Monday, December 27, 2010

John 14 (JSV - Joel Standard Version)

Back in 2005 I took undergraduate level Greek for my ministry degree. Now that I'm in seminary (and since I didn't keep up with my Greek studies after my first go), I'm taking Greek again. I've finished the first class, and I begin the second phase of my Greek studies on January 11. The first class ended on December 9, so my professor assigned us to read John 14-17 in Greek during the Christmas break. Before this, I had been working on translating the gospel of John from the beginning. I've already completed chapter 1 and had made a significant way through chapter 2 by the time break started. I've been translating chapter 14 during the break, and I finished it today. The translation is below.

Before you read my translation, however, know this: I'm still a relative beginner at the Greek language. My translation is choppy (partially because I want it choppy - I want to get the nitty-gritty translation; a formalized rendering would come later and with more study). There will be places where the translation reads like, "In the name of me" or "in the heart of you," or something similar. This is partly because that's the way the Greek language works. Again, in modern translations, translators will change "In the name of me," to the easier to read, "In my name," for the sake of the reader. I have not done this. My translation is pretty bare-bones.

Also, there are some parts of the Greek text that really confuse me, and I wasn't 100% sure how to translate what I read in the Greek. For these instances, I just went with whatever the NASB had, and worked my best guess to align with the NASB, although I tried not to do this as much as possible. You may want to compare the NASB and my own translation. Additionally, there are still many Greek words and tenses that I am not familiar with, so I got help from this really cool site. Any words, phrases, or sentences that I wasn't sure of a good translation are in italics. Enjoy.


“Do not let the hearts of you be troubled. You believe in God and in me you believe. In the house of the Father of me are many mansions. But if not, I told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and I prepare a place for you, again I am coming and I will take you all to myself, in order that where I am, I and you may be. And where I myself am going, you know the way.”

Thomas says to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How do we know the way?”

Jesus says to him, “I myself am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one is coming to the Father if not through me. If you had known me, and the Father of me, …you know him and have seen.

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”

Jesus said to him, “So long a time with you I am and you are not knowing me, Philip? The one seeing me is seeing the Father. How are you saying, 'show us the Father?' You are not believing that I in the Father, and the Father is in me? The words which I myself am saying to you of myself…but the Father in me who dwells is doing the works of him. Believe me, that I am in the Father and the Father in me. But if not, on account of the works, believe. Truly, truly, I say to you, the one who believes in my works which I do, he will also do, and greater than these he will do, because I to the Father am going. And anything which you ask in the name of me, this I will do, in order that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If anything you may ask me in the name of me, this I will do.

“If you are loving me, the commandments of me you will watch over. And I will ask the Father, and another helper he will give you, in order that he is with you for eternity, the Spirit of truth, which the world is not able to receive, because it does not see him, neither does it know him. You know him because with you he dwells and in you he is. I will not leave you orphans, I am coming to you. Yet a while and the world will see me no more, but you see me, because I live and you will live. In that day you will know that I in the Father of me, and you in me, and I in you. He who has the commandments of me and who keeps these, is he who loves me. But he who loves me will be loved by the Father of me, and I will love him and will manifest to him myself.”

Judas, not Iscariot, says to him, “Lord what has happened that to us you are going to manifest yourself and not to the world?”

Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves me, the word of me he will guard, and the Father of me will love him and to him we will come, with him an abode we will make. The one not loving me, the words of me he is not keeping, and the word which you are hearing is not mine but the Father who sent me.

“I have spoken this to you, remaining beside you, but the helper, the Holy Spirit, which the Father will send in the name of me, he will teach you things and he will remind you all which I said to you.

“Peace I am leaving with you; the peace of me I give to you. Not as the world is giving do I give to you. Do not let the heart of you be troubled, nor let it be cowardly. You heard that I said to you: ‘I go and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me you rejoiced because I go to the Father, because the Father is greater than me. And now I have told you before it is to happen, in order that when it happens will you believe. No longer will I speak much with you, for he is coming, the ruler of the world. And he has nothing in me, but in order that the world may know that I love the Father, and even as the Father commanded me, this I do. Rise up and let us go from here.”

Sunday, December 26, 2010

A Cheery "Holiday Message"

Here's a cheery "holiday message" from comedian Ricky Gervais. Apparently he's an ardent atheist, and he's got a beef with anyone who holds to a particular faith (although he tries to speak generally against all faiths, he's obviously coming down on Christians the most). If you've never heard of Gervais before, that's not surprising. The only movie that I know of that he's appeared in was "The Invention of Lying," which left much to be desired, both dramatically and as far as comedy is concerned. He's also the mind behind the TV show, "The Office," or at least the British version of The Office. I'm not sure if he's involved in the American version. Anyway, it looks like Ricky is using the Christmas holiday as a means of furthering his atheist agenda.

After reading Gervais's article I only have one thought, and it's one that I've said before, and one that I'll say again now, and will probably say again many more times in the future: atheists need some new ideas. They keep coming back to the table with the same old things that have already been answered before, answered again, and answered one more time for good measure. It's getting old. I was going to write a response to the article and Gervais's thoughts, but it's been done before, a million times.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

To Santa, Or Not To Santa?

My wife and I recently made a decision for our household: we're not going to "do" Santa with our kids. We've kind of waffled on whether or not to tell our kids about Santa Claus for the past 2 years (as long as one of them has been old enough to care), and we've finally decided not to do it.

A large part of our reasoning for making a firm decision on it at this point in time has to do with this video that we recently saw. It's a video of John Piper talking about how he celebrated Christmas with his kids when they were young. Not that John Piper is the authority on all things Christmas or how to celebrate it, but I think he brings up some great points. Check it out.

One of his best points, I think, is that Santa is poor substitute for Christ. I often hear people say around this time of year, "Jesus is the reason for the season." Why do we need to be reminded of that? Because, in this society, Santa (and the materialism he represents) has become, at least to some extent, a substitute for Christ. I don't want to be a part of that, and I don't ever want my kids to think that Christmas is about anything other than Christ.

When it comes down to it, the celebration of the Christmas holiday is a fantastic way to illustrate the incarnation - we give each other gifts to remind us of the gift that was given to us by God: Christ. I want this to be the focus of our family's Christmas celebration - not Santa, or even the giving of the gifts themselves. It'd be hard to make that point by saying that Santa is the instrument by which God gives us gifts to remind us of his gift of Christ! Especially when it comes time to tell the kids the truth about Santa.

Now, before anyone thinks I'm a total fundamentalist humbug, let me say that I have nothing against Santa Claus or families who choose to tell their kids that he is the one who brings them gifts. It is not my intention to condemn anyone who "does" Santa (if that were my intention, I would have to condemn my own parents, who perpetuated the Santa myth with me until my sister ruined it for me one night at the tender age of 9, which totally crushed me, I might add; I would also have to condemn my sister and brother-in-law, which I'm not prepared to do). I think "doing" Santa can be done while still maintaining the spiritual element of Christmas. I also think that celebrating Christmas without Santa can still miss the whole point of the holiday as well. It's not as though Santa is some magic ingredient that either must or must not be added for the holiday to have any meaning. That is up to those who celebrate it, and it's why Christmas can still be spiritually celebrated, even with Santa. We've just decided not to do it.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The ABC's of Christmas

Here's a video of the "The ABC's of Christmas" from Riverview's kids Christmas program, which took place tonight:

It's the first time The Ferguson (my son) has been a part of something like this. He originally wasn't going to be in it (he's only 3 after all!), but one of the kids who was originally scheduled to recite a line dropped out, and so we decided to see if he could do it. The issue wasn't whether or not he could memorize the line. He's memorized Bible verses and books before, so that wasn't a problem. The main concern was whether or not he would freak out when he got in front of all those people during the program.

Things weren't looking good when, during the first rehearsal he participated in, it came time for his line. When it was his turn, he smiled, ran to his mom's side, and immediately bawled his eyes out, never saying his line. But after working with him a bit more at home, and trying to calm his nerves, he eventually got so saying the line in front of people was no problem. I still thought it was a toss-up though, as to whether or not he'd be able to do it when push came to shove. For this reason, we had his oldest cousin (who stood right next to him in line), memorize his part as well, just in case he had a melt down when it came to him.

Thankfully he did great. Although there were some technical issues, as his head hit the microphone and it made a few very loud popping noises. He was unflappable, though. He kept right on going.

Proud papa over here!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

More On Caleb

In this earlier post I talked about why I thought Caleb was such a cool guy, especially in his later years of life. In short, he was an 85 year old man who had no qualms about going into a land filled with giants, as long as God was with him.

After doing the reading and study for this week's men's Bible study, I like the guy all the more. In Joshua 15 we read about what happened after the 85 year old Caleb entered the land of giants: he drove them all out, just like he said he would. And then after he was done with them, he went on to another town and drove them out too. He was then free to bless his children and family members with sections of good land. What a cool story. It's a great testimony about what is possible when one believes and trusts God.

The story gets even better, though, because it's contrasted with other stories about stronger, younger people who couldn't do what Caleb did. Why not? Because they lacked faith.

Later in Joshua 15 we read about the tribe of Judah, who, after they had received the inheritance of land that was given to them, wasn't able to drive out the Jebusites, and was then forced to make them into laborers and servants. Similarly, in Joshua 16, the Manassites couldn't drive out the Canaanites from their land, and they had to take them as laborers as well. Finally, in Joshua 17, the tribes of Joseph (the Manassites and Ephraimites) were too afraid to go and drive people out of the land that had been given to them.

What happened with these tribes? Did they forget that as long as God was with them, and as long as they were following his commands, that they would be successful? Apparently so. Up to this point, Israel had only been defeated in battle once, and it was because they were trusting in themselves and not in God. They were also forced to take the Gibeonites as laborers instead of wiping them out from the land that was rightfully theirs because they failed to consult God on the matter. But when Israel trusted and followed God, they were absolutely unstoppable - even against horses, chariots, and armies whose soldiers were as numerous as the sand on the seashore. But now there are these three tribes (actually 2 1/2 tribes) that suddenly find themselves to be too wimpy to do what must be done. What happened?

What's interesting is that when the tribes of Joseph complain to Joshua that they don't have enough land, and that the land they want is occupied by foreigners, Joshua seems to say, "So what? Go get 'em? They're in your land? Then go kick them out!" Why does Joshua react this way? I think it's because he knows that all things are possible with God, and if the tribes of Joseph would trust God, getting rid of these people wouldn't be a problem (which is exactly what Caleb thought when he marched into the land of giants).

Caleb did what these other tribes failed to do: trust God and act in faith. And it's even more remarkable since Caleb was 85 at the time and had far fewer soldiers than any of the tribes did. Caleb didn't have to take any laborers or slaves, or be responsible for more mouths to feed. He trusted God - even when that trust seemed to go against all reason - what chance did an 85 year old with just his family to fight with him have against giants? All the chance in the world, because God was fighting for him.

It goes to show how easily and quickly we can forget God's faithfulness to us, and that we can always trust in him. I want to be like Caleb.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Should I Be Mad About This?

Each winter since my wife and I moved into our current location, I have always been frustrated with the city snow plows. We live on one of the "main" streets in our city, and it gets a lot of traffic, which usually means it's first on the list for having the snow plowed which is usually nice - our street is almost always clear. And like a good citizen, I always make sure my sidewalks are shoveled/snow-blown within a day of a snowfall.

Here's the problem: the sidewalk in front of my house is separated from the street by the usual 3-4 foot wide boulevard section of grass. I'm not sure if the snow plows are either going so fast, or not watching what they're doing, or whatever, but whenever a snow plow plows our street, it throws all the snow from the street onto our sidewalk. And most of the time, it's AFTER I've already been out to shovel/snow-blow. So then I have to go out and shovel/snow-blow one more time.

Why not just wait to shovel/snow-blow until after the plows have gone by, you ask? Because "street snow" is much different than "sidewalk snow." It's usually wetter and heavier (which stinks for shoveling), or it's icy and chunky (which my snowblower can't handle). I find it hard to believe that the ONLY way the snow plows can do their job is to throw street snow onto my sidewalk.

I've told my wife that if I was ever outside while a snow plow was doing this, I was going to flag him down and explain my predicament to him. That day came today. A plow was going by my house and I flagged him down. Somewhat to my surprise, he stopped and rolled down his window. I asked him if he and his compatriots could slow down while plowing so I don't have to re-shovel/blow my sidewalk every time they plow. His response was that the snow was so light that he couldn't control where it went, and that it didn't matter if he was going fast or not. I replied by saying something like, "OK. It just sucks that I always have to shovel my sidewalk twice." He tried to encourage me by saying that he was going to have to plow twice, too. Ok, but that's not the point.

Here's the point: the city of South Saint Paul requires that I clear my sidewalk of snow within 12 hours of a snow fall, or face a fine. If I comply with those standards, doesn't it seem a tad bit stinky of them to throw more snow back onto my sidewalk, forcing me to comply with them again? Would I be fined if I complied with the snow that fell on my sidewalk, but failed to clear the snow that the plows threw on my sidewalk? Most definitely. But the city is the one that put the snow there!

I have no problem with complying with the city's regulations. It just seems that sometimes the city is working against me.

Friday, December 10, 2010

My Dad is an Animal

Tonight my car died at Little Caesar's. I had stopped to pick up some pizza for our small group Bible study, and when I went back out to my car, I turned the key and nothing happened. I called my wife and she came and picked up the pizzas. Then I called my dad and asked if he could come give me a ride to the auto parts store so I could buy a new battery (I had known the one that I had was going down the tubes, so I was pretty sure that was the problem).

When my dad arrived we decided to try to jump it, just for the nuts of it. But since I had pulled forward into my parking spot, the jumper cables wouldn't reach from the battery in my dad's car to mine, and the front end of my car was facing the sidewalk. My dad said he would go out into the street and drive over the curb in order to be able to reach the cables to my battery. But there was a ton of snow piled up on the curb, so that wasn't going to be an option. The next thing I know, my dad is pulling out of the Little Caesar's parking lot onto the sidewalk that ran in front of my car. While a tad unconventional, it got the job done. I can't imagine what people thought as they were watching him driving on the sidewalk!

Once my car was started again, the next task was to figure out how to get my dad's car off the sidewalk. There were two options: 1) drive over the curb and out into the street, but that would be tough because there was still probably too much snow on the curb to be able to drive over; 2) go out the way he came, backing up back down the sidewalk. So, half on the sidewalk, and half in the snowbank, my dad carefully dodged street lamps, a bus bench, and a garbage can all the way to the end of the parking lot. When he had gotten back into the lot, he looked at me and said, "I don't mean too brag, but I'm not sure how many people could've done that." I agree. It was pretty neat.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

I Love This Guy!

Ever read the story of Caleb? It's a great story. Here's the end of his story.

Caleb was one of twelve guys whom Moses sent to spy out the Promised Land before the Israelites invaded it. And he was one of two of those twelve that returned with a favorable report about the Israelites' chances of taking the land (Joshua being the other). The other ten guys said that there was no way they would be able to take the land that God had promised them because it was filled with giants, and that the people of Israel were essentially doomed to a lifetime of wilderness-wandering. As a result of their unbelief, the current generation of Israelites were forbidden to ever enter the Promised land, EXCEPT for Joshua and Caleb, the two spies who believed that God would be with the people and they could successfully take the land. In fact, the prospect of giants in the land didn't seem to shake either Caleb or Joshua one bit. Why not? Because they knew God would be with them.

So the people of Israel were doomed to wander the wilderness until the unbelieving generation died off. Unfortunately for Joshua and Caleb, this meant forty years of waiting to enter the Promised Land. But the day finally comes and the Israelites invade the land that God had promised to them, and they begin to take it.

After a five to seven year military campaign, a good portion of the Promised Land is now under Israelite control, and the people begin divvying up the land and start to make Israel their permanent home. About this time, an 85 year old Caleb approaches Joshua and asks him for a chunk of land on which he can make his home. Before Israel had entered the land, Moses had promised Caleb that he would inherit the land that he had originally spied out - the land filled with giants. So Caleb has essentially come to collect - he wants the land that was promised to him by Moses, and Joshua blesses him and gives it to him.

But there's a catch: the land that is promised to Caleb is still filled with giants, even after the Israelite invasion. Not everybody has been cleared out, and there is still a significant giant population in Hebron, the land where Caleb was headed. But that doesn't shake this spit-fire of an old man. He says, "I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming. So now give me this hill country of which the LORD spoke on that day, for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities. It may be that the LORD will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the LORD said."

Wow! Think of the faith of this guy. He's been waiting for 45 years for God to make good on his promise, and that day has finally come. 45 years of trusting God to be faithful! And there are still giants in the land that need to be taken care of. What does this 85 year old man say? "No problem. Bring 'em on. If God's with me, I'll take care of them. I'm still as fit today as ever I was. I can come and go, and I can still handle myself in a scrape."

This is a man of remarkable faith. He believed God to be faithful; he believed God to help him; he actively believed God even at the ripe old age of 85. What a cool story.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Good Grief

I think the United States government may have reached a new low - or a new high, if we're talking about incompetence. Have you heard about this? It's a bill that mandates that TV commercials be at the same volume as the programs in which they appear, and no louder. The bill basically instructs the FCC to regulate the volume level of commercials. It's gone through the house and the senate and is apparently waiting on President Obama's signature. Apparently U.S. citizens aren't smart enough to turn down the volume when commercials come on, and they need the federal government to come running to their aid and save their ears from annoying car commercials. Who actually thought this was a good use of taxpayer dollars? I'm almost speechless. It's despicable.

Here's a clue for ya, government. When I see an ad I don't like, I turn the channel, or I turn the volume down, or I just don't give the company my business. Case in point:

This is perhaps the most annoying, ridiculous advertisement I have ever seen in my life. This ad virtually assures me that I will never buy a car from Luther Kia. The dancing Santa is ludicrous; the song makes me want to pull my hair out; and the guy screaming at me to buy a new Kia grates on my nerves. I would never give money to the company that produces these commercials. I find them offensive.

But you know what? I don't need the government to rescue me from "Santa's Brand New Ride." I've got a remote and a finger. That'll do the trick. No new laws necessary.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

What If Abortion Were Illegal?

One of my friends on Facebook posted this video (warning: there are some very brief images of aborted babies in this video):

The voice behind the camera in the video claims to be from the AtCenter Network, an online "news" agency. He's going around, asking pro-life protestors questions like, "What should the penalty be for a woman who had an illegal abortion? Should there be a punishment under the law against women who have illegal abortions?"

First of all, the LAST intention of this video is to gather "news." The video is set up to make people who are pro-life look stupid because they supposedly haven't thought about the ramifications of their stance. That's totally misleading, and I think it's purposely misleading. Why haven't abortion protestors thought this question through? Because it hasn't been relevant for the past 35 years. I have to admit that I haven't thought through this question before I saw this video, but it only took me about 1.5 seconds to come up with an answer (to that end, the pro-life people in the video do look a tad slow - how hard is it to come up with an answer?).

Before I give you my answer, it's important to make sure we're all working under the same understandings. I'm working under the assumption that, if abortion were illegal, it would be because the unborn "fetus" would be considered a human life, and the taking of said life would be seen as murder (hence the illegality of the action). If this were the reason for outlawing abortion, then anyone who took part in an abortion (mother, doctor, someone who drove the mother to the abortionist, etc.) would be viewed, legally, as an accessory to murder at the very least, if not charged for 1st degree murder. So then, the answer is, "yes." IF abortion were illegal, and IF abortion were viewed as murder, and IF a mother or doctor were convicted of having an abortion / committing murder, they obviously should be punished under the law. All murderers should be punished. What should the punishment be for murdering an unborn child, exactly? That would vary the same way that punishment for "regular" murder varies.

The guy behind the camera wants these pro-life demonstrators to say that women who have an abortion should be punished, and punished severely. His questions are framed in a context that will force the answer (that he wants) to be seen in a negative light. That way, he can trump up charges of insanity against the pro-life movement for wanting to punish innocent women who have already suffered the trauma of an abortion (but why would it be a trauma? Isn't it a simple medical procedure?) He wants them to look heartless and crazy. It's incredibly deceptive and fallacious. I wonder what pro-choice people would say if asked the same question? Do they have an automatic answer they would spit out? Of course not. Why? Because they likewise haven't considered the question for the past 35 years. Or ask the pro-choicers this: What should the punishment be for a woman who has a late term abortion (which is already illegal)? Come on, someone spit that answer out on the spot! Didn't think so.

Abortion comes down to one question: is the "blob of tissue" in the mother's womb a life? If the definitive answer is "no," than go ahead and do whatever you want to it. People have surgeries to remove tissue all the time. But if the answer is yes (not even "definitively yes," but even just "probably yes") then it should absolutely be illegal to do anything harmful to it, let alone kill it, and anyone who were to harm the unborn life in any way should face the full effects of the law.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Hamstring the Horses and Burn the Chariots

In our men's Bible study tonight at church, we read Joshua 11 and 12. Basically, a whole bunch of Canaanite kings joined forces to go against Israel. In verse 4 of chapter 11 it says that the number of soldiers coming against Israel were as many as the sand on the seashore, "with very many horses and chariots." In verse 6 God tells Joshua that, when the battle is over, he should hamstring the horses and burn the chariots. In verse 9 that's exactly what Joshua does.

The whole book of Joshua is a testament to the greatness of God as he empowers Israel to dominate their enemies and take the land that is theirs. The author of Joshua goes to great lengths to show that it is God who has the power, and not the people, and that the only reason the Israelites are successful is because God is fighting for them.

It seems reasonable to think that Israel, as a nation and as a military force, did not have access to either horses or chariots. There is significant evidence that this was the case. The question that seems to arise then, is this: why did the Israelites hamstring the horses and burn the chariots of their enemies? Why not take the horses and chariots for themselves? There was still some land that needed to be conquered, and people that needed to be kicked out of the Promised Land. Why not take the horses and chariots to aid in those endeavors? Certainly Israel would have been that much more of a dominating force if they had these resources. Or if not for battle, why not at least take the horses to use for transportation or labor purposes? It just doesn't seem to make sense. Why destroy such useful tools?

I can think of at least two reasons for why God had Joshua and the Israelites hamstring the horses and burn the chariots.

1) The use of chariots was probably the pinnacle of military technology at the time. In telling the Israelites to essentially destroy the things that could help them, God was telling them that they didn't need excessive technology or weapons to achieve what they wanted to achieve. They only needed God. If the Israelites were to take and use the horses and chariots of their enemies, they may have ended up trusting in their superior equipment or technology rather than God. Israel had this problem earlier in the book of Joshua, and it didn't work out well for them.

2) God was showing the Israelites that he was bigger and better than the best that man had to offer. The Egyptians were known and feared for their use of horses and chariots in military campaigns. In the ancient world, the army with the horses and chariots had a significant upper hand in any battle. Horses of the day were trained not to stop for anything. They were essentially trained to run over any and everything in their way. Thus a single horse-drawn chariot could be an extremely powerful weapon. The only way to stop it would be to kill the horse or the driver. But even with all the advantages that horses and chariots offered an army, those advantages were nothing compared to having God on your side and fighting for you. I think this was something the Israelites needed to see: God is infinitely better than anything man could offer. And when you have God on your side, things like horses and chariots seem to pale in comparison.

I think I need to hamstring some horses and burn some chariots in my life.

Innovation for the Mission Field

Remember Steve Saint? He's the son of murdered missionary pilot, Nate Saint. Steve took up where his dad left off, learned to fly, and got involved in missions. Now he's an experienced flier and entrepreneur who is innovating for the benefit of the mission field. Check this out. This is awesome.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Funny, Cute, and Gross Stuff That Happened Today

FUNNY: Every Tuesday my mom takes my kids to the local community center swimming pool, along with my sister and her youngest. They usually go swimming for a couple hours, and then head on over to McDonald's for lunch and some time in the playland. Today my kid was at the playland and told my mom he needed to go to the bathroom, which he went and did. A while later, after he had gone potty, my mom went into the bathroom and found a pair of underwear on the floor (this is normal behavior of Jamie - he doesn't really like to wear underwear). She confronted him and asked him if he took his underwear off and left it in the bathroom. He confessed that he did. When my mom insisted that he needed to wear his underwear, he said (in a very LOUD voice - loud enough for all in McDonald's playland to hear), "But I want to go commando!" "Going commando" is the state of being of not wearing any underwear, and it's a term we use frequently at our house. He's picked up on it, and uses the term quite a bit - even in public places, apparently. I wasn't there, but I was told the whole McDonald's playland was laughing.

CUTE: Each night Jamie sings some songs before he goes to bed. Every night he insists that we sing "The B-I-B-L-E" and we always do. I guess Han has picked up on this song too, because tonight she was singing the song like this: "Da B-I-B-I-B...Bibo!" Yeah, her spelling and pronunciation might need a little work, but it was pretty stinkin' cute.

GROSS: For some reason, my kids have a habit of coughing so hard that they make themselves throw up. I was in the basement tonight, taking a shower, when all of a sudden I heard a lot of crying coming from Jamie's room upstairs, and the I could hear the water pipes moving water to somewhere in the house. A closer listen led me to realize that the bathtub was filling up for some reason. This was at about 8:45 PM, which is 45 minutes after the kids' bedtimes, so a bath at this time of night was not usual. I came upstairs and the smell of hot barf met my nose as I walked down the hall. Jamie was in the tub, washing the puke off himself. His Turkey a la King was all over his bed, blankets (even his "blue blankey!"), and even a little bit on his stuffed Thomas. After he washed up I sat with him for a while, until we could find a replacement blankey while his regular one went into the wash.

All in all, having kids is awesome - even when they puke while you're in the shower.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Really Diggin' This

A few months ago we purchased this Bible. It's basically a children's Bible, except it's a significant step up. Instead of having the stories written in childish language, it's stories from the Bible using the actual words of scripture, but pared down into child-size bites. In other words, the whole story of Joseph (which is long and covers several chapters in the book of Genesis) is trimmed down to several smaller pericopes that tell chunks of the story. For example, you have the story of Joseph's dreams in one pericope, the story of him being sold into slavery in another, the story of him in prison in another, interpreting dreams in another, preparing for the famine in another, his brothers returning in another, and so on and so forth. This way, the kids' attention can be kept while still using the actual words of scripture (and not someone's interpretation of how a child might understand the words of scripture - big difference!).

But aren't there parts of the text that kids won't understand? Especially in the ESV translation? Yes, the ESV is an "essentially literal" translation, and there are a lot of big words, and some difficult phrasing, but that's not really the point. Truth be told, I'm not even reading my kids Bible stories for their understanding. It's more just to get the word of God into them in some way - and to get it into them in a literal way, and not a cutesy, childish way that might make them think that the Bible is nothing but fairy tales and nice stories, which is the way Bible stories are usually presented in children's Bible story books.

Another cool thing about this Bible is the great illustrations. Every single story has an illustration. There are more than 200 illustrations in this Bible. They aren't cutesy or childish either, but really depict what is going on in the story. The kids like them, and they're good to use to review the story with the kids. I have Jamie point out the main characters, and tell me what they did in the story.

Either Betsy or I read at least one story to Jamie each night. It's the way we cap off his bedtime routing: we read some regular books, sing songs, and read a Bible story. Tonight Jamie and I completed the story of Esther, and as I turned the page to put the bookmark in the next story, I realized that we had "completed" the Old Testament. Esther was the last story in the Old Testament in this Bible (What? No major or minor prophets!? Just kidding). That's pretty cool. We've read through a large portion of the Old Testament - word for word - with our three year old.

There's a Doings A-Transpiring

There was a doings a-transpiring at the church today. Last week a cement cutter was at the church and cut off the stairs that were attached to the western most side of the building, on the end of the education wing of the church. I say were attached, because they no longer are. A huge backhoe came today, gave the steps a few taps, and out they came. It was incredibly fun to watch. When the lower steps came out, the backhoe went to scoop them up in its bucket. As I watched it, I thought there would be no way those steps would be able to fit in the bucket. I was wrong. The backhoe scooped 'em up and tossed 'em aside like a pebble. Pretty cool stuff to watch, and exciting to see things starting to happen with Riverview's building project.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

You and the Chips

Something funny happened last night. We had hot dogs and chips for supper, and Han was walking around the living room with a hand full of chips. When she got tired of holding them, she looked at us, and dropped them straight onto the floor. Betsy told her to pick up the chips, but Han just looked away and went on to doing something else, which Betsy did not like. She went and got Han and made her pick up the chips, which Han didn't like. She began to cry and protested about picking up the chips.

While all this was happening, I was sitting in the chair, watching it all take place. At some point in time, Ferg grabbed the camera and started taking pictures of the events as they unfolded. At one point, he got in really close to Han and Betsy and snapped a picture, and then proudly proclaimed, "Mom, I took a picture of you and the chips!"

I guess you had to be there.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Pleasantly Surprised

For one of my seminary classes this quarter I've had to read The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen. It's essentially an interpretation of the parable of the prodigal son through the lens of a painting of the same name by Rembrandt. The class the for which the reading was assigned is certainly not one of my favorites. In fact, I usually find myself trudging through the four hours of class time each week, watching the clock, until I can leave. The content of the course is a bit to touchy-feely for me. It's got a "connect with your feelings" type of feel, and that's just not my thing, nor do I think it's really a biblical way to go about things, such as spiritual growth.

Before I read the book, I wasn't really looking forward to reading it. I had heard some things about Henri Nouwen that didn't really excite me, and I've read some things by people I have significant theological disagreements with who cite Nouwen in their work. Needless to say, I thought the book would be a bummer at best, and make me angry at worst. I was wrong on both accounts. It was a really good read.

Nouwen presents a lot of biographical information about the artist, Rembrandt, and weaves it into the painting, and also into the parable. Fascinating stuff, really. He makes a lot of great connections that I had never thought of before, probably because I was too familiar with the parable to be able to see them myself (specifically, I thought the connection of the older son to a Pharisaic, legalistic worldview was very interesting, and probably spot on - I'd never heard this interpretation before). If you think you know the parable of the prodigal son, let me assure you, there is always more to learn and new insights to gain. And this book is a great way to do just that.

A few warnings for you, though, should you choose to look at the book: 1) it's always a dangerous thing to try to interpret scripture through something else, such as a particular worldview, political bent, painting, music, etc. It's one step further away from the unadulterated truth. I'm not saying it can't be done, but it should be done extremely carefully, and rarely. Scripture can always speak for itself. It doesn't need anything else to communicate. Nouwen does a good job with this in his book, though, and he notes a few places where the painting is inadequate. 2) There is a section in the book about God as mother that I wasn't too fond of. Thankfully, this section is short and doesn't really influence the rest of Nouwen's work. 3) Much like my class, I think there are times when Nouwen brings too much emotion into the picture, and not enough scripture or theology.

The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen. Check it out.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

3 Year Old Guilt

Tonight on the way home from my parents' house after Thanksgiving dinner, I had an interesting exchange with my three year old son. Two weeks ago, after the first snow of the season, our whole family went outside to play in the snow as it fell. It was great snowman-making snow, so Jamie and I immediately went to making a snowman. It was the first one that I've made in probably 20 years, and it was Jamie's first snowman ever, so I was really enjoying myself. And I really played it up with the boy, talking about how cool this snowman was going to be, and how fun it was to pack all the snow together. By the time we had the three tiers of the snowman put together, my wife and daughter joined us in the front yard. I had just finished strategically placing the rocks that formed the snowman's face, and encouraged my daughter to take a look. As I had my back turned, Jamie jumped, kicked, and knocked the snowman down, landing on top of the rubble. Needless to say, I was a bit shocked. After all the work we had put in together building that snowman, I was absolutely not expecting him to just tear it all down in two seconds. I told him that I was kind of sad that he would do that, especially after all the hard work we put in on it together. He didn't seem to care, so I said I didn't really want to play any more. He was cold too, so we went inside, but I explained to him that he shouldn't just go knocking down things that other people have worked on.

Cut to tonight: on the way home from my parents', Jamie and I were driving and listening to music. During a quiet part, he said from the back seat, "Dad?" "Yeah, buddy," I said. He got quiet and said, "I'm sorry I knocked down your snowman." I had to think for a minute, and then remembered what happened a couple weeks ago. "That's OK, buddy. I forgive you." "Thanks," he said. He kept apologizing all the way home, and I finally told him that once someone is forgiven, they don't need to apologize anymore, which he seemed to understand. He finally suggested that he and I build another snowman tomorrow, and I agreed. Then he said, "And then maybe we can knock it down!" I agreed.

It's interesting that, even in a three year old, the conscience works and works. Even young children know when they've done something wrong, and they know that it's right to apologize. His conscience has been eating away at him for the past two weeks, and for whatever reason, tonight it led him to do something about it.

I can't wait to build another snowman!

Proclamation of Thanksgiving

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,
Secretary of State

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Starting Over...Again

This blog got a facelift again. I've been wanting my sister to use her fancy-pants-graphic-designer skills to redesign my blog, but it seems like I never get around to asking her, so I just made my own template. Could be better. Oh well.

Over the past several months there have been several things that I've either thought about, or stuff that has happened either to me or to people in my life, and I've thought to myself, "Hmm. I should blog about that." But guess what - I never do. This blogging thing seems to be a discipline for me, and it's one that I really suck at. I do think it's valuable. It's a good avenue to get other people thinking about stuff that I'm thinking about, a way of creating conversation with people, a way to share about stuff to pray for, and I think blogging is just a good practice overall.

Hopefully I can stick with it on at least a semi-regular basis. If you read my "short, inadequate description of who I am," you'll find out that I'm in seminary full time, and work full time, and have young kids. It leaves me with barely enough time to breathe, let alone blog. But I'll give it another shot.

A lot of what I want to post on here is links to other great stuff that I find during my daily bustling about on the internet. I highly recommend the blogs listed to the right. There's some really good stuff there.

Friday, July 2, 2010

A Difficult Phone Call

Sitting in the church office this afternoon, I received a phone call that is somewhat typical. It was a man who was looking for spiritual counsel. Usually when someone calls looking for counsel, there's a catch: they're also looking for money or to have some kind of need fulfilled. That's fine, but not really something our church is equipped to handle, so I usually forward them on to Neighbors.

But the guy who called today wasn't looking for anything but counsel. He said that he was a Christian, and even a Baptist. He told me that he was ready to jump off a bridge, although not literally. He said that he had been trying and trying to do right, and read the scriptures, and do what he "was supposed to do," but it seemed like God wasn't doing anything for him. He said he didn't know what he could do, and that he didn't know where his kids were going to sleep tonight (they apparently were losing their housing).

There was quite a bit more that he said, although I'm not sure I ever got the whole story of what his problem was. What was certain was that he was unsure of his future, and he didn't know where to go from here. I told him that all I could do was ask him this question: is God sovereign? Does God have a will and a plan that he is working out for the good of those who love him? He answered, "Yes, of course." Then I said, "Then trust that plan. Trust that God is good. Trust that God loves you and cares for you, and that he will work things out in his own time and in his own way and in his own good pleasure."

I told him this wasn't necessarily an easy answer, but it was the only one that I had. He was obviously unsatisfied with my answer, because he just said, "Uh, thanks." And hung up.

First of all, calls like these are hard to deal with, because I had no idea who this guy was, what his background was like, or even what is specific problem was. But that being said, I think I can take two things away from this phone call: 1) there is a lot of bad teaching out there that says that if you just believe enough or do all the right things, that God will protect you, give you money, and success. This guy didn't have any of those, so he assumed that either he wasn't doing what he "needed" to do, or that God was being unfair. He was living in a quid pro quo relationship with God that said that God owed him something for the good things he had done. When this is your outlook, an answer like the one I gave him will definitely go down bitter.

2) Secondly, the answers to issues like the ones he presented are never easy to deal with, but they should never leave us hopeless. This man was utterly hopeless. He was at the end of his rope. The thought of an all-powerful, sovereign God on his side did nothing to bolster his confidence or give him hope, which is sad. Now, having an all-powerful sovereign God on your side doesn't make life easy, or difficult situations easy, but it does provide a large measure of hope. Hope that no matter what happens, I have a portion with the Almighty, and I have forgiveness of sins through his Son.

It is not necessarily easy to trust that God loves me and cares for me when my walls are crashing down, but it's what we must do. Because if we don't have that, then we don't have anything - especially when the walls are crashing down all around us.

I hope that guy can learn to trust God, because God's the only thing he's got. God's the only thing any of us have got. And if you can't trust him, you'll always be at the end of a rope.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Don't Waste Your Cancer

Just read this great article again. Here's the text, or follow the link for the article with commentary from others. So important to remember, especially as I think about the "Race for the Cure" that was held today.

Don’t Waste Your Cancer
John Piper
Desiring God

I write this on the eve of prostate surgery. I believe in God’s power to heal—by miracle and by medicine. I believe it is right and good to pray for both kinds of healing. Cancer is not wasted when it is healed by God. He gets the glory and that is why cancer exists. So not to pray for healing may waste your cancer. But healing is not God’s plan for everyone. And there are many other ways to waste your cancer. I am praying for myself and for you that we will not waste this pain.

1. You will waste your cancer if you do not believe it is designed for you by God.

It will not do to say that God only uses our cancer but does not design it. What God permits, he permits for a reason. And that reason is his design. If God foresees molecular developments becoming cancer, he can stop it or not. If he does not, he has a purpose. Since he is infinitely wise, it is right to call this purpose a design. Satan is real and causes many pleasures and pains. But he is not ultimate. So when he strikes Job with boils (Job 2:7), Job attributes it ultimately to God (2:10) and the inspired writer agrees: “They . . . comforted him for all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him” (Job 42:11). If you don’t believe your cancer is designed for you by God, you will waste it.

2. You will waste your cancer if you believe it is a curse and not a gift.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). “There is no enchantment against Jacob, no divination against Israel” (Numbers 23:23). “The LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11).

3. You will waste your cancer if you seek comfort from your odds rather than from God.

The design of God in your cancer is not to train you in the rationalistic, human calculation of odds. The world gets comfort from their odds. Not Christians. Some count their chariots (percentages of survival) and some count their horses (side effects of treatment), but we trust in the name of the LORD our God (Psalm 20:7). God’s design is clear from 2 Corinthians 1:9, “We felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” The aim of God in your cancer (among a thousand other good things) is to knock props out from under our hearts so that we rely utterly on him.

4. You will waste your cancer if you refuse to think about death.

We will all die, if Jesus postpones his return. Not to think about what it will be like to leave this life and meet God is folly. Ecclesiastes 7:2 says, “It is better to go to the house of mourning [a funeral] than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.” How can you lay it to heart if you won’t think about it? Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Numbering your days means thinking about how few there are and that they will end. How will you get a heart of wisdom if you refuse to think about this? What a waste, if we do not think about death.

5. You will waste your cancer if you think that “beating” cancer means staying alive rather than cherishing Christ.

Satan’s and God’s designs in your cancer are not the same. Satan designs to destroy your love for Christ. God designs to deepen your love for Christ. Cancer does not win if you die. It wins if you fail to cherish Christ. God’s design is to wean you off the breast of the world and feast you on the sufficiency of Christ. It is meant to help you say and feel, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” And to know that therefore, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 3:8; 1:21).

6. You will waste your cancer if you spend too much time reading about cancer and not enough time reading about God.

It is not wrong to know about cancer. Ignorance is not a virtue. But the lure to know more and more and the lack of zeal to know God more and more is symptomatic of unbelief. Cancer is meant to waken us to the reality of God. It is meant to put feeling and force behind the command, “Let us know; let us press on to know the LORD” (Hosea 6:3). It is meant to waken us to the truth of Daniel 11:32, “The people who know their God shall stand firm and take action.” It is meant to make unshakable, indestructible oak trees out of us: “His delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers” (Psalm 1:2). What a waste of cancer if we read day and night about cancer and not about God.

7. You will waste your cancer if you let it drive you into solitude instead of deepen your relationships with manifest affection.

When Epaphroditus brought the gifts to Paul sent by the Philippian church he became ill and almost died. Paul tells the Philippians, “He has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill” (Philippians 2:26-27). What an amazing response! It does not say they were distressed that he was ill, but that he was distressed because they heard he was ill. That is the kind of heart God is aiming to create with cancer: a deeply affectionate, caring heart for people. Don’t waste your cancer by retreating into yourself.

8. You will waste your cancer if you grieve as those who have no hope.

Paul used this phrase in relation to those whose loved ones had died: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13). There is a grief at death. Even for the believer who dies, there is temporary loss—loss of body, and loss of loved ones here, and loss of earthly ministry. But the grief is different—it is permeated with hope. “We would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). Don’t waste your cancer grieving as those who don’t have this hope.

9. You will waste your cancer if you treat sin as casually as before.

Are your besetting sins as attractive as they were before you had cancer? If so you are wasting your cancer. Cancer is designed to destroy the appetite for sin. Pride, greed, lust, hatred, unforgiveness, impatience, laziness, procrastination—all these are the adversaries that cancer is meant to attack. Don’t just think of battling against cancer. Also think of battling with cancer. All these things are worse enemies than cancer. Don’t waste the power of cancer to crush these foes. Let the presence of eternity make the sins of time look as futile as they really are. “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:25).

10. You will waste your cancer if you fail to use it as a means of witness to the truth and glory of Christ.

Christians are never anywhere by divine accident. There are reasons for why we wind up where we do. Consider what Jesus said about painful, unplanned circumstances: “They will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness” (Luke 21:12 -13). So it is with cancer. This will be an opportunity to bear witness. Christ is infinitely worthy. Here is a golden opportunity to show that he is worth more than life. Don’t waste it.

Remember you are not left alone. You will have the help you need. “My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday

What follows is an excellent devotional thought from Todd Friel of Wretched Radio. I highly recommend you take a few moments to read it.

Prepare to cringe. There is a rumor spreading around the internet that suggests the sponge that was used to offer Jesus sour wine while He hung on the cross was actually used Roman toilet paper (Matthew 27:48).

It seems that a sponge attached to a stick was indeed used as a personal cleaning apparatus in first century toilets. However, nothing in the Gospel accounts indicates that the sponge used by the Roman soldiers to deliver Jesus a bitter drink was one of those devices.

Regardless, while this particular detail is inclined to make us recoil, this particular ignominy is no greater than the countless other offenses Jesus suffered on our behalf.

Our God is infinitely holy. Any offense against Him is an infinite offense. Whether it is a grotesque gesture like a toilet paper sponge shoved in His face, or failure to bow to Him as King and Lord, any affront is infinite. We blanch at a possible detail like this, but Jesus endured profound humiliations beginning with His conception.

The Royal One of Heaven allowed Himself to dwell in a woman’s womb. He permitted Himself to be delivered in afterbirth. He was circumcised. He insisted on being baptized by a sinful man. He was called a son of the devil. His human heart was broken as the multitudes turned their back on the King of Glory.

The most aggressive attacks against the Kingship of Jesus occurred at the crucifixion. Twenty-six chapters of Matthew’s Gospel demonstrate that Jesus of Nazareth is the King of Kings. When we reach chapter twenty-seven, we see the willful humiliation of the King intensify.

The Jesus who created the world allowed His creation to bind Him with ropes. Absurd. He showed submission to a pathetic ruler who had been given authority over Him. A murderer was chosen to be released instead of Him. The very people He came to rescue chanted, “Crucify Him.” These were the same men and women He had healed and fed.

In derision, the soldiers stripped God and placed a scarlet robe on Him. This was not to acknowledge His kingship, but to mock it. While Tiberius Julius Caesar Augustus was portrayed with a wreath on his head on Roman coinage, the true King had a crown of thorns smashed onto His. The very reed the soldiers placed into the hands of Jesus to ridicule His Kingship was then used to smash the King’s head.

The punches and spit flew as the derision climaxed with the mocking chant, “Hail, King of the Jews.” The very King of the Jews who wrote that criminals should be executed outside of the camp allowed Himself to be brought outside of Jerusalem to be completely “cut off” like a criminal (Daniel 9:26).

Was Jesus offered sour wine on a toilet sponge? It doesn’t matter.

No greater shame has been born and no greater love has been demonstrated. All of this, and infinitely more, was endured by the Savior so that you and I might be saved and God might be glorified. Amazing obedience. Amazing humility. Amazing grace.

May you have a contemplative Good Friday.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

My Son "Reads" Philippians 2.5-11

It took Ferg about two weeks to get this one down. This one was a bit more difficult for him for some reason. It took him forever to get the words "humbled" and "obedient."

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The 10 Plagues of Egypt: More Proof of Global Warming

What? Well, kind of. My sister sent me a copy of this article which describes how a group of scientists believes they have come up with a theory about how the 10 plagues of Egypt could have occurred naturally, and it begins with climate change. Not the climate change that’s touted these days, but rather a regional climate change. I encourage you to read the findings for yourself, but let me simplify it for you. The theory goes like this: the land of Egypt was once very wet and fertile. But after a while, things got very dry, which caused the Nile River to become infected with Burgundy Blood Algae, which gave the river the appearance of having turned to blood. The Blood Algae choked all the frogs out of the river, which then made a mass exodus (pun intended) onto dry land. But of course the frogs couldn’t survive on land, so they starved and died. Dead frogs produced flies and gnats, which spread disease to both humans and livestock. Meanwhile, a volcano roughly 400 miles away erupted, producing lightning, fiery hail, and darkness from the volcanic ash. As for the death of the firstborn, that’s easily explained by a fungus that could have been present in grain supplies. Since firstborn children always got first dibs on the food, they were the first to die. There you go. All ten plagues explained scientifically and wrapped up in a nice little package! And no need for a supernatural being!

But wait a minute. It’s just not that easy to explain away God, which to be sure, is what this study is trying to do. There are, in fact, several problems with this theory (which, remember, is unproven and unprovable). Here are just a few of the ones that I see:

1. The first gripe I have is with the title of the article. It’s ridiculous: “Biblical plagues really happened, say scientists.” Oh thank goodness the scientists have finally told us that we’re not all idiots for thinking the plagues are actual historical events! Where would we be without the scientists?! As if they are the only authority on what actually happens in the world. As though it’s not true until they say it is. Who do they think they are, the history police? Granted, this isn’t a gripe about the theory, but rather about the arrogance of those involved.

2. This article is so full of improvable speculation it’s ridiculous. Basically the only thing they know “for sure” (but even this is not without questions – how could they possibly know for sure without having been there? There’s certainly at least a little guess work going on.) is that the reign of Ramses preceded an extreme dry period in Egypt’s history. This fact alone then leads them to connect the dots about the 10 plagues of Egypt. But there is no way to prove that the Nile River was choked with the Burgundy Blood Algae that the article references. Nor is there any way to prove that said algae led to a massive frog exodus, which in turn led to flies and lice and disease, and so on and so forth. It’s all speculation.

3. Here’s the biggest problem with this whole study: the scientists in question have, in a sense, validated the historical record of the account in Exodus. The Bible says there were ten plagues in Egypt, and they have “confirmed” it (I hesitate to use that word). In other words, they have shown that the biblical account is accurate. The problem for them then becomes, what about the validity of the other parts of the plague narrative? In other words, if they believe that some parts of scripture are true, don’t they then have to believe that other parts are true as well? If not, how do they pick and choose which parts are true and which aren't? Just those that are "provable?" This has significant implications within the plague narrative, and also with scripture as a whole. For example, two times within the plague narrative it is expressly stated that the Hebrew people were exempt from suffering the consequences of particular plagues (flies and the death of livestock). How does science explain that? Don’t forget that science has confirmed the plagues’ place in history. How then does it explain that the Hebrew people were completely unaffected? It can’t. The only explanation for that is a divine one. My point is that if one part of the plague narrative is true, shouldn’t all of it be true? You can see how this becomes sticky when we consider the rest of scripture as a whole. More on that in a minute.

But couldn’t God have used natural means for producing the plagues? I mean, what’s really so bad about God sending Burgundy Blood Algae to the Nile to give it the appearance of blood? Couldn’t God have orchestrated all of those events to work with each other to produce the plagues we read about in Exodus? Maybe, but I don’t think that’s the way God works, for a couple of reasons: 1) that’s not what scripture says (it says the water turned to blood, not water that looked like blood. The appearance of blood wouldn’t have been miraculous – the actual turning of water into blood is pretty astounding!); and 2) it completely misses the point of why God sent the plagues in the first place. What? Didn’t God send the plagues to get Pharaoh to let the Hebrews go? Not primarily. Exodus 7.5 says, “The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.” The purpose of the plagues was to open the eyes of the Egyptians to the reality of God, which would consequently result in the release of the Israelites. Again, in Exodus 8.22: “But on that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, where my people dwell, so that no swarms of flies shall be there, that you may know that I am the Lord…” What’s God’s purpose in setting apart the Hebrews from the plague of flies? To protect them? Not primarily. The purpose of protecting the Hebrews from the plague of flies was so that the Egyptians could see that God is, and that God’s purposes are always accomplished. The protection of the Israelites was simply God’s means of showing his greatness to all those who were watching.

If you prove that the plagues naturally occurred, you remove from them their purpose: “that you may know that I am the Lord”. But that’s what this whole thing is about. In explaining the plagues through natural means, no one has to “know that I am the Lord.” You see, people hate God by nature, and they love to shake their fists at him. And they certainly don’t want to have to turn from their sins, because they love them. What’s their only option then? Explain God away, and try to show that he has not moved in history so they don’t have to deal with reality. That’s all this is. It’s people who are afraid of the reality of God trying to alleviate their fears. If only they could learn from the plagues what the Egyptians learned from the plagues: “I am the Lord.”

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Idol and Drug of Ministry

I just learned this morning that Pastor John Piper is taking an eight month leave of absence from pastoring Bethlehem Baptist church in Minneapolis. During this leave of absence he will be doing no preaching, writing no books or articles, and will not be doing any pastoring of any kind. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Piper, and much of my own theology has been informed by his own influential work. As I look to my bookshelf, I count 13 unique titles that bear his name as the author. In fact, one of the best, most influential books I have ever read was by John Piper: "Let the Nations Be Glad!" It's a fantastic work on missions and the church. I can't recommend it highly enough. I was therefore a bit stunned to hear that Piper was taking a leave of absence, and hoped that he had not fallen into the sin which ensnares so many in the ministry.

It turns out that the reason Piper is taking a leave of absence is that his ministry has turned into somewhat of an idol to him. Piper has previously blogged about the difficulties of being a "celebrity" preacher, and the dangers of dealing with the potential pride that such a status might bring. In the letter and sermon Piper presented to his congregation, he states that his ministry has tended to take priority over his family and marriage. Piper says that he not only needs to work on his marriage and family life, but that he needs a reality check - how will he handle himself if he's not involved in ministry? In other words, it sounds like a serious dose of self-examination. In his sermon, Piper explained it this way: “What will happen to John Piper when…there will be no prideful sipping from the poisonous cup of international fame and notoriety? I need to find that out.”

I have to say that I - and probably any other minister - knows what John Piper is dealing with, although not so much in what it feels like to be a celebrity preacher. Ministry isn't a profession - it's an all consuming passion. This is not to say that ministry is a more noble profession than any other, but that I believe ministers are so called to ministry in that they can never be satisfied in doing anything else but ministry. Personally, I cannot fathom not being a regular part of ministry. Even if, for whatever reason, I wasn't employed in full time ministry, I would have to do something in ministry, even if it was on a strictly volunteer basis. I love it too much. I desire it. I live in it. I breathe it. I sleep it. I love God's church, and I want nothing more than to serve it with the gifts he has given me. Piper said pretty much the same thing about his preaching ministry in his latest sermon: “I want to preach so bad I can hardly stand it. I love what I do…but that’s not what it’s about.”

Put bluntly, ministry is craziness. It's unscheduled, impromptu, and unpredictable. There's meetings, phone calls, rehearsals, events, emergencies, and a host of other things outside of the regular 9-5 work week. It can get out of control really quickly, and it can be difficult for families to live with ministers because of the demanding schedules and craziness that comes with the territory. So I can understand how Piper's ministry and family lives may have gotten mingled together. Ministry can definitely be an idol for some, and I can see how it could be for Piper, but for me it's more like a drug. It keeps me going and keeps me busy. It's my passion and my way of life. It's how I do things. The danger for me, then, becomes overdosing on that drug and losing focus - both on the purpose of my ministry at the church, and on the main ministry and mission field of my life: my family. It's also dangerous in that at times I can just be focused on being busy instead of the real work of ministry. Sometimes ministry is dangerous because the busyness of it becomes the end goal - how do we know something's being accomplished? Because we're working on it and we're busy! Not true. It's a dangerous and addictive way of doing things.

But if anything, the formation of my family in the past couple of years has only strengthened my dedication to my family. Although I have such a zeal for ministry, it is only eclipsed by my desire to be with and minister to my family. Several months ago I realized that my job schedule was pretty much taking me from my home and family 3-5 nights per week. It was tearing me up. I had to resign from a couple boards and committees to ensure that there was time for me to be with my wife and kids, and I don't regret it a bit. In fact, I think I might still be a bit too tied to my ministry and not enough to my family. I may need to even take further steps.

Praise God that I don't face the temptation of international notoriety. It must be unbearable at times. Praise God that he has so worked in John Piper as to expose his sin. As a man that many look up to, including myself, we need to keep him (and all ministers) in prayer.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Christian Support For Obama Declines

I can't remember where it was in my daily business that I ran across this article, but I found it interesting, and the Barna group usually does a good, reliable job at statistics. There's no date on the online version of the article, but I find it interesting that it's making its way around the web the day of the health care bill signing, even though health care gets but a small paragraph of attention in the article. The research was obviously done before the current bill was even close to being passed.

There is also always a question of labels: "born again" verses "evangelical" verses "committed Christian." It's hard to keep everybody straight, let alone trying to understand how these specific groups feel about the president and his job performance so far.

If I were asked to participate in the study, I would have responded that President Obama has pretty much performed his duties in the manner that I expected him to, if I were to recall my predictions before the election took place. I guess I'm a bit surprised that so many Christians (evangelical, born again, or otherwise) have been so taken off guard by his job performance so far. What did they expect? It seems to me that President Obama has pretty much done what he said he would do (at least in some arenas - others have yet to be determined), whether I agree with him or not. In other words, you've got to give the guy credit for sticking to his guns.

69% of American Christians are at least "dissatisfied" with the president (note: this is not just Christians who voted for him, but Christians in total), and 25% of Christians have been surprised that he is more liberal than they expected. It's interesting to note that two thirds of all Americans feel that the president has met their ideological expectations of him.

Considering that 42% of born again Christians voted for Obama, which translates to 40% of the electorate, then that means that there are a boatload of Christians who aren't getting from President Obama what they thought they were getting, and as a result, they are dissatisfied with him. But if indeed Obama has not acted out of character in his decisions and policies thus far in his presidency, and if the actions that he has taken were foreseeable (which I believe they were), then, quite frankly, a lot of Christians goofed - big time.

I'm not calling Obama's politics into question here, although I certainly have vehement disagreement with them. What I am calling into question is the American Christian's ability to be biblically discerning in the voting process. What frustrates me is not so much that Christians voted for Obama, but that they voted for him blindly, seemingly without examining what the ramifications of what a President Obama would be. Perhaps they got caught up in his celebrity; perhaps they were persuaded by his superior oratory skills; perhaps they just did what their friends were doing. None of these are wise reasons to vote for anyone. In fact, the Bible warns against all of these as reasons for following or trusting someone.

Let me reiterate that I'm not saying that voting for Obama was sinful or evil. What I am saying is that doing something - that is, anything - without sound biblical counsel and discernment is unwise and dangerous. I'm also not saying that being biblically discerning would have necessarily lead someone to vote for John McCain, or against Obama in some way. We just need to know what we're doing, why were doing it (according to scripture), and what the ramifications for our actions will be. If you wanted to vote for Obama, fine, but let's know why he is the right choice biblically. The same thing applies to a vote for McCain. This is where a lot of conservative Christians fail: voting for a republican candidate simply because he is a republican, which lacks just as much discernment as someone voting for Obama because of his celebrity.

This applies to all circumstances - not just politics. And when we realize the ramifications, we must pray, perhaps repent, and learn from our mistakes.

Friday, March 19, 2010

I'm Glad I'm Not The President

If I were ever present at one of those town hall meetings that presidential candidates are so fond of, I have a question I would really like to ask one of them: "Why in the world would you ever want to be president?" Seriously, I can't think of a job I'd rather not have. A good case in point is the health care reform that's probably going to be forced through the house on Sunday. Right now our country is more polarized than perhaps any other time in history. We're basically split down the middle, and the two sides are pretty far apart. I can't imagine leading a country in this state.

The health care reform issue is a perfect example. It is a totally polarizing issue - you're either on one side or the other - and the country is pretty split on it. No matter what President Obama does, he's going to be hated by one side or the other.

Don't get me wrong, I'm totally against health care reform. I want the government to stay out of my life as much as it can. But can you imagine being one of the people "in charge" right now? No thanks.

Changes Coming

This blog really needs a facelift. There's only one problem: I'm clueless as to how to do it. This is why I have a sister who's good at these kinds of things. I think I'll get her to do it.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Idolatry On Sunday Mornings

I just ran across this series of articles by Bob Kauflin. I can't recommend it highly enough, both for those involved in leading and conducting worship and for those sitting in the pews. Bob Kauflin is a songwriter and worship leader that works out of the Sovereign Grace network of churches. I have very much appreciated his work in songwriting, and we use several of Sovereign Grace Music's songs at our church.

Kauflin asserts that there are several idols that are being worshiped in American churches on Sunday morning - often ignorantly - along with the worship of the one true God. These idols aren't carved images or statues, but rather tend to be other elements of American worship. Kauflin identifies music, tradition, creativity, experience, liturgy, biblical knowledge, biblical ignorance, musical excellence, results, reputation, and relevance as potential idols that can draw our worship away from God. Kauflin confesses that he is guilty of worshiping each of these things before God at one point or another, and I must admit the same.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

My Son "Reads" Psalm 23

It took Ferg about a week to get this down.

Getting This Going Again

I guess it's time I start keeping up with this blog again. There are a few links here and there to this blog, and it looks pretty bad if my last post was from 10 months ago. Plus, it's pretty bad that all of the information on my profile was out of date. It didn't even have the birth of my daughter 8 months ago! According to my profile, I only have one kid. So the profile has been updated, and I'm off again.