be too hard to define. There's a lot of convolution about their church structures and so on. Anglicans were initially highly influenced by the 16th Century reformers, Calvins, Zwingli, and so on. Over time, there seems to have been a return to Catholic liturgical practices.

The stated reason for the existence of the Anglican church seems to be the belief that national churches should not be under the authority of the Pope.

Some distinctives: the "Crown" appoints Anglican clergy; The use of the Apocrypha.

Pros: wasn't C.S. Lewis an Anglican?

Primary half-baked critique: if I were to go looking for apostolic succession, the Catholic Church seems to have a significantly better claim to it than the Church of England.

An interesting quote: "For their part, those Evangelical (and some Broad Church) Anglicans who emphasise the more Protestant aspects of the Church stress the Reformation theme of salvation by grace through faith."

All this from wikipedia.

So far, I'm not too excited about Anglicanism.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Today, a pastor told me that I might have to leave the Evangelical church.

A couple of days ago, a reformed presbyterian seminarian asked me 'are you going to become Catholic?'

My wife weighed in and said, "I don't want to become an Anglican."

And so begins a series on denominationalism...

Friday, July 06, 2007

The Bar Exam...

I am studying for it (between games of ping-pong and Tecmo Superbowl), and not finding time to blog.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

VERY soon your life here will end; consider, then, what may be in store for you elsewhere. Today we live; tomorrow we die and are quickly forgotten. Oh, the dullness and hardness of a heart which looks only to the present instead of preparing for that which is to come!

Therefore, in every deed and every thought, act as though you were to die this very day. If you had a good conscience you would not fear death very much. It is better to avoid sin than to fear death. If you are not prepared today, how will you be prepared tomorrow? Tomorrow is an uncertain day; how do you know you will have a tomorrow?

Thomas aKempis, 'Imitation of Christ,' 23rd Chapter.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Deep question:

Why is Star Wars generally considered "cool," but other sci-fi, like Star Trek, considered "not cool"?

Friday, June 22, 2007

Name that tune:

(to the tune of 'Darling Clementine')

'Oh the Chur-ch, Oh the Chur-ch/
you run to li-cense and to law...'

What lyrics come next?

(copyright D.Schmidt)

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

I'm a big fan of Christians:

To me they've been the body of Christ, a nourishing context within which to know God.

Monday, June 11, 2007

W.H. Auden

Recently, I learned that 20th Century poet W.H. Auden was a serious convert to Christianity, and his writing was extensively about Christian things. He also had a good deal of overlap with Inklings J.R.R. Tolkien and Charles Williams. In his first decade of writing he was a non-believer, and was considered by many the foremost poet of his generation. After he converted, his work was largely ignored and disliked by his contemporaries.

I recommend check out his poems. I find them highly readable, interesting, and entertaining. Here are a couple of good links:

On the Circuit (

The Shield of Achilles (

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

I'm a big fan of Christians.

Christian bashing is in vogue, even among Christians. "Oh the crusades! Oh the crusades!" goes up the baleful protest and lament. "And Jerry Falwell! And George W. Bush! And Republicans!"

I'm tired of watching Christians bend over backwards to admit they're so bad, the Church has been soooo bad, particularly as they engage in discussions with non-Christians. I will admit that this may amount to 'turning the other cheek,' which just proves my point: that Christians are actually quite good. Try to find a non-Christian bending over backwards to admit he or she is bad and historically at fault.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Conversation with a materialist

This weekend I had a somewhat involved e-mail correspondence with the author of the article cited in the previous post. I told him about my concerns, and he was very cordial and generally gracious. However, he would not go so far as to concede any point. He felt that a rejection of dualism (any distinction between body/mind or soul) was uncontroversial, and was the consensus opinion of all the scholars he knew.

Maybe that's true. Maybe nobody he knows or respects thinks there is an immaterial aspect to a human being. So, I told him of several I knew of, but this did not seem to impress him. He was, however, very nice about it all, and said he considered my concerns "reasonable."

At one level, this was a humanizing discussion. I was reminded that someone I disagree with is a human being, just doing the best he can, and so I should avoid making him into a target for attack. However, it also validated all my concerns. He basically said science only concedes the existence and relevance of things that can be tested and proved, but that he also was not going to limit his statements to that jurisdiction - even though science can only deal with the testable, he was still going to use science to justify his value judgments (which are not testable). Yet, he didn't seem to acknowledge that this decision itself does not flow from something proveable, but rather is pragmatic and even dogmatic.

What's so dangerous about this type of scientist is that many people believe he is being objective, and he allows them to think this, but then speaks on his own beliefs, while still wearing his scientist hat, and fools people into thinking that his beliefs are objectively true. This is an abuse of trust; there are foxes in the hen house.

This type of scientist, unfortunately, appears to be the rule rather than the exception.

Bottom line: science can never tell you whether something is right or wrong, good or bad. Anyone who says otherwise is a heretic to both Science and Christianity.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Science is the devil...

...not really, but there's a big problem with scientists making dogmatic statements while pretending to make objective, "scientific" statements.

For example, in an article I recently read on child psychology (, the authors state that, and I paraphrase, 'dualism is mistaken, but children intuitively believe in it. So how do we get people to be more receptive to science?'

Dualism is the philosophical term used to describe, among other things, the idea that your soul and/or mind are different from your body. So by saying dualism is mistaken, they're clearly stating you do not have a soul.

However, there is a very live debate on this issue - even among professional philosophers and scientists.

I don't mind that these psychologists take a side on this debate, but I do feel that as scholars and honest people, they should point out when they've made a major assumption on one of the most significant issues in philosophy and science. A simple footnote would suffice.

If they don't want to admit that, then they should admit that what they are writing is agenda-driven propoganda, not truth-driven scholarship.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Who has greater combat than the man who labors to overcome himself?

-Thomas a Kempis

'The Imitation of Christ,' by the way, is an absolute must read. It's earth-shakingly profound, yet written in a devotional format so that it's easy to read in daily doses.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

My first published fiction:

My story is written under the sci-fi pseudonym 'Casey Chan.'

It's amazing how long I've been writing to just now get something published. If somebody had told me 10 + years ago how many hundreds of thousands of words of fiction I'd write before anybody'd publish any of them, I think I would have quit on the front end. So I'm glad no one told me. It's pretty gratifying to get my pinky toe in the door.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

I recently learned that there are 3 leadership styles.

Autocratic: from on high.

Democratic: help the people decide what they really want to do.

Laissez-faire: only step in when things seem to be going off the train tracks.

I prefer autocrats, I guess, unless they're bad, one way or another. One nice thing about democracies is it seems as if people can't hardly get anything done, so despite the ideas of the people being pretty bad, on the whole, most of them never happen.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Happiness is a walk on a tight-rope.

Friday, May 18, 2007

My favorite line from a novel comes at the end of 'The Power and the Glory.' The Whiskey Priest says, roughly, 'at the end of your life, nothing matters but to have been a saint. And it wouldn't have been so hard. All it would take is a little bit of courage and self-control.'

I really believe that, and I really identify with the whiskey priest. (I prefer scotch, but nowadays I'm not drinking at all).

When I talk with people about my difficulties sharing Christ, and not just with non-believers, people often advise me about tactics. (say "this" or don't say "that"). But my problem isn't tactics. What I need is guts. Courage. A little bit of self-control to keep my knees from knocking.

I would love it if you'd pray for me in that regard.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Office

My job is like the Office - only not funny.

Today, we had a "consultant" in who is studying the place for "how it can improve, for both the employees and the employer." The punchline, in Office Space at least, is that at the end of the day somebody gets to collect a check - from the unemployment office.

The strange thing about this consultant is that the foregone conclusion from the beginning of the interview was, seemingly, that the person who is the problem is el jefe - the senior/managing partner of my law firm.

It was both kind of sad and weird and anxiety-provoking to sit there for 30 minutes and explain that the problem is the boss. The one improvement that could be made would be to fire the guy who signs all our checks. The consultant promised the conversations were confidential. But there's only 10 of us who work here, so when he goes back to el jefe and says the unanimous opinion was that the boss needs to quit his day job...well, the anonymity kind of goes out the window.

Also, it's kind of sad, because if el jefe wanted to know el problemo, everyone here could have told him. He didn't have to pay some consultant $1,000 to find out what everyone already knows. But maybe it'll help him admit he's got a problem.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

So easy a caveman could do it.

People talk about the invention of the wheel as a major accomplishment of early human beings, but how hard would it have been to notice that round rocks roll down a hill?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Do you like your job?

Things I like about being a lawyer: talking to people, writing, reasoning, making good arguments, lots of jobs.

Thinks I don't like about being a lawyer: sitting at a desk all day not talking to anyone, research, helping one person attack another person, feeling like a pretentious pariah when I tell people I'm a lawyer, long books full of rules.

What are the pros and cons to your occupation?

Sunday, March 18, 2007


I seem to have lost the will to post. Thanks for reading.

Friday, March 16, 2007

What do you rely on instead of God?

King Asa went to the King of Aram and made a treaty with him, emptying the coffers of Judah to buy his friendship. God then said to Asa, '"Because you relied on the king of Aram and not on the LORD your God, the army of the king of Aram has escaped from your hand. 8 Were not the Cushites and Libyans a mighty army with great numbers of chariots and horsemen? Yet when you relied on the LORD, he delivered them into your hand. 9 For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. You have done a foolish thing, and from now on you will be at war.""

It gets worse for Asa. He imprisons the prophet who brings him this message, and the oppresses the people. (See 2 Chron. 16).

But the question arises, 'what do you rely on instead of God?'

For me, it's a lot of things. My education for my daily bread. My relationships and hobbies for my happiness. Money for security.

Let's work on cutting out the middle-men.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Christians often ask whether a particular action is “allowed” or “permissible.” But maybe that is the wrong question. Instead, the question is whether a particular action is beneficial. “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are beneficial.” 1 Cor. 10:23. If one must ask whether an action is permissible, the answer is “yes.” But the outcome-determinative question is whether it is beneficial. Perhaps, if one is asking whether something is “permissible,” it is indicative of a much bigger issue than the specific situation at hand; it suggests an entire misconception of human purpose as “what can I get out of it?” instead of “what is good to do?”

Do you think this is right?

If so, some questions:

If all things are permissible, what about categorical sin? In 1 Cor. 7:36, Paul says the man who marries “…is not sinning.”

And if there is categorical sin, then in what way are 'all things permissible'?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Holy Wars of the Hebrew Scriptures

Does anybody have a satisfactory explanation or characterization of the Israelites' holy wars, such as are described in Joshua, etc.?

The emphasis here is on "satisfactory" explanations - and by that, I mean 'an explanation that you feel good about,' that is, one that doesn't make you cringe as you try to tell it to someone who disagrees with you.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The hope of the nation...

I went to a retreat this weekend. This was the message, essentially: The nation is at a crossroads (presumably, with salvation to the right, and destruction the left). And the hope of the nations is....

...Christian lawyers.

And specifically Christian lawyers (doctors and clergy were specifically disclaimed from being the hope of the nation). Why? Because lawyers have power, and they can broker it for Jesus.

Any thoughts?

Does this sound like a really weird lawyer joke?

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The New Covenant:

"The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent."

John 6:29

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The Old Covenant:

… Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in all the ways I command you, that it may go well with you. (Jeremiah 7:23)

Friday, January 26, 2007

Two questions:

What do you have to believe to be Evangelical?

What do you have to believe to be orthodox (not Greek, just normatively Christian)?

Monday, January 22, 2007

The boy just wanted to be popular,
The popular kid wanted to be the quarterback,
The quarterback wanted to get into a good college,
The college graduate wanted to be an industry leader,
The magnate wanted to be a senator,
The president wanted to leave a legacy,
Alexander the Great conquered the world and wept.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

All you need is repentance:

"Go, proclaim this message toward the north:
" 'Return, faithless Israel,' declares the LORD,
'I will frown on you no longer,
for I am merciful,' declares the LORD,
'I will not be angry forever.
Only acknowledge your guilt...
...Return, faithless people;
I will cure you of backsliding."

Jeremiah 3:12-13, 22

I'm always struck by how God doesn't require that we fix our problems, only that we admit them.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

State of the Union: are we okay, America?

...Yet in spite of all this you say, 'I am innocent;
he is not angry with me.'
But I will pass judgment on you
because you say, 'I have not sinned.'

- Jeremiah 2:34, 35

Reading the prophets scares me. It concerns me personally, but it particularly worries me when I consider our nation.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Psalm 55:

16 But I call to God,
and the LORD saves me.

17 Evening, morning and noon
I cry out in distress,
and he hears my voice.

18 He ransoms me unharmed
from the battle waged against me,
even though many oppose me...

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Not by effort, but by rest.

Watchman Nee states in "Sit, Walk, Stand" that we cannot advance in the Christian life until we rest in Christ. He says that all "effort" at the spiritual life is doomed to fail because of the flesh. However, he says that when we cease trying and instead trust in God to work in us and have faith that God already accomplished all things for us in Christ, then almost unconsciously we will begin to exhibit the divinity that lives in us via the Spirit.

The other approach I've seen to advancement in the spiritual life is through the spiritual disciplines: prayer, fasting, meditation, study, etc.

On one hand, I've seen the benefit of the disciplines. On the other hand, the disciplines are always undermined by the very thing they seek to master - the flesh (e.g., I fail to pray because my flesh is too lazy). This makes Nee's proposition particularly compelling to me. But it also seems dangerous to stop "trying" to improve at the spiritual life.