December 8, 2009

Addictainment

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I have a friend at church by the name of Ben. Really good guy. He's a salesman for a living. In fact, he sell electronic equipment (the guy really loves cameras).

This past Sunday he shared with me that this is the past two weeks have been the best two weeks, in terms of sales, that he has ever had. Well, to some degree, it is unsurprising that the two weeks after Thanksgiving are the best two weeks of the year, but that's not really what caught my attention. What I zoned in on was that these were the best two weeks of his career. I mean ever, and he's been doing it for a few years now.

Question: does anybody recognize the significance of that? That this year more people are buying TVs, DVD players, I-pods, etc... than they have for the past few years? Does that seem odd to you? It seemed odd to me. Think about it for a moment. No really, think.

... I thought the economy was bad.

My wife and I don't own a TV. I'm addicted to television, so we don't keep one so that I don't obsess over it. However, whenever we tell people, guess what their reaction is. Shock! Surprise! I mean everyone has a TV, why don't I? But what's really weird is that many of them get offended. That's right, offended. They're annoyed that I don't own a luxury electrical appliance, as if that were a socially reprehensible thing to do. They try to insist on giving us their extra one, and are amazed that we turn them down.

Am I the only one that thinks that this is messed up? Is it just me? What's more annoying is that I don't own a TV because I can't get enough of it, and I know it is unimportant.

There is something that is really off in our culture where those of us barely struggling to get by still go out and buy a big screen TV. That we are barely managing to buy food, but still are able to go out to the movies. We have really messed up priorities. We don't seem to recognize that entertainment is a luxury.

To be fair though, I don't really think our culture still retains the notion of luxury. A luxury, you see, is something that you don't need, and you don't deserve, but enjoy. Therefore, it is something that you are only able to have with your extra resources.

However, we think that we deserve whatever we want. We are kids in the candy shop demanding that we get candy, and so we look to our parents for guidance. The only problem is that we have been adopted by daddy media and mommy credit card. Daddy tells us that we deserve whatever we want, and Mommy reaches in her giant purse, and buys it for us. At least, this is what we seem to think the situation is.

In reality, we give more money to the banks every year for interest on loans, and we spend more money on things we don't need and don't last than we do on anything else. Why primarily buy brand names, not because they are the best, but because those are the things that we see on TV, and they are therefore familiar and comfortable.

Now I'm a capitalist. Do I think capitalism is a great system? No. It just happens to be the way the world works, so deal with it (After all, Adam Smith wasn't trying to come up with an ideal economic system, but was just studying the way the economy already was working). As such, I don't have a problem with companies doing everything that they can to get our money. They're greedy selfish people (a.k.a. people). What I have a problem is that the absolute stupidity of us who actually trust them. We who think that banks help us by giving us credit cards. We who actually think that a truck being built Ford(c) tough is a good thing (in reality, it doesn't say anything about the quality of the truck).

Why are we so addicted to entertainment? Where did all this hedonism come from? Why the self-indulgence? We all see it. We all know it's bad, yet we can't seem to combat it. I do know this: if America doesn't learn to say no, and learn the value of the honest dollar, then we are going to collapse. We'll be a people who starved to death, holding on to our remotes.

December 3, 2009

Why do we swear?

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Why do we swear? Why use profanity? My sister recommended a show called Dead Like Me, and after watching an episode of it, I was thinking about the rather liberal use of profanity in the show. I started to wonder, "Why does a show with this level of material feel the need to saturate the scripts with profanity? What's the point?"

There is belief in our culture (maybe it's across humanity; I don't know, I only live in my culture) that the dirty, profane and ugly are more real than the clean, polite and beautiful. Why is that? I mean, that's why shows like this use profanity. That's why a movie with such deep philosophical and sociological thoughts like Good Will Hunting uses profanity. They think it will make it more real. It is odd to me that Comedy Central requires their comedians to be dirty to stay around when just a little over 50 years ago two guys named Bud and Lou inspired the nation just through cleaning up other people's material. Does dirty really sell? Does sex really inspire? Is the ugly really more real than the beautiful? These are thoughts I was thinking today.

Why do we think its more real? Why do rich kids try to experience real life by dressing like hoodlums? Why does politeness seem fake?

After giving it some thought, I've come to the conclusion that this belief is a complete lie. Clean isn't more real than dirty; it just takes work to maintain... Ah! There's the source of the matter!

When something is clean, we know that someone must of cleaned it. When someone's polite, we know it took effort. When something's beautiful, we know that it had been made that way. We instinctively understand entropy, and know that if something has an order, purpose, and beauty to it, it took work to make it so.

Thus our culture has reached some kind of ontologically apathy! We think that the truest sense of a thing is what it is when left unattended, as if rotten grapes are more grape-like than preservatives. But this isn't the case. Our truest selves are what we were designed to be: something that has to be shaped, formed, reconfigured. When left unattended, you and I are completely depraved: vile, selfish, conniving little monsters. But our TRUEST self is what we become through the powerful hands of the potter. What He intended us to be and what He shapes us to be: how He remakes us!

Politeness, cleanness, and beauty: these are not facades that we hide the truth behind (well they can be, but not necessarily). The true point of these things is the same as salt: it brings out the natural flavor of the thing, to accentuate its true self. It's the polish, not the paint.

Ironically, so much of our culture has begun to do the opposite. Comedians hide their lack of creativity behind shock jokes; people swear in stories to hide their pain and sound strong; movies and TVs shows simulate reality by filling the gaps in their scripts with profanity. Profanity doesn't show reality, only laziness.

There was a day when we looked at role models to inspire ourselves to be something more than we currently are. Now we trash our role models to feel better about ourselves. Dead Like Me, for example, is part of a greater media tendency to 'mundanize' the fantastic (consider Shrek, Incredibles, or Dogma). We take something which belongs in fantasy and imagination, and make it somewhat ordinary. It seems to be some sociological need for us to prove and secure that great proverb we all learned when we were young: "Everybody Poops". Gandi is so much easier to relate to when you know he had to use the rest room.

However, what happens when we make all our fantasies realistic, and our role models regular? Simple: we make our imaginations impotent and become consumed by apathy.

And so we trudge along, with the promise that everything else is just as bad as us, and there's no hope to being perfect, and there's gate to goodness, so we should just settle for life as it is, and learn to deal with it. Let us be like Theo Huxtable and aspire to be average.

No. No, I think there is something better. I think there is a better way. There is a person we can aspire to be like. He was good, He was beautiful, He was clean, and He still is. Being polite isn't hiding our failures, but rubbing them out, so that we can be more Christ like, and please the one who made us and saved us.

I don't mind being apathetic about the world. It is not my world! I'm just a soujourner. But let us never be apathetic about God or ourselves, for our goodness rests in His hands, not our own. He will clean us, and make us into what we truly are, and that we be something beautiful.

And something real.

November 24, 2009

Sports

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My friend Chris and I have had some fun debating the word "sport". Well, it's not so much debating since we basically agree.

I don't know about the rest of the world, but there is an interesting thing going on with this word in America. I kinda of starts in High School, where cheerleaders attempt to refer to what they do as a sport, in an attempt to legitimatize its funding I think, and jocks, in umbrage, claim that it isn't. This extends into adult life, and for many sports fans, there is a strong desire to properly define the concept of sport. Personally, I don't find this a need. Rather, I just find it fun to define and categorize things. So, here are my playful attempts.

Definition

Technically, a sport is any activity done for fun, but we are looking at a more precise definition here. Within human society there have been particular competitions of physical endurance, strategy, and ability which have developed a sociological niche. This niche forms the foundation of much of male social interaction and is thus a source of great interest, development, time, and money.

However, how do we differentiate the competitions that truly fall under this niche and other forms of competitions and recreation? I think these definitions found at wikipedia are quite good attempts. The more offical one that it gives is "Sport is commonly defined as an organized, competitive and skillful physical activity requiring commitment and fair play." However, I also liked this point that the article also made: "Sports commonly refer to activities where the physical capabilities of the competitor are the sole or primary determinant of the outcome." I believe it is this second point that marks the primary difference between sports and other kinds of games.
Primarily a sport is about physical competition and ability. It is not simply a physical activity, nor is it simply a competition, but it is precisely a competition of a physical activity, and for a men, a test of masculinity. We men derive our sense of worth often by our usefulness and ability. This isn't bad in small doses, just masculine. This is why sports find such a level of importance within the male world. Team camaraderie also demonstrates the primary social structure within which men naturally think.

In light of this, my friend Chris and I identified 4 major factors required for something to be a sport in the above sense of the word:
  1. Athleticism: It must require actual feats of athletic ability.
  2. Objective evaluation: By this it means that points, credit, or victory is awarded by the accomplishment of tasks, rather than a judges opinion of "how well" a task was performed. For instance, synchronized swimming is not a sport: its a dance competition. It is a valid competition and worthy of attention... I guess, but it is not really a sport. The reason is because it is not the actual physical ability that is being judged but the beauty of movement. Compare this to boxing, where it is not how interestingly one punches, but whether one connects and where that matters.
  3. Competition: Yes, it must actually be a competition where there is a winner and a loser.
  4. The human body as the motor of the action: There is a difference between motorized sports, and true sports. Nascar fans often point out that in order to drive at those speeds one must have acute senses, and athletic strength to move the steering wheel. Well, that may be true, but from mere observation of the difference between Nascar fans, and how Nascar is followed when compared to other sports, one can tell that it doesn't quite fit the same niche. The reason is, fundamentally, those athletic abilities are not really the thing that is being tested. It is the motor of the car. Compare that to a bike race, where it is actually the person's body propelling the bike forward. It is the human endurance and leg strength that is being tested, and it is treated like other sports.
Considering these requirements we can define a sport as an objective recreational competition of human physical ability.

Categories

Now, just for kicks and giggles, I took the time to divide all sports into neat categories. That's right, this is what I call fun. I am a dork. Anyway, here's my list:
  1. Club Sports: Club Sports are the primary games that most think of when they think of "sports" as a category. In each Club Sport there is an area of play, usually called a field, but not always. This area is divided literally or implicitly into two halves with a goal on either side. There are then two teams, and each team is assigned one of the two goals. There is then an object. The objective of the game is to put this object into the opposing side's goal as often as possible, while preventing the other team from doing likewise. The variations are usually based upon what this object is, and the rules for moving this object around. Sometimes the goal itself is modified.

    Examples of these sports include Hockey, Basketball, Polo, Rugby, Ultimate Frisbee, Lacross, and the exemplar of the category: Soccer (Football to those of you in Britain). The oddest example though is American Football. Football actually has two goals on each side, and the amount of rules for moving the football around are massive, especially with it's stop and start format. However, it still fits within the same category.
  2. Volley Sports: This is the second largest category. In each Volley Sport there is an area of play, usually called a court, but not always. There is a object that is in play, as well as two teams (sometimes consisting of one person each). The objective of the game is to essentially hit the object back and forth between you, each hit being called a volley. A side is awarded a 'point' if the other side fails to return the volley. There are certain rules which determines whether or not a volley is legal, consisting of how many times the object can be hit, how the object is hit, how many times the object bounces before or after being hit, and whether or not it stays in bounds.

    Beyond this, it is important to mention two subcategories. First is Net Volley Sports, where the court is divided in two with a net running down this division and either team needing to remain on either side of it. In this category, for a volley to be legal it must be hit over the net to the other side of the court and remain in bounds. Examples of this include Volleyball, Badmitton, Four Square/Two Square (which uses lines instead of a net), and, of course, Tennis.

    The second subcategory is Wall Volley Sports, where the court remains intact, both teams sharing the same area, with a large wall on one side of the court. In this category, for a volley to be legal it must be hit against the wall and then remain in bounds. Examples of this includes Handball, Squash, and Racketball.

  3. Bat-and-Ball Sports: This one is most easily described by its examples, namely Cricket, Baseball, and Baseball's derivatives (kickball, softball, etc...). B&B sports have some rather special features. First of all, the defense has control of the ball (it's always a ball here). At any given point, one side is completely on the offense, while the other the defense since both are doing completely different activities.

    As for the rules, at designated locations on the field, one member of the defense, throws the ball to one member of the offense. The offensive player then hits the ball into the field. The defense then must fetch the ball, and bring it back to where the offensive player is, as the offensive player attempts to reach a base, which is a designated location where the player is 'safe'. If the defense brings the ball back to the offensive player before the offensive player is at the base, that player is out of play. Points are scored by how successfully the player reaches the bases (in Baseball it is one point if all four bases are reached; in Cricket it is one point each time a base is reached). After a certain number of outs, the two teams switch sides. Variations can be defined by comparing Baseball and Cricket.

  4. Target Sports: Target Sports are very simple. You have an object and a target. Players take turns projecting the object towards the target and is then awarded points based off of the quality of the hit (or the number of attempts to reach the target). Whoever has the better score after a certain number of attempts wins.

    However, the variety here is tremendous. How the points are tallied will vary due to the how different some of the targets are, and how differently one projects the object. For instance, the most basic style is like darts, curling or archery, where the target is a bullseye, and points are awarded based off of zones which show how close you get to the middle. However, in golf or croquet, points are negative and are based on how many tries it takes you to reach the target. Then there are bowling and nine-pins, where the target is a set of precariously placed pins that you try to knock-over. Then there's bocce, where you get points pased on how many balls you get closest to the pauline. The possibilities are endless.
  5. Track and Field: All these sports come down to a basic contest of how well one can accomplish one particular task. In other words, who can run the fastest, throw the farthest, or jump the highest. All races fall under this, as well is the pole-vault, shotput, long jump, etc...

    Once could place Target Sports within this category, especially archery and its ilk, but the primary difference between Track and Field and Target Sports is that Target Sports tend to be scored with discrete numbers (1, 2, 3, 4, etc...) , while Track and Field tend to be scored with analog numbers (measured with a decimal points). Another way of saying this is that one's accomplishments in Field and Track Sports are measured, while in Target Sports, they are counted. This creates a very real difference, especially in terms of the feel of the sport.
    (One could argue that you could design a target sport where one measures how far the projectile is from the center of a target. Well, fine. That would essentially be a hybrid. I have no problem with that. )
  6. Combat: Ok, I think this is easy. This is where two people fight, and points are awarded by whether or not the person made contact and other objective standards. Absolute incapacitation of an opponent usually is considered an automatic win. This includes, boxing, wrestling, fencing, and pretty much any martial arts style one can think of.

October 27, 2009

What's been going on with me

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Those who have been keeping up with this blog may have noticed that I haven't been keeping up with it very well as of late. The reason for this is because I've been busy looking for a pastoral position. I graduated seminary about a year ago, but at the end of August, my pastor told me that he thought I was ready to begin truly pastoring. So, from then on, I've been looking.

It has actually been rather difficult. It isn't like looking for other kinds of jobs. Number one, it isn't about going for the position you like the best. It is about finding the right fit. There is a relational aspect of pastoring that can't be ignored. So rather important factors, like money or location, can't be the primary qualifications. I have to primarily look at the people of the church.

Second, it is much more difficult to find a those looking for a pastor. It's all about networking rather than want ads.

Finally, there are papers, and sermons, and other such things that I've needed to prepare to include in my resume. So that it a bit of work to add.

All in all, I hope that you guys can pray for me. This is my launch into the rest of my life, and it is rather important that God stays at the steering wheel here. There is one church that I really pray for right now, but it is not about me, but God's will. So please pray that He will guide me, and prepare the way for me.

Thanks.

October 12, 2009

Unchristian
Part VIII: Conclusion

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Introduction
Hypocrisy
Proselytizing
Antihomosexual
Sheltered
Too Political
Judgmental
Conclusion

Quite frankly, I liked this book a lot. It was very fair and balanced in its approach. I was a little worried that it was just going to tell us Christians how we were doing everything wrong, but instead, it focused on saying, "Look, here is how we are being understood. Is this what we want?"

In that way, the book was very pragmatic. It isn't saying we are being immoral. Instead, it is saying that how we are doing things isn't working, and if it isn't working, we should try something else.

Now in many ways even the early church was misunderstood. Many thought they were cannibals (Eucharist language) and atheists (because they didn't worship idols). That's going to happen to us too as more and more of the culture becomes ignorant on what Christianity teaches. But instead of becoming upset at this, we should instead take it as an oppurtunity to get back to our roots, and focus on the heart of the message: Jesus Christ. We should focus on making sure that that message is communicated, and no others.

Therefore let us reach out to one another in love, and focus on the finisher of our faith, and put away the petty things that are dividing us. If Jesus is proclaimed, who cares about the rest?

October 11, 2009

Ephesians 2:4-5; A Devotional

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But, being rich with mercy, God, through His great love with which He has loved us though we were dead in trespasses, has made us alive with Christ (by grace you have been saved)
The point of Paul telling us where we have come from in the past couple of verses is to make clear to us the boundless mercy and grace that has been giving to us. The point of the concepts of mercy and grace is that we do not deserve them.

And that is one of the principle differences between Christianity and any other faith (at least that I am aware of). In man-made religions, humans achieve a particular end, by some means. In Christianity, we are rescued from our own nature.

Lord, Thank you for the marvelous salvation that you have bestowed upon us! Thank You for Your unending grace to us. I can never fully understand it Lord. I can never fully grasp why You would sacrifice so much for us, who are so little. We praise Your name!

October 7, 2009

Unchristian
Part VII: Judgmental

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Introduction
Hypocrisy
Proselytizing
Antihomosexual
Sheltered
Too Political
Judgmental
Conclusion

Kinnaman's Thoughts

There are two points of Kinnaman's that I think are incredibly valuable. First he identifies 4 types of judgmental attitudes:
  1. Wrong Verdict: Simply coming to an erroneous conclusion about a person or situation. This is usually what it is that we think of when we think of being judgmental.
  2. Wrong Timing: This is when you come to an accurate conclusion about something, but express it at an inappropriate time. Why is this judgmental? Because , you are passing judgment on the person without thinking about communicating to them. Essentially, you are only passing judgment. You aren't trying to achieve anything with that judgment.
  3. Wrong Motivation: I think this one is pretty obvious. It is when we are right about our judgment, but act out that judgment in an inappropriate fashion. Are we acting out of a sense of justice, or vindictiveness? Is it about doing the right thing, or about revenge?
  4. Playing Favorites: This is the opposite. This is giving grace only to certain persons, while showing sternness to others (sound like any theology?).
All of these attitudes get in the way of reaching out to people. Being insensitive demonstrates to people that you don't really care about them. In the end, that's the biggest problem. If we are trying to reach out to people, then it has to be about them, not about us. If it isn't motivated by love and an honest desire to save them, than what is it?

That is the other thing that Kinnaman talked about: Pride. Often, instead of love, we are motivated by pride. We automatically think that we are better than the people around us. After all, we're saved and they aren't. However, we should never confuse being in a superior place with actually being superior. I found the translation of Romans 2:1,4 that he uses interesting:

You may be saying, "What terrible people you have been talking about!" (see Romans 1) But you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you do these very same things... Don't you realize how kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Or don't you care? Can't you see how kind he has been in giving you time to turn from you sin?
My Thoughts

I think the fundamental problem that much of evangelical Christianity has right now is realizing taht being correct isn't the same thing is being right. Often we think that the accuracy of our opinions justifies how we present these opinions.

Now is there a place and time for speaking harshly, and critically? Yes, there absolutely is. Being it is only within the context of a relationship that gives you the right to do so; a relationship that we currently do not have in the general population. A credible report needs to be established that lets a person know that what you say matter. This cannot be assumed simply because we had it in the past.

Now, I'm giving some Christians more credit than they deserve here. Let's face it, there are a lot of jerks in the church right now, many of them in leadership. But, I'm not speaking to those people here because they (A) would never read this blog anyway and (B) wouldn't recognize I was talking to them even if they did.

I think it is more important for us who honestly mean well to recognize that we need to be careful how we say things. Being correct isn't good enough. We need to stop and consider how a person will understand what it is that we are saying, and adjust how we say it accordingly. This means that we need to listen to them, and know where they are coming from before we speak.

October 5, 2009

Unchristian
Part VI: Too Political

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Introduction
Hypocrisy
Proselytizing
Antihomosexual
Sheltered
Too Political
Judgmental
Conclusion

Many view Christians purely in terms of the political right. To them, we are activists of a particular brand of politics and have nothing much to offer apart from that. This is a problem in that the Church should not be defined by politics, though we should engage in them.

Kinnaman's Thoughts

Kinnaman sees the problem, not in terms of what our politics are, but in terms of how we go about engaging poltics. At the end of the chapter, he makes a series of observations and solutions to this problem:
  • unChristian: Christians rely too heavily on political
    Christlike: We are cautious not to place too much emphasis on politics

  • unChristian: Christians get enamored with politics
    Christlike: There is nothing gained by winning elections if we lose our soul in the process

  • unChristian: Christians drown out and demonize the voices of others
    Christlike: Respect our enemies and be aware of our capacity for myopia

  • unChristian: Christians do not respect leaders whose political viewpoint is different from their own.
    Christlike: Respect and listen to our leaders and pray for them

  • unChristian: Christians are hypocrites when it comes to politics
    Christlike: In trying to solve problems in society, be vigilant about our own capacity for hypocracy.
My Thoughts

Personally, I like Kinnaman's balance here. He is correct that Christians need to be engaged in politics because we want to make a positive difference in this world. I would add that Christians have a responsibility to be involved in politics because we are called to that positive difference.

But he is also right that politics should not be our focus. They are, by nature, complex, and any attempt to say that "such and such" is the clear Christian perspective on an issue usually fails to grasp the complexity.

For instance, let us take the issue of abortion. Now I'm against it because I believe it is completely Unchristian to allow millions of babies to die every year by government hands. This logic to be is unpenetrable. But I also realize that no pro-abortion person supports the killing of babies. What they reject is the notion that we are even dealing with a baby.

Another basic problem is that political agenda should not be the primary test for fellowship. Any church should be able to exist with different political views within it since the basis for fellowship is commitment to Jesus Christ. Yes, certain views should not be possible, but if we are focused on heavenly things, then we should not be as concerned with what happens in this world. If America falls, the kingdom of God will survive. We need to be OK with that.

October 3, 2009

Ephesians 2:3; A Devotional

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Along with them, we all once lived by the passions of our flesh, doing the desires of the body and of the mind. Like the rest of them, we were children of wrath.
What do you think when you see a non-Christian? One of the problems of American Christianity is that most Christians do not understand the difference between the Church and America. This has caused a few problems. One, we don't tend to trust non-American Christian bodies. Two, we except someone to behave like a Christian simply because they are an American.

However, the world is worldly. We need to remember this. We do not look down at those in the world and see how far beneath us they are. We look at them and recognize that of ourselves, we are no better. We are the same. Any good aspect of ourselves comes strictly from God's grace!

Instead of seeing them simply of children of wrath, we need to seem them as potential children of grace. Just like we are no better than them, they are also no worse than us, and have just as much access to God's grace.

So I encourage you this week to reach out to those around you. Spread the grace around. Don't be like some that hoard God's grace for themselves and their cliches; distribute it to all. After all, it is the will of God that all be saved.

September 27, 2009

Ephesians 2:1-2; A Devotional

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And you were dead because1 of the transgressions2 and sins in which you once walked, as the world has through the ages3 according to the ruler of domain4 of the air5 ; the spirit now working in the unyielding6 sons.

A major aspect of Christian life is remembering where you came from. Christianity is fundamentally a faith of redemption. Part of redemption is being redeemed from something.

There are two common problems we encounter when dealing with our sinful past:
  1. Forgetting it completely: Many times we look at life from the vantage point of where we are now, a loose site of what a wretch we were before Christ. This creates pride, making us think we're perfect, and often causing us to berate others who are still in need of redemption.
  2. Hanging on to it: There are many that are so caught up in who it is that they used to be that they cannot move on. Either they keep condemning themselves (which is unhealthy), or they are focused on the thing they were redeemed from as the central obstacle in all Christian life (like a former alcoholic believing that all alcohol is evil by nature).
In this particular case, Paul is speaking of the latter sense. Our former existence brings praising God, by reminding us of how grateful we need to be. The grand purpose of Paul is a calling for us to leave that former way of living behind completely, and live in a grander, more heavenly way (which he will describe as being united to one another).

Therefore, this week consider the life you live in comparison to the world. Is it different? Are you living a life that is distinct and holy? Holy doesn't mean that you live perfectly moral. It simply means that you live differently: a life devoted to God. So live that out, and celebrate that we are no longer tied to the concerns and ways of this world, but have been birthed into a greater life.


Translation notes

1 There actually is no preposition here at all, though one is implied because the words 'transgressions' and 'sins' are in the dative (which makes them indirect objects grammatically). Most translations use the term 'in' here, but sense there is really no demand to use any particular preposition here, I thought to use one that explained things better.

2 The word here is literally 'an act of falling aside'.

3 The phrase here is "kata ton aiona tou kosmou toutou" which means "according to the eon of this world". The two basic ways I saw to translate this in other versions was "according to the course of this world" [KJV/etc...] (which is not literal enough to be this cryptic in my opinion) and "following the course of this world" [ESV/NIV]. I think the second is better, but I think both miss the mark since they don't interact with the notion of the 'aion'.
'Aion' is defined as a long period of time. It is even translated as eternity in some contexts. I believe in this context it means the full time of this world, or this world's full lifetime. I then translated it to point this out.

4 Ok, the word is is literally 'air'. What is important to note here is that there is a connection in Greek (and Hebrew) between spirit and air. The Greek (and Hebrew) word for spirit means wind or breath, and the word air can also mean the upper regions. It is also important that the word later on translated as 'spirit' is connected to this word here for this same reason. The "spirit working" is an element of the air. Since it is impossible to translated both of these senses simultaneously in English, I decided to emphasize the other half here.
However, I am really unsure of this choice, and debated for hours before I finally settled on it. Even now I'm really unsure.

5'Exousia' literally means "the right to do what one wishes". Where it was used in chapter 1, I translated it as 'authority', and I still think that that is the best sense of the word. However, it doesn't make sense in this context. The word 'influence' is chosen here just to make the sentence read easier.

6 'Apeitheia' means "won't be convinced". I felt that 'disobedience' was too law focused.

September 19, 2009

Ephesians 1:22-23; A Devotional

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And He set1 everything under His feet, and made Him head over the assembly which is His body: the very thing2 which fills every bit3 of everything.
Ok, let us recall Paul's context:
I've not stopped praying for you, recalling you to mind in my prayers; that the God of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the Glorious Father, may give you the spirit of wisdom and of revelation on the knowledge of Him, having your mind's eye enlightened in order to perceive what is the hope of His invitation, what is the glorious wealth of His inheritance in the saints and what is the surpassing greatness of His power into us, the believing, according to the work of His mighty strength according to the work of His mighty strength which was worked in Christ, arousing Him from the dead and sitting Him at God's right side in the celestial realms, far above any ruler, authority, power, or lordship, or any name named, not only in this era, but also in one to come.
If you follow just the bold above, you can see the train of thought that lead Paul to the point that we are at this week. Paul is praying for the Ephesians to understand certain things, and the final one he lists is the power that God worked in Christ. The ultimate power that God worked in Christ (or at least the one that Paul elaborates on the most) is the establishment of Christ in power. First he states how Christ has be set above everything. Now he states how everything has be set below Christ.

But if we are to understand this text, then we must consider the significance of being the body to the one that is over all things. Through Christ, we have obtained power over the same things. It is important to remember that we have no power in of ourselves, nor do we have power individuals, but we have power as Christ's body, and it is only as a body that we have access to Christ's power.

This is an important lesson that we should learn when living the Christian life. Commitment to the body of Christ gives us victory over the things of this world, whether it be the corruption around us, or the corruption in us. I don't mean going to church every Sunday either. I mean commitment to the people that you find there, not only on Sunday, but every day. We are to be attached to the people of God. We are to be one, for together, Christ moves through us and in us. We we are together, we act as a united body being guided by the head, Christ.

Therefore, I encourage you to be committed to the church where ever you go. Know a body of believers intimately, and both serve and submit to it so that you may experience the power of being united to the head, Jesus Christ.



Translation notes

1 'Hupotasso' is a compound word of 'hupo' which means under (where we get our prefix 'hypo' from) and 'tasso' which means to place/set/put/position/establish. What it actually means is to arrange or establish something beneath something else, often in the sense of arranging people beneath another person in terms of authority. Most often this would be translated as 'to subject' since this is the most basic use of the word, but this proved impossible here if Paul's metaphoric image (which is also a quote from the Psalm 8) was to be maintained.

2 Here I had a problem maintaining the rhetoric due to an issue with the English. The Greek is "to pleroma tou pleroumenou". 'Pleroma' can either mean that which fills something, or that which is full. 'Pleroumenou' is the genitive of the participle of 'to fill': thus "of the filling".
Most translations render this "the fullness of Him who fills..." but I do not see the justification of this at all. The word 'of Him' ('autou') is simply not there in the Greek, even though every translation I'm looking at has that (even the message uses 'by Christ'). It seems to be this is based of the assumption that 'pleroma' must be translated at 'that which is full', and what is the body full of other than Christ? Thus it is a translation that is based off of the interpretation.
However, I believe neither is correct. If take the meaning of 'pleroma' to be 'that which is full' then it would read "the fullness of filling all in all", which I don't think makes anything sense. However, if we take it to mean 'that which fills' then it would read "the filling of filling all in all", now it makes sense. It is saying that Christ is filling everything with His body, that is the church.
However, "filling (noun) of filling (participle)" is confusing in English since we have two homographs. My translation above is to deal with this problem.

3 The Greek here reads "all in all". I've chosen here to elucidate what "all in all" would mean. Thus: "everything that is in everything".

September 17, 2009

The Trinity Program

2 comments
I was rummaging through my files and I find this document which I had written 3 years ago. I thought I would share because it proves beyond a shadow of a doubt how big of a dork I am. Anyway, this is the doctrine of the Trinity as expressed in C++. Enjoy:
const Divinity YHWH=Divinity();

class Divinity
{
aaaDivinity()
aaa{
aaafor (int c=0; c<∞; c++)
aaa
aaa{dimentions[c]=∞;}
aaa}

aaaThelitos will();
aaaString knowledge=∞;
aaaPotency power=∞;
aaaInt dimentions[∞];
aaaCharacter goodness=☺;
}

class HUnion
{
aaaHUnion(Divinity *divine, Humanity *human)
aaaaaaaaa{God=divine; man=human;}

aaaostream permeationAttributes (istream);

aaaDivinity *God;
aaaHumanity *man;
}

struct Messiah
{
aaaHUnion Christ;
}

int main()
{
aaaDivinity *Father=*YHWH,
aaaaaaaaaaaa*Son=Father,
aaaaaaaaaaaa*Spirit=Father;

aaaMessiah Jesus;
aaaJesus.Christ=HUnion(Son, *humanity());
}

September 14, 2009

The Funniest Anti-Arminian Post I Have Ever Seen!

12 comments
OK, this post by Triablogue is so absolutely ridiculous that I find it comical and wanted to share it. Here Steve Hays actually tries to claim that Arminianism is a form of Manichaeism . Wow. Just wow. For those not familiar with what Manichaeism is, let me say that this would be akin to Michael Moore calling Republicans Communist. Seriously.

Manichaeism was a deterministic theology that held that the whole of reality, especially the human being, was the product of a conflict with the spiritual forces of good and evil. All events, and all that is, are merely the manifestations of the various events that are occurring within the spiritual realm. Though it is very clear that Manichaeism is not Calvinism in the sense that it does not hold to a singular good monotheistic deity, it is also clear that it is much further from Arminianism, not only for the same reason, but also because it is deterministic.

This is also odd, since there is absolutely no historical link from Manichaeism to Armnianism, yet the historical link from Manichaeism to Calvinism is well documented. Calvinism is derived primarily from Augustinianism. Augustine was the one who first introduced deterministic ideas into the church. It is also important to note that Augustine was a Manichean before he was a Christian, and only turned back to more deterministic ways of thinking during his dealings with the heretic Pelagius.1

Now, Steve Hays's actual argument is because Arminians hold that there exist events and ends in the world which do not have their origin in God that there must therefore exist an equally powerful opposing force to God. Thus Arminianism must be dualistic, and must be Manichean. This 'argument' is so ridiculous that one must wonder how existence could have brought into being such a mind as to conceive it. All events and ends which occur only happen within the parameters established by God, and therefore, though there are events and ends which God did not cause, there are no events and ends that ever occur which are beyond God's power to control. This would be akin to saying that when my friend Chris's cat scratches the couch, it demonstrates that the cat is an equally opposing power to Chris. Yeah, that makes sense.

Now, I usually don't make posts like this. I'm a rather irenic fellow. But, I'm sorry, this bit is just so ridiculous that I just couldn't let it go. I mean, really? Really? This is what you are going to argue?

All I want to say is to all Calvinists out there, I have way too much respect for you to ever call the guys at Triablogue 'Calvinists'. Quite frankly, I don't know what to call them other than a group of sophistic "theologians" that need to have their armchairs reupholstered.


1It is important for me to say that I don't actually think that Augustine got his deterministic thoughts from Manichaeism . At least not directly anyway. I believe he got them from Plato (Augustine was also a classical Platonic rhetorian). However, it is important to note that many theologians have documented links between Manichaeism and some of Augustine's theology.

September 5, 2009

Ephesians 1:19b-21; A Devotional

3 comments
...according to the work of His mighty strength which was worked1 in Christ, arousing2 Him from the dead and sitting Him at God's right side in the celestial realms, far above any3 ruler, authority, power, or lordship,4 or any name named,5 not only in this era, but also in one to come.6

The first thing we must do is to remember the context of this passage. Paul is describing to the Ephesians what he is praying on their behalf. Specifically, he has been praying that they may have a deeper understanding of the things of God. Thus, we can understand this passage to be one of those things that Paul was praying for the Ephesians to understand. Since this is something that he prays for the Ephesians to understand, we can be sure that he will explain some of it in the upcoming chapters.

For now, let us consider what this is saying. It is talking about God's mighty power, and what this power has accomplished.

This was accomplished on the central point upon which the entire Christian church was founded: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I think us, as theologians, tend to overlook that according to Scripture, it is the resurrection which is the defining element of the gospel. Often we talk about the cross instead (which is important, don't get me wrong), but that isn't what the NT writers talked about the most. Perhaps if we thought more eschatologically we would recognize that the power of God to resurrect Jesus Christ is the same power promised to us to arouse us from the dead in the age to come.

However, God's mighty strength didn't stop at the resurrection. It also extends to the elevation of Christ over the whole cosmos. Christ the the supreme ruler of all things, and as members of His body we we share in this as well, just as we will share in that resurrection.

What if the Church actually thought this way? What if we considered ourselves to be representatives of this mighty ruler, this ruler who is above all others? What if we walked out in that kind of confidence? What if we walked out with the humility to recognize that we represent something beyond ourselves? I believe that if we did, the kingdom of God would move through this world in power, and speed.

So let is examine our way of thinking and be kingdom minded. Let us think and act in the knowledge of our position in relation to Jesus Christ. From there, we'll see the glory of God on this Earth.


Translation notes

1 Here I am deviating from the norm and it is important for me to explain why. First of all, in Greek, the subject of a sentence can be implied by the conjugation of the verb. For instance, if I wanted to say "I know John", I could say each word: "ego ginosko Ioannen" or I could say "ginosko Ioannen". The 'o' at the end of 'ginosko' tells you that the subject if the 1st person singular, so the inclusion of the subject is unnecessary.
In the text, the verb is 'energesen' which is in the 3rd person singular. There is no subject, so the question is, who/what is the subject. Most translations seem to say God, but I'm not so sure. It seems to me that, grammatically, the word is most closely associated with the word 'energeian' in verse 19. I believe this is supported by the verb and the noun being directly related ('a work' and 'to work'). Therefore, 'en' is translated 'which' instead of 'who' and no new word needs to be introduced. It is important to note that this makes absolutely no change in the meaning of the text anyway since is it God's work that we are talking about. (It is relevant to note that the NLT seems to agree with me, though I'm not sure whether that's good or not)

2 Often translated 'to raise', 'egeiras' does primarily mean to wake someone up. Thus, I used arouse here.

3 'pases ', a derivative of 'pas', is the basic Greek word for 'all', and is also used to mean 'every' or 'any'. Here I translate it as any simply because it flows nicer. The meaning is the same, it is purely as aesthetic choice. The same is true with replacing all of the 'kai's with commas.

4 Paul uses 4 synonyms (or rather 5, though I'll get to that under footnote 5) to describe how much power has been given to Christ. This building up of synonyms is a common Hebraic rhetorical device, and we shouldn't invest too much time in figuring out the differences between these 4.
More specifically, they are:
  1. Arches: Literally means beginning, top, or head. In this case head, referring to a head ruler.
  2. Exousias: Literally, means the right to decide something or one who possesses the right to decide something. It's etymology is a little weird, so I won't get into it. I felt the word 'authority' really captured this meaning.
  3. Dunameos: This is the same word that I translated as 'power' in Eph 1:18-19.
  4. Kuriotetos: Based off of 'kurios which means lord. Kuriotetos refers to the rank of being lord. Thus 'lordship' is a rather exact translation.

5 The Greek here actually literally reads 'name named', 'named' being the past participle. This can mean one of two things. The first (the option taken by the NLT) is anything which has ever been identified. The second (which is taken by the NIV) is any title given. I believe the latter to be correct, making this actually a fifth synonym to 'head', 'authority', 'power', and 'lordship'.

It is important to note that this fifth synonym is grammatically isolated from the other four by the reiteration of 'any' and by the dependent clause which is connected to the verb 'named' ("not only in this age, etc..."). I believe this is because this last synonym is best understood as the full breadth of the category of these synonyms. Perhaps the best translation could be "and any other title that might ever be given".

6 The verb 'mello' means "to be about to happen", thus referring to the immediate future, though the participle, as used here, can be used for the generic future (as most versions translate it). If we take it to mean the immediate future, than Paul isn't referring to all possible future ages, but specifically to the age of the kingdom of God which is to be ushered in by the return of Christ. However, the use of this verb does not demand this, and thus we shouldn't force the issue.

August 31, 2009

:::Forwarded Invoice From SEA::

0 comments
FACTORY RECALL

The Maker of all human beings (GOD) is recalling all units manufactured, regardless of make or year, due to a serious defect in the primary and central component of the heart.

This is due to a malfunction in the original prototype units code named Adam and Eve, resulting in the reproduction of the same defect in all subsequent units. This defect has been technically termed "Sub-sequential Internal Non-Morality," or more commonly known as S.I.N., as it is primarily expressed.

Some of the symptoms include:
1. Loss of direction
2. Foul vocal emissions
3. Amnesia of origin
4. Lack of peace and joy
5. Selfish or violent behavior
6. Depression or confusion in the mental component
7. Fearfulness
8. Idolatry
9. Rebellion


The Manufacturer, who is neither liable nor at fault for this defect, is providing factory-authorized repair and service free of charge to correct this defect.


The Repair Technician, JESUS, has most generously offered to bear the entire burden of the staggering cost of these repairs. There is no additional fee required.


The number to call for repair in all areas is: P-R-A-Y-E-R.
Once connected, please upload your burden of SIN through the REPENTANCE procedure. Next, download ATONEMENT from the Repair Technician, Jesus, into the heart component.

No matter how big or small the SIN defect is, Jesus will replace it with:
1. Love
2. Joy
3. Peace
4. Patience
5. Kindness
6. Goodness
7. Faithfulness
8. Gentleness
9. Self control

Please see the operating manual, the B.I.B.L.E. (Believers' Instructions Before Leaving Earth) for further details on the use of these fixes.


WARNING: Continuing to operate the human being unit without correction voids any manufacturer warranties, exposing the unit to dangers and problems too numerous to list and will result in the human unit being permanently impounded. For free emergency service, call on Jesus.


DANGER: The human being units not responding to this recall action will have to be scrapped in the furnace. The SIN defect will not be permitted to enter Heaven so as to prevent contamination of that facility. Thank you for your attention!

- GOD

P.S. Please assist where possible by notifying others of this important recall notice, and you may contact the Father any time by 'Knee mail'.


(Picked this up from a SEA member)

August 29, 2009

Ephesians 1:18-19; A Devotional

2 comments
...having your mind's eye1 enlightened in order to perceive2 what is the hope of His invitation3, what is the glorious wealth of His inheritance in the saints and what is the surpassing greatness of His power4 into us, the believing, according to the work of His mighty4 strength4...
These verse piggyback on what Paul says in the verse before, about God giving us a spirit of revelation. These two verse begin to describe what that is to be revealing: God's power. Mind you, this is not merely speaking of God's power in general, for it is predicated on Christ's resurrection in the following verses. However, in the meantime, let us consider what this is saying about God's power.

First, we are to perceive the hope of His call. This same language is used again is 4:4. Hope here refers not to the emotion of hope, but to the object of hope: that which is hoped for. This hope is our eschatological hope: eternal life. Furthermore this is a hope to which God invited us. The Greek word can also mean "call", but it is also the word which is used to mean invitation, like to a feast for instance. I believe it is in this sense that it is being used here: We are invited to the marriage feast of the lamb.

Second we are to perceive the glorious wealth of His inheritance. Again, the concept of inheritance is eschatological, and has been a major aspect of discussion within the past few verses. This inheritance is what we have received in Christ, and here Paul is praying that we understand the full depths of that. Our inheritance isn't just eternal life, but is also the subordinate power and authority that we have through Christ. We should not underestimate this.

Finally, we are to perceive surpassing greatness of His power into us. God's power is not some abstract concept that we try to understand, nor is it restricted to what God does in the big picture of things. God's power is exacted onto us, the believing. Because we will believe, God will do the same mighty act that He did on His Son: resurrecting us from the dead and seating us in power over creation.

Since Paul prays for us to understand these things, that it is good for us to seek and understanding of these things. There must be something practically beneficial to it. I would say that it is this: if we understand what God has done for us, then we understand the kind of privilege that we have. This will give us the confidence to live out the authority that He has given us on earth, humility in understanding that this is a gift given by God, but, more importantly, it will keep in our mind a conceptual view of our relationship to God and others.

Remember that Ephesians is a book primarily about unity in the Church. This is the aim. I would say that Paul prays for us to understand these things so that we understand that we are all (both Jew and Gentile) positioned in the same place in relation to God, and should therefore be united. There should be a bond to forms between us as peers of power.

When we look at a brethren, even the one's that we disagree with about certain issues, we should see him/her as a fellow heir in the things of God, and an equal partner is the place of power. Let us, therefore, treat one another with love, dignity, and respect motivated by the mutual understanding we have about God and Christ.



Translation notes

1Literally "eyes of your heart". 'Mind's eye' is a common colloquial expression that means the same thing though. The ancient concept of the heart wasn't so much one's emotional faculties, but where one's person was.

2The Greek is actually the simple word for 'know' ('oida'). I chose to use perceive instead to coincide with the enlighenment metaphor (literally, shine light onto something so that the eyes of your "mind" can see it better).

3 The word 'klesis''s most basic meaning is that of a vocal call: calling out to someone else. However, this is also the common word in the Greek for an invitation. To decide whether to translate it as 'call' or 'invitation' is determined mostly on context. Though I think that 'invitation' is a better translation here, I am aware that this may be bias on my part (though I don't think it is) and accept that criticism.


4'Dunamis', 'kratos', and 'ischus' are all synonyms relating to strength. 'Dunamis' is related the concept of ability, while 'kratos' can also refer to authority. 'Ischus' simply means strength. As such, my only real attempt is to do my best to also use three English metaphors, since this seems to be Paul's rhetoric.

August 23, 2009

Ephesians 1:17; A Devotional

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...that the God of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the Glorious Father, may give you the spirit1 of wisdom and of revelation on the knowledge of Him...
This verse is a verse about the Father, and, I believe, describes the relationship He has to both the Son and the Spirit. What is more important here is that the context of this passage is prayer for the Ephesians.

In the last couple of verses, Paul said that he has been praying for the Ephesians constantly. Here, he says what he is praying. He does not pray for wealth, prestige, or more numbers. Instead, he prays that they have wisdom and understanding.

I think this is a very good pastoral lesson. Often pastors are motivated by the wrong goals. They try and teach the congregation how to live more comfortably, or what are the right doctrines to have, etc... Instead, Paul's pastoral heart calls for them to be like Solomon: wise in the ways of God.

The bible teaches that being a follower of Christ, in part, means that you have an entirely different way of viewing the world than the rest of the world. I don't really like the notion of adapting our understanding of God to the trends of the world because our perspective is supposed to be different (this does not mean that just because our understanding is different we therefore believe what is right). This does mean that when pastors are shepherding their congregations, one of their goals is to train them in the ways that they should think.

Think about yourself at the moment. Does the cross reshape your reality? Does it define the way you view all aspects of life? Does it affect how you do your work? How you vote? How you play? What you watch? What you say? Does it define how you see yourself? The cross interrupts life as it normally is, and it is important that we seek that interruption, because it is there that we find the true impetus for life itself.


Translation notes

1 There were three ways to render 'pneuma' in this text: 'the spirit', 'a spirit', 'the Spirit'. There is no definite article in the Greek, so the use of 'the' is not required, but it is also not impossible. The lack of a definite article does not demand indefiniteness in Greek. The option of 'Spirit' is always tricky in general because, though the Spirit is definately referred to in personnal terms in other texts, He does not really have a formal name and, like 'pater', it is not always obvious when it is referring to the person of the Spirit. Personally, i think that it is, but one shouldn't push one's point of view in translation.In the end, I used 'the spirit' since it allows all three understandings possible.

August 15, 2009

Ephesians 1:15-16; A Devotional

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Because1 of this, and2 because I heard about your faith in Lord Jesus and about your love toward all the saints, I've not stopped praying for you, recalling you to mind3 in my prayers.
The thrust of this passage is about prayer. At first it hits us as a bit of a surprise. This first section in Ephesians is so full of high theology that one hardly expects the sudden intrusion of something practical. But I think this points out an important feature of Christianity.

Many times Christianity is described as a reflective faith. We have a deep history of serious theological and philosophical reflection. However, as much of American evangelicalism has aptly demonstrated, it can also be a very practical faith, and can exist and act separately from high level theology.

The truth of the matter is that Christianity in its purest form takes abstract theological concepts and makes them practical. Christianity is more than something to make us feel better, or something to motivate us, or a hobby to muse over when there's nothing on TV. Instead Christianity is a robust and provocative way of viewing the world which is grounded in the reality of life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and as such every theological thought reaches in and affects the way in which we interact with the world.

For instance, in prayer Paul cites two impetuses for his prayer for the Ephesians. One is the witness of their love and faithfulness to Christ and His church. This as an impetus for prayer is relevant because it sets as an example the level of commitment we are supposed to have for our fellow Christians. Often we forget this.

The other impetus is all the theological stuff Paul has been saying so far, especially what he just said in verses 13-14. Because the Gentiles are now included within the inheritance that was the Jews, they are now brothers and as such Paul loves them as his own people. The prayer that Nehemiah prayed about the ruin of Jerusalem and the corporate love of his people has, for Paul, now extended to the Gentiles.

Therefore we see that the theological idea of the Gentiles' inclusion into the promises of God had direct influence on Paul's prayer. Now I wonder how much it has on ours. Do we pray for the saints as brothers? Do we reach out to those loyal in Christ in our prayers? Do we hold them up? I think we should.


Translation notes

1 The Greek reads 'Dia touto' which literally means 'through this' or 'by this'. 'This' is referring back to what Paul has just been saying. The English words 'because', 'therefore', etc... serve the same purpose. I chose 'because' so I could distribute it through the 'and'.

2 I wrestled a bit with the 'kai' in this passage, which is usually translated as 'and' or 'also', depending on context. It is a very common word, and I never really expected to have trouble with it. However, I found it difficult to discern exactly what was being joined in the sentence with the word. One option was to consider the Ephesians as something else that Paul is giving thanks to, but that doesn't seem to work with 'kai''s position in the sentence. I also found little help in the translations. The NIV uses 'ever since', which I don't see at all. The ESV just crops it out.
The KJV and its descendants translates it as 'also' which doesn't work contextually. This would either mean that Paul also heard this (though Paul hasn't mentioned hearing anything) or that Paul also heard the gospel as the Ephesians heard it (which seems to contradict the sentence).
However, I think what makes the most sense is to see the subordinate clause as something else "through" which Paul is not ceasing his prayer. Thus, it is connecting the subordinate clause with 'touto' in connection to the preposition 'dia'. I attempted to demonstrate this by distributing the 'because' through the 'and'.

3 'Mneian poioumanos' literally translates 'making memory' or 'doing memory'. The word picture is literally forming the memory in your mind in order to act on it. I felt that 'remember' was too soft and 'making mention' was too inaccurate. Therefore I used an synonymous expression in English that uses the same word picture: 'recalling to mind'.

August 8, 2009

Ephesians 1:13-14; A Devotional

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In whom you also have heard the word of truth: the gospel of your salvation by which, having believed, you were sealed by the promised Holy Spirit who is the down payment of our allotment, toward the portion's redemption, to the praise of His glory.
Interpretation

It is important to note how this passage relates to what proceeds it. The switch from speaking in the first person plural ('we') to the second person plural here ('you') emphasizes that before this point Paul was not talking about the Ephesians. Thus, all of the glorious inheritance that was being talked about before this only belonged to Paul and some group that he is a member of. Based on the rest of the context, this can be shown to be the Jews.

As such, what Paul has essentially been saying is that God as given the Jews this glorious inheritance. However, in this passage he adds that now we (i.e. the Gentiles) have now been added to this inheritance because we heard the gospel, and believed it.

Reflection

The most beautiful part of the passage, to me, is the description of the Holy Spirit as our down payment. Our inheritance is being completely redeemed, but for now, we have first received the Holy Spirit which proves that our inheritance is coming, and He is also part of that inheritance: the first part.

What is most wonderful about this is that on this side of heaven we have a taste of eternity. The Spirit brings a bit of the eternal into our hearts and minds and now, right now, we beginning living out our eternal blessing.

It is bad theology to believe that we just try to make it through this life to experience the joys of God in the next. As Christians we do not to experience what God has to offer. Sure, we do not receive the fullness of it here, but we do receive it in part, and what we receive we can rejoice in and live in it.

Therefore, pursue the things of God. The riches of the kingdom of heaven are at our disposal by the presence of His Spirit. Let's take advantage of that!

August 7, 2009

Unchristian
Part V: Sheltered

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Introduction
Hypocrisy
Proselytizing
Antihomosexual
Sheltered
Too Political
Judgmental
Conclusion

The last post in this series was very difficult for me to write, but this one... not so much. The concept of 'being sheltered' means that we are "out of touch with reality". Well, I don't see this as so much of a bad thing. It isn't that I think being sheltered is OK, but I don't mind being thought of that way.

As Christians we are supposed to have a dramatically different way of viewing reality as the rest of the world. This means that we are going to act differently, and we are going to abstain from things the world thinks are good. Naturally, the world will view this as being sheltered. However, the term applies to a variety of different ideas, some which we need to work on, and some which we don't:

Ignorant

There is a certain portion of Christianity that has become anti-intellectual. They avoid education and deeper understanding of their own faith and the world. They reject science completely, and push their own agenda, which is often nothing more than a grand parroting act. It is little wonder that so much of the world sees us as ignorant fools.

Naïve

There exists a belief in many that Christians don't really know what real life is like. The reason why a lot of upper-class and middle-class youth look up to lower-class role models is because they believe the roughness of the lower-class life is more real than their own. It is similar to the story of The Prince and The Pauper: someone seeing danger and need as exciting, and, too some degree, more real than the life that he is living.

Christians, on the other hand, are very much the complete opposite. They don't seem to have as many hardships; they don't seem as worried; they abstain from the things that the world says brings fulfillment in life. To some degree, it seems like we live in a bubble.

This isn't entirely bad, since it is nothing negative to show that God takes care of His own. What's bad is that often we stay in our bubble, and we don't go out into the world to take care of the despondent. I'm reminded of St. Francis who was a rich man that gave up all of his possessions to live among the poor and minister to them.

The Good Life

Not only does the appearance of the good life makes us look naïve, it also makes people who are experiencing pain feel disconnected. They believe that we cannot possibly understand what they are going through. Therefore, how can we help them?

Of course, much of this isn't true. Many Christians came out of the very kinds of lives that these people are living in. We can help them because we are not offering our own experience, but we are instead offering the person of Christ, who can speak into any situation.

Disinterested

By disinterested, I mean disinterested in the real problem. This is something that many of us are absolutely guilty of. Many times we try and develop formulas about how to handle certain problems. The problem is that formulas are, by nature, impersonal, and what these people really need is for you to invest into their person lives. Let them know that you are concerned with them: with who they really are. We need to treat their problems on an individual level, instead of treating it as an obstacle for our real goal.

Final Thoughts

This is only a brief sample. I'm sure I could come up wit more if I tried. There are always two extremes when it comes to this question. The first, we care so much about connecting with those in the world, that we become just like them and are left with nothing to offer. The second, we care so much about doing things properly that we isolate ourselves from the world entirely. It is good to be seen is something different, but it is not good to be seen as something unapproachable. It's about balance.

August 3, 2009

Making God A Liar?

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This was a question that came into SEA, and I thought it would be a good idea to share my thoughts on the subject more publicly. The question is as follows:
  1. If human beings have libertarian free will, it is within their power to make God a liar.
  2. It is not within their power to make God a liar.
  3. Therefore, human beings do not have free will.
The troublesome premise is probably the first one, so I'll explain what I mean. Imagine a scenario where God makes a promise to one person which requires for its fulfillment the cooperation of another person who is free in the libertarian sense (I take freedom in the libertarian sense to mean that in any circumstance, a person's choice is free if he has two options to choose from [acting or refraining from acting, for example] and his choice isn't coerced, and so on).

Let's say God promises to the first person S that he will have a child with the second person S* before the end of the year. The fulfillment of this promise clearly would involve S*'s cooperation: she could just turn S down every night and never have the child. But then God's promise goes unfulfilled and God is a liar--which is not possible. Therefore, S* cannot have free will.
The person then went on to list several possible responses, which to me shows that the person was trying to be fair, and I respect that. Some of them I'll mention, but what follows are my own thoughts:

  1. God not being a liar is a relational and moral quality, not an essential one. This is a confusion of categories. God is not a liar because he would not promise something that He would not fulfill. Thus, the initial premise is based upon a situation that God Himself would never enter into, for He would not promise that which He would not come through on.

    For instance, if I promise my nephew that my wife would let him have ice cream, and then she doesn't, she did not make me a liar. I made myself a liar by promising something which is beyond my own will. Therefore, it was not caused by the power of my own wife, but from my own hubris in this case. It is my own relational failing, something which God would never

  2. Due to God's omniscience, God knows every event which will transpire. God's sovereignty would mean that the error that I made in the above example an impossibility anyway since He would know whether or not she would let him have ice cream.

    This is one of the possible objections that the original author mentioned, and gave a possible response to it:
    Even if God knows what S* will do in certain circumstances (however that works), it is still within her power to make God a liar. Imagine if, on the last night before the New Year, God knows that she will not turn down S and will get pregnant--in order for her choice to be free in the libertarian sense I outlined above, it still has to be within her power, all things being the same, to deny S. Therefore, it is still within her power, even if it were never actualized, to make God a liar. But God cannot be a liar. So S* cannot have free will.
    However, I don't think this response is valid. This is because of the points 1 and 6 here, but it is also because you cannot claim that someone has the power to accomplish something that they'll never be able to accomplish. That's not really having the power. Making someone a liar is, by nature, an opportunistic ability and, as such, if the opportunity will never exist, then there really is not power there to begin with.

  3. The vast majority of God's promises made in Scripture are conditional. This is important in connection to the above point. God always maintains His integrity by only promising contingent things in light of the appropriate conditions for those things. The only times His promises are unconditional is when the event is predestined.

  4. God is sovereign which means that He is in control of the situations around a person. If He ordains that a particular end will come to pass, He has the authority and the means to arrange it to come to pass through a variety of circumstances that He can adjust (in His eternal plan of course) in the event of people resisting His will.

  5. The person is working with a false sense of free will. Free will does not mean that the will makes decisions perfectly autonomously all the time. Only that the capacity to make autonomous decisions exists, is frequent, and God has decreed that certain events, such as one's personal salvation, shall be contingent upon such a decision. But God still possesses the power and the right to overcome that free will if He deems it necessary to achieve that which He has decreed would happen, such as the eventual hardening of Pharaoh's heart, or the tortuous spirit sent to Saul. Therefore, there is nothing wrong with God arranging things to get a women pregnant if it is indeed something important enough that God would make such a promise (though I personally would question the morality of it in that particular case). However, I would hold that God rarely overrides the will and when He does, it is for something far greater than making sure someone doesn't make Him a liar.

  6. The issue of free will is not really an issue of power. The person is casting the notion of free will into Calvinist paradigms. Free will is not a power that human beings naturally possess, but a provision given by God for His own purposes. That purpose, as Arminians understand it, is to create real relationships with His people. It is false to believe that God doesn't force people to do things because He can't, as if free will possesses some kind of quality that surpasses the might of God. He doesn't do it because He doesn't want to. His desire for us is as a father to children and as such He wants us to make our own choices, grow, and mature. Free will exists because of His father's heart.

August 1, 2009

Ephesians 1:11-12; A Devotional

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Furthermore, in Him we have been chosen by lot1 (being predetermined according to the plan2 by which all things are worked out3 and according to the purpose2 of His will)4 to be who we are,5 for the praising of His glory; we who first hoped in Christ.
The more I read Paul, the more amazed I am of how much he can fit into one sentence. It is really remarkable.

Interpretation

The common thread in this sentence is the concept of God's plan. The subject that Paul is talking about here that was preplanned by God, and it is important to note the kind of power there is in that. What God preplanned comes to pass, always. This is known as predestination, and it is not an exclusively Calvinist concept. No Arminian denies that God predestines, though we do disagree with Calvinists in what He predestines, but that is for another time. For now, it is important to understand the power of God's predestination in what Paul is saying. But it is also important to be aware what the subject actually is.

The subject is "our" inclusion within all things that are being unified in Christ from verse 10. Being chosen by lot implies the process of the distribution of an inheritance, and as such, "we", being chosen by lot, are being given a particular portion of what Christ has been given. You may wonder why I am saying "our" and "we". Well, this is not a reference to a Calvinist view of election here, for that isn't how casting lots work, nor is the context here broad enough to consider the election of each individual believer. Therefore, I, personally, am not really included in this context, nor do are you, the ones reading this post. Instead it is referring to the particular inheritance that has been given to the Jews.

"The Jews? Where are the Jews mentioned here?" Well, it is important to note that contextually, the first person plural ("we") that is being used can't refer to all believers. This is evident in that it is contrasted with the second person plural ("you") in verse 13, and thus the Ephesians themselves are not even being considered.

The reason why I conclude that the 'us' is referring to Jews is two-fold. First, the unity of the Jews with the Gentiles in Christ is going to be the greater context of the next two chapters, so considering that subject to start here is very natural. Second, and I think more importantly, is the phrase "the first to hope in Christ." This can either mean the first converts to the faith, who would be the Jews, or those who were waiting for the Christ before the birth of Jesus, who... would also be the Jews. I prefer the second understanding, since I believe it is more in-line with the rest of the context of the two chapters, but in either case, we are dealing with the Jews.

Yes, this is a bit more exegesis than I usually include in these, but in this case it is fairly necessary. In order to properly interpret this verse, and thus apply it, one needs to know that Paul is talking about the Jews and I believe the "lot" that Paul was talking about was actually ancient Israel, referring to the casting of lots at the end of Joshua. (Joshua 18-19) Now I don't think he's talking about the actual distribution of land, but was referring to it metaphorically as the covenantal inheritance of the Jews. Therefore when the text is talking about God's plans and purposes and predestination, it is referring the nation of Israel and the Jewish people.

Reflection

In terms of reflection (which is what devotionals are all about), it is important to consider the wonder of God's eternal plan. The establishment of the people of Israel and the eventual coming of the Messiah is part of God's plan, all of which is a demonstration of His ultimate glory and thus deserving of praise. God is not content to leave humanity as it is but has a plan, and is working out that plan, for the redemption of the human race. Our God is active!

Many times we look at the world and wonder why things are so bad, or have trouble maintaining our hope. But when we think about God's eternal plan which is perfect and already accomplished by the work of Christ, then we can hope, not in an abstract sense, but in full understanding of the divine purposes of our God.

Therefore, remain assured and confident in all that you do. You have a God that has everything under control and is more than competent in His sovereignty. Therefore, join arms with the rest of the saints and continue to work out His holy plan. It will be accomplished.


Translation notes

1 'eklerothemen' literally means "selection by lot". The reason why many translations render it "obtained an inheritance" is because lots was the principle way of distributing inheritance, as well as distributing inheritance being the primary use of lots. However, I don't like the inheritance rendering because it is interpreting the text rather than translating. Additionally, there is another way to understand the text: that we were choosen to be part of Christ's inheritance. The "obtained an inheritance" rendering solves this tension, and I don't like that, though I agree with the interpretation.

2 'Prothesis' and 'boule' are synonyms, in that they can both refer to a purpose or plan. However, they are slightly different in nuance. 'Prothesis' refers to "setting something out". It can mean purpose as in "what I set out to do", and can mean plan in that a plan is displayed before hand. However, the principle meaning is to set something out, or to display it.
'Boule' refers directly to decision, and refers to what someone wants to do. It can also mean purpose or plan, but in the sense of desire rather than in the sense of it being preestablished. This is why the word is connected directly to the word 'will'.

3 The phrase 'tou ta panta energountos' was extremely difficult to decipher. It would transliterate as "the the all working" (where the first 'the' and 'working' is in the genitive and the second 'the' and 'all' are in the accusiative, thus the concept of 'working' grammatically envelopes the concept of 'all'). I don't really recognize the significance of this grammatical contruct, and couldn't find it in the grammars. Therefore, I kind of submitted to what every single translation interprets it as: "the working out of all things". Other possible renderings include:
  • "according to the plan/purpose of all actions",

  • "according to the plan of working out all things"

  • "according to the plan of all thing which are being worked out"
4 The word 'eis' (which usually means 'into' but can also simply mean 'in' or 'to') is used twice here. One is connected to the word being, literally "into being us"; the second is connected to the word praise, literally "into the praising of His glory". This makes both words 'being' and 'praising' indirect objects to a verb, but which verb? The options include choosing by lot, or predestined. I think it makes the best grammatical sense to connect these to the verb "choosing by lot", so I added the paratheses since this would make that section an aside. However, in doing so, I am deviated from what most translations are doing, so i am willing to be corrected.

5 The phrase'eis to einai umas' literally translates into "into the being us". Again, I diviated from the standard here in that I don't see how rendering it "that we should be" makes any sense with the word 'into' there. It seems instead that either the predestion of God or the selection process of the lots is forming who we are, which is why I have rendered it as such.