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Everyone has a voice, and a choice to use it well, use it poorly, or not to use it at all.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ecuador


This Christmas break, I have the opportunity to go to Ecuador with Summit Adventure to spend nine days in ministry and mountaineering. I view this as a phenomenal opportunity, because it combines two of the things that excite me the most: climbing mountains and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Mt. Cotopaxi

 For about half of the time,  I would stay in Quito, the capital city of Ecuador, and serve with the Ecuadorian ministry Remanso de Amor, sharing the gospel in a variety of ways. The other half of the time would be spent in mountaineering training, including attempts on some impressive peaks. This training interests me because it will teach skills I need to know to pursue my vision for outdoor ministry in the future.

Quito, capital of Ecuador

I will send out letters to raise support for this trip in the next few days. Having seen God provide many thousands of dollars to sustain me in Nepal gives me total faith that He will can raise the $2,200 necessary to send me to Ecuador. I am praying that God will move people to give of what He has given them to support me in this ministry. I am excited for this opportunity, and hopeful that God will make it reality!

Visit my Ecuador Updates page for more updates about Ecuador.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Blood and the Gospel

I just found this draft I began several months ago. Now it is ready to go!

I find myself with less school work than I had thought tonight, so I will write about something that Geography 100 brought to mind today. We watched the documentary "The Devil's Miner", about two young boys working in a Bolivian mine in very dangerous conditions. This film points to the gospel so clearly I could barely believe it as I watched.

Pointer # 1 - The Need to be Close to God
 Two young boys, one 10 and the other 14, go down into the mines daily. It is called "the mine that eats people", because so many have died there. In environments where life is a search for survival, rather than pleasure, human behavior and mental function changes. Maslow's hierarchy of needs will tell you as much, but I prefer the testimony of my friend, who recounted to me the experience of his close friend while on a glacier expedition. This friend, exposed to the elements and in an environment of high perceived risk, stopped thinking of school, and getting a job, and girls. His mind was totally focused on getting to the next place to stop, get warm, eat food, and sleep. He involuntarily focused on his most basic needs.

The situation of the Bolivian child-miners was somewhat different - they had higher actual risk, but less minute-by-minute discomfort. Their environment, however, caused them to focus on basic survival: don't slip down the shaft, don't jar the dynamite. And, interestingly, they were always very careful to pay homage to Tio. Tio was a idol made of clay, with horns and red eyes. When outside the mine, the boys went to church. When inside the mine, they worshiped Tio. An older miner said "Outside we believe in God who is our only savior. Inside things change. Inside we believe in the devil. Inside our God is the devil - Satan. Our belief is split into two worlds." Such a strange dichotomy is difficult to understand - there are very few I think who worship both God and the devil. I think it can be understood better by taking into account that those who are in dangerous situations are most likely to relate to deity as a protector, and come to deity in search of safety.
In this paradigm, it is understandable (though certainly not commendable) that the boys would worship the Christian God while they were in a church and felt close to Him, but not do so in a mine, where they felt far from Him. In that mine, where they were in danger and afraid, they still had an elemental desire for safety, paired with an instinct/urge that safety comes from spiritual power. What prompted them to turn to the devil for this safety, I cannot say; probably the underground blackness had something to do with it. The takeaway, apart from sorrow for their miserable state, is a recognition of the universal human need to be close to a spiritual protector.

Pointer # 2 - The Means to be Close to God
The idol Tio and small offerings to it provided the day to day peacekeeping between the spiritual and the miners. However, their big yearly ceremony gives us even more insight. Keep in mind that this is a human construct to fill a human need: the need to be right with God, to procure his blessing, avoid his wrath, and be close to him. (Isn't it interesting that almost as common as sacrifice to a god, is the perception that god has something against us?) Of course, it is possible that the perception of the divine is itself a human construct. However, given the global similarities between sacrificial rites, I think it is unlikely. Case in point: the Bolivians brought a llama to the mouth of the cave. As children looked on in a mixture of fear and fascination, a knife was sharpened. A bowl was brought to collect the blood. As the llamas throat was cut, its blood was collected in the bowl and thrown on the top of the stone entrance to the mine. A woman put blood on her hands and began smearing it on the faces of the individual miners.

Now compare that to accounts of Old Testament sacrifices in the Bible. A lot of similarities, aren't there? (click: Exodus 12:1-7) It is also very similar to the animal sacrifices I have seen in Hindu and Buddhist Nepal. Apparently, humanity has a basic understanding that blood is required to buy life, that the blood of an innocent living thing can buy safety for another. Where does that understanding come from?

It comes from God, that we might understand the GOSPEL, that the innocent Jesus paid for our sin, died the death we deserved, exposed himself to the just wrath of God so that we can taste the fullness of God's just grace. Wrath means eternal exposure to God's anger, Grace means eternal immersion in God's loving and awesome presence.

This is elemental, instinctual, but not pagan. Blood is not pagan. This following after Christ is not primarily comprised of silk ties in Church, of not cussing and being a good parent. Those things are the superficial (and good) veneer above the bloody, gruesome sacrifice. Physically He was an ugly spectacle, and spiritually He holds a beautiful truth. When you know that Truth, even his physical sacrifice becomes endowed with a majestic beauty amidst the horror. The sacrificial lamb is Jesus the Christ, and He knows perfectly what the Bolivian and Nepali sense dimly, and what most of America has chosen to forget: salvation comes through blood. Life comes only through death.



Saturday, August 6, 2011

Mentally Packing the Golden State

The great Artist draws the Summer of 2011 to a close. For me, this is the busiest part: I head into the backcountry to instruct a course early tomorrow morning, then have a day to regroup before instructing another. I fly home at 6 the morning after that course ends. I just finished packing up all the physical things I have here. Some of them I brought with me, some I acquired while here. There are several things I choose to leave behind.

                                           Crystal Crag - climbed on Alpine Training


Packing physical things is necessary and fairly straightforward - I can see what I am doing. Packing mental things is just as necessary, but not nearly as straightforward. I can't see what I am doing, and it is harder to know what I brought, what I acquired, and what I am leaving behind. I think that making a list will prove as useful in mental packing as it has in physical packing.


                                  Upper Cathedral Rock - site of my first Yosemite climb



Things I Brought with Me:
-excitement to experience California and practice experiential education in the wilderness
-hope to receive confirmation concerning what God wants me to do with my life
-nervousness concerning my own abilities, those I would serve with, and whether I would be able to keep my spirits up in the logistics work or not
-plenty of physical gear

Things I Acquired:
-greater appreciation of the beauty of California and its maker
-experience in experiential education in the wilderness
-technical skill, especially in setting up rappels and climbs, and in climbing itself
-many valuable friendships
-confirmation that I truly enjoy facilitating experiential ed. in the wilderness, and that it is the form of ministry that comes most naturally to me of all I have experienced so far
-thankfulness that God put me among truly wonderful, Christ serving, talented people to serve with and under
- less confidence in some areas of my ability, more confidence in other areas, and a greater motivation to increase my ability
-confidence and thankfulness that when excitement in work runs out, work ethic will still allow me to do a good job
-a better understanding of who I am and how I react in certain situations, in specific ways
-a deeper understanding of my own sin. I am very, very bad, and God is very, very good.
- some more, cooler, physical gear






Things I am Leaving Behind
-a fair amount of pride (praise God that He answers when we ask for humility)
-a little blood
-the testimony of Christ in me, by God's grace
-a good bit of less cool physical gear

Now, concerning my goals at the beginning of the summer...

"1. Read through the whole Bible
2. Read three works of literature
3. Memorize three works of poetry and three passages of scripture
4. Memorize the exact altitudes of each of the "Seven Summits". Why not?"

Well, I didn't complete all the goals. I have made it most of the way through Numbers in the Bible. I was only able to complete Augustine's Confessions, but I am perfectly satisfied on that one. It is richer in insight than any book I have ever read aside from the Bible. For memorization, I memorized one Psalm (139) and one poem (A Prayer, by Claude McKay). I didn't even try to memorize the exact altitudes of the Seven Summits.

Turns out I came up short on all four of my goals. It bothers me a little bit, but not much. I learned so much, in so many different areas, that it is impossible for me to get seriously disappointed about missing a few poems and books.

If you are in the Bluegrass, I'll see you soon! If you are in California or elsewhere around the world, I hope to see you again!

Praise God from whom all blessings flow. Whatever is good in in you, and me, and the world, comes directly from Him.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Think/Feel Issue

Upon returning to America from Nepal, I had a new perspective on America and much of what goes with it. Cut grass smelled sweeter, my pillow was softer, and it was almost impossible for me to enter a house without removing my shoes. I talked about some of these things in a former post. Apart from these changes in me and my perception, I also noticed some changes in America itself that had taken place while I was gone. Some were good, and some were bad. Today we will discuss one change that is bad. It may have been going on even before I left for Nepal, but I only noticed it when I came back: people talking about their thoughts or perceptions as if they were feelings, saying "I feel like" instead of "I think".

This habit is concerning to me. Language is a very fluid thing, determined by the practices of people who speak. The English language has lost a great many wonderful words, because we have ceased to use them, or used them incorrectly for so long that nobody remembers what they used to mean. Love. Charity. Cynosure. (Ok, maybe that one deserves to be forgotten). "Feel", and perhaps indirectly, "think", seem to be close on their heels  - not forgotten, but twisted through misuse.

Before I jump all the way in, allow me to confess: I have caught myself saying "I feel like" instead of "I think" several times. When I catch it, I try to correct myself, but I am not above reproach in this matter.

Now, is it really necessary for me to correct myself? Is there anything harmful about saying "I feel like" instead of "I think"? Is there anything better about thoughts than emotions?

The answer to that last question is no - I don't think thoughts are better than emotions, they are just different. However, that is not the issue here. While emotions and thoughts, as a whole, are equally valuable, it is sloppy to call one thing by the name of something else. That brings us to my first two points in my effort to show that it is not good to talk about thoughts as if they were feelings.

Point # 1: Thoughts and feelings are different.
This one shouldn't require much explanation - we know it intuitively. Ask your romantic interest if saying "You make me feel like I never felt before" makes him/her feel the same as if you said "You make me think like I never thought before". Perhaps you could try "feeling" your way through your next exam. It seems clear, but it is necessary to go ahead and clearly define our terms in order to proceed.

Merriam Webster's defines "feel" as...
a : to undergo passive experience of  
b : to have one's sensibilities markedly affected by

Other parts of the definition cover the physiological side of feeling, such as feeling someone's hand, feeling hot. The important characteristic about feeling is that it is passive, it is something that happens to you. It is not possible to make yourself feel emotional love for someone, or to make yourself feel itchy. Furthermore, feeling is by nature subjective. If you say "I feel hot", that does not mean it is hot. If you say "I love Murphy", that does not mean that I love Murphy too. Feelings like love and hate are subjective, not objective. Finally, people do not usually choose to feel something in order to achieve something else. Feeling may lead to thinking or action, but it is not generally an intentional connection.

Merriam Webster defines "think" as...

1. to form or have in the mind
2. to have as an intention
3.   a.to have as an opinion
      b.to regard as

You can check out the rest of the definition here.
The important characteristic about thinking is that it is active - it is something you do. You can choose to think about mountains or about rock climbing or about poetry. Depending on the level of stress or obsession, it is sometimes hard to stop thinking about something, but it is possible. Like feeling, thought is subjective. However, thought deals generally with determining objective truth - with the best way to solve a math problem, or the proper course of action to take in a relationship, or whether or not God exists. The answers to these dilemmas are objective, not subjective. Finally, thinking is a means to an end. People think about things in order to get things figured out, or to know things absolutely, or to determine which course to take.

I sent a rough draft of this post to one of the most intelligent people I know. She pointed out something I had overlooked, which I think is part of the reason it is easy to get thought and feeling confused: thoughts and feelings are often closely connected. As she wrote, 'When you say "I feel hot", you do "think" that you are hot as well. When you feel sad, you are normally thinking sad thoughts.' She is right - thinking about certain things will make you sad. To further confuse things, people often say that a thought is happy or sad - "Think happy thoughts!" - because certain thoughts bring about happy emotions. In fact, the thoughts themselves are not inherently happy (the same thoughts on a different day might bring about a different emotion).

So, it is clear that to feel and to think are very different things. Feeling is passive, while thinking is active. Feeling is by nature subjective, while thinking is the subjective attempting to arrive at the objective. Thinking is a means to an end, while feeling is not. So, though they are often closely connected, thinking and feeling are not the same thing.

Point #2: Calling something what it isn't is incorrect and unwise.
Sloppy speech leads to sloppy thought, which leads to sloppy action. There are only a few instances when people purposefully mis-label something in their speech. They may do so as a joke, or with the intention to deceive. Otherwise, they are simply making a mistake without knowing it. For instance, if you say that Mt. Everest is in South America, I will know that either you are trying to be funny, or you are trying to deceive me, or you are just mistaken about where Mt. Everest is. There is no other option.
Here is the key: in normal conversation, in which you want to be taken seriously, none of those three are good options. If you are joking, people won't take you seriously. If you are lying, you will not be trusted. If you don't know, it will show, and you won't get very far. So, if you want to be taken seriously, call things by their proper names, and use the proper terms. 

Someone will say that such a discussion is fine for things that really matter, but a simple difference between think and feel does not warrant such attention. I disagree, and I'll show you why.

Point # 3: Calling your thoughts by the name of feelings applies the value of feelings to your thoughts. I think people say "I feel like that is a bad idea" instead of "I think that is a bad idea" because they don't want to come across as harsh or judgmental. When I hear someone say something like that, I cringe, because they have just given their statement the same weight as if they had said "I feel cold" or "I feel tired". Those are perfectly valid statements, but they are not imperatives - they do not necessarily require anyone to do anything, nor do they suggest that anyone else should be feeling the same thing. The end result is that, while the speaker avoids sounding harsh or judgmental, they also fail to give their statement any weight. They rob their own words of power.

Point # 4: Treating your thoughts like feelings may cause you do use feelings as thoughts were supposed to be used. This is merely a suspicion I have, and it would be difficult to support empirically. However, given the vast number of people making decisions based solely on emotion these days, I don't think it is a preposterous theory. Imagine: Arnold constantly says "I feel like" instead of "I think". He often expects people to treat his "I feel" statements as if they were "I think" statements. Consequently, he soon begins to treat them that way himself. He begins to think that feelings should be acted upon. Pretty soon, he has forgotten the differences between thoughts and feelings, and is treating his feelings as if they were thoughts. He quits his job because he feels like a failure. He marries Jane because she make him feel super great. He sells his car because of a case of indigestion. Oh what a sorry state Arnold is in.

My intelligent friend said another thing I had not thought about: "Acting upon or making decisions based off of feelings can be bad or good...sometimes acting on feeling is good. Sympathy and compassion are feelings." I can hardly believe I missed this point, but it is so true. In the past, I have said that decisions and actions should not be made based on emotions. Rather, I said, emotion should be used as an indicator that something worth thinking about is going on. Consequently, it is not wise to act solely on emotion. I have said that in the past, and I think it is generally a good principle, but now I need to add that it is not wise to act solely on thought. If you make a decision with thought alone, there is no room for feelings like compassion, empathy, or love. Those are things that should be guiding principles for all our thoughts.

Here we go - Application Station: If you are having an emotional/visceral reaction to a situation, or a sensory perception of your environment, and want to tell somebody about it, you can say "Hey Billy Jean, I feel...". In every other case of mental activity that you want to share, use a different word. It has occurred to me that perhaps this whole mix up is because people just don't know enough words any more. (Another possibility is that people are actually kind of rusty in the area of thinking in general). Here are few words that are similar to think to keep you on track: remember, consider, postulate, suppose, intend, perceive, expect. 

If you are one of those many who use "feel like" instead of "think" many times each day, it will be a hard habit to break. But it will be worth it. First of all you will be correct. Second, you will not be caught up in the sloppy speech --> sloppy thought --> sloppy action progression. Third, people who understand the difference between thought and feeling will take you seriously.

Happy trails!


Friday, July 1, 2011

Personifying the Wilderness

If you enjoy reading and love the wilderness, you probably like reading about the wilderness. Some of my favorite books are about the backcountry, books like Treasures Beneath the Sea, Endurance, and Everest the Hard Way. Reading books like this are the next best thing to actually being in the backcountry.

Each outdoor adventurer has a different philosophy on the outdoors. Some go out to find themselves, while others go to lose themselves. I enjoy hearing these different philosophies, because they are Cosmic Snail Trails - examples of the subjective giving us clues about the nature of the ultimate objective truth.

I see a pattern in books on the outdoors, especially in books on mountaineering expeditions. The authors almost universally attribute human characteristics to the mountain they are attempting to climb. Even the ancient Tibetan and Nepali name for Mt. Everest personifies the mountain: both the Tibetan name Chomolungma and the Nepali name Sagarmatha mean roughly "Mother Goddess of the Earth". More modern climbers tend to be less charitable. To many, Everest seems to be not so much motherly as hard, petulant, and resentful, often unwilling to be climbed.

What is this human tendency towards the personification of the physical world? Is there something to it? The Hindus, by and large, would say that it is the proper recognition of the god(s) that exists in everything. Staunch atheists would reply that, whatever it is, it is a false perception. What is the Christian reply?

Paul did not fully explain the personification of nature, but he certainly wrote about it:

"For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time."

What are we to make of this human (and even Biblical) tendency to personify nature? 

I believe it is an indicator that God is perceived more clearly in the wilderness than elsewhere. God is the ultimate "person" - there is nothing more personal than Him. It makes sense that He should be perceived in His creation - that is the whole premise of the CST Theory. From there, it is a short step to conclude that the less there is to distract us from God, the more of Him we will be able to perceive. When fewer man made objects there are to take up our attention, more of our attention will be free to attend to God. As we come to the end of ourselves and face the limit of our own abilities, we begin to perceive the characteristics of God in His creation.  His power, vastness, beauty, and variety are evident in what He has made.

God put these characteristics there for a reason. I do not pretend to understand all of that reason, but a part of it is that creation is intended by God to be a testament to all humankind - a testament that points us towards God, and condemns us when we reject Him.

"For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse."

This is the root of why going into the wilderness is so powerful.  God displayed his invisible qualities in visible form in his creation.

The plainest conviction that comes from this is to get out into it! If you don't believe in God, go into the backcountry and experience that which you cannot explain. If you want to believe in God, go into the backcountry and allow Him to make himself known. If you are a Christian of fifty years, who has attended seminary and shepherded churches, go into the backcountry and learn things all your books written by human hands can not teach you, as you marvel at God's invisible characteristics laid before your eyes in visible form.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

2011 Baccalaureate Address

After hearing me share about my experiences in Nepal at a church, Mr. Todd Moberly graciously invited me on behalf of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes to give the 2011 Baccalaureate address at Madison Southern High School. I was very pleased and honored to accept, and it was exciting to see around 50 students and their families choose to attend the Baccalaureate a few weeks ago.

In response to a request, here is a summary of the material in the address I gave.

Introduction
  • I have two goals in speaking to you today. One is to give tools to help you achieve your purpose in life and enjoy it to the fullest. In order for that to happen, you need to be emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually healthy.  But I am not really here for you, though I am sure you are great people. I am here for the thousands of people you will influence over the course of your lives. And so the second part of my message will be about leadership: how to spread that overall health to the people around you.
Three Keys to Health: Emotional, Intellectual, and Spiritual


  • Emotional Health: The Oven Principle
    •  The Oven Principle is that "What goes in is what comes out". The ingredients that are put into an oven determine the nature of what comes out of it. Your mind is an oven. Your circumstances and attitude are the ingredients that go into your oven, while your emotions are one of the main products that comes out of it. While you often cannot control all of your circumstances, you can control your attitude. Putting a good attitude into the oven will have a direct beneficial impact on the emotions that come out of it.
  • Intellectual Health: The Pirate Principle
    •  The Pirate Principle is to "Only read the good stuff" and "Read to remember". Pirates don't read much - in fact the only thing they read is treasure maps. They only read what they know will benefit them - they only read the good stuff. Furthermore, Pirates read to remember. Imagine: a pirate is captured. His life is worthless...unless he destroys the map and remembers its information. Then he can use it to buy his life - then his life is worth something, because he read to remember. Be like the pirate. Only read the good stuff (starting points: Dickens, Lewis, Dostoyevsky, Hugo, Augustine the Bible), and read to remember (read slowly, look up words you don't know, take notes, underline if it is your book).
  • Spiritual Health: The Gospel Principle
    •  Outline of the big picture story of the Bible.

Three Tools of Leadership:
In CPR training, you learn to Look, Listen, and Feel. This is to keep you from doing CPR on perfectly healthy, breathing people who would not appreciate it. To lead effectively, you must Look, Listen, and Speak Up!
  • Look
    • Leadership requires vision. Leaders must be going someplace, and to go someplace, they have to chart a course, much like a ship setting out to sea. 
  • Listen
    • An essential part of being a leader is that people follow you. If no one follows you, you are not being an effective leader: the foundation of effective leadership is relationships. In order to build relationships, stop talking and listen. Listening shows respect, encourages communication, and enhances effectiveness and understanding.
  • Speak Up!
    • For some, listening is the hardest part of leadership. For others, speaking up is far more difficult. For every leader, it is essential. You have a message - a testament to give to the world. Without it the world will not be what it should be, with it the world will never be the same. Speak up, and let your message be heard. To lead, you have to speak up.

This is a summary of the address given at Madison Southern High School for their 2011 Baccalaureate. I am thankful for Mr. Todd Moberly, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and the school for allowing me to speak.




Friday, May 20, 2011

The Golden State


On May 24th, 2011 I fly to California for the summer. I will be living in Bass Lake, California, working for Summit Adventure. Bass Lake is about ten miles south of the southern entrance to Yosemite National Park. SA's mission statement is:

"To facilitate transformational learning that strengthens relationships, deepens faith, and builds compassion through Christ-centered outdoor adventure, service, and experiential education."

My position is a hybrid between logistics and Assistant Instructor  - some of the time I'll be serving in one position, some of the time in the other. Logistics involves taking care of preparations for groups to go out, while as an Assistant Instructor I will assist the Senior Instructor in leading groups into the backcountry, teaching wilderness skills and facilitating experiential learning.

I am looking forward to doing ministry in new ways, getting a deeper understanding of leadership and ministry in the wilderness, and learning new outdoor skills.

One of my good friends said "You just can't stand to stay in Kentucky for a whole year." I will leave Kentucky exactly ten months after returning to Kentucky from Nepal, so I guess he is right. It is not that I don't love Kentucky - I do, and I love all the people that I know here. Robert Service said it well:

There's sunshine in the heart of me,
my blood sings in the breeze.
The mountains are a part of me,
I'm fellow to the trees.
...
To scorn all strife and to view all life 
With the curious eyes of a child.
From the plangent sea to the prairie,
From the slum to the heart of the wild.
From the red rimmed star to the speck of sand,
From the vast to the greatly small,
For I know that the whole for good is planned,
And I want to see it all.

excerpted from "A Rolling Stone", by Robert Service

In part, this summer will be a "vision casting" trip, intended to allow God to change, focus, and elaborate my understanding of His will for my life.

I have some goals for the summer, and I want to share some of them with you, partly to ensure that I keep them, and partly to motivate you to set your own goals. Some of these goals are a part of my overall goals for 2011, while others are freestanding.

1. Read through the whole Bible
2. Read three works of literature
3. Memorize three works of poetry and three passages of scripture
4. Memorize the exact altitudes of each of the "Seven Summits". Why not?

I will open a P.O. Box while I am there, and I may have internet access as well.

Enjoy your summer!



Friday, May 6, 2011

Summer: Time to Read

I love reading good books. A good book engages the imagination, edifies the spirit, and enriches the mind. However, due to my busy schedule this semester, I have read only a few books since Christmas break. I have had to postpone my plan  to read several books on scriptural reliability. I hope to be able to get into that this summer, though I will be working full time for most of it, so no guarantee. In the mean time, I recommend that you read these books, all of which I have either read or have been strongly recommended to me.

The Cross Centered Life*
by C.J. Mahaney

This book is a great one for Christians. It assumes the reader will have a basic knowledge of the Gospel. You can read it in a day. Practicing the practical habits will enrich your walk with God.

A Severe Mercy
by Sheldon Vanauken

This book is phenomenal for anyone to read, especially those who are hungry in the spiritual department - Christian or other. It takes an honest look at the conversion experience of a skeptic of Christianity and of Christ.


Endurance*
by Sir Alfred Lansing

This is one of my favorite books. Read it when you want an exposition on leadership, a story of adventure, insight into human interaction, or a history of an important phase in exploration.

Humility
by C. J. Mahaney

Two different people have recommended this book to me, so I am excited to read it this summer.


Spiritual Leadership*
by J. Oswald Sanders

After reading books by John Maxwell and others on leadership, this is my favorite. Like Maxwell in The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, Sanders goes through the qualities which characterize a leader. However, Sanders’ perspective is distinctly Spiritual. This book is very enriching.

Desiring God
by John Piper

Those of you who are from Christian circles have heard of this book. I haven’t read it yet, it is on my list. It comes very highly recommended.

Jesus on Leadership*
by C. Gene Wilkes

This is one I hope to re-read this summer. More than any other book, this one transformed by perspective on leadership. Wilkes examines Jesus’ style of leadership, and does an excellent job of unpacking and explaining it.  

The Seven Summits*
by Dick Bass

Another classic adventure books. It follows two men (pros in the executive world, amateurs in the outdoor world) as they attempt to climb the highest mountain on all seven continents.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Pride and Prejudice and...the Gospel?

I reckon nearly all of you have heard of the book Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen. Around half of you ladies, and about a tenth of you guys, have actually read it. I just finished reading it about a week ago. It was assigned reading for my "Enjoying Literature" class. I was a little apprehensive at first, because:

1) it was written a couple hundred years ago
2) it was written by a woman, and I usually prefer the content of books written by men
3) there are no pictures

However, I was also looking forward to reading it, because it was recommended to me by a couple people whose literary tastes I trust, and because it has stood the test of time so well that it seems like there must be something in it worth reading.

Well, there IS. First of all, I enjoyed the book for its own sake.

Basically the story line is that ( WARNING, I'm going to tell you the whole plot!) a girl (Elizabeth) who starts out hating a guy because of her false perceptions of him and the world, ends up loving him because of his persistent and graceful love for her. The title - Pride and Prejudice - is talking about Elizabeth's own pride and prejudice. She thinks she has the world figured out, and is incapable of believing herself wrong until the truth is written out and set in front of her. At that point, she sees the world as it truly is and loves the one who loves her best, one Mr. Darcy. The book is also pretty funny.

Second, after finishing and reflecting on the book, I realized that my liking this book is a Cosmic Snail Trail, and that the reason I like it so much is because it contains themes I was made to deeply appreciate. This book contains, purposefully or by "accident", a story that is very similar to the gospel.

Similarity 1: The Original Position of Elizabeth and the Original Position of Mankind

Elizabeth is in a hard place for the first part of the book. She is the daughter of a fairly poor man, is not as pretty as her older sister, and is not particularly talented at signing or embroidery.  All of these things make it hard for her to snag a husband - yet she desperately needs one. Once her elderly father dies, she, her mother, and her four sisters will be without a protector and provider. Elizabeth's mother recognizes the seriousness of the situation and often (over)reacts will fits of grief, worry, and hysteria.

Mankind is in a hard place. We are the sons and daughters of people who were in the same bind we are. There is nothing about us that is particularly spectacular. Sure, some people are richer or more beautiful or more intelligent than others, but in the end we can't hang onto our money, and our beauty and brains rot away. We may look good on the outside, but compared to Jesus, we are ugly and unlovable. We do not deserve a savior - yet we desperately need one. We are guilty of rebellion against God. Everyone has sinned and fallen far short of God's glory.

Similarity 2: Elizabeth's Initial Perception of her Savior vs. Our Initial Perception of our Savior

Elizabeth originally misinterprets what she sees and hears about Mr. Darcy - who will one day be her earthly savior by marrying her and giving her security. She initially hates him, so much that when he proposes to her, she says she wouldn't marry him if he were the last man on earth. When others say good things about him, she won't believe it. She is stuck in her own mind, unable to take an objective view of things.

Many people misinterpret what they see and hear about Jesus - who stands ready to be their eternal savior by grace through faith. We hate Jesus, if not emotionally than practically, by ignoring or opposing Him. We hate Him so much that, even when we hear of his gospel, we reject it and pursue anything other than Him. When we hear the testimony about him from other people, we won't believe it. We are stuck in our own minds, unable to look at the facts objectively. Our eyes are clouded by sin.


Similarity 3: The Character of Mr. Darcy vs. The Character of Jesus

Mr. Darcy's character falls far short of that of Jesus Christ, but there are some similarities. Mr. Darcy is willing to leave his high position to pursue the one he loves. Though he lives in the highest circles of society, he leaves it to go to the lower social levels to convince Elizabeth to marry him. Mr. Darcy is patient: though Elizabeth rejects him at first, he gives her another chance to say yes.

Jesus was willing to leave his high position to pursue the ones he loves. Though he lives in heaven, in constant fellowship with the Father and the Holy Spirit, he left that perfect fellowship to come into the ugly, fallen, sinful world to show the world what unity with God looks like, and to essentially show people how to be married (unified, atoned) with God again. Jesus is infinitely patient: though all of us reject him time and time again, He continues to hold out his hands to us obstinate sinners. Even after we are saved by his grace, He continues to forgive us time and time again when we sin.


Similarity 4: The Fate of Elizabeth vs. The Fate of the Repentant

Elizabeth eventually repents (changes her mind) because of a letter Mr. Darcy writes to her. She decides he is actually a top notch sort of guy. Consequently, when he asks her again to marry him, she says yes, and they are married. They live in his home which is vastly bigger, fancier, and more valuable than her prior residence. She had done nothing to deserve that new home - even her change of mind was the result of Mr. Darcy's letter.

The ones God has chosen eventually repent (change their minds) because of the gospel which the Holy Spirit communicates to our Spirits. We eventually realize the immeasurable goodness of Jesus our Lord. Consequently, when we realize the free gift of the gospel, we accept it by faith and are unified with God by the Holy Spirit. We will go to His home which is perfect, eternal, and more wonderful than anything we imagined here on earth. We have done nothing to deserve that new home - even our repentance was the result of God's Holy Spirit working in us.

There you have it. The Gospel according to Pride and Prejudice.








Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Tuning Fork and the Harp


I have already shared this analogy with some of you. I usually am obliged to use it to explain why I sometimes ask strange questions, such as "What do you think of when you hear the world manly/womanly?"

This analogy came to me when I was speaking with my English professor after class. In class he perfectly (though not on purpose I am sure) set me up to share why I believe in God, which I did rather poorly in retrospect. He responded with “That is fine, but you’ll agree that that takes faith.” I replied “Yes, just like everything else”. After class I asked him whether, since I had elaborated the basis of my belief system, he would share with me his own. What was his solid ground, I wanted to know?

His reply was that his solid ground, the thing he has faith in, is the good of mankind. I could have pointed out one of several flaws with this “solid” ground, but instead chose to point out the interesting fact that he recognized, as if by some common standard, good and evil acts done by people, and was able to differentiate between them. I probably didn’t put it as well as I do now, having reflected on it further since then, but I explained to him this analogy that occurred to me at the time.

Imagine you are in a large room. With you in this room are a harp and a tuning fork – a C. The tuning fork is struck, the C note resounds through the room. You notice that all the C strings on the harp are vibrating ever so softly: sympathetic vibration.


Now, imagine you could not see the tuning fork, only the harp. Imagine that you couldn’t even hear the tuning fork when it was struck. If that were the case, you could still hope to find out something about the tuning fork, just by closely observing the harp. You would see the C strings begin to vibrate –and immediately, you would know that a tuning fork exists, and that it plays a C note.

God is the tuning fork. We are the strings of the harp. Though we live in a fallen and rebellious world, it is not so fallen and broken as to not retain any lasting reflection of its creator. How much more can we expect to see something of God’s image in His children, who he has regenerated and is in the process of sanctifying?

The whole point of the analogy is to encourage us to build relationships with people, and in so doing to strengthen relationship with God. As you begin to understand more of people, you will gain insight into what God might be like, and what He might have created us to be. In order to verify whether He is and did, of course, you must go to the Bible. Relying on human art and logic in such things is bound to lead to a disastrous misunderstanding of who God is. 

To apply: by hearing the various responses to the question "What do you think of when you hear the world manly/womanly?", it is possible to construct a model of what people believe manhood and womanhood to be all about. By comparing this model to the Bible, I hope to come up with some ideas I might have realized more slowly without constructing the human model.  

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wake: a poem

While I was camping out in the highlands of North Carolina over Spring Break, inspiration came in a single phrase, as I exited my warm sleeping bag amid a light shower of snow: "emerge from my frozen chrysalis".  This poem was initially built to house that line, but as I wrote it (as often happens) I almost unconsciously incorporated deeper themes into it. These themes (the effect the wilderness has on us, the ongoing but incomplete spiritual resurrection of the living saints of God, my analogy of sympathetic vibration, the hope of Glory) are some of the main things I have been meditating on over the past couple years.

"To [the saints] God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles (non Jews) the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory."

I have already spoken on the mystery and wonder of Christ literally living in the believer in"The Hope of Glory". A parallel hope, for a different sort of glory, is the everyday hunger I feel for adventure, struggle, battle, and victory. I think many people have this hunger.

However, at its most basic level, this is a poem about physically and spiritually waking up. 


Wake
March 2011
Willis Duke Weatherford IV

Wake,
Open
Both my eyes.
The night is done-
Wind, cold, flapping tarp,
Subject themselves to Sun-
Warm fingers plucking a harp.
A few flakes fall, a crystal kiss
On my resurrecting frame as I
Emerge, warm, from my frozen chrysalis
And the frigid earth heaves up to sky,
Convulsed in eager, violent joy,
Rise, strong, meet the pagan day!
Rise, hoping for Glory!
Rise, throw off the gray!
Stride forth boldly,
Wild wonders
Mold me,
Wake.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Rethinking Valentines Day

First, let it be known that I consider myself to be a romantic. This does NOT mean I am particularly good at creating romance, it just means I deeply appreciate romance. Romance has to do with the things which evoke emotions of love - things like heroism, beauty, bravery, faithfulness, self-sacrifice. Emotion and love are, at their core, good. Of course, they can be (and often are) misused, misunderstood, and allowed to run wild, but the fact is that God is Love, and He has created us to appreciate it, feel it, do it.
I say this because the point of what I am about to write is not that romance is bad. Romance is good, but Valentine's day can be bad for true romance. Here's why:
  1. Valentine's day is often the catalyst which encourages spineless, gutless, boys to make commitments they can't keep and promises they can't back up. It can encourage young Tom to ask Suzie out, when in fact he should be focusing on getting his life together so he can provide for a family and set an example for his wife. It can encourage Sam to propose to Anne before he is able to provide for a wife, spiritually lead a wife, lay down his life for a wife. Tom, Sam, listen: don't allow the culture around you to dictate what you do, and when you do it. Make a decision based on wisdom, not on what day of the year it is.
  2. Valentine's day can confine romance to one day of the year. The mindset could be: "at Christmas I think about God, on Labor day I think about family, on Valentine's day I think about romance". Forget that - God, family, and romance are worth more than one day's thought in a year! Romance should be natural and free, not forced into a box or confined into one day.  Of course doing romantic things on Valentine's day is not inherently wrong - confining romance to only one day a year most certainly is.
  3. Valentine's day can be a hard day for single girls. A very mature, secure girl or woman may not be negatively affected - but the immature, insecure girls who are so common today could see Valentine's day as highlighting their singleness. A different way to put it is that Valentine's day defines people only two ways: those who have a sweetheart, and those who do not. There is nothing inherently wrong with being single, but that is not the way many people see it. A positive way for all unmarried folks to celebrate valentine's day is to take time to pray for their future spouse. Hang a "reserved for future occupant" sign on your emotions.
  4. Valentine's day can elevate romantic love to the status of a god. "Today is the day where we focus on romance and treat it as the most important thing in the world." Doing this is like making the taste of beef the most important thing in the world. The taste of beef is not bad, but it certainly is not the true focus of the universe. Pretending that it is, pretending that romance is (even for a day) is ridiculous, idolatrous, and an insult to the Author of Romance.
Now, the real issue is not Valentine's day. The real issue is that men don't know how to be men, and women don't know how to be women. We've been fed a pack of lies about what it means to be either. We've been fed a pack of lies about what it means to be romantic. The man who treats his lady with condescension and disrespect all year, then buys a dozen roses and chocolates on Valentine's day, is not romantic. He is a hyena, a jackal, a no good low down horse thieving snake. I have a place in the woods where I bury men like him. Not really. But such evil is certainly deserving of punishment.

My brothers, don't be that man, the man-who-is-a-boy. Do not take the sacred intimacy - emotional, spiritual, and physical intimacy- of marriage and put it somewhere it does not belong. Do not use cheap romance like a fishing lure to hook a girl. Can you not see the despair in the eyes of so many girls and women today - those who are looking for a good man, a man of true character? That despair is so common today, in part, because you have given the women you have known nothing greater to hope for.

Ladies, demand a real man, and do not settle for the man-who-is-a-boy. He is so common today, in part, because you have lowered your standards and pretended to be satisfied with him.

This is not to say that all those who celebrate Valentine's day will burn in the fires of Hell. The point is, there is a much better way to celebrate Romance than the way the world does. When you've tasted Ale-8, you don't want swamp water. After eating fresh blueberries, you're not truly satisfied with frozen. We who have experienced the love and romance of God have the capacity and the duty to do romance much differently and better than the world does. A few key passages which outline this kind of romance can be found in Ephesians 5, 1st Corinthians 7 and 13, and the Song of Songs.

This is a call for true Romance! Settle for nothing less.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Introduction to "Reliability of the Bible" Series



I grew up hearing the Bible. I remember being deeply impacted by the Jesus film - the Bible in video form. As soon as I could read, I read the Bible.  I read it because I loved the stories, and because many trustworthy people said it was the inspired Word of God, and therefore totally true.  You don't get much that is totally true in this life, so I figured I should go for it.

In the past few years, my reasons for belief have changed. I live my life for God because He has given me belief, convicted me of sin, and brought me to repentance. He has opened my eyes to the truth of His existence. He has provided ample support for my faith in Him. Now my life is a constant search to find out more about God, who He is, how He works, how I can live according to his plan.

A key part of that search is the Bible. For years I have read it as an insider. Each time I opened it, I assumed it was true. The basis for this assumption was primarily the testimony of my parents. Over the years they have given me excellent reasons to believe what they say, but my mind demands that I find things out for myself. For the past few years I have done my best to take a new look at the Bible - as through the eyes of someone who never read it before. I want to find out what is said in the Bible, and if it is totally true. I urge you to do the same - take a new look at the Bible.

Our search will (hopefully) lead us to one of two possible conclusions:
1. The Bible is full of inaccuracies and falsehoods, and contradicts sources of truth outside of the Bible, and itself. God is not speaking through the Bible, and so it is not reasonable to believe what the Bible says.
2. The Bible is totally true. It agrees with history, science, and itself.  It is reasonable to believe what the Bible says.

There are three criteria we will look at to determine which of these two is the case:

1. Accurate/Inaccurate Transmission. Has the Bible been accurately transmitted to us from its original form?
2. Internal and External Accuracy: Does the Bible agree with what we know to be true? Does the Bible agree with itself?
3. Miracles and Prophesy: Are miracles possible, has Biblical prophesy been fulfilled?

If I were to do an exhaustive work on these things, it would be several volumes of very large books. That is not my intent. I will provide a readable summary of what I find, and point you to large books (and other sources) that you can read if you wish.

As I research these things, I hope you'll follow along with a critical mind. I encourage you to comment to mention things I may have forgotten or points I forgot to make.


NOTE: I will link Bible references to an online Bible - click them to read the verse online. For example: John 8:32

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Defining ART

ART 200 (Art Appreciation) at Eastern Kentucky University has, to my surprise, got me thinking. I thought it was going to be be only a boring collage of someone else's idea of good art. However, the first class was all about defining art. Various answers were given to the question: what it art? Here is a sampling:

"Art is anything that is important to you."
"Art is anything that is intended to produce an emotional response."
"Art is anything you enjoy."

Each answer frustrates me, because I can think of things which fit each of those criteria, but which are not art. Food and warmth are important to me, but I don't consider them to be art. The atomic bombs dropped on Japan were intended to produce, among other things, an emotional response. However, they are not art. I enjoy sleeping, but it is not art.

I eagerly awaited the moment when the teacher would step up to the platform and pull the sheet off of the official definition of art. That moment never came. She only said "There is no agreed upon definition of art." That is immediately bothersome. We need standards to determine the quality of something - how are we to know what good or bad art is if there is no definition of art?

This ambiguity has some very troublesome consequences:

A work by Marcel Duchamp, titled "Fountain". He bought a urinal, painted a name and a date on it, and hung it on an art exhibit wall.

A work by Chris Ofili, titled "The Holy Virgin Mary" depicting the virgin Mary, set on two lumps of elephant dung, and surrounded by images of genitalia.










Since that first class, art has been on my mind. What is Art? I have a theory, one that satisfies me for the time being. Art is an echo of eternity - the eternity God has set in our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Any created thing which reminds us of eternity is art. All of us are different, so different things remind different people of eternity, which is why there are so many conflicting opinions of what good art is.

How does that work exactly? How would a work of art remind one of eternity?  God is the eternal One, and His themes of beauty, tragedy, romance, and heroism run through all of creation. When we see these themes in a painting, or hear them in a song, or experience them in a person, we are reminded (consciously or unconsciously) of those themes, of eternity.

So what is the deal with all the bad art? Why would an artist call a urinal made by someone else art? Because it evokes an emotional response, which is something associated with good art. When our senses are confronted with the divine, we usually respond with an emotion - this is most noticeable at conversion. Tears, joy, awe, ecstasy. It is easy to see the association of art and emotional response and incorrectly assume that the essence of art is in the emotional response. If that were the case, then anything which created an emotional response in the viewer would be art.

Chances are, looking at the two pieces above which masquerade as art produced some sort of response - in me it was surprise, disgust, skepticism. According to the men who created these pieces, this qualifies them as art. I disagree. The remind me of that which is base, vulgar, and fallen, not of eternity.

All that is a little depressing, so I'll bring us back up with a few examples of my favorite art:




Gulf Stream, by Winslow Homer













The Kiss, by Gustav Klimt












Starry Night, by Vincent Van Gogh

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Nature of Faith

Life is an act of faith. Every belief you hold in your mind requires faith, whether you realize it or not.

"Well", you say, "some things are just true. Two plus two is always four." If you said this you would be in good (or at least plentiful) company. Many, many people trust mathematics, and to a lesser degree science, absolutely.

Consider an excerpt from James Burke's book, The Day the Universe Changed:

""[Science] is objective, making use of methods of investigation and proof that are impartial and exacting. Theories are constructed and then tested by experiment. If the results are repeatable and cannot be falsified in any way, they survive. If not, they are discarded. The rules are rigidly applied. The standards by which science judges its work are universal. There can be no special pleading in the search for the truth: the aim is simply to discover how nature works and to use that information to enhance our intellectual and physical lives. The logic that directs the search is rational and ineluctable at all times and in all circumstances. This quality of science transcends the differences which in other fields of endeavour make one period incommensurate with another, or one cultural expression untranslatable in another context. Science knows no contextual limitations. It merely seeks the truth."

In an online discussion on a philosophy forum, someone used this quote to summarize his view of science. His story was that he had rejected religion because he thought it required too much faith. He believed that the safest way is to live without faith, believing only what is proven scientifically.

I want to address three problems with this belief here, because I have met and spoke with a lot of people who hold it.  First, if you limit your beliefs to only that which requires no faith, you will not be able to believe in anything.  Second, I will address the very common and misplaced absolute faith in science.

FAITH.
I assert that every belief you hold requires faith. I first had this idea when I was about thirteen, and was questioning my belief in God for the first time. The idea had occurred to me that all of my perceptions and experiences - the whole of my mental, physical, and spiritual experience - could be nothing more than the results of the manipulation of my mind. It occurred to me that the agent of this manipulation could be a more powerful being, God himself, or almost anything else. I certainly didn't want to believe this, and so I began searching for proof that this was not the case, or that something else was true. However, I could not totally trust any of the facts and ideas and philosophies that I came across - the nagging thought kept recurring that perhaps this, too, was only some hallucination produced by the Manipulator of my mind.

Of course there is no proof that a manipulator exists. There is not even much support for it, and you may think it is silly that I had such an idea at one time. Chances are, you don't believe in a Manipulator. Here is the thing: you are taking that the Manipulator does not exist on faith. Because of that, you are choosing to trust your perceptions, trust in the ability of your senses to communicate reality to your mind. You have faith in your own mind, even though there is the possibility that it is doesn't tell the truth.  Your mind is inextricably involved in every belief you hold. Every belief you hold requires faith.

Of course, you've been having faith in your mind for so long that it no longer takes any effort, and no longer seems like faith. That doesn't change the fact that it is faith - belief in something which is not absolutely certain.

SCIENCE
 Re-read that quote from the book above. The author clearly has absolute faith in science (though he probably wouldn't call it faith).  Is that faith based on fact? Lets examine his claims:

"[Science] is objective, making use of methods of investigation and proof that are impartial."
His first mistake is to isolate "science" from scientists. Science is not a god, not a force apart from humanity, it is nothing more than humans attempting to discover the causes of the physical world in a specific way. These humans, while highly educated, are still 1) inevitably trapped in their own minds 2) fallible human beings, capable of believing that which is not actually true 3) sinful human beings, capable of willfully twisting the facts to suit their own agenda.

Belief in science is really faith in human beings. There is no guarantee that scientists will be impartial or objective.

"The logic that directs the search is rational and ineluctable at all times and in all circumstances."
 Again, the author removes the human element. Which logic is he referring to? From my experience, human logic is seldom totally rational or ineluctable (which means "not to be changed or avoided"), certainly not at all times and in all circumstances. I think we have all heard of  cases in which scientists violate these descriptions.

I want to address a related argument that I hear a lot. "I don't believe in God because there is absolutely no scientific proof that he exists."  First, again, proof does not exist in this world. Whether or not science supports the existence of God is a different matter. The real point however, is that not believing in God because science does not prove his existence is faulty logic. It would be like not believing a poem is a good poem because mathematics cannot prove it to be such, or disbelieving in pie because your ears cannot hear it. Ears are not equipped or designed to sense pie, mathematics is not equipped or designed to determine the quality of a poem, and science is not equipped or designed to determine the existence of God. Science is the search for physical causes. While God has physical consequences, He is not physical.

Of course scientists are not always wrong. Lots of times they are right. It is those who place absolute trust in them who are mistaken.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Boy, a Man, and Death

He sat in his car on the side of the road - "a crash sight", he had said - mourning for his sister, S.J.

"This is a crash sight, my sister died here." The inner tears shook his voice.

A man drove past, then turned around in concern. "Are you all right?" Maybe he needs a jump or a jack.
Music rattled the windows as he sat there - what was he listening to? What was the soundtrack of his grief?
"I'm fine, this is a crash sight, my sister, S.J., died here two years ago." The man doesn't know what to say to that, says something like "I'm sorry, that is rough." Stupid words.

The boy stepped out, said "You're the first one to stop." Must have sat there on the side of the road many times over the last two years. The world kills your sister, then doesn't stop to offer a hand up.

"I'm eighteen now, she was twenty two when she died." He was sixteen when his sister died. She had probably just graduated college, he had just gotten his license.

The man is helpless. What can one mortal offer another in the face of mortality? We are children floundering in the sea.
"Can I pray with you?"
"Yeah man, that'd be good."

Transcendence rises up on the side of Old Richmond road. The cold night air makes the man's voice shake as he prays, the words coming in constrictions and waves. The man puts a hand on the boy's shoulder. He who has been loved much, loves the boy on the side of the road. How many passed by over the last two years?

A few hours before, the man had looked at the crowd of almost 25,000 and said "Have you ever thought about their futures? She'll get a divorce. He'll die in two days, in two minutes. I guarantee you, within two weeks, at least one of these people will be dead." Maybe it'll be me, he had thought.

Death is here among us. Life has a 100% mortality rate. Don't flounder in the sea - find a rock. Stand on it.

The Hope of Glory!


Christmas is a celebration of Christ. Thought it is now known more for how it affects the economy than how it affects the soul, the foundation remains. Why was Jesus, the Christ, such a big deal?

Christ means "the anointed one". In the times leading up to Jesus' birth, kings were chosen and appointed by means of anointing them with oil - putting oil on their heads. It set them apart as royalty, and identified them as men with a purpose. Once they were anointed, they were set apart as having a job to do.

So what was Jesus' job? Matthew, a disciple of Jesus who later wrote an account of Jesus' life, recorded the words of the Angel who gave instructions to Jesus' adopted father, Joseph: "She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." Jesus means "God with us". God chose to be with us in order to save his people from their sins.

Why do we need saving from our sins? What is so bad about a little sin, after all - everyone has some, nobody is perfect, right? Exactly right- nobody is perfect, and our common recognition of the fact demonstrates that a standard of perfection exists. We cannot recognize "un-perfect" unless we have some idea of what perfect is. God, our creator, is that standard of perfection. It is only hard for us to understand how God can condemn sin when we use our human standard. If we look at it from God's standard it makes a lot more sense:

God made the world for one purpose: to glorify himself. Basically, everything is by God, for God, and to God - the Bible says that live and move and  have our being in Christ. Without God, we don't exist. From that perspective, it makes sense that my purpose is to live for God and do what He wants. It may not be easy, but it makes sense.

However, all of us have chosen to live for ourselves rather than for God. All of us have fallen short of God's standard, we have missed the mark. We have not done what God made us for. Rather than seeking out fellowship with God, we have turned from God. We are faulty creations, failing in our purpose. Because of that, God has every reason to punish us with hell.

That is the position all of us are in: faulty creations, deserving Hell. If we are left to ourselves, we will go to Hell. We can never get right with God on our own. It is only from this perspective, looking up from the pit of Hell, that Christ and Christmas can be properly seen.

Christ came to save us from our sins - and from the eternal damnation which is the consequence for failing to live up to God's standards. He did it to glorify God the Father.

 Jesus says "I am the way, and the truth, and the life, no one comes to Father except through me." Jesus is, in one way, very exclusive - He is saying there is no other way to God except through faith in Himself. In another way, He is incredible inclusive. He says:
 "Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost."


This is what Christ and Christianity are about: grace. Grace is graphic, shocking, and unfair. Grace is forgiving someone who is guilty of a terrible crime. If you want to immerse yourself in a very readable and profound book on Grace, read "What's So Amazing about Grace" by Philip Yancey. That book has these words: we're all bastards but God loves us anyway. The Bible says similarly "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Salvation is for bastards: if you're one (like me), recognize it and accept the Grace that God extends you in Jesus. Forgiveness of sins, Christ in you, the hope of Glory. Many have died for that hope, for the sake of his name. Their blood tells the story more powerfully than I can: they have found something worth dying for.

Jesus had something he was willing to die for: the glory of God the Father. That is why He came, that is why Christmas happened. Christmas is for bastards.

This is no sensationalism, intended to make the gospel seem more radical than it is. We will never fully grasp just how phenomenal the gospel is - but we get closer and closer as we more fully realize just how bad we are.

Who is Christmas for?


Christmas is a celebration of Christ. Though it is now known more for how it affects the economy than how it affects the soul, the foundation remains. Why was Jesus, the Christ, such a big deal?

Christ means "the anointed one". In the times leading up to Jesus' birth, kings were chosen and appointed by means of anointing them with oil - putting oil on their heads. It set them apart as royalty, and identified them as men with a purpose. Once they were anointed, they were set apart as having a job to do.

So what was Jesus' job? Matthew, a disciple of Jesus who later wrote an account of Jesus' life, recorded the words of the Angel who gave instructions to Jesus' adopted father, Joseph: "She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." Jesus means "God with us". God chose to be with us in order to save his people from their sins.

Why do we need saving from our sins? What is so bad about a little sin, after all - everyone has some, nobody is perfect, right? Exactly right- nobody is perfect, and our common recognition of the fact demonstrates that a standard of perfection exists. We cannot recognize "un-perfect" unless we have some idea of what perfect is. God, our creator, is that standard of perfection. It is only hard for us to understand how God can condemn sin when we use our human standard. If we look at it from God's standard it makes a lot more sense:

God made the world for one purpose: to glorify himself. Basically, everything is by God, for God, and to God - the Bible says that live and move and  have our being in Christ. Without God, we don't exist. From that perspective, it makes sense that my purpose is to live for God and do what He wants. It may not be easy, but it makes sense.

However, all of us have chosen to live for ourselves rather than for God. All of us have fallen short of God's standard, we have missed the mark. We have not done what God made us for. Rather than seeking out fellowship with God, we have turned from God. We are faulty creations, failing in our purpose. Because of that, God has every reason to punish us with hell.

That is the position all of us are in: faulty creations, deserving Hell. If we are left to ourselves, we will go to Hell. We can never get right with God on our own. It is only from this perspective, looking up from the pit of Hell, that Christ and Christmas can be properly seen.

Christ came to save us from our sins - and from the eternal damnation which is the consequence for failing to live up to God's standards. He did it to glorify God the Father.

 Jesus says "I am the way, and the truth, and the life, no one comes to Father except through me." Jesus is, in one way, very exclusive - He is saying there is no other way to God except through faith in Himself. In another way, He is incredible inclusive. He says:
 "Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost."


This is what Christ and Christianity are about: grace. Grace is graphic, shocking, and unfair. Grace is forgiving someone who is guilty of a terrible crime. If you want to immerse yourself in a very readable and profound book on Grace, read "What's So Amazing about Grace" by Philip Yancey. That book has these words: we're all bastards but God loves us anyway. The Bible says similarly "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." Salvation is for bastards: if you're one (like me), recognize it and accept the Grace that God extends you in Jesus. Forgiveness of sins, Christ in you, the hope of Glory. Many have died for that hope, for the sake of his name. Their blood tells the story more powerfully than I can: they have found something worth dying for.

Jesus had something he was willing to die for: the glory of God the Father. That is why He came, that is why Christmas happened. Christmas is for bastards.

This is no sensationalism, intended to make the gospel seem more radical than it is. We will never fully grasp just how phenomenal the gospel is - but we get closer and closer as we more fully realize just how bad we are.

Spartan Jesus

I'll bet almost all of you have heard a sermon, or gone to Sunday school, at some point in your lives. If so, you probably heard a fair bit about Jesus. If you've never heard a sermon, gone to Sunday School, or even had someone tell you about Jesus, I guess now is a good time to find out what all the ruckus is about.

Lets start with that word: ruckus. If we had to describe Jesus in exactly eight words, most of us wouldn't pick : "the kind of guy that starts a ruckus". Exactly how most of us would describe him, I'm not sure, but I imagine the words teacher, loving, savior, Lord, maybe even God might be mentioned. Rightly so; He is presented as all of those things in the Bible. But that is not the end of the story. There is a lot more to Jesus than teaching, loving, and saving. I'll lay out just one Bible passage to illustrate the point. If you don't believe the Bible, just focus on Jesus for now. I believe the Bible is absolutely true, but just reading the Bible doesn't get you anywhere - I believe Jesus does. Words on a page have no power - in my experience, Jesus has a great deal of power.**
Revelation 19:11-21. Click on the passage, read it, it'll blow your mind. Fiery eyes, Jesus on a war horse, a sword coming out of His mouth...but my favorite detail is the title Jesus is tattooed with: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS. Doesn't leave much room for anyone else does it? I venture to say, you might not be able to pull off that tattoo. It is just too hard to live up to. Jesus, as we see, lives up to it: a few verses down He is putting all his enemies to death.

I think it is time for you, and me, and all those who mistakenly equate Jesus with religion, to take a fresh look at the Jesus of the Bible. Clearly, the "Jesus sitting on a hill, rocking little kids to sleep" version is incomplete, because it doesn't say anything about Jesus going all Spartan warrior on his enemies like we see in Revelation.



Maybe we won't like what our fresh look turns up. But oh, I hope we do not reject it only because we don't like it. The world is full of things that I don't like that are true. Denying them would only cause my life to become a shell of wishful thinking and destructive delusions. Accepting the living, active, warrior side of Jesus certainly disrupts my life (principally by causing me to accept the fact that my life is not mine). Jesus started a ruckus a long time ago, and He is still doing it in my life, and He will do it in yours. He is coming for you, demanding your life, your devotion, your worship. It won't always make sense, it will be painful and require sacrifice. When its done, we'll stand above it all and it'll seem like nothing because of the awesome reward.


**This is not to say the Bible is not important. The Bible is the inspired word of God - the Bible must be treated as the very words of God. However, you can read the Bible until you're blue in the face, but unless you have a relationship with Jesus, it won't do any lasting good. So, do read the Bible, with the intent of getting to know Jesus.

Cosmic Snail Trails


What is beauty? Take a moment to consider your own definition. What comes to mind when you hear the word? What about that person or place or idea separates it from a normal or ugly person, place, or thing? Merriam Webster defines beauty as: “the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit.” I don’t think this is a perfect definition (grilled steak gives pleasure to the senses but is not beautiful) but it doesn’t really matter, because we are more concerned with WHY. Why do certain qualities “exalt the mind or spirit”?

     Perhaps your perception of something as beautiful is simply your subjective opinion. If so, there is nothing inherently or absolutely beautiful about it—it is beautiful only because you find it beautiful. Your experiences, genetic makeup, education, and senses combine to create a sense of pleasure, and you say “that is beautiful”.
     There is one problem with this possibility. While tastes in food and sports (almost exclusively products of experiences, education, etc.) vary greatly from person to person, perceptions of beauty are remarkably consistent across cultures and centuries. I don’t think statistics are needed to prove the point—every man with eyes, since the dawn of time, has looked up at the stars in awe. Nearly every man, since the dawn of time, has looked at a woman and admired her beauty. Of course there are variations opinions about which exact qualities of a woman (or a musical score, or a mountain range) are beautiful, but there is a definite pattern. All people seem to have similar opinions of what is beautiful. It seems unlikely that the perception of beauty is only subjective opinion. It seems there is some objective quality to beauty, something outside of individual opinion, some standard by which we judge something to be beautiful or ugly. Perhaps every beautiful thing in this world is a Cosmic Snail Trail.

     A snail trail is that shimmering residue left by a snail as it glides along. When you see the trail, you know there must have been a snail. Trails imply snails. A Cosmic Snail Trail is that beautiful quality that resides in a sunset, a moon reflected on a lake, or any other truly beautiful thing. Again, a Cosmic Snail Trail implies a Cosmic Snail – some higher standard or essence of beauty. If my CST theory is correct, then things in this world are only beautiful in so far as they are like the higher standard of beauty. If my CST theory is correct, there are plenty of other questions. Most pressing is “what is the Cosmic Snail?” I know very little of all there is to know about that, and most of what I know, I can’t teach in such a way that you would learn—half because I’m not much of a teacher, and half because some things can only be learned direct from the source.