Statement of Faith & Ordination Materials

My doctrinal and positional statements as of today.

David Steltz

Bibliology

An explanation of my beliefs about the Bible as it pertains to doctrinally crucial convictions. I believe the Bible is inerrant, divinely inspired, has been accurately preserved, and continues to be personally relevant to every human alive. This is not a thorough defense as to why I believe these things, but I will expound on what these facets mean and why the Bible is so important to me.

Introduction

Thesis: I believe the Bible is inerrant, divinely inspired, has been accurately preserved, and continues to be personally relevant to every human alive. This four-faceted statement sums up the most doctrinally crucial aspects of my convictions about the Bible. I also see the Bible (the entire collection of stories and other writings) as one unified story that points to Jesus. I plan on adding a section to this article on that topic in the future.

Scope: This is not a thorough defense as to why I believe these things, but I will expound on what these facets mean and why the Bible is so important to me. I would also like to note that I believe the Bible has great literary significance, as well as substantial historical and scientific implications. However, a thorough examination of those topics is beyond the scope of this article. 

Canon: For this discussion, any reference to the Bible refers to the combined 66 Old Testament (TaNaK) and New Testament books recognized by canon in the Protestant tradition.

Scriptural Basis: Nearly every statement that follows can be summarized by the following two scripture passages:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. —2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV)
Above all, you must realize that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God. —2 Peter 1:20-21 (NLT)

The Divinity of the Bible

I assert the divinity of the Bible in three aspects: it is inerrant, inspired, and authoritative. These concepts are closely correspondent and reinforce each other. What follows in support of this statement is based upon its self-affirming claims, so is relevant to someone with a basic acceptance of the Bible, as opposed to someone who rejects or distrusts it.

To say that the Bible is authoritative implies certain objective attributes. For example, authority grants the bearer (in case the Bible) a certain power or credibility that exists objectively in some respect. Submission and trust in its authority and credibility are not obligatory, but ignorance or rejection of the truth does not change the truth, nor does a faulty interpretation of the truth. Authority in this sense also refers to a source of authority which is external to humanity. It means that the Bible is not a mere mortal product of religion. Its authority did not come from the church, a council, convention, or even those who originally penned the words. The Bible’s authority is divine and establishes itself as a measure of truth. It proclaims its authority by describing its importance and origin (Matthew 5:17-20, John 10:34-35). As the word of God, it inherits His property of absolute truth. The authority of the Bible is derived directly from God Himself, through the process of inspiration.

Biblical inspiration refers to the concept of “God-breathed” textual communication. The word that has been translated as “inspired” literally means “breathed.” All of scripture was “breathed” out by God. 2 Timothy 3:16 states that “All Scripture is inspired by God…” declaring that God breathed the words of scripture into the writers for the benefit of humanity. Inspiration establishes the Bible as the culmination of specific concepts, words, and messages proceeding directly from God in the form of human language.

Because the words of scripture were “breathed” by God, they must be perfect. (Psalm 119:138, Psalm 119:142) God is perfect and defines truth, so what He says and does must be perfect and true. The Bible is a product of God, and as such it inherits His inerrant nature. There exists neither error nor blemish within its texts. Each word (as originally written) is perfect and verified by God. The Bible is crafted with calculated precision. The very presence or the tense of certain words can impact the meaning of a passage. The perfection of words extends to the perfection of their concept and message. It is completely and always true, and can be understood as such when interpreted properly in context. The whole collection is unified, without contradiction or conflict. It also fits within the guidelines set forth before Israel (Deuteronomy 13:1-5, 18:20-22) to determine the validity of human communicators of God’s word, as with the prophets.

In addition to the Bible’s self-affirmation, this view has survived the test of time. The church all throughout history has believed in the inerrancy of Scripture. This fact alone does not prove anything, but it strengthens the premise in that it has yet to be positively rejected or disproven. From an epistemological standpoint, one can argue that the Bible must be inerrant, or otherwise cannot be trusted at all. If some of the Bible might be false, how can we know what of it is true? Rejecting its inerrancy opens the door to a very slippery slope.

The Humanity of the Bible

The divinity and perfection of the Bible make it a unique book, but it is made even more fascinating by the fact that God did not physically craft the writings Himself. Instead, He used human skill, language, and culture. John 1 refers to Jesus, the human manifestation of God, as “The Word.” Scripture is also a human manifestation of God, in that it is his written Word provided in a human framework. In this sense, the Bible mirrors the doctrine of Christ’s hypostatic union. Both can be described as simultaneously completely divine and completely human. Each book takes on the personality and context of the author without causing any contradictions or detracting from its perfection. A variety of literary styles reflect the various needs and methods humans have of searching to discern truth and obey God. The humanity of the Bible is what makes it fit for human consumption. That is, God has specially prepared the revelation of His word in a format (human language) that we can consume.

Because the authors lived in a vastly different context than us, it can be helpful to understand their context as much as possible. To give just one example, looking at the method and style of Biblical narrative can enhance our understanding of the Bible. Ancient Jewish storytelling was concerned primarily with crafting an effective narrative that perfectly communicated its purpose and relevance, rather than recording a list of accurate details. An abundance of detail could be unimportant at best and distracting or misleading at worst. Such an intentional approach to detail lends a much heavier weight to each detail given. It also means that the meaning of details is much more important than the details themselves. That is, the details of certain stories may not be precise (as a video recording of an event would be), but they more accurately reflect the true story (as in telling someone about an event in a way that quickly and effectively communicates what happened). Such a storytelling style creates an invitation to participate in the story and learn about God through the journeys of the human characters, rather than memorize a list of statements about God.

The Preservation of the Bible

Through the efforts of faithful scribes, each original writing was preserved by meticulous copying and distribution over thousands of years. Thanks to modern archeology, we have an abundance of ancient copies that are very close in their time of writing to the originals. Comparing thousands of copies shows very little variation, and any differences are minor with no impact on the meaning of the text. I have full confidence that the text has been preserved well enough that its inerrancy has not diminished.

I also believe its divine attributes can be preserved through translated versions of the original languages. Of course, due to the importance of context, knowledge of the original languages can certainly provide a greater depth of understanding in scripture. Without being able to read the original languages, it is important to be aware of the shortcomings and challenges of translation processes, choosing and reading any version accordingly. However, the message and truth of God transcends language and can be understood sufficiently for salvation in any faithful translation. The word of God is immutable and everlasting (Psalm 119:89). It is worth mentioning that even when the overall message is preserved, there are some translations that are more beneficial than others, and often a combination of translations is most helpful. There are others still which stray so far from the original as to contain harmful or inaccurate content and implications.

The Relevance of the Bible

The Bible is God’s way of revealing Himself and communicating with us. He has revealed Himself to an extent through His creation; we can see the evidence of His design all around us in nature. (Psalm 19:1, John 1:3, Job 12:7-10, Romans 1:20). However, He has chosen to reveal Himself more fully and personally through the Bible, making it relevant to every human on Earth.

The Bible’s authority was given to humans for our benefit (Consider Exodus 19:5, Joshua 1:8). It presents God as our creator, and shows us that listening to what our creator says is in our best interest. Through the Bible, anyone can learn who God is, what He has done, and how to glorify Him. It is also “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12), playing an active role in the spiritual life of believers. It serves as a conduit and catalyst for personal communication with God. That it has transformative power is evident whenever someone truly lets the Word of God govern their every thought, feeling and action. (Colossians 3:16)

The Bible also defines the concept of sin against God, as well as the penalty of such. Because we are sinners and fall short of His glory (Romans 3:23), we desperately need His salvation and grace. There is no other way to be a part of His kingdom. The process by which God sacrificed Himself in His Son for the sake of the world is narrated in the New Testament and explained by the Old Testament.

Understanding the Bible redefines my understanding of myself. The Bible reveals that I have been redeemed, justified and sanctified by Jesus, and it teaches me how to live accordingly (Ephesians 4:1). I accept Him as my Lord and cede my life on earth to His glory. The life of Christ and the life of the church that followed serve as clarification and models for my life on earth.

The words of the Bible have been breathed into existence by God, providing perfect authority and truth. This truth has been preserved to this day, remaining relevant as a pathway to redemption, a gateway to restoration. My goal is not to take this tremendous gift for granted, but rather place Scripture at the utmost priority in my life, and encourage others to do likewise.

Theology Proper

Theology proper: my definition of God in general, as well as distinct characteristics of God as revealed through scripture.

Theology proper: my definition of God in general, as well as distinct characteristics of God as revealed through scripture.

God in General–A Supreme, Ultimate Being.

God, in a general sense, can be defined first as an ultimate, supreme reality. In other words, God has infinite and limitless capability. That notion itself is one that humans cannot fully comprehend, but it does imply certain attributes. Though the following attributes can be inferred simply from the logical extrapolation of this definition, I will also provide biblical references to reinforce each conclusion, and I will use the Bible as my source to narrow my definition of God later. I will be referring to God with masculine pronouns throughout, with my rationale for such included in a later section.

Existence

From the definition of God as a supreme being comes the conclusion that God, by definition, exists. Few would argue that non-existence is superior to existence. Likewise, existing and living is superior to existing and not living.  Therefore, we can refer to God as a “being,” a living existence.

Israel’s sacred name for God, YAHWEH, refers to existence and is closely tied to God’s revelation of Himself to Moses. When Moses asked God for a name, he received the following reply:

I AM WHO I AM. Say this to the people of Israel: I AM has sent me to you. God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: Yahweh, the God of your ancestors—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you. (Exodus 3:14-15, NLT)

Origin

Another implication of God’s ultimate supremacy is that He is infinite, having no beginning or end. A non-temporal being, existing separately from the construct of spacetime, is not subject to temporal concepts such as “origin.” God has no “origin,” He is infinite. His existence extends beyond the beginning and end of everything else. (Revelation 1:8, Psalm 90:4, 2 Peter 3:8)

Sovereignty

God’s supremacy also applies to power and authority. His sovereignty is ultimate; no other being is above God in that regard, and His sovereign will determines the reality of every outcome in the universe. (Colossians 1:17; Psalm 97:9, 29:10; 1 Chronicles 29:11-12; Proverbs 16:33)

Omnipotence

The word “omnipotence” is often used to refer to the limitless nature of God’s power. However, the purest definition of that word creates logical fallacies. Logic itself proceeds from the nature of God [see section on God as creator] and is simply a method that humans use to understand creation. Thereby we observe logical rules such as the law of non-contradiction as proceeding from and applying to God as well as to His creation. God is omnipotent in the sense that His power is the ultimate power, infinite and unlimited by any external force. (Jeremiah 32:27, Psalm 135:6, Luke 1:37, Isaiah 45:7, Job 42:2) However, the logical law of non-contradiction restricts us from entertaining paradoxical questions such as “Can God create a rock bigger than He can lift?”

Omniscience

Similarly, “omniscience” is often used to describe God’s limitless and comprehensive knowledge. There is nothing unknown to God. (Psalm 147:5, Hebrews 4:13, Proverbs 15:3) Some will point out a paradoxical problem this implies regarding the role of decisions and free will in creation. I will discuss the anthropological aspect of this elsewhere, but from a theological perspective, the problem can be dismissed simply by remembering that God is not constrained to any perspectives provided by the scope of time.

God in the Bible

God has revealed Himself in more detail than simply the characteristics inferred from the general definition of an ultimate, supreme being. Through the revelation of scripture, we can learn several more important truths about God.

God is Creator

Out of God’s existence, He spoke into existence every other reality in the universe. (Genesis 1:1, Psalm 33:6) All creation (that is, matter, energy, and what we refer to as spacetime itself) was created by God. (Colossians 1:16-17, Psalm 90:2, John 1:3, Isaiah 45:7) Knowing God as creator helps shape our understanding of creation. Namely, we see that creation reveals its creator, (Psalm 19:1, 8:3; Romans 1:20) and we ascertain concepts such as love, truth, goodness, and beauty within God’s creation because they are aspects of God’s very nature.

God is Knowable

God talked with humans after creating them (Genesis 2:16-17) and manifested a physical presence among them. (Genesis 3:8-13) It is thereby evident that although His supremacy is not fully comprehensible, (Isaiah 55:8-9) God is still knowable to an extent by humans. God’s continued communication with humans is a consistent theme throughout the rest of scripture, and scripture itself is a bridge that helps humans reconnect with their creator.

God is Holy

One of the most defining attributes we can know about God is His holiness. “Holiness” refers to God’s unique, unblemished, pure perfection. The word itself means “unique” or “set apart” so describing God as holy means there is none other like Him. Descriptions of God’s glory, especially in the context of worship, often involve the declaration of God’s holiness. (Isaiah 6:3, Revelation 4:8, Psalm 29:1-2)

Though only God can be truly described as perfectly holy, (1 Samuel 2:2, Exodus 15:11, Romans 3:23) He wants everyone and everything to be holy (1 Peter 1:15-16, Ephesians 1:4, 2 Timothy 1:9) and cannot tolerate the existence of unholiness in His presence. I visualize the “intolerance” of God’s holiness like the pure burning heat of the sun, which is so intense it consumes and purges anything unlike itself which gets too near its presence. Similar imagery is found in Malachi 4:1. (Side note: God provided the ultimate solution to this problem through Christ, which is the subject of soteriology, addressed very briefly in the last section of this essay).

God is Triune

God’s plurality can be described as a community of love, which is a template all His creation is meant to reflect on every level.

God refers to Himself as a plurality (Genesis 1:26, 3:22) and a title frequently used for God in the Old Testament is Elohim, which grammatically (though not always literally) is a plural noun. The Old Testament has many such allusions to the trinity, but it is in the New Testament where God is revealed as three distinct persons, composing one cohesive Godhead. Those persons are known as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 3:16-17, 28:19; Romans 14:17-18; Luke 3:21-22; 1 Peter 1:1-2) Despite the distinct plurality of the Trinity, scripture is clear that God is a singular being. (Deuteronomy 6:4; Isaiah 44:6, 45:5-6, 18; John 10:30)

God is Benevolent and Loving

Not only is God knowable, but He also loves humans, wants to help them, and wants them to know Him. (Deuteronomy 7:9; Jeremiah 29:11-13; Isaiah 41:10; Psalm 46:10, 86:15; 1 John 4:16-21; John 3:16) Though humans adulterated their relationship with God (Genesis 3), distancing themselves from His holiness, the rest of the Bible’s narrative reveals God’s plan and process of restoring their relationship with Him, ultimately revealed and fulfilled through Christ. (John 3:16; 2 Peter 3:9; Romans 5:8; Mark 10:45; 1 John 4:10; Ephesians 2:4-5; Titus 3:4-7)

God is Masculine/Male

From page one of the Bible, masculine pronounces are used to refer to God. Some have argued against the accuracy of such pronouns, but it reflects God’s self-revelation to humans. Two of the members of the triune Godhead are explicitly male, Father and Son. The Father and Spirit are not described as physical entities, so would not have male or female distinguishing physical features. However, when God did manifest physically as a human, He chose to do so as a man. Jesus often referenced or spoke to God the “Father” (John 14:9-11 just to provide one example), but never “mother” and always using male pronouns. Jesus’s words are consistent with and verify the various metaphors and pronouns throughout the Bible which refer to God as masculine.

Does this mean that women do not reflect the image of God, or that God does not have attributes typically attributed to females? By no means! God made all humans, both male and female, in the likeness of Himself, and exhibits nurturing qualities such as kindness, patience, and gentleness, which some may designate as “maternal.” However, He clearly wishes to be thought of as male and referred to by male pronouns, and to do otherwise is disrespectful at the least.

Summary

In summary, God exists infinitely without origin, as the ultimate, supreme, sovereign, all-powerful and all-knowing being who created everything else that is. We as His creation can know Him and know that He is holy, triune, male, and benevolent. I believe that in light of all this, the most important thing we can know about God is best summarized by John 3:16:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Anthropology

The human creature is classified in scientific taxonomy as Homo sapiens, a species recognizable as distinctly unique standing amid the rest of creation. Our particular capabilities, capacities, and accomplishments have bred much introspective questioning. Centuries of self-recorded human history reveal endless questions about where we came from, why we are here, what our ancestors have done, what our purpose is now, and if there is any hope for our future. 

These existential questions are foundational, paramount topics of human thought, as (in my experience) people do not find satisfaction, peace, or fulfillment during their lives unless they first find some answer for those types of questions. I believe the Bible provides the best answers to all those questions, and the following is my understanding of exactly what its answers are.

Part 1: Defining Humans

The human creature is classified in scientific taxonomy as Homo sapiens, a species recognizable as distinctly unique standing amid the rest of creation. Our particular capabilities, capacities, and accomplishments have bred much introspective questioning. Centuries of self-recorded human history reveal endless questions about where we came from, why we are here, what our ancestors have done, what our purpose is now, and if there is any hope for our future. 

These existential questions are foundational, paramount topics of human thought, as (in my experience) people do not find satisfaction, peace, or fulfillment during their lives unless they first find some answer for those types of questions. I believe the Bible provides the best answers to all those questions, and the following is my understanding of exactly what its answers are.

Where did humans come from?

Humans’ first appearance in the narrative timeline of scripture answers the first foundational question: where did we come from? The Bible’s first character, introduced as a powerful, creative being, brought the world and life into existence. (Genesis 1-2) On the final day of creation, this God created a new type of creature, a human, described first in Genesis 1:26-27. The process by which they were created is detailed further in Genesis 2:7, 21-22. A man was both formed out of the ground and given breath (life) by God, and in turn a woman was formed out of the man. (1 Corinthians 11:8-9)

Why were humans created?

Humans were the only part of creation described as being created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27, 5:1-3, 9:6). The decision to create such a being reveals that God desired a being that would reflect His nature and act as His standard bearer on Earth. They were told to populate and govern the earth. (Genesis 1:28) Throughout the rest of scripture we can see humans’ overall role in creation. The Westminster Shorter Catechism’s first question is “What is the chief end of man?” and I believe its answer is one of the best and most concise summaries of scripture’s response. It simply states: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” (Psalm 73:24-26, 16:5-11, 144:15; Isaiah 60:21, 12:2; 1 Corinthians 6:20, 10:31; Romans 11:36; Philippians 4:4, Revelation 4:11)

Part 2: Human Past, Present & Future

What happened to the original humans?

When God placed humans in their original home, a garden sanctuary, (Genesis 2:8-17) He gave them some guidelines and He was their only source of defining right and wrong, good and bad. (Genesis 2:16-17) Tragically, they chose to instead define those values for themselves, in direct disobedience to God. (Genesis 3:1-10) They took something for themselves that was good in their own eyes, instead of trusting God’s definition of what was good for them. As a result, God kicked them out of the garden, into a cursed world with adverse effects for them and all their descendants. (Genesis 3: 14-24, Romans 5:12, 1 Corinthians 15:21-22)

The subsequent history shows the violent, destructive, and self-centered behavior of humans left to their own devices, distancing themselves from God by their sin. Patterns of human behavior in the Old Testament reveal the innate corruption of man due to the original man’s sin and is further defined in the New Testament, showing that humans have been unable to improve or cure their depravity. (Genesis 6:5, 12, 8:21; Psalm 51:5, Jeremiah 17:9, Romans 1:18-25, 3:9-23, 7:18, 1 John 1:8-10)

Is there any hope for humans?

Fortunately, God did not completely forsake humanity. Even as He exiled them, He hinted at His plan to restore humans and conquer sin and death. (Genesis 3:15) He chose to continue interacting with humans, using some of them to showcase His mercy and serve as a conduit for His glory. In doing so, He also revealed humans’ need for redemption and salvation. (Read the whole Old Testament)

Over time, He established a series of covenants with His chosen people, the Israelites, and gave them teachings (including principles, concepts, customs, rituals, laws, and regulations) through which they could enjoy His blessings, guidance, and even His presence. People could experience God’s forgiveness and holiness through ritual purification processes and animal sacrifices. These rituals symbolized the cleansing of unholiness and absorption of their sin into an innocent replacement, the animal. However, they were never able to sustain their end of the agreement consistently. They entered cycles of holiness, loyalty, and prosperity, followed by depravity, rebellion, and destruction. Even over hundreds of years, this cycle only spiraled downward. (Again, see the whole Old Testament. For all the detailed explanations of their rituals and customs, read Exodus-Deuteronomy)

Because humans are incapable of saving themselves, God provided a new kind of human, born to a virgin woman through the divine intervention of God’s spirit. (Luke 1:34-35; Matthew 1:18, 20) This man, Jesus, walked the earth as a human manifestation of the holy creator God, and as such, lived a perfect, righteous, blameless life. (John 1:14, 10:30, 14:10, Colossians 2:9, Matthew 3:17, 17:15; 1 Peter 1:19, 2:22, Hebrews 4:15, 9:14, 2 Corinthians 5:21, 1 John 3:5, Romans 8:3) He explained the true meaning and purpose of God’s teachings and claimed to be the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises to His people. Furthermore, He revealed that through Him, God’s mercy would extend to humans all over the earth, not just Israel. (Luke 2:10, Galatians 3:28, Romans 10:12, 3:29, Colossians 3:11, Acts 28:28) He gave Himself as the ultimate sacrifice, a blameless substitute to absorb the sins of all humanity and redeem them into God’s family. He died brutally at the hands of men, was buried, then resurrected victoriously, all exactly as He said He would. (Matthew 20:17-19, John 19:5-6, 29-30, Luke 23:44-47, 24:6-7, Mark 8:31, 15:46-47, 16:5-7, Acts 3:15, 4:33, 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 He left the earth still alive, shortly thereafter. However, He sent His Spirit to continue His work in and through those who believed and accepted Him.

To expound more on Christ’s story would be to overlap too far into Christology. However, the topic cannot be entirely avoided when discussing anthropology, because Christ essentially introduced a new way to define what a human is. Jesus’s life and work provided a perfect example of a “reborn” human, a “new creature” indwelt with the Holy Spirit of the Creator God Himself. (1 Corinthians 15:22, John 1:13, 3:1-10, Romans 6:3, 8:9, 10:9-10, 1 Peter 1:3, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Acts 2:38, Colossians 1:18)

The gospel of Christ is not only the hope for humanity but the great excitement and joy we live in during the present age. All humans can benefit from the gift of Jesus and the power of God to redefine who we are. (Not all do, but that falls under the subject of soteriology). Under this new definition, we are children of God, brothers in Christ, the functional and unified family and body of new humans. (Galatians 3:26, John 1:12, Hebrews 2:11, 1 John 3:12 1 Corinthians 12:12-31, Romans 8:15, 12:4-5, Ephesians 1:5, 2:19, 4:4, 11-13, Galatians 3:26)

Why, then, do some who would define themselves as such not always look like children of God or act like brothers in Christ, but rather as a dysfunctional, broken and deeply flawed band of misfits?

This contradiction exists because even the spiritually reborn have yet to be physically reborn. God’s work is not yet complete. We may be in one of the final chapters, but there are pages written that have yet to come. To go much further would be to trespass upon the subject of eschatology, but I believe it should be mentioned that we are not the “final product.” That is the hope we have in what is yet to come, because humans in the present day are indeed deeply flawed and imperfect. Even the spiritually reborn at times succumb to the temptations and habits of their innate depravity. However, the promise we have is of an eternal life that extends beyond the eventual death and decay of our current bodies, and into a new body that will not be tarnished by sin. (Romans 7:14-25, 8:18-21, Philippians 1:6, Revelation 21:3-4, Isaiah 65:17-25, 66:22-23, Matthew 19:28, 2 Peter 3:7-13)

 

Christology

The Lord Jesus Christ of Nazareth: fully God, fully human. The Word of Yahweh became flesh and was a tabernacle of presence among men. Jesus is the son of God, son of man, perfect in every way, the one human in all human history to successfully and perfectly carry the image of God, fulfilling the purpose for which God created mankind. He atoned for mankind in a glorious and sacrificial act of propitiation, opening the gates of freedom and peace, and redeeming us to our Creator. He intercedes for us and rules all of creation, seated at the right hand of God. All this was foretold by ancient prophets, at times with unlikely or surprising details, all of which were fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

The Lord Jesus Christ of Nazareth: fully God, fully human. The Word of Yahweh became flesh and was a tabernacle of presence among men. Jesus is the son of God, son of man, perfect in every way, the one human in all human history to successfully and perfectly carry the image of God, fulfilling the purpose for which God created mankind. He atoned for mankind in a glorious and sacrificial act of propitiation, opening the gates of freedom and peace, and redeeming us to our Creator. He intercedes for us and rules all of creation, seated at the right hand of God. All this was foretold by ancient prophets, at times with unlikely or surprising details, all of which were fulfilled in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.

That is a concise summary of what I believe about Christ, but what does it all mean? I will aim to explain the above by breaking it down into five topics: the hypostatic union, the virgin birth, His ministry and teaching, His death, burial, and resurrection, and finally His disciples and ongoing eternal rule. Note that I will be using the past tense in many cases, as a reference specifically to the years that Jesus physically dwelled on the earth.

Hypostatic Union

The hypostatic union is a theological term to describe the unique dual nature of Jesus. It refers to the fact that He was both fully God and fully human, simultaneously. Colossians 2:9 states this concisely: “For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body.” (NLT) 

Humanity

Jesus walked the earth as a biologically human man, born with flesh and bones and every other physical, mental, and emotional aspect of a human. He ate and drank, talked and had relationships, traveled, grew tired, and slept. He felt love, compassion, sorrow, and anger. (John 1:1, 1:14, 2:15-17, 4:6, 11:33-35, 13:21, 19:28, Luke 2:7, 2:40, Matthew 4:2, 4:11, 8:10, 26:38, Hebrews 2:17, 4:15, 5:7)

Divinity & Holiness

Christ’s humanity is what He had in common with us. What made Jesus fundamentally unique among humans was His divinity and subsequent power, authority, and holiness. He was a physical, human manifestation of Yahweh, the creator and sustainer of the universe. He has always existed, even before His birth on earth. (John 1:1, 8:58, Colossians 1:15, 2:9, Hebrews 1:3, Matthew 1:23, 3:3) As such, He spoke and taught with divine authority (Mark 1:22, Matthew 10:1, 21:8, 13:54, 21:13, 22:23-33, 46, 28:18), acted with divine power, including the power to forgive sins (Matthew 4:23-24, 8:3, 8:5-17, 9:2, 9:23-26, 14:32, 36, Mark 5:30, Luke 6:19, 7:14, 49, John 1:29, 1:47-51, 8:11-12), and lived a divinely blameless life. (2 Corinthians 5:21, Hebrews 4:15, 1 Peter 1:19) His holiness corresponds to His divinity; being God implies being holy (1 John 1:5, see theology proper on the holiness of God), and only a God-man would ever have the capacity for self-sustained holiness. (Romans 3:23, 3:9-12, 2 Chronicles 6:36, Isaiah 53:6, Micah 7:2-4, 1 John 1:8, 10, Mark 10:18, Luke 18:19) Jesus was the first human to demonstrate sinlessness, overcoming the deceit and temptation of the evil character who drove the tension of evil from the first pages of scripture. (Matthew 4:1-11)

Paradoxical Unity of Distinct Entities

The hypostatic union is somewhat enigmatic, as is the doctrine of the Trinity as a whole, in that we as “only” human, cannot fully comprehend or imagine an existence like Christ’s. (1 Timothy 3:16, John 6:38, Matthew 26:39, compare Mark 13:32 and John 21:17) That said, both human and divine natures were definitively united in one man. (1 Timothy 2:5, John 10:30, 12:45) Furthermore, His union with the Father is something that we are even called to emulate! (John 17:20-26)

Virgin Birth

The divinity of Christ may be His defining feature, but the manner by which He came into our world was no less unprecedented (and has yet to be repeated). He was born naturally of a woman but was conceived supernaturally by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of a virgin woman. (Matthew 1:18-25, Luke 1:27, 1:34-35, 2:7, Galatians 4:4)

Ministry and Teaching

Around the age of thirty, Jesus began preaching about the kingdom of God and calling for repentance. (Luke 3:23, Matthew 4:17) Wherever He went, He performed miracles which displayed His divinity and ministered to those who would receive him; particularly, the poor, lonely, sick and rejected. Meanwhile, He taught and discipled those whom He called to follow Him. (Matthew 4-25, Mark 1-13, Luke 4-21, John 1-17, Acts 10:38) He went beyond the teachings of any previous prophet or leader, in that He claimed to be the long-awaited Messiah, who was prophesied to conquer sin and death and restore the kingdom of God on earth. (John 4:25-26, 5:17-18, 13:13, Matthew 16:15-17, 26:63-64, Mark 8:29-30, 14:61-62, Luke 9:20-21, 22:70) He demonstrated extraordinary understanding of scripture. Though old testament laws and teachings are vast and complex, Jesus made the radically simple statement that all of it can be summarized by two commandments: love God, and love others as yourself. (Matthew 22:35–40, Mark 12:28–34) Furthermore, Jesus claimed that He came to fulfill all the requirements of the law. (Matthew 5:17-20)

Death, Burial, & Resurrection

Eventually, Christ’s pointed criticism and condemnation of sin, corruption, and hypocrisy among the religious leaders incited outrage and indignation. This led to a conspiracy and plot to kill Him. (Matthew 26:1-5, 26:14-16) He was arrested in the middle of the night and was accused of blasphemy for His claims of divinity (Matthew 26:47-56, Luke 22:70, John 5:18). Pontius Pilate, who adjudicated the trial, found Him innocent of any wrongdoing and tried to spare His life. (Luke 23:13-16) However, the people who hated Jesus were so insistent that He was beaten mercilessly, mocked, and nailed to a cross to die. (Each of the gospels contains this entire account in varying detail) Jesus allowed himself to suffer everything they subjected Him to, and ultimately allowed himself to die. (Matthew 27:50, John 19:30)

At the moment of His death, the earth shook, the sky was darkened, dead people came back to life, and the veil in the temple was miraculously torn completely in two. (Matthew 27:51-52) Such a dramatic reaction from creation itself and the Jewish holy place was a confirmation of Christ’s claims (recognized by those present), as well as a signifier of a shift in God’s relationship with humanity. The veil previously acted as a barrier between God’s presence and mankind. Jesus made that barrier unnecessary and took on the role of high priest for all mankind. He, being a holy and blameless sacrifice, took on the sins of the world and conquered death itself so that we might have salvation through Him. (John 3:16, Hebrews 4:14-16, 1 John 2:2, 1 Peter 2:24, 3:18, 2 Corinthians 5:21)

Jesus’ lifeless body was placed and sealed in a tomb. (Matthew 27:57-61, Mark 15:42-47, Luke 23:50-55, John 19:38-42) There it remained for three days, after which He resurrected, and the stone sealing the tomb was supernaturally removed. (Matthew 28:1-5, Mark 16:1-6, Luke 24:1-5, John 20:1-9) Jesus once again walked the earth, and He appeared in the flesh to His closest disciples and friends, as well as many other witnesses. (Matthew 28:1-9, Luke 24:34, 24:39, John 20:14-16, 20-27, 1 Corinthians 15:6-7, Acts 1:3)

It is important to avoid an unbalanced view of Christ’s dual nature. Denying either his deity or his humanity would result in an unscriptural understanding of Jesus, who would not have credibility, authority, or saving power.

Since the earliest days of the church, there have been wrongful, heretical views regarding Christ. Ebionitism, for example, posited Christ as a normal man who received the spirit of God when he was baptized. Arianism declared Christ as the first born of Creation, created from nothing before time began, and denied distinction within the Godhead. Apollinarianism departed from Christ’s total humanity, attempting to explain the unity of God and man. Such views are contrary to scriptures such as previously cited and have been condemned as heresy.

Great Commission & Ongoing Rule of Christ

Jesus had many followers, and there were twelve in particular whom He chose to be His closest disciples, the apostles. (Matthew 10:1–4, Mark 3:13–19 Luke 6:12–16) After His resurrection, Jesus gave them some final teachings but explained that He was leaving them under His authority and mission, to be passed on to all who would accept it. He promised to send the power, guidance, and comfort of the Holy Spirit, through whom they were to spread the good news of what He had done, from their hometown to the ends of the earth. (Matthew 28:16-20, Mark 16:15-18, Luke 24:44-49)

The apostles saw Him ascend into heaven to take His place as ruler of the world. (Mark 16:19, Luke 24:50-51) Since then, Jesus has remained living and active, though His interaction with humans shifted. He now uses all His people through the power of His Spirit (the subject of ecclesiology and pneumatology). Notably, He did explicitly appear to some after His ascension: to Stephen during his trial (Acts 7:55-56), to Paul on the road to Damascus as a blindingly glorious light (Acts 9:3-5) and to John as a transfigured humanoid being. (Revelation 1:12-18) He is depicted as being seated at the right hand of God, playing an active role in the rule of the universe and the salvation of humans. He is our king and high priest. (Romans 8:34, Ephesians 1:20, Colossians 3:1, Hebrews 1:3, 8:1, 10:12, 12:2, 1 Peter 3:2, 3:22, Revelation 3:21, Matthew 22:44, Acts 2:3)

Conclusion

Jesus came as God incarnate. He existed as completely human and completely God—one person in the triune Godhead, possessing two distinct and essential natures. Living as a sinless human, humiliating himself to walk among a corrupt people on a fallen earth, he provided a perfect sacrifice for the redemptive atonement of all mankind. He was tempted, tested, and tortured to the extent or beyond that which I will ever experience. Nevertheless, he submitted to the will of the Father. He demonstrated the fruits of love and taught the meaning of truth. I strive to live according to His teachings and example of how a human should live and interact with his friends, neighbors, and enemies. Christ is the cornerstone of our faith. Let us seek, serve, and praise Him always, rejoicing in the great love, mercy, and freedom He gave us, as we pass it on to all who will receive it. 

Pneumatology

The Holy Spirit is the personal, powerful presence of God, in a physically intangible form, yet having directly observable effects in the world. He is the third member of the Trinity, and proceeds from both the Father and the Son. In that sense, His activity can be seen as an expression of their power, passion, emotion, and mission. That said, He, like the Father and Son, is fully God while also a distinct and personal being. (For more on the doctrine of the Trinity see Theology Proper

Introduction

The Holy Spirit is the personal, powerful presence of God, in a physically intangible form, yet having directly observable effects in the world. He is the third member of the Trinity, and proceeds from both the Father and the Son. In that sense, His activity can be seen as an expression of their power, passion, emotion, and mission. That said, He, like the Father and Son, is fully God while also a distinct and personal being. (For more on the doctrine of the Trinity see Theology Proper)

Etymology

To best understand the identity of The Holy Spirit, let us first examine the etymology of His title. “Holy” is commonly used simply to distinguish from any other spiritual being and refers to His “otherness” and purity. However, the Bible may also refer to Him as “God’s Spirit,” “The Spirit of God,” or simply “The Spirit.” As such, the word “spirit” is the most important defining factor when referring to Him.

The word “Spirit” in the Old Testament is translated from the Hebrew and Aramaic word רוּחַ (ruach). I will attempt to summarize its rich depth of meaning without going into all 388 old testament appearances of the word, as exciting as that would be. It is important to note that not all appearances of ruach necessarily refer to the person of “THE Holy Spirit.” However, understanding the meaning of “spirit” is crucial, just as understanding the meaning of “lion” is crucial to understanding the meaning of “Lion King” even though not every reference to a lion is a reference to Lion King.

Understanding Ruach

Ruach is often translated as “spirit” or “spirits” (212 times in the ESV) though sometimes it is translated as “wind,” “breath” and other similar concepts. The root רוח (rwch) means “to smell; to be relieved; wide, spacious” which relates the concept of “breath” specifically that which passes through the nose. That same root also refers to incense, burnt offerings, and aroma in general. (Genesis 8:21, 27:27, Exodus 29:18, Numbers 15:3-24, and many others). 

Aroma

Providentially, the concept of aroma can be a helpful analogy to the concept of The Holy Spirit. Aroma is intangible yet undeniable and, in fact at times inescapable! Anyone who has been sprayed by a skunk knows what it is like to be unable to “flee from the presence” of something! (Psalm 139:7-8) Aroma is powerful. It is invisible yet can dramatically alter the mood and emotion of any given situation, trigger vivid memories that were otherwise lying dormant, and is crucial to the full experience of tasting food. 

Breath

Necessary to the experience of any aroma is the action of breathing, specifically by drawing air in through one’s nostrils. It is unsurprising, then, that “breath” is a core concept in ruach, and, like “aroma” is a helpful analogy. The same word translated in the ESV as “spirit” is translated 34 times as “breath.” In these cases, “breath” is generally used to refer to the life force of people and animals (i.e. “breath of life”). It is a logical association, as all creatures must breathe in order to live. Breath is the sustaining movement of an intangible, invisible presence, without which nothing on Earth could live. The same is true of The Holy Spirit. In this sense, the word “spirit” regarding any living beings can be well understood to mean something along the lines of “life force” or “the intangible but essential quality of life.” 

Furthermore, we the created have none to thank but our Creator for the gift of this quality. Consider Genesis 2:7 (ESV): “Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” It is only by God that we have life. (See also Job 12:10, 33:4, 34:14-15)

Wind

At times “breath” or “breeze” is not a forceful enough translation to fit the context, and it does not always refer to a “spirit” or “life force.” As such, ruach is translated 114 times in the ESV as “wind” or “winds.” Most often it is a wind proceeding from or sent by God, and often has devastating or otherwise dramatic effects. (Genesis 8:1, Exodus 10:13, 19, 14:21, 1 Kings 19:11, Psalm 48:7, Ezekiel 13:13, Jonah 1:4, to name a few)

One of my favorite passages containing ruach is in Exodus 15, where the people of Israel are praising God in song after he brought them safely through the Red Sea and delivered them from the pursuing Egyptian army. Verses 8 and 10 (ESV) read:

“At the blast [ruach] of your nostrils the waters piled up; the floods stood up in a heap…You blew with your wind; the sea covered them; they sank like lead in the mighty waters.”

Such colorful, poetic phrasing paints a vivid picture and incorporates multiple concepts in one image. Moreover, once again, we have a helpful analogy for understanding the nature of God’s Spirit. Wind is a powerful force. It can uproot trees, level buildings, toss around enormous waves of water, and carry storms across hundreds of miles. It can also propel a ship filled with people across the ocean or distribute pollen and seeds to propagate the earth. Anyone who has started a fire without lighter fluid knows how handy it is to have a forceful set of lungs to blow a week pile of sparks and kindling into a powerful, consuming flame.

Note: The Greek word “pneuma” in the New Testament is a very close equivalent to “ruach” in that it also means “breath” or “wind.” Furthermore, the writers of the New Testament were generally writing with a foundational understanding of the Hebrew & Aramaic concept of “ruach,” so a conceptual equivalence in their use of “pneuma” can be assumed. As such, I do not find it necessary to expand on the Greek etymology for this discussion.

Activity of The Spirit

The analogous necessity of breath and wind in the world leads us to the activity of God’s Spirit. Understanding a little about His nature, what exactly does he do? The Bible describes The Spirit at work from the very beginning.

Old Testament Activity

Genesis 1:2 describes the Spirit of God as “hovering over the midst of the waters.” (ESV) 

Note: the word translated as “hovering” also denotes a “trembling” or “fluttering” as in the fluttering of a bird’s wings, which lends some significance to other references, such as the Spirit of God “descending like a dove” (Matthew 3:16)

Genesis provides a picture of God’s Spirit being the present, active force in the process of creation, ready to interact with the earth according to the Father’s will. Verses 3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, and 26 all begin with “And/Then God Said” to open the explanation for the corresponding day of creation. This pattern itself invokes an implication of the ruach involvement, for, when one speaks, on what do the words ride? Speech is carried on the breath that proceeds from the mouth of the speaker. Consider also Job 26:13, Psalm 33:6, 104:30.

We also see cases of God’s Spirit selectively gifting or even overtaking various individuals throughout the Old Testament. Notable examples are Joshua (Num. 27:18), Othniel (Judg. 3:10), Gideon (6:34), Samson (13:25; 14:6), and Saul (1 Sam. 10:9, 10). In particular, prophecies and scripture itself are attributed to the intervention of God’s Spirit. (2 Samuel 23:2, Ezekiel 2:2, 2 Timothy 3:16-17) Note the significance of the phrase “inspired” or “God-breathed” considering our understanding of ruach.

New Testament Activity

Old Testament prophesies alluded to a future when God would put His Spirit in people, particularly in and through the Messiah, as an act of mercy and redemption. (Ezekiel 36:27, Isaiah 11:2, 61:1, Joel 2:28) Of course, Jesus claimed to be a fulfillment of said prophesies. (Luke 4:18-19, Acts 2:14-41) The claim in Luke 4 came on the heels of a pivotal series of events: the baptism, and subsequent testing of Jesus. During His baptism, The Spirit of God descended “like a dove,” and the voice of God the Father declared Jesus as His “beloved Son.” (Matthew 3:16-17) After his baptism, Jesus was “filled with” and “led by” the Spirit, setting a precedent for all those who would follow Him. (Luke 4:1)

After Jesus was raised from the dead, and before he ascended to heaven, he instructed his disciples to wait in Jerusalem for The Spirit to come to them (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4-8). Then, on the day of Pentecost, The Spirit arrived as promised, and did so dramatically. (Acts 2:1-13) Some examples follow of all believers, including gentiles, and not just leaders or prominent figures, being similarly “filled with the Spirit” as were prophets and judges in the Old Testament. (Acts 4:31, 7:54, 8:39, 9:31, 10:44)

The Spirit of the New Testament is the same as that of the Old Testament. However, Christ brought a shift by making the indwelling of The Spirit available to all who follow Him, as opposed to those rare and select few, even among God’s people, in the Old Testament. (1 Samuel 3:1, John 3:34, Acts 2:38)

Even when not acting in dramatic and miraculous ways, The Spirit is described as the unifying and sanctifying power in the church, drawing people to God and providing a common experiential factor across all languages and cultures. Salvation in Christ is possible through The Spirit. God’s Spirit convicts, sustains, guides, and informs us. He is the seal of our inheritance, and the proof of the hope we have in God. (John 3:5, 4:24, 14:26 16:7-10, 3:1-8, 6:44, 1 Corinthians 2:10, 3:16, 12:13, Ephesians 1:13, 5:8, Romans 8:9, 8:16, 2 Corinthians 3:14, Galatians 5:22-23, Nehemiah 9:20, Acts 2:38, Hebrews 9:14, Matthew 10:20, Psalm 143:10)

As Christians in this age, we ought to cherish this gift of The Spirit, pray for His guidance, follow His leading, abide in His comfort, rely on His power, and dwell as a unified body in His presence.

 

Soteriology

To thoroughly examine the doctrine of salvation, we must answer the following questions:

  • Who must be saved, and from what?
  • By what means can one be saved?
  • Who partakes in salvation, and why?
  • What is the impact of salvation in the life of a human?

Each of these questions is answered rather directly by scripture, though with enough ambiguity as to result in a great variety of interpretation and subsequent division among Christians. In this essay, I will not explore every possible interpretation of scripture, nor attempt to draw definitive lines between contentious doctrinal views of soteriology. I will, rather, seek to point out what I view as the most straightforward and inarguable soteriological statements found in scripture.

To thoroughly examine the doctrine of salvation, we must answer the following questions:

  • Who must be saved, and from what?
  • By what means can one be saved?
  • Who partakes in salvation, and why?
  • What is the impact of salvation in the life of a human?

Each of these questions is answered rather directly by scripture, though with enough ambiguity as to result in a great variety of interpretation and subsequent division among Christians. In this essay, I will not explore every possible interpretation of scripture, nor attempt to draw definitive lines between contentious doctrinal views of soteriology. I will, rather, seek to point out what I view as the most straightforward and inarguable soteriological statements found in scripture.

Who Must Be Saved, and From What?

Salvation is not necessary unless there is something from which one needs saving. I thereby believe it crucial to define that thing before discussing the nature of salvation itself. 

In my experience, and for centuries of Christian tradition, many people would answer “eternal damnation” or simply “hell.” I believe “hell,” while not invalid, is not a helpful answer in this context. “Eternal Damnation” is more to the point, however “damnation” (much like “hell”) generally has no precise meaning to most people in a modern context, and thereby leaves much to be explained. 

“Death” is sometimes offered as the answer. Again, I believe that it is valid, but too ambiguous. The word must be redefined from the normal biological use of the word to achieve contextual accuracy. Furthermore, I do not prefer this term (again, in a modern context) as it implies the total annihilation of one’s existence. I do not think annihilationism is necessarily implied by scripture.

I believe the best and most helpful explanation of our plight from which we need salvation, whether applied to the word “damnation,” “death,” or “hell,” can be described along the lines of the tragic and eternal separation of ourselves from God.

The origin and nature of humans’ separation from God are explored more in Anthropology. For this discussion, it will suffice to say that all humans have inherited a broken relationship with God. Humans have fallen short of their creator’s standard of perfection, primarily through pride, disobedience, and rebellion. We have failed to adequately love God, love each other, and behave accordingly. As a result, we have earned the just punishment of God’s wrath. 

The exact nature of such punishment is not as clear to me as it seems to be to those who routinely portray it in detail. I will say that a great number of modern conceptions of “hell” come from Dante’s Inferno rather than from the Bible. That said, the state of eternal condemnation is certainly presented as the least ideal state of existence. Biblical references tend to be vague and say little more than simply “eternal punishment” or “realm of the dead.” Others are outright mind-boggling (Revelation 20:13-14 for example). Though a few passages do give more detail, those details vary depending on the context. 

The most consistent and prevailing theme I have found is that of separation from God. As far as I am concerned, being separated from the presence and love of God would be so excruciating and miserable that any other forms or sources of agony pale in comparison and matter little. To me, that is the most dreadful thing from which we must be saved. I also believe it is important to recognize that, while external forces can certainly influence us, we are all held accountable for our decisions. The subjects of God’s wrath are considered completely responsible for their own demise.

(Isaiah 59:2, 1 John 1:10, Romans 5:12, 3:10-18, 3:23, 6:23, Ephesians 2:1-3, Revelation 21:8, Matthew 10:29, 24:51, 25:41, 25:46, 13:42, 13:50, Psalm 9:17, 2 Thessalonians 1:9, Acts 2:27, Jude 1:7, Proverbs 15:24, Ezekiel 18:20, Galatians 5:19-21, 6:7-8, Mark 9:43-47) 

By what means can one be saved?

Having established that all have sinned and are headed for certain doom and despair, we can thankfully move on to examining the good news. The short answer is that one can be saved by God’s graceful intervention. We learn from the Old Testament narratives that God is full of love for humanity, relentlessly graceful and forgiving, and that heroic love comes to a climax in the New Testament. 

Old Testament Precedent

Even in the face of man’s initial rebellion, God alluded to an alternative to the earned consequences of sin. He continued to interact with humans, and though they suffered the immediate consequences of their sin, He did not abandon them. They were expelled from the garden, but He allowed them to continue abiding on the earth. (Genesis 1-3)

Humanity’s sin, destruction, and violence only escalated, and though God sent a devastating flood as judgment, He saved Noah’s family as a remnant to repopulate the Earth with a set of basic moral and spiritual guidelines to follow. Knowing fully that “the intention of man’s heart is evil from His youth” He promised never to wipe them out again. (Genesis 8:21, 8-9)

Later, God called out one man, Abraham, and promised to bless his descendants, making them a large nation—a numerous and powerful group of people. More importantly, God promised that somehow Abraham’s descendants would restore God’s blessing to the entire world. This promise was conditional, as Abraham and his family had a set of expectations to participate in God’s promise. They had a part to play. However, God’s selection of Abraham was not based on any merit of righteousness. And even if it were, Abraham exhibited many occasions of unrighteousness. His one redeeming quality was that of faith, which was “counted to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:22) However, he didn’t always hold up his end of the deal, and even his faith seemed to waiver at times. Nevertheless, God did fulfill his promises, and Abraham’s family became the large and powerful nation of Israel. 

(Genesis 12:1-3, 6-7, 18:18, 22:18, 26:4, 28:14)

An important landmark in Israel’s history was when, in a heroic display of grace and power, God rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt. He then made another conditional promise, that He would dwell among them and they would be a kingdom of priests, representing and revealing God to the rest of the world. Through them, He revealed His standards for perfection and justice. However, humans fell short of that standard by a long shot. So, to allow for unholy humans to enter God’s holy presence, He gracefully provided a system for ritual purification, sacrifices, and priesthood. Israel could enjoy God’s presence and blessing, as long as they followed His ways and trusted Him to meet their needs. 

(Exodus 1-23, 3:7-20, 19:1-6)

Of course, they strayed from God’s ways time after time again. God would often punish them in response but always allowed them to return to His love. Meanwhile, He began revealing through prophets that He planned to rescue them (and the rest of the world) from the bondage of sin in an even bigger way. Specifically, God promised to raise up a descendant of David who would establish a temple and kingdom that would extend across the world and into eternity, bringing God’s justice and peace to the whole earth. 

(2 Samuel 7:10-16, Psalm 72:1-17, 132:11-12, Isaiah 9-11, 54:10, 55:3, 42:1-7, Jeremiah 31:31-34, Ezekiel 36:22-32)

Each of those Old Testament covenants layered onto each other, and each served to bring people closer to God. Each was an outreach of grace on God’s part (despite human failure) to restore His relationship with humanity and bring His blessing to the whole earth. I bring up the Old Testament history, because I think it is important to recognize that the New Testament does not tell a separate story, nor does it introduce a “new” or “more merciful” God. The New Testament is the extension and climax of the Old Testament story. It shows God following the same pattern of grace and redemption as He did in the Old Testament, taking it yet another step further. Each of those narratives (among many others) reflected and foreshadowed the even larger story that was to come.

New Testament Climax

When Jesus came, he claimed to be the fulfillment of all the Old Testament’s messianic prophesies. God becoming human, He was able to fulfill all of God’s roles and Man’s roles of the old covenants. He explained that His death would be the ultimate propitiation, a perfect sacrifice atoning for the sins of the world and sealing a new covenant for a new people in a new kingdom.

Jesus claimed to be the only viable means of salvation. He is the way, the truth, and the life, and nobody can have a relationship with God apart from Jesus.

Those who follow Jesus become part of the new “family of Abraham” regardless of nationality or bloodlines. Those who are in Christ are not condemned, rather are promised eternal life in a fellowship of peace and love with God and the rest of God’s family. We cannot earn salvation or be “good enough” for God to accept us; just like the Israelites, we will always end up failing at some point. In the Old Testament, salvation was only ever possible through God’s intervention and grace, and that precedent holds true in the New Testament.

Once we have recognized that we have sinned, receiving the gift of salvation requires only acceptance on our part. Acceptance is the wholehearted, inward belief and outward testimony that Jesus is God, that He died for our sin, and was raised from the dead. Such acceptance is a trust in God’s ability and willingness to provide justification and redemption. Such trust acknowledges and submits to God’s will. Submission to God’s will involves repentance and doing good things; that is the purpose for which we are saved. One thing leads to another, and they are inextricably intertwined. However, it is the faith which saves us and enables the rest to occur, not the other way around.

(John 3:14-21, 3:16, 3:36, 6:51, 14:6, Matthew 5-7, Luke 4:14-20, 19:10, 22:19-22, Galatians 2:16, 3:23-29, Acts 4:12, 16:31, 2:21, 2 Timothy 1:9, Romans 5:8-9, 5:18, 10:9-10, 3:24-26, 6:23, Mark 16:16, 1 Corinthians 15:22, 1 John 1:9, 1:7, 2:2, 4:10, 2 Corinthians 5:9, 5:19-21, 1 Peter 2:24, 3:18, Hebrews 9:14, Titus 2:11, 3:5-7, Ephesians 2:8-9, Colossians 1:20, Isaiah 43:25, 53:5)

Who partakes in salvation, and why?

Anyone may partake in salvation. There are no restrictions on who may accept the gift of salvation, regardless of race, sex, age, or history of prior sins. Though salvation was offered first to the Jews, and the rest of the world using the Jews, it was always intended to reach every corner of the earth. (Acts 2:21, Romans 1:16, 9:25-26 Titus 2:11, Ephesians 3:6, 1 John 2:2)

Those who are adopted into God’s family are done so by God’s initiation. This is consistent with the pattern we see throughout scripture of people finding salvation only by the grace of God, not by any power or actions of their own. God alone has the power over death, and no dead man can rise of his own volition. God, out of love, chose to bring all who are saved to Him, and the decision was made before the world began. This does not negate the importance of human response in the process of salvation, nor does it detract from the imperative of evangelism (see Evangelism & Mission).

Scripture is clear that God has chosen those He has saved, by merit of God’s own will, love, and grace. Scripture is also clear that all people are held responsible for their decisions, and that those who are saved have chosen to respond to God’s love with faith, acceptance, and reciprocating love. 

The tension between God’s election/predestination of people and the notion of human free will has long been “discussed,” to put it mildly. The theoretical logistics are seemingly paradoxical, but I do not believe that God’s sovereignty, nor our free will is violated by salvation. An abundance of keystrokes and ink has been spent on this topic, and I think it can be beneficial to explore that tension. However, understanding the metaphysical mechanics of salvation is not necessary to partake in salvation.

I do not find it any more difficult, or less necessary, to accept the transcendentally incomprehensible truth of this soteriological fact than it is to accept the theological doctrine of a triune God. Both topics are difficult to understand in human terms; however I do not find either to be inconsistent, illogical, or self-contradictory. For now, I will have to leave it at that.

(1 John 4:19, Ephesians 1:4-5, 2:8-10, 1:11, Romans 3:20, 8:28-30, 11:5, John 15:16, 17:6, 15:19, 6:44, 2 Timothy 1:9, 1 Peter 1:20, Proverbs 16:4, Acts 13:48, Matthew 22:14, 1 Thessalonians 1:4, James 1:18)

What is the impact of salvation in the life of a human?

Jesus Christ has saved me, is saving me, and will save me. The redemptive spectrum of salvation includes the overlapping but distinct doctrines of justification, sanctification, and glorification.

The first and immediate effect of salvation is that of justification. Being “saved” is to have escaped the judicial verdict of “guilty.” The blood of Christ has paid the penalty of our sin, leaving us declared “just” in the holy eyes of God. Those who are saved therefore have been justified. The justification is final; the case cannot be reopened, the verdict can never be overturned.

(Titus 3:7, Romans 5:1, 3:28, 5:9, 8:1, 8:31-34, 8:38, Galatians 3:24, 2:16-17, Colossians 2:13-14, 2 Corinthians 5:19)

Sanctification is not a one-time event, but an ongoing process in the life of a Christian. It is the continual fight against sin, renewal of our minds, and growth in our relationship with God. The purpose for which we are saved is to do God’s work, to be Christ’s body and to represent God on the earth. God does the work of sanctification in our lives by His own power, but not without means of our participation. We are called to respond to salvation by living fully surrendered to God’s will, dead to sin and alive in Christ. We are called to live, think, and breathe through the lens of the love that has saved us. This is partly a natural and intuitive response, but it is not without internal conflict and resistance. Those who are saved are being sanctified.

(James 2:26, 2 Peter 1:10, Galatians 2:14-21, Romans 6:22, 2 Timothy 2:21, John 17:17, 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Romans 6:6, 6:11, 6:1-2, Ok all of Romans 6, Romans 7:14-25, Ok all of Romans, Hebrews 10:14, 2:11, 12:14, Philippians 2:13, Colossians 3:5, Ephesians 4:24, 4:13, 2:10, 1 John 3:9

Though it is a process that does not arrive at perfection in our mortal bodies, it is not a process without progress (see Discipleship and Personal Growth). However, progress is only made possible through the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit. 

The Spirit of God, who is also the Spirit of Christ, indwells God’s people. The Spirit can guide and assist in practical matters, bring comfort and healing, discernment, and wisdom. He convicts and protects. By Him, we bear fruit and are filled with His fruit. By Him we are united. By Him, we are sanctified.

(Acts 1:8, 2:38, Galatians 5:16, 5:22-23, 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, 13:4-8, 2 Corinthians 1:22, 3:17-18, Romans 5:5, 15:13, John 14:16, 14:26, Luke 11:13, Mark 13:11)

The culmination of salvation and redemption is glorification. I hesitate to venture into many details in this realm, as I do for any matters of eschatology or anything yet to come. However, I understand it to mean the final and complete freedom from sin, and capacity to fully worship and fellowship in the presence of God in an immortal and sinless body.

(Philippians 1:6, 3:20-21, Jude 1:20-21, Colossians 3:4, 1 John 3:2, Romans 8:18, 8:23)

Praise God for such an incredible gift!

Ecclesiology

Ecclesiology is the study of the Christian church: its identity, origin, purpose and structure. The precise nature of each of these attributes can vary greatly according to context, however I believe there are underlying values and concepts which provide the basis for defining ecclesiology in every context.

Ecclesiology is the study of the Christian church: its identity, origin, purpose and structure. The precise nature of each of these attributes can vary greatly according to context, however I believe there are underlying values and concepts which provide the basis for defining ecclesiology in every context.

To begin a discussion about church, I must first define the word “church.” “Church” is defined by popular use as a building which people of a particular religion use to gather, worship, and facilitate other functions. However, that is not the biblical understanding of the word “church.”

Church is People.

The term ecclesiology comes from the Greek word ekklesia which simply means “assembly” or, more literally, “to be together.” At its core, the concept of church has no necessary implication of buildings, but of people existing in a community with one another. In other words, church is not a building; church is people.

Church is Universal & Local.

In a universal sense, the church refers to the global community of Jesus followers throughout all space and time. Any and all genuine Christians are members of the church, individuals who together comprise an entity that can be referred to as a singularity.

On the other hand, a church can refer to a more localized, immediate community of believers who live and worship in proximity to each other. A “local church” is defined by geographical location, and personal relationships within that context.

Therefore, we can refer to “the church” singularly (Acts 9:31) or “churches” plurally (Revelation 1:20) depending on the context.

Biblical Metaphors for the Church

My definition for “church” thus far is rather broad and vague, with far-reaching and complex implications. The concept of church is indeed very complex, so metaphorical illustrations can be very helpful in understanding it. As such, I will examine three biblical examples which serve to enrich our understanding of the nature of church.

The Church is a Body.

1 Corinthians 10:16-17, 12:12-31, Romans 12:4-5, Ephesians 1:22, 4:4, 4:15-16, 5:23, 5:29-30, Colossians 1:18, 2:19

Just as each Christian is a small yet vital member of the vast church of Christ, each local church is a unique and important part of the global church. The human body is an excellent illustration of how that works, in that one body is made up of many parts, each member with a vast variety of different roles, and all reporting to the head. When one part of the body is compromised, it affects the whole body’s wellbeing, and the body works best when all its members are working in harmony and balance.

The human body is comprised of many systems: the circulatory system, respiratory system, reproduction system, etc. Each system is made up of various organs, which are comprised of combined tissues, which are maintained by individual cells, and so on. Each entity, from the entire body down, is singular and unique, yet comprised of equally singular and unique entities.

This concept leads to practical implications. Just as we have different body parts to perform different tasks, so the church has a variety of people with unique gifts, callings, and responsibilities. 1 Corinthians 12:15-21 is humorously literal with this illustration, imagining a foot not wanting to be a part of the body because it is not a hand, or an eye saying to a hand that it is unneeded. Verse 17 even imagines an entire body that is just an eye or an ear, to emphasize how absurd that idea is.

Verse 26 of that same passage brings up another practical point: the shared suffering and joys of belonging to a body. We all know how much a simple papercut can affect how we feel the rest of the day, let alone a sprained ankle, sore tooth, or stomachache. On the other hand, a back or foot rub can have an equally significant impact. In the same way, the lives of people in the church impact the lives of other people in the church, both negatively and positively.

Of course, there is one body part which is more crucial than the rest: the head. Without a head, a body is dead and useless, but with a head, a whole body can be animated, led, and coordinated. This speaks in part to the importance of leadership within local bodies, but more significantly it illustrates how vital it is for any church to be connected to their true head, Christ.

Perhaps the most literal aspect of referring to the church as a body is the fact that the church is referred to as “the body” of Christ. That is, the church is the physical faculties of Christ’s spirit on Earth. We as individuals do not live up to His perfect example, but together are His chosen method of accomplishing His work until He returns.

The final attribute of the “body” metaphor I’d like to point out is the ideal state of harmony and balance: the unity of a stable equilibrium between interdependent parts. This ideal state is known physiologically as homeostasis and could also well be applied to the ideal state of unity in the church. Even before “the church” in the Christian sense existed, unity was an ideal for God’s people, (Psalm 133:1). and is a major theme represented by passages describing the church as a body. Unity does not mean uniformity, rather a wide variety of people all being led by the same Spirit in order to accomplish the mission of God and exist together in a community of love.

The Church is a Building.

1 Peter 2:5, Matthew 16:18, Ephesians 2:19-22, 1 Corinthians 3:9-11

The second example is that of a building. This may be somewhat of an ironic illustration after stressing that church is not a building. This is not as literal of a metaphor as that of the body, but the language and concepts of buildings and construction lend well to the purposes of this discussion.

The verses above refer to Christ as the cornerstone, the apostles the foundation, and the rest of us the “living stones” of a spiritual “house” which is continuously being built by God. This illustration is helpful in several ways:

First, it reminds us that without Christ, none of the church is possible. The “cornerstone” was the piece of a building upon which the rest of the construction depended.

Secondly, it recognizes the significance of the work of the early apostles. While subordinate to Christ, they facilitated an immediate and expanded model of the church, exemplifying the life of imperfect humans led by the spirit, living in community, and spreading the gospel.

Lastly, I like to take the metaphor even a bit further than the text explicitly does. Thinking of Christ as the cornerstone, us as the stones, and the Father as the designer, I see God’s Spirit as being the “mortar” which connects and unites all members of the church. Without this amalgamating element, the stones would not stay together, and the building would fall apart.

The Church is a Bride/Wife.

Revelation 19:7-9, 21:2, 2 Corinthians 11:1-4, Ephesians 5:25-27, Matthew 25:1

The last example is that of a bride. This example serves to illustrate not just the nature of the church itself, but of her relationship to God, and, more specifically, Jesus. I believe this metaphor is significant because it emphasizes the love relationship between God and people, while explaining how we as the church should anticipate the return of Jesus.

Describing the church as a “bride” or “wife” is an overt reference to the multi-faceted affection, desire, passion, and love that God has for His people. It acknowledges the love of John 3:16 and John 15:13. It also maps onto language in the Old Testament comparing God's people to a (usually adulterous) wife. This is a reminder of how painful unrequited or scorned love is for God. (Jeremiah 3:8, Ezekiel 16:8)

Given the examples above, it is unsurprising to find that Jesus told multiple parables comparing the kingdom of heaven to wedding-related events. (Matthew 22:1-14, 25:1-13) Each is used to illustrate different points of perspective, but in each story, God (Jesus) is portrayed as the bridegroom and His people (the church) as the bride. Matthew 25 primarily makes the point that when the bridegroom returns, only those who are “prepared” and “ready” will be able to join the feast. This of course ventures into eschatological discussion, however I think it is worth briefly mentioning here. The church as a whole (and subsequently each of her members) has an imperative to anticipate, look for, and prepare for Christ’s return with the same eagerness and readiness as a bride awaiting her wedding.

Where Did Church Come From? (Origin)

The global church as we know it today began with the work of one man, Jesus, and the subsequent obedience of His disciples. Jesus stated implicitly His intent to “build” His church in Matthew 16:18, before “the church” was even known as such.

The book of Acts chronicles the events immediately following Christ’s ascension, beginning with the disciples waiting for the arrival of the Holy Spirit, who came on the day of Pentecost. The result was a rather explosive kick-off for the church: that day saw about three thousand people added to the church in Jerusalem. In the days that followed, they (including many visitors from out of town) spent time together and supported each other by sharing resources and liquidating assets. This allowed them to learn from the apostles, worship together, and continue growing in number as a community in which everyone’s needs were met and God’s power displayed. (Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-37, 5:12-16)

This all drew significant attention, and eventually persecution from the religious leaders in Jerusalem. Ultimately this led to the scattering and decentralization of the church throughout Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1) which began to fulfill Jesus’s commission to the apostles. (Matthew 28:16-20) However, the apostles remained in Jerusalem, while a man named Saul was at the forefront of seeking and executing Jesus followers. In an act of divine intervention, Jesus appeared to Saul and changed his perspective rather abruptly. (Acts 9:3-19) Saul’s conversion completely redirected his zeal, and he moved to the forefront of spreading the gospel everywhere to everyone, with ground-breaking special attention to non-Jews as “an apostle to the Gentiles.” (Romans 11:13, Ephesians 3:1) His ministry to Greek-speaking people also resulted in him being more commonly known by the Greek version of his name, “Paul,” in later years.

The remaining history of the church is quite long, complex, and at times sordid, but mostly beyond the scope of this discussion. Cultural and technological shifts have altered global contexts in which the church exists, and we can observe highs and lows in the moral and theological fiber of the church over time.

What is the Role of Church? (Purpose)

The church exists to carry out the mission of God as Christ’s body, spreading the gospel and existing together in love and unity as an image of God Himself. This purpose is already somewhat implied by the identity of the Church, and modeled in the origin of the church, but I will try to make a few practical points for applying this purpose in a modern context.

Church Equips and Sharpens.

There is an aspect of global cooperation when it comes to equipping each other for the work, however I think this begins as a function of local church bodies. Such equipping can take various forms and employs the variety of spiritual gifts given to believers. It is accomplished through discipleship, teaching, reproach, and encouragement. Holding each other accountable comes through genuine relationships, honest confession, and loving adherence to sound doctrine. All this should be done using Scripture as the primary tool and basis for truth. (See also Discipleship and Bibliology).

Ephesians 4:11-16, Hebrews 10:24-25, 1 Thessalonians 5:11, 1 Timothy 4:13, 2 Timothy 3:16-17

Church Provides a Family-Like Community.

This type of community is one which meets regularly to share in the basic components of Christian life, such as worship, food, friendship, scriptural study, etc. Whatever the logistics, the purpose for gathering is to “share life” through loving and meaningful relationships. This includes (but is not limited to) singing together, praying together, sharing meals, celebrating and grieving together, serving each other, and even just having fun and relaxing together.

Some such activities may involve large assemblies, while others necessitate smaller, home-sized gatherings. Often, I believe a combination of both large and small gatherings of various sizes can be a healthy pattern for a family. There can be great benefits to large numbers of people gathering, sharing resources, etc. However, that should never come at the expense of, or in place of, the familial relationships that are cultivated in smaller groups of people sharing in the natural rhythms of life.

One final note on the role of community is that it facilitates the observance of two ordinances: that of communion and that of baptism. Communion, by definition, is a communal function. Baptism is an event that naturally (though not necessarily) takes place in the presence of a gathering of people. Those two ordinances constitute two entirely different topics that I will not discuss in detail here; I just want to make a point that church can and should facilitate both.

Hebrews 10:24-25, James 5:14, Romans 8:15, 12:10-13, 1 John 4:7, Colossians 3:16, Ephesians 2:19, John 13:34-35, 1 Timothy 3:15, 1 Peter 4:10

Church Enables Collective Outreach.

As much as people are meant to care for and provide for each other within church families, they are not meant to form isolated communities. They should also be mobilized and active within the larger context of their communities: their neighborhoods, towns, etc. In this way, people are not on mission merely as individuals, but as integrated and cooperative groups of people who are able to spread the gospel by means of proximity and intentionality in their communities. (See also Evangelism & Mission). As the church is the body of Christ on Earth, so it must follow His example of ministering to people, both physically and spiritually.

John 20:21, 17:11-16 Matthew 9:10-13, 2 Corinthians 5:20, 1 Peter 2:9-12, Mark 16:15, Matthew 25:35-40

What is the Anatomy of Church? (Structure)

In my experience, the identity, origin, and general purpose of the church are the most easily agreed upon attributes of ecclesiology. The most contentious and varied discussion seems to be that of church structure and logistical function.

The bible does not prescribe many specific details when it comes to this topic, so neither will I here. However, there are a few expectations which are clear. Some form of leadership and delegation of responsibility in any given community is natural, expected, and necessary, though all authority belongs to Christ, the true head of the church. Responsibility for leadership takes the form of various roles to help administrate, equip, teach, encourage, admonish, provide, serve, and protect.

These roles have multitudinous manifestations of nature and implementation depending on context. Leaders are referred to as “pastors” “elders” “shepherds” or “overseers” throughout Paul’s letters to early churches. He also mentions apostles and prophets, as well as evangelists and teachers. (Ephesians 4:11) However, I do not believe scripture provides any definite statutory prescription for a specific church model of structure and function. In fact, this is one reason why there are so many different types of churches in the world today.

What is prescriptive in those letters is the actual character and nature of people in leadership, and particularly “elders” or “overseers.” The way a local church runs on a daily, weekly, and yearly basis may differ drastically in different communities throughout the world, however the character and values of those in leadership should not, in essence, vary at all. (See Eldership Requirements & Responsibilities).

Acts 14:23, Titus 1:6-9, 1 Timothy 3:1-16, 5:17, 1 Peter 5:1-4

The other role described somewhat specifically is that of “deacon” or “servant” and simply refers to someone assigned to a specific task or duty. Because this tends to be an “official” and public role, there are similar character requirements listed for deacons as there are for elders. Many churches today still appoint deacons to varying degrees of responsibility and officiality.

Acts 6:1-15, 1 Timothy 3:8-13, Philippians 1:1, Romans 16:1

Conclusion

The church is people. We do not go to church; we are the church. We are connected by the Holy Spirit to the entire family of God throughout the world, as well as to our local families of servant missionaries. Together, under the leadership of Christ and His servants, we build each other up, serving each other and the rest of the world the way Jesus did on Earth. May we be faithful to God and to each other in love as we live and share the truth of God’s Kingdom in our lives, and in doing so join in God’s mission and continue Christ’s work as His hands and feet on Earth.

Eschatology

Eschatology is the study of “the end times” or “last days” as depicted in the book of Revelation and alluded to by Old Testament prophecies (such as found in Ezekiel, Isaiah, and Daniel, among others).

Eschatology is the study of “the end times” or “last days” as depicted in the book of Revelation and alluded to by Old Testament prophecies (such as found in Ezekiel, Isaiah, and Daniel, among others).

Eschatological discussions tend to revolve around the topics of the millennium, tribulation, “rapture,” the battle, and final judgement. Stark hermeneutical differences in literalness and the timeline of events have led to much controversy. I believe it can be beneficial to consider and attempt to understand these details, however such differences of interpretation are a good indication that scripture is just not entirely clear on them. As such, I do not believe that dogmatic doctrinal (or political) stances on eschatology, such that it leads to division, is beneficial.

For this reason, I will not be identifying my eschatological beliefs based on how I view the timeline of events, or how literally I interpret the characters and events described in Revelation. What I will focus on is what I believe to be of far greater significance: the overarching themes and truths which should not depend upon how literally you view the prophesies or the order in which events take place. I will then also address a few topics which I think have been misunderstood or inappropriately obsessed over at large.

Key Themes and Truths

At its core, the message is very simple: Jesus will come again to rule and complete the work of conquering sin & death forever. Those who follow him will ultimately rule with him in a recreated world where heaven and earth are reunited, and God’s glory permeates and sustains all things. All of this is a consummation of God’s plan for humanity, and a climax for Old Testament narrative and prophesy.

The Return & Rule of Jesus

Revelation 19-20 is the source of much of the controversy surrounding Eschatology. However, no matter your interpretation, I believe the crux is clear. It describes the arrival of the king of the world, and the vindication of His people. He judges everyone and everything on earth, dead or alive, and casts away those who are not in “the book of life.” Regardless of the details, these chapters serve to give hope for those who are in Christ (particularly the persecuted), and a warning for those who are not (particularly the persecutors and deceivers).

One detail I do think is notable is that in John’s vision, the “Lion of Judah, Root of David” is portrayed initially not as a majestic lion or king, but as slaughtered lamb. (Revelation 5:5-6) The lamb of course represents Christ, and this portrayal connects His sacrifice to His role as the messiah and conquering king. It was not through war or political upheaval that Jesus began His reign, but through His crucifixion and resurrection. By contrast, chapter 19 describes Him with far greater splendor and ferocity. However, that ferocity is very precisely aimed. The wrath He delivers is primarily to rulers, nations, and mysterious forces of evil, and the people who are rejected are those who rejected the offer of love and mercy made possible by the cross.

The Consummation of God’s Love for Humanity

Revelation 21-22 is where it really gets good! Here is where John has a vision of a new world. Heaven, once the dwelling place of God, is no longer as distinct from earth as it was. The two seem to merge, as the new Jerusalem comes down from heaven, and God dwells with humans on earth. This union of heaven and earth is so joyous and so intimate that it is likened to a marriage. (See also the ecclesiological concept of the church as the bride of Christ). Like a husband and wife, heaven and earth still exist as two entities, but are unified in a profound way. Jerusalem is described as God’s bride, which explains the marriage supper described earlier in 19:6-9.

21:9-22:5 describe the new world as resplendent, idyllic and glorious. God’s presence is no longer confined or withheld, nor even is light itself, as the sun and the moon are replaced by the light of God’s glory. His servants worship Him and reign with him forever.

Climax for Old Testament Narrative & Prophesy

While the book of Revelation can seem like a unique and even bizarre book, I think it is a very cohesive climax to the story of scripture, and its prophesies are very much woven into those of the Old Testament. In fact, there are far too many connections for me to examine thoroughly here, but I would like to point out a few that have stood out to me.

Humans Restored to Original Position

In Genesis, humans are created in God’s glorious image to rule. (Genesis 1:27-28) Romans 1:22-23 points out how humans’ decent into depravity was an inversion of that role, in which we abdicated God’s glory to worship images of the things we were meant to rule. Revelation sees a restoration to humans’ rightful place in God’s kingdom, made possible by Jesus.

Repetition of The Exodus Narrative

The plagues and bowls of wrath in chapters 15-16 echo the plagues in Egypt through which God showed his power and executed judgement on Pharaoh and the Egyptians. This creates a conceptual analog between the unrepentant recipients of wrath in Revelation to the unrepentant Pharaoh in Exodus. In both cases, the recipient is portrayed as a monstrous evil entity, while God is the powerful and heroic rescuer who defeats them.

Building on Old Testament Prophesies

The concept of God recreating heaven and earth is not unique to Revelation. Consider Isaiah 65:17-18: “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness.”

Furthermore, the descriptions of the new creation mirror descriptions of the Eden ideal, as found in Genesis 2 and Ezekiel 47, and fulfill prophesies of Jerusalem’s role as described in Isaiah 2 and Zephaniah 3.

Common Misconceptions

There are a few eschatology-related words and concepts which I think have been misunderstood or misrepresented in popular discussion and media, and/or which have been given a disproportionate amount of attention. This will certainly not be an exhaustive or scholarly examination of such topics; however, I would like to bring up just a couple that have become especially glaring to me while studying eschatology.

The Word “Apocalypse”

The English word “Apocalypse” comes from the Greek word (ἀποκάλυψις) of similar pronunciation (“apokalypsis”). It is commonly used in modern context to be synonymous with “the end of the world.” I find this unfortunate for several reasons. First, the meaning of the word itself is simply “revelation” and is the Greek title of the book. Secondly, the book of Revelation is not so much focused on the end of the world as it is the judgement and redemption of the world.

Furthermore, there is other apocalyptic literature in the Bible, such as can be found in the prophetic material of Ezekiel and Daniel, as well as in other second temple period writings. However, the subjects of such writings are generally associated with God’s victory and vengeance and “the day of the Lord” as something to be longed for by God’s people. When is the last time you heard someone say “I long for the apocalypse‽”

Antichrist & The Beast

I think there has been an excessive amount of interest and speculation over the concept of “the antichrist.” The term simply means “against Christ” and scripture refers to a plurality of such figures. It never refers to an all-important figure called “the antichrist” only “antichrists” or “an antichrist.” So, the expectation of a single human fulfilling that role is quite unfounded in my opinion. Of far greater significance (in my opinion) is “the beast” of Revelation and I do not think that term necessarily replies to one person either.

Numerology

Numbers were highly significant and symbolic in Jewish thought and literature. There is a rich depth of meaning to the numbers used throughout prophetic text. For example, the number 7 is found all throughout Revelation (53 times!) and is the number of completion. I personally have barely even scratched the surface of such depth and am surer of what the numbers do not provide than I am of what they do provide. I am certain that Revelation and other apocalyptic texts do not predict or provide an exact timeline such that anyone could know when these events will take place. This is easily confirmed by the words of Jesus himself (Matthew 24:36, Mark 13:32) and by comparisons of Jesus to a “thief” who comes unexpectedly in the night. (1 Thessalonians 5:1-3, 2 Peter 3:10, Revelation 3:3)

Conclusion

Regardless of whether Christ comes back today, or in ten thousand years from now, and regardless of what happens when He does, we (the church) should look forward to that time with hope and strive to accomplish “heaven on earth” in the meantime. That is, act as tabernacles of God’s presence to bring the light of His reign, His glory, truth, and love, to the world around us. Jesus is king, and will bring that mission to completion, conquering sin and death forever, and reuniting heaven and earth for eternity. What a blessing to have such a great hope; let us anticipate it with joy!

Torn Up The Seams

Where smiles align with their faces and find
That the place is forever and never to be.
That’s where the night will wish into sun,
And drop what it does so for sand in the dark.
Find stillness and quiet and listen to trees;
They’ll tell you the secrets locked up in their leaves.

Church Eldership - Requirements & Responsibilities

Based upon the text of 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus.

Based upon the text of 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, and Titus.

Requirements

  • Leadership in General
    • Teachers need to understand what they are talking about before making confident assertions. (1 Tim 1:7)
    • Authority over men must be exercised by men (1 Tim 2:12)
  • An “overseer” or “God’s steward” (1 Tim 3:1-7, Titus 1:7-9) must be:
    • Above reproach
    • Monogamous
    • Sober-minded
    • Self-controlled
    • Respectable
    • Hospitable
    • Able to teach
    • Not a drunkard
    • Gentle and self-controlled (not violent, quarrelsome, or quick-tempered)
    • Not a lover of money or greedy for gain
    • A good manager of his household (particularly as evidenced by his family)
    • Disciplined
    • A mature Christian (not recently converted)
    • Of a good reputation to the world

Responsibilities

Several of the requirements listed above come with implied responsibility:

  • He must be able to teach, and be informed as to what he teaches. This allows for authoritative teaching instead of vain discussion. (1 Tim 1:7) This implies the responsibility of studying scripture, spending time in prayer and meditation, and seeking truth and wisdom through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
  • Many of the requirements deal with lifestyle and social conduct. Being “above reproach” and having a good reputation is a responsibility, as it requires some degree of maintenance. This requirement, along with the others that deal with specific lifestyle choices, is not a “checkbox” requirement. It is an ongoing standard for personal conduct.
    • From a social/civic perspective, he should not be a stranger to his community. He should be engaged at least to the point of establishing a solid reputation.
    • Spiritually, an elder also has the responsibility of providing an example, both to the church and to outsiders, of a redeemed, sanctified life.
    • Timothy is told to “set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” (1 Tim 4:12)
    • Titus is told to “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned…” (Titus 2:8)
    • There are two caveats to this responsibility.
      • First, an elder is not expected to be perfect or without failure. All God’s people, including elders, are imperfect and broken. Elders will still sin and make mistakes; being above reproach does not mean hiding or covering up failure. However, it does mean they should exemplify humility and repentance, allowing God’s perfect grace, forgiveness, and redemptive power to take center stage in every circumstance
      • Secondly, this responsibility is not unique to an elder. It is a core element to any Christian’s life. That said, leadership does add scrutiny and magnification to a man’s life, so he should be prepared for that.

Paul also mentions some other specific expectations for Timothy and Titus:

  • Preach the word. (2 Tim 4:2)
    • This is a straightforward responsibility and can be as simple as proclaiming exactly what is written.
    • Preaching the word means sharing the gospel with unbelievers, as well as preaching it as a reminder to those who do believe.
  • Give instruction in sound doctrine. (Titus 1:9, 2:1)
    • The ability to do this comes from holding “firm to the trustworthy word as taught.”
    • This may include helping others understand the nuances and implications of scripture, following its themes, and drawing conclusions based on a thorough understanding of the word as a whole.
  • Provide practical guidance and training in holy living.
    • This includes guidelines for behavior at home and family life. (Titus 2:1-6)
    • This includes guidelines for civic and social life. (Titus 3:1-2)
  • Be ready at all times (in season and out of season). (2 Tim 4:2) Ready for what?
    • Ready for the Holy Spirit
    • Ready for questions
    • Ready for opposition
    • Ready for Christ’s return
    • Ready for “every good work.” (Titus 3:1)
  • Reprove, rebuke, and exhort.
    • As much as he must teach sound doctrine, he must “also rebuke those who contradict it.” (Titus 1:9)
    • This is to be done “with complete patience and teaching.” (2 Tim 4:2)
    • Correction must only be done with the intention of building people up and strengthening their faith, not to humiliate or tear them down. Titus 1:13 says to “rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith…” revealing the motivation behind rebuke.
    • This is to be done with authority; he must stand his ground. (Titus 2:15)

My Testimony - A Grace Story

I can remember in detail the evening that I sat down and prayed the five-year-old version of what is commonly known as “The Sinner’s Prayer.” It was May 6th, 1998. I was attending the weekly AWANA Cubbies program at my family’s church, First Bible Baptist Church in Greece, NY. We had finished our lesson and were settling in for perhaps the most highly anticipated event of the evening: snack time! It was a large group of preschool kids, and we were all sitting at those short little preschool kids’ tables waiting anxiously for our portions of animal crackers. They were the extra tasty kind that night, the kind with frosting on them! I was sitting by myself, not secluded but not actively engaged with anyone either.

Note: This article is a work in progress. Particularly in the later sections of this story, I plan to expound on some of the specific experiences through which God has revealed Himself to me, as well as add a few bible references and other resources. If you have questions or want to chat about any part of my story, please get in touch.


tes·ti·mo·ny

NOUN

  • A formal written or spoken statement, especially one given in a court of law.
  • Evidence or proof provided by the existence or appearance of something.
  • A public recounting of a religious conversion or experience.

Grace

NOUN

  • The unmerited favor of God

I can remember in detail the evening that I sat down and prayed the five-year-old version of what is commonly known as “The Sinner’s Prayer.” It was May 6th, 1998. I was attending the weekly AWANA Cubbies program at my family’s church, First Bible Baptist Church in Greece, NY. We had finished our lesson and were settling in for perhaps the most highly anticipated event of the evening: snack time! It was a large group of preschool kids, and we were all sitting at those short little preschool kids’ tables waiting anxiously for our portions of animal crackers. They were the extra tasty kind that night, the kind with frosting on them! I was sitting by myself, not secluded but not actively engaged with anyone either.

At that age, I was a relatively solitary child, for a few reasons. I was not particularly shy, and had no real problem talking to other kids, but was not very inclined to making real “friends.” Though I wasn’t entirely aware of it until years later, I was often not very pleasant, and an insufferable know-it-all. In general, it took more patience to get along with me than could have been expected from my young peers. At that age, however, I usually felt content in my relative solitude, because I also tended to get caught up in my head anyway. My brain was always teeming with thoughts, both imaginative and analytical.

I was not (nor am I now) a genius by any measure, but my cognitive development was significantly ahead of the average timeline in proportion to my age. In addition to Sunday school and programs like AWANA, my parents often allowed me to be a part of adult conversations and gatherings. I was able to comprehend much of what speakers taught in the adult church services I attended. My mother also started homeschooling me when I was very young. Alongside phonics, reading, interpreting the weather and telling time, she made sure bible stories and doctrinal foundations were integral to her curriculum. All these factors together led to me having a decent level of knowledge and understanding of the core gospel message by the time I was five. I am far from unique in that respect (and I think a lot of five-year-olds could use more credit), but I think it is important to qualify this story with that bit of background.

Because my parents and other adults in the church had told them to me, I knew about the Bible's teachings. I knew about God. I knew that He is all-powerful, that He created the earth and all living things. I knew that His first humans disobeyed, which was called sin, and they were no longer allowed to walk with God in the garden He made for them. I knew that as a result their descendants were born into a curse, which broke their relationship with God and with the earth. I was told these things, and I believed them.

There was one truth I believed, but not just because people told me. It was for a reason much more profound than that. I understood it because I knew by experience that it was true. The truth is that every person is born with a desire to sin, and even if they try as hard as they can to fight that desire, everyone ends up succumbing anyway. I understood that personally. I can remember having disobedient and mischievous proclivities from a very young age. I also remember finding that I was consistently unable, despite my most earnest attempts, to act according to my noble intentions. I still did things I knew I shouldn’t do and didn’t do things I knew I should do.

Such helplessness and hopelessness would all be a rather dismal situation if it weren’t for the final truth, the “good news.” God knew people would not succeed at being sinless on their own. They needed help, and because God is full of love, He had a plan to save them. He made an incredible sacrifice by sending His son Jesus to live as a human. Jesus taught us about God and His law, then allowed himself to be killed on a cross to pay for the sins of the whole world. That act of love balanced the scales of justice and opened the door for people to walk with God again. Then, Jesus came back from the grave and appeared to His followers to say goodbye before going back to heaven. Finally, He sent His Spirit to continue guiding and empowering all those who follow Him. All we need to do is believe and accept this incredible gift, and we can be saved from our sin. Jesus allows us to have an eternal relationship with our creator, instead of being forever separated from Him by our sin.

All this brings us back to that short little preschoolers’ table, where I sat waiting for my animal crackers, silently pondering and simmering in thoughts. I had heard the long and the short of the gospel message from various perspectives. I knew the message of “salvation” was usually being directed over my head, to the much older people surrounding me. Nevertheless, that evening one phrase kept echoing in my head. I had heard speakers say “It’s never too early or too late” to respond to the good news. I heard this said to adults, but figured “never too early,” if taken literally, must apply to me, too! I thought to myself “Well, I keep hearing about how people need to pray about getting saved, and of course I’ve been planning on doing that myself when I get older, but why should I wait any longer? It’s never too early! I might as well do it now! After all, nobody knows how long they’ll live; I could die tonight!” (Yes, I thought about my mortality when I was five). So, there at the table, I put my head down and blocked out the rest of the world with my arms wrapped around my face. I don’t remember my exact prayer, but it was something like this:

“God, I hope it’s ok to be praying this now, but I figured why not? I know I’m a sinner. I do bad stuff, and that makes you sad, I’m sorry. Thank you for sacrificing your son Jesus for me, I know you didn’t have to do that. Please save me, Jesus, and come live in my heart. I know you don’t move into my heart, like, literally, but please just do whatever it is you do for your spirit to live inside of me. I want to make God happy, and I can’t do it on my own. Oh, and I believe in you. Amen.”

I think when I was finishing up my prayer someone asked if I was alright, at which point I felt a little embarrassed because I was hoping I had been more discreet with my prayer. Of course, I was fine and enjoyed the rest of snack time.

What happened that night? Did I suddenly become a flawlessly obedient, respectful son or a paragon of an older brother? Not by a long shot. However, two things unquestionably did happen.

First, I believe my eternal fate was sealed. God chose to set me apart for His purposes and drew me to Him. That prayer was my response to His initiation of a two-way relationship. I knew from then on that I was redeemed by Christ’s sacrifice, and forgiven for all my past, present and future sin. I believed in God’s promise to establish an everlasting relationship with me that nothing can ever break.

Secondly, God’s Spirit did begin working to transform my heart. His work has been a continual transformation and molding since then. More than twenty years later, I can see all too clearly that there is still much work to be done. Along the way, I have exhibited varying levels of submission and receptiveness to His formative work. There were a few especially developmental events and seasons of life in which I can see (especially in hindsight) God shaping me.

One overarching instrument God used in my life from the beginning was that of my parents. I am thankful to have grown up under the excellent model of my devoted, patient, and loving parents. They, while of course not perfect, were faithful to pass on their knowledge of the one father who is perfect, reflecting Him as much as they could. Parenting is one of the most critical and impactful tools God uses in shaping young people. My first-hand experience has taught me how valuable that can be. Though my relationship with them is much different as an adult, I still much admire and value them as role models, learning from them to this day.

A couple of years after my snack-time prayer, I realized I should obey Jesus’ instruction for believers to be baptized after professing their faith. I was baptized at that same church, First Bible Baptist Church, by a pastor I had come to know and love. It was a little scary, the church was large (at least several hundreds of people at the time), and I had to stand in front of everybody, affirming my belief in Jesus! Regardless, I recognized the importance of that act of obedience. Jesus does not want His followers to be secretive about their faith; He wants them to proclaim it publicly.

When I was ten years old, I started feeling like I was still missing something. I knew God had saved me, and I had followed through with baptism. I just wasn’t sure what to do next, especially since I was just a kid! I knew a lot about God and the Bible. I knew I should spend time reading His word and praying. Still, I sensed that there was a step in my faith that I had not yet taken. I remember having a conversation with my mom, telling her about this feeling I had. She then asked me “have you ever told God that you want to submit your whole life to Him?” I wasn’t sure if I had or not. She explained how it is one thing to believe in God, but it is a step further to submit and dedicate your entire life to Him. I had heard this before, but for the first time, the weight of its meaning sunk in heavier the more I thought about it. I realized that, while knowing it was the right thing to do, I hadn’t fully acknowledged to God my desire for Him to take complete authority in my life. It was not a decision to be taken lightly, and it honestly scared me a little bit to think what God might do to me if I told Him “I’m all yours!” Nevertheless, I trusted that His plan would be the best possible plan. I prayed and told God I wanted to surrender my life and my will to His control. I asked Him to shape and mold me into whatever kind of person would bring Him the most glory.

When I got older, my faith began to grow and take new roots. While I was young, mine was merely an offshoot of my parents’. That is a beautiful start but cannot stand on its own in the long run. In middle and high school (still being homeschooled), my mother knew it was vital for us to learn how to think critically, gain understanding, and form conclusions on our own. That became an underlying focus in my academics, as well as my faith. I was encouraged to ask challenging questions and consider all the potential answers. I even explored the other major religions (including atheism), testing them and my own against reason and logic. I thought long and hard, not just about what I believed, but why. As a result, I began to grow roots of my own.

As I finished high school, I was feeling drawn to attend a secular college and had no real intentions of going to a “Christian” college. One day, I realized I hadn’t spent any time asking God where HE wanted me to go. I don’t think I even wanted to know. Still, I decided to sit down and pray about it for a while one afternoon. I had scarcely even begun praying when I got the answer, clear and frank. Of course, it was a Christian college that I never thought I would attend. I decided to ignore that answer for a while and still applied to some other schools thinking maybe God would change His mind, or that I had misunderstood His response. Eventually, I realized that was ridiculous and ended up going where He led me.

In college, my experience was somewhat two-sided. On the one hand, I was surrounded by some awesome people, dedicated to helping other students and me grow in our faith. I received some excellent academic training in core classes on scripture, theology, and philosophy. On the other hand, I often felt surrounded by superficiality and hypocrisy. At times I felt embarrassed to be associated with the Christian community at large. I developed some convictions and opinions that were not received well, and in the meantime, I got tired of trying to live the way God wanted me to. I was frustrated with God. I did not want to fight to do the right thing. I wanted God to make it easier for me to serve Him. “Why does it have to feel so difficult?” I asked. Stagnation was so much easier. It was more fun to do things that felt good instead of doing things I knew to be good. It was not a mindset of rebellion by any means, but it was a mindset of toxic apathy.

God was patient with me during that time and was waiting, ready for when I decided to start listening again. My academic and personal life had followed the slippery decline of my spiritual life. I finally realized that I was a mess when left to my own devices. I saw that I had become calloused to the presence of God in my life.

It was in that season I started having some conversations with a pastor in the church my parents were attending (they had moved around a lot since the beginning of this story). I explained my position. In my head, I completely believed the foundational doctrines of Christianity. But it stopped there. Though deep down somewhere the desire existed, I had lost any motivation to follow Jesus in practical terms. I found my beliefs (in my head) were in fact quite in line with the pastor’s, and we saw eye-to-eye on a broad range of topics. I appreciated this relationship God had put in my life, and sincerely valued the handful of meetings we had while I was still in college. During one of those meetings, He gave me a suggestion I’ll never forget. He asked me to pray for just one thing in the subsequent few weeks: that God would allow me to experience His presence. I gladly and fervently followed through with that prayer with an open heart. God, in turn, graciously responded. I started discovering and rediscovering the nature of God through everyday experiences. Gradually, He renewed my desire to follow Him.

I finished school with fresh zeal, and God continued to reveal Himself in profound ways to me during my last year. My parents moved again, but God led me to return to the North Country. I became a member of North Country Fellowship Church and wanted to get involved in any way I could. When the need arose, I started helping set up the sound system and mix the audio during the service. They announced some small groups were meeting during the week, and I got connected with one led by a young married couple in their home. When the church needed help leading the high school youth group, I, though barely older than a high schooler myself, signed up for the task.

Over the next few years, my relationship with God continued to mature, though still through periods of “ups and downs.” My continued connection to NCF has been a catalyst for a lot of learning and growth, and I am thankful to be still involved in several ministries in the church. I look forward to seeing God’s work continue in my life, my community, and North Country Fellowship Church.

Discipleship & Personal Growth

Personal growth and discipleship are both integral to Christian life. They are distinct in that one is inherently relational, and the other is not. However, they are so intertwined as to merit the combination of both into a singular topic. While the logistics and other details of discipleship and personal growth can vary greatly from one person to the next, some core elements are key to each.

Personal growth and discipleship are both integral to Christian life. They are distinct in that one is inherently relational, and the other is not. However, they are so intertwined as to merit the combination of both into a singular topic. While the logistics and other details of discipleship and personal growth can vary greatly from one person to the next, some core elements are key to each.

What is Discipleship and Personal Growth?

Let us first begin by defining each of these two topics, specifically as they relate to a follower of Jesus.

Personal Growth

To “grow” as a Christian implies some observable and measurable improvement, progress and otherwise positive change over the course of time. Being a Christian is not a binary state of existence any more than being a human is. That is, one does not simply “flip a switch” to become a Christian and leave it at that. The language and analogy of becoming “born again” helps explain this concept: a baby once born is not “done” being a human, it must embark on a life-long journey of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual development, aided and directed by peers, and inevitably filled with varying seasons of “ups and downs” and observable trends.

Exactly what must we measure for improvement? Well, the short, ambiguous answer is “everything.” Christianity is meant to permeate every aspect of one’s life. 1 Corinthians 10:31 (NLT) states as such: “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (Also Ecclesiastes 9:10, Colossians 3:17, 1 Peter 4:11).  A transformed mindset (Romans 12:2) governs our thoughts, decisions, actions, and relationships, by conforming, submitting, and merging our will with God’s. That close relationship with God, based on love and fear, is one purpose for which God created us. (See anthropology)

Unlike physical growth, of course, spiritual growth is not measured in pounds or inches. What then can we look to as markers of spiritual development? The transformative and guiding power of a Christian is the indwelling of God’s spirit; this is the gift of the church age. The results, or “fruits” of a life submitted to God’s spirit are listed in Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT): “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!” Elders and Deacons, selected in part for their spiritual maturity, were given a more specific list of qualifications, all of which can be related to the fruits of the spirit. (Titus 1:5-9, 1 Timothy 3:1-7, 1 Peter 5:1-4) These are indicators not of perfection or “completion” but of enough maturation over time that they are no longer considered spiritual “infants.”

Discipleship

Discipleship is nothing more than personal growth in the context of other believers. While a Christian’s growth is “personal” in that it involves internal, specific transformation of an individual, it is not “private” because it is meant to be shared, passed on, and multiplied. That is how the global church began, immediately following the gift of the Holy Spirit, as can be seen throughout the book of Acts. Like a holy virus, it spread from one man, Christ, to his closest disciples, the apostles, and from them to thousands, from those thousands to millions and so on.

Discipleship is peer-guided education and improvement. It is learning from more experienced (or differently experienced) believers, and in turn, providing mentorship for others. Even a “newborn” Christian has enough information to start propagating other new followers immediately. (See Mark 5:19-20 for one example).

Importance of Discipleship and Personal Growth

Discipleship is key to the propagation of the gospel and multiplication of the church.

By its very definition, discipleship is the engine for continuous multiplication, edification, and growth, for individuals and the church at large.  Ephesians 4:16 (NLT) describes this concept at its best: “He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.” The body is not a static fixture; a crucial function of “each part” is to help the other parts grow. Discipleship is not an optional or secondary function of the church; it is the core function of the church.

Both are prescribed by scripture.

To be a follower of Jesus is to strive to emulate His example, and live out His commands. Jesus was holy and blameless from birth and therefore free from needing any “improvement” in that regard (more on that, and scriptural proofs to come in Christology). However, even He grew, as every human must, over time (Luke 2:52) and it was not until He was about thirty years old that He began to minister publicly and make disciples. (Luke 3:23) From that point on, He invested His life heavily into those of His disciples, setting a precedent and example for each of them to pass on.

Personal growth is an explicit prescription for all Christians; we are expected not to remain stagnate, as infants, but to actively and continuously seek growth. (Hebrews 5:12-14, 6:1, 1 Peter 2:2-3, 2 Peter 1:5-8, Colossians 2:6-7, Ephesians 4:13-16) And of course, Christ not only modeled discipleship, but He also commanded his disciples to make disciples. (Matthew 28:16-20)

Personal growth is our duty and pleasure.

Recognizing God as our creator and savior should be enough reason on its own to inspire us towards personal growth, seeing that He has prescribed it to us through His Word. However, it is also our pleasure and honor as humans and results in greater satisfaction and fulfillment in life. To quote John Piper, “God’s ultimate goal in the world (his glory) and our deepest desire (to be happy) are one and the same, because God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. Not only is God the supreme source of satisfaction for the human soul, but God himself is glorified by our being satisfied in him. Therefore, our pursuit of joy in him is essential.” In other words, fulfilling our truest purpose is what ultimately results in our greatest joy. 

(Psalm 16:11, 25:11, Ephesians 1:4-6, Isaiah 43:6-7, 43:25, Romans 15:7-9, 3:25-26, 11:36, John 7:18, Matthew 5:16, 1 Peter 2:12, John 5:44, John 14:13, 12:27-28, 1 Corinthians 10:31, 1 Peter 4:11, Philippians 1:11, John 17:24, Habakkuk 2:14, 

Philippians 1:19-23, 4:4, Psalm 1:1-3, 19:8, 34:8, 37:4, 32:11, 33:1, 67:4, 90:14, 100:1, Jeremiah 15:16, Deuteronomy 28:47, 30:6, Hebrews 11:6, 11:24-26, 12:1-2, John 6:35, 15:11, 16:24, 20:31, 2 Corinthians 1:24, 8:1-8, 9:7, 1 Peter 2:2, 5:2, Matthew 13:44, 5:10, Romans 5:2-4, 15:13)

Components of Discipleship and Personal Growth

Having defined each and established them as critical to a Christian’s life, how then can they practically be achieved? As I mentioned earlier, there can be a great deal of variance depending on the context of any given situation. However, I believe each of the following is fundamental to achieving discipleship and personal growth in any situation. 

Components of Discipleship

Relationship

Discipleship is impossible apart from relationships; its definition implies this. Discipleship is a relationship, a specific, intentional category of relationship. Discipleship is not achieved in isolation. The nature of this relationship should include friendship and love, and inevitably both parties are sharpened in the process. However, discipleship is different from general fellowship in that the one who disciples has some level of authority or experience compared to the one who is discipled. This allows for components in the relationship such as teaching, correction, and guidance. Such relationship dynamics can be observed throughout the gospels, Acts, and epistles.

Scripture 

Scripture is the binding common denominator of the relationship. The knowledge and purpose of the Christian faith rely on the Bible as our source of truth and guidance. It is the standard which shapes our worldview. (John 17:17, Romans 10:17) Two people with nothing else in common can find common ground in God’s word. (See bibliology and anthropology). It is only logical, then, for scripture to be central to any discipleship relationship. As 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NLT) says: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.”

Ministry 

The fundamental concepts of Christian service should be an underlying current and goal of discipleship. We are all called to be ministers (2 Corinthians 6:3-4), and workers who are ready and prepared for the job (2 Timothy 2:15). After all, good works are the purpose for which we are redeemed. (Ephesians 2:10) Ministry should be a way of life for a Christian, and discipleship is a venue to teach it as such while accomplishing good work at the same time. (Matthew 5:16, James 1:22, 1:27, 2:14-26, 2 Timothy 3:17, Titus 2:14, 2:7, Galatians 5:14, 2 Thessalonians 3:13

Ecclesiology

The health and growth of the church has already been established as a reason for the importance of discipleship, but what exactly is the role of the church in discipleship? Discipleship being a form of close, productive relationships, it is not accomplished by or dependent on a centralized structure. However, that is not to say that organization and corporate gatherings have no benefit to discipleship. A full discussion on ecclesiology is reserved for another essay, but I want to point out a few ways the church relates to discipleship, because discipleship is a function and result of the self-propagating church. First, a group of people pooling their resources and skills enables a more efficient distribution of ministry and service. Second, a larger gathering of people can provide opportunities for people to meet each other and form discipleship relationships within the body. It is also an opportunity for encouragement and inspiration, sharing what God has been doing and motivating each other to make disciples and seek discipleship. A church can also organize programs to facilitate discipleship. I think there is a danger in such programs in that they can tend towards classroom environments, or on the other end of the spectrum, party-like events with little to no focus on real spiritual growth. Neither one of those things is wrong, and both can certainly be beneficial. They can be wonderful supplements and tools. However, neither are a replacement for the genuine relationship necessary for true discipleship.

Components of Personal Growth

Scripture

Just as scripture should be central to discipleship, it should be central to one’s personal life. One of the most effective ways to grow is to simply read and meditate on God’s word, absorbing and soaking in it so it becomes a part of you. (Psalm 143:5, 119:15, 63:6, 1:2, 119:11, Joshua 1:8, Hebrews 4:12, Jeremiah 15:16) Access to scripture in our culture has become ubiquitous, so memorization has become less of a necessity, but it is no less of a beneficial habit. Memorization truly binds scripture to your psyche, so it can be a part of your life even while you are not actively reading it. In addition to meditation and memorization, it is helpful to spend time studying scripture. Examining historical contexts and literary devices, tracing themes, and other such academic endeavors can provide a greater depth of understanding and appreciation of God’s word. (2 Timothy 2:15, 1 Timothy 4:15, 2 Peter 1:5) 

Prayer & Praise

Necessary for the development of any relationship is communication. Prayer is our method of communication with God, and thereby important to developing our relationship with Him. It is only logical, then, to say that spending time in prayer is conducive to overall personal growth. Equally important is praising God, which could be considered a specific type of prayer, whether in song or otherwise. (Ephesians 6:18, James 5:13, Romans 12:12, Luke 6:12, 18:1, Philippians 4:6, Colossians 4:2, 1 Thessalonians 5:17, James 5:16, 1 Chronicles 16:28, Daniel 2:20, Jeremiah 20:13, Ephesians 1:5, Deuteronomy 10:21, Psalm 100:1-2)

Ministry

I have already covered the topic of ministry, but I think it is important to reiterate that ministry is a way of life, which means it is not merely a component of discipleship or something that can exclusively be accomplished in a group context. A pervasive internal mindset focused on God’s mission is critical to personal growth.

Discipleship & Community

Similarly, I want to reiterate that discipleship and personal growth are not mutually exclusive, rather, they are components of each other. Someone who is discipled well will experience personal growth, and the more someone grows, the more they should be equipped to disciple others. Again, “personal” growth is only “personal” in that it is the growth of a specific person. It is not isolated growth, nor is it meant to be kept private. It is growth that happens in a forest full of trees, all of whom are dropping seeds and nurturing each other with God-given water, as they all stretch toward the same source of light. May we remember that this is our foremost purpose: to grow closer to God and others, with others, and bring more people into the family to do the same.

Evangelism & Mission

The origin and nature of Christian evangelism & mission

The origin and nature of Christian evangelism & mission

The Great Commission & Precedent of Grace

Before Jesus ascended to heaven, He famously charged His disciples with what is commonly referred to as “The Great Commission”:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20, ESV)

That commission was a blueprint for the events that followed, as recorded in the book of Acts, and continues to be the basis and vision for Christian evangelistic mission endeavors today. Jesus’s great commission is an extension and fulfillment of God’s great mission, which traces back to the first humans, and is expressed in the Abrahamic covenant:

And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. (Genesis 12:1-3, ESV)

God’s will has always been to bless people throughout the whole earth. His global, post-fall grace is displayed by the flood and Noahic covenant, by which the earth is shielded from the fullness of God’s just wrath. But God was not content to simply shield people from harm, he wants people to thrive, and the only true means of abundant, eternal life is a relationship with God. His long-term restorative plan for making that possible began with Abraham’s descendants, but was never meant to end there.

Jesus claimed to be the long-awaited and prophesied messiah, the one (and only one) who would restore Israel and the rest of the world into right standing with God. He arrived on the scene preaching about the good news of the arrival of God’s kingdom, explaining God’s mission and inviting people from all walks of life to join His family. Along the way, he mentored His disciples to continue the same ministry in his absence (though ultimately through the power of His Spirit) and propagate the good news, reproducing other disciples in an exponential fashion.

(John 14:6, Luke 4:43, Matthew 4:17, Luke 10:2)

Mission in Modern Context

Today, we find ourselves in the two-thousand-year wake of the great commission, and the assignment is no less important now than it was then. Though global cultures may differ in many ways now from the cultures then, we can learn some key lessons through the lives of Christ and His earliest disciples. The stories in the gospels and Acts, as well as the instructions of the epistles, contain valuable insight into the nature of evangelism.

We know that salvation is the work of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit (see soteriology), and the chosen agents of His Spirit since Christ ascended are His disciples, humans indwelt with the Spirit. The church is the body of Christ (more in ecclesiology), and as such continues the mission of Christ.

So, what does it look like to carry out the mission of Christ in 2019? The mission is everywhere, for everyone, and we carry it out through example, intentionality, and prayer.

Everyone, Everywhere

When Christ walked the earth, He spoke truth and brought healing wherever he went. We too should approach every situation, wherever we are, as a potential opportunity to share the news of God’s kingdom or simply display God’s love. Wherever we are as well as wherever we go is the mission field.

The mission is not assigned to a select few agents, though the context and methods vary greatly among believers, all members of the church are members of the mission. If the whole body of Christ is meant to cooperatively function with a purpose, each individual within the body should operate within the framework of that purpose as well. Some people are called to leave their home towns or countries, others are not. Some are called to invest the majority of their time into equipping saints for the work, others are not. However, we are all called to share the truth in love wherever we go, and as we go.

Likewise, the audience, or target, of the mission, is everyone and anyone who has not had the opportunity (or even repeated opportunities) to hear and respond to the gospel. Though not all people may be redeemed, election is not for us to decide. We should think of every non-believer as a potential (not yet!) believer and approach the mission accordingly. This means our calling is to entire people groups and cultures outside of our own. There is darkness in need of light all over the world, and that is why the entire global community of believers must be engaged in the mission in some form or another.

Of course, that also includes everyone within our own culture: our family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, the person sitting next to you on the train, the cashier at the gas station, and so on. Even in seemingly mundane rhythms of life, there are bountiful and crucial opportunities to share the gospel with people desperately in need of it.

(Matthew 4:23-25, 10:7-14 Acts 13:47, Mark 16:15, 5:19-20 Luke 8:39, Ephesians 2:10, 4:15-16, Romans 1:16)

The Logistics

Having established the “who” and “where” of mission, we can finally examine the “how.”

Example

The first means of spreading truth and love is simply by living by the truth and truly embodying Christ’s example as vessels of God’s Spirit. Those who live by the Spirit bear the fruits thereof: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Demonstrating these things is a living testament to God’s grace and power. It overflows naturally into blessing other people, planting seeds of multiplication.

Being representations of God to the world around us is a fundamental fulfilment of our purpose, and much of Christ’s teaching was done by example. I must also point out that the example Christ gave was not one of self-righteous piety, a holier-than-thou attitude, or of a secluded or removed aloofness. In fact, those attributes do describe the religious leaders of His day, whom He condemned vehemently. Rather, His life was a stark contrast: he befriended sinners, broke rules, and carried Himself humbly without elevating Himself or His righteousness. And, as in the case of Zacchaeus, simply being around Jesus was a life-changing experience for many.

Numerous pages can be written as to exactly what it looks like to set a good example with our lives, in various contexts and detail, but I think it can be summarized quite simply. Our love for God and our love for each other should so saturate our lives that it overflows and impacts the people around us simply by means of proximity.

(Galatians 5:16-26, 1 Corinthians 11:1-2, Romans 12, John 13:34-35, Matthew 5:14-16, 6:1-6, 22:36-40, 23:5, Titus 2:7-8, Luke 19:1-10)

Intention

Example is not meant to stand alone, however. There are times we can and should take it a step further into intentionality.

One of the most obvious (though often neglected) aspects of gospel intentionality is that it requires interaction with others, specifically non-believers. Again, Jesus was not aloof or removed from society, He was frequently social, surrounded by people, and forming relationships. Relationships are crucial (and perhaps especially so in American culture) because they provide a basis for trust and receptiveness. That said, even a fleeting interaction with a stranger can have a lasting impact.

Regardless of whether we talk about long-term relationships or a brief moment that plants a seed, neither of those are accomplished by a hermit in the woods. By nature, the mission demands intentional social interaction.

To truly make those interactions missional, however, leads us to the next aspect of intentionality: gospel fluency. I borrow this phrase from the book of the same title by Jeff Vandersteldt because I think it is an excellent way to describe the measure of effectiveness in missionally-minded interactions. Fluency refers to one’s ability to express themselves articulately and accurately. Fluency in any language takes time to acquire and practice to maintain, and the best way to acquire fluency in a new language is to be immersed in it.  Being fluent in the language of the Gospel means being so immersed in the truth and hope of the Gospel that it is a natural extension of our vocabulary. This does NOT mean that every conversation turns into a sermon or a call to repentance. It means that our worldview is so shaped by what God has done for us that we are able to speak truth in relevant, loving, and natural ways in the everyday moments of life.

Now, I say that not every conversation should turn into a sermon. However, there may come times when a bold proclamation of truth is warranted, and eventually everyone needs to hear (or read) the explicit details of the gospel in some way. As such, part of gospel fluency is the ability to articulate those details and explain the need and means of salvation to someone who is ready to hear it. The metaphor of fluency serves well again, because I believe those situations are best approached through conversations relevant to the not-yet-believer’s life, rather than formulaic strategies designed to provide a one-way path to a pre-written prayer. In other words, an organic conversation born of fluency is more effective than recitation that disregards context.

(1 Peter 3:15-16, 1 Corinthians 10:31, John 3:1-8, 4:7-26, Romans 12:2, Colossians 4:5-6)

Prayer

The last, though certainly not least, of the aspects of intentionality I’d like to mention is that of prayer. Praying for people who have not accepted Christ is the one way we can impact them without direct interaction. And since we do not perform the work of salvation, God does, no interactions we have will make any eternal difference apart from the work of the Spirit in people’s hearts.

As such, we should continually pray for those who we know personally, as well as for those around the world who do not know Christ. We can pray that God will give them the opportunity to hear and respond to the gospel and that He will soften their hearts to receive it in the meantime.

Finally, we can also pray for guidance as we practice fluency and navigate relationships. The Spirit knows who needs to hear what, when and where; the more sensitive and submissive we are to His leading, the more effective we will be on our mission.

(1 Thessalonians 5:17, Ephesians 6:18, Matthew 5:44, 1 Timothy 2:1, Luke 12:12, John 14:26, Romans 8:26)

Biblical Conflict Resolution

I would categorize conflict resolution, and specifically biblical conflict resolution, as “much easier said than done.” I do not feel like I have extensive experience on this topic, so I do not claim any practical expertise or authority. What I can offer is what I believe scripture teaches, which I do think is quite clear…in theory.

I would categorize conflict resolution, and specifically biblical conflict resolution, as “much easier said than done.” I do not feel like I have extensive experience on this topic, so I do not claim any practical expertise or authority. What I can offer is what I believe scripture teaches, which I do think is quite clear…in theory.

From my perspective, the Bible defines very clearly how Christians should behave amid conflict, and in general it boils down to some pretty simple, matter-of-fact concepts. Living them out, however, especially in the heat of the moment, can be quite difficult. I want to acknowledge that before presenting the biblical ideals. Nevertheless, we should strive to be peacemakers whenever possible: in our own lives, and even on behalf of others should the need arise.

When I first sat down to write this essay, my mind became somewhat overwhelmed thinking through all the possible types of scenarios which might call for biblical conflict resolution. I eventually realized that a systematic, flow-chart approach would not work for me. If you would like to read a systematic approach to biblical conflict resolution, I can highly recommend The Peacemaker by Ken Sande (and even that is, of course, a limited framework). Since this is meant to be a brief essay rather than a book, I am taking a more distilled approach.

Rather than examine a vast array of potential situations, I will simply point out some principles I have noticed in scripture. I see them as seeds of wisdom, simple but providing all the necessary DNA for dealing with a complex and multifaceted life.

Firstly, I should avoid causing or contributing to conflict when possible. All the teachings, wisdom and statutes given to people by God rest on the underlying ideal of humans loving God and loving each other. Even when conflict does not come from outright hatred for each other, it corrodes and/or impedes loving relationships. It introduces a barrier. On the other hand, when people truly love each other as themselves, conflict is much less likely to arise in the first place. Peace is the ideal portrayed in Eden at creation, and in the new world of Revelation. Meanwhile, conflict is the destructive inevitability of a sin-ridden world. Christians are called to reflect the ideal of peace to the best of their ability.

Romans 12:18, 14:19, Matthew 5:43-48, 22:37-40, Mark 12:29-31, Hebrews 12:14, 1 Peter 3:9-11, 1 Thessalonians 5:15, James 3:18, John 13:34-35, 16:33, Philippians 4:7, Proverbs 12:20, 16:7, Psalm 29:11, 34:14, 37:37

However, given that conflict between people is unavoidable, we should know how to navigate it in a way that is God-honoring, and, ideally, results in a loving resolution. Of course, the only variable I can truly control in any given situation is my own decisions and responses. So, what are some ideal responses to conflict?

As with most things, external interactions are a result of internal thoughts, feelings and attitudes. Internal decisions result in external decisions. (Luke 6:45, Matthew 12:34) Specifically, I think humility, respect and empathy are principal components of loving interactions.

Humility allows us to see when we are in the wrong, whereas pride resists repentance. If I have in fact wronged someone in any way, I need to repent, apologize, and thereby attempt reconciliation. If such a response is truly humble and sincere, the only barrier to reconciliation remaining would be that of the other party.

Colossians 3:12, Ephesians 4:2, 1 Peter 5:5, Proverbs 11:2, 15:33, 18:12, 22:4, Romans 12:3, 12:16

Respect recognizes other people as being image-bearers of their creator. If I see others as icons of divinity, created to be tabernacles of God’s presence, suddenly that person becomes very important. My priorities should naturally shift towards wanting to see them healed, built up, and shining in the light of God’s glory, rather than torn down and despised.

Genesis 1:27, Romans 12:10, 1 Peter 2:17, Philippians 2:3, Ephesians 5:21

Empathy considers the “golden rule” by trying to see the other side and discern how I would want to be treated if I were in their shoes. Understanding the other person’s perspective is, in my experience, not the default state for most situations. Simply taking the time to think through the other person’s background and events leading up to an interaction is one step toward empathetic reasoning. However, we can never truly see through other people’s eyes, so I may need to ask genuine and loving questions when I seek to understand someone else’s perspective.

Matthew 7:12, Luke 6:31, Romans 12:15, 1 Peter 3:8, 1 Corinthians 12:26, Proverbs 24:17

Unless I can achieve a humble, respectful and empathetic attitude toward someone else, my words and actions have no chance at being truly loving, and therefore little chance at resolving conflict. These personal attributes and decisions are at the core of a God-honoring response to conflict; all other decisions stem from that internal perspective.

If I have honestly checked (and, better yet, cross-checked with a trusted friend or mentor) my own attitude and actions, repented of any wrong, and sought reconciliation, I can then pray that any other involved parties would do the same. If they are in fact willing, the process may take time or be almost immediate, but should always be steeped in love, humility, respect and empathy. Details beyond that are too widely varied to discuss here. However, there is no guarantee that even the most loving of approaches will be reciprocated. It may, in fact, be scorned. In such a case, my options narrow somewhat.

The first, completely valid, even Christ-like response is to simply forgive and move on. No matter what, I should seek to forgive others as I have been forgiven. This must be true forgiveness, as opposed to simply pushing it aside and allowing bitterness and resentment to fester within myself. Real forgiveness should not adversely affect my relationship with others nor cause any other long-term harm. But if I have truly forgiven someone, and can ignore everything else, that may be the best way out of conflict.

Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 3:13, Matthew 5:39-41, 6:14-15, Mark 11:25, Proverbs 17:9, 10:12, Luke 6:35-36

Unfortunately, some offenses may be too serious to simply ignore, forgiven or not. In this case, I should first run through the above criteria. Have I made an attempt at reconciliation with a loving heart, humble spirit, respectful eyes, and empathetic mind? If so, and action is still needed, then I should involve a third party to help mediate the situation. What that looks like totally depends on the context, but regardless of the details, it is a crucial step towards reconciliation. An unbiased third-party can help ease tension and facilitate a fair resolution.

If an informal third party fails at arbitration, a formal process may be necessary. This means involving people who have authority over all parties involved, whether it is an employer, the government, or church elders. The latter of course only applies in the case of two believers who are in conflict. In that context, the church is meant to provide an essential layer of mediation. This is explicitly described in Matthew 18:15-17, where we see that ideally such issues should be solved as if it is a family matter: addressing your brother directly first, bringing one or two other people along if necessary, and finally bringing it to the church. If that still does not work, it can no longer be treated as a “family matter,” so other steps such as legal action may become acceptable. Otherwise, legal action against brothers and sisters in the church is strongly discouraged. (1 Corinthians 6:7) The phrase “let him be to you as a gentile…” is thereby significant, in that it opens secular avenues for resolution. It does not imply that our attitude of love towards them should be in any way diminished. Rather, we should be even more burdened to reach them with the love of Christ.

I have not touched much on the topic of what to do if you are a third party attempting to resolve conflict. Being a mediator is certainly a different experience than being directly involved in a conflict, but I think a successful approach still boils down to the same principles. It begins with love, respect, and humility, and prayerfully seeking to help others achieve the same.

Regardless of our role in any given situation, we should always seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit and spend time in prayer, for ourselves and for everyone else involved. Prayer itself can be a catalyst to achieving the necessary heart condition for dealing with conflict. As with the attitude check, conflict should trigger an intentionality toward this fundamental aspect of a Christian lifestyle.

Again, each situation can be incredibly nuanced and complex, so this short paper is certainly not exhaustive on the topic. What I hope to have made clear is that I do believe scripture teaches a worldview and heart condition, rather than a set of rules to apply to conflict. Instead of a chart of instructions for every potential scenario, we have a booster shot of wisdom with which to navigate life. Regardless of any conflict’s cultural context, the biblical response is one of love, respect, humility, empathy, and peace. While this is much easier said than done, we may practice this and pray, and rely on the power of the Spirit to prevail over our insufficiencies every day.

Spontaneous Haiku

Naked & angry,

He, in, the heat of the night,

Summoned his demons.

Psalm 23: A Brief Exegesis

Psalm 23 is a beautifully crafted poem, well known and often memorized for good reason. It is an encouraging example of resolute faith in Yahweh and the comforting peace that comes with it. I have been meditating on the passage while resting my own mind and body, in a grassy paradise beside the most refreshing waters I know, in the midst of family and overflowing abundance. It seems a fitting meditation. The following are some brief notes from studying the chapter and comparing various exegetical resources.

Yahweh is my Shepherd

This metaphor is of course very common throughout both the OT and NT. The psalmist using this metaphor as a premise for the first half of his poem is effective for its relevance both culturally and theologically. Imagining God as a shepherd is familiar, and sets us up to understand the images to follow.

Grassy/Green Pastures/Meadows & Quiet/Still/Peaceful Waters/Streams

The grassy meadow is a symbol of nourishment and provision in abundance. The Hebrew word means a grazing place, settlement, or stopping place.

The peaceful stream in Hebrew is literally “Waters of resting places” which parallels and corresponds to the resting place of pasture. Both food and water are provided by the good shepherd, in a safe and peaceful environment of rest.

He Restores my Nephesh

This is clever wording. Normally translated “Soul” I favor the translation “Life” in this case. The psalmist is using a common idiom, which can be translated a number of ways. Consider Lam 1:11 (ESV), Lam 1:19 (ESV) where the same Hebrew phrase is translated “to revive their strength.” It refers to an overall refreshment, a return of life and strength to a weary mind and body. Because the word Nephesh can also be literally translated as “throat” the context here also follows poetically and logically the preceding line. The provision of safe drinking water is a literal refreshment to one’s throat, giving life and strength along a tiring journey.

For His Name’s Sake

The leadership and protection of Yahweh is of obvious benefit to his sheep. However, the psalmist recognizes the ultimate beneficiary is the shepherd, who seeks to protect his own reputation and delights in the wellbeing, happiness, comfort, and security of his sheep. He is motivated by his own benefit, to our benefit.

Shadow of Death, Rod & Staff

After meditating on the blessings of comfort and provision, the psalmist acknowledges the “even when” of troublesome times that are inevitable in life. However, in those dark times the presence of Yahweh dispels all fear of harm or danger. The rod and staff at the end of the stanza is sometimes interpreted as disciplinary action. However, in this context, the comfort is derived from the rod being used to fight away enemies (its primary use for shepherds was to fend off predators) and the staff being used to count the sheep and direct them along the right path. Knowing Yahweh can defend and lead us simultaneously is a comforting thought.

Yahweh as a Host

Verse 5 shifts over to a different metaphor, now portraying Yahweh as a host for a banquet, feast, or celebration.

Table Among Enemies

Since Yahweh is the most hospitable and competent of hosts, his guest can confidently and fearlessly eat at his table without worrying about the surroundings or even the other guests. The host has everything in control, the guest is simply there to enjoy what the host has prepared.

Anointing With Oil, Overflowing Cup

The anointing of oil is a rather foreign reference to us, but it was a traditional custom for a host to anoint his guests as they arrived to a banquet or feast. The overflowing cup shows Yahweh’s generosity; he provides more than we need. The references to oil and wine describe a generous host who makes his guests comfortable, not withholding anything.

Summary/Conclusion

The last verse summarizes the tone and mindset of the psalmist as he concludes his meditation. He is confident in the goodness and love of Yahweh. He is assured and settled, knowing he is part of Yahweh’s family to the end of his days. The Hebrew phrase sometimes translated “forever” is le'orekh yamim, which is elsewhere translated literally as “For length of days” meaning “For a very long time” which does not necessarily refer to eternity but does cover the foreseeable future. This suggests less of a statement about (though does not necessarily exclude implication of) the kingdom of heaven and more of an assurance in day to day life, for the rest of his life.

Ecclesiastes: A Tonic in Troubling Times

I love the wisdom of Ecclesiastes, especially in times of emotional difficulty. It provides in some ways a contrast to the wisdom of Proverbs, with a somewhat more cynical, jaded perspective. This tone is cathartic to a throbbing soul, at least for me. Rather than focusing on simple cause and effect formulas for living a life blessed by wisdom, it considers the unpredictable and unexpected, the situations beyond our control and hard to explain. However, it does so rather stoically and philosophically, compared the emotional and conceptual grandeur of Job. It helps us to mentally transcend the vanity of emotion and earthly pursuits, while at the same time remembering to relish every gift of pleasure and fulfilment we are afforded, appreciating every moment simply for what it is.

The Law of Spiritual Dynamics

Newton's "third law" has a spiritual parallel, that I am calling the "law of spiritual dynamics." Romans 7:21 says "So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand."

Whenever I endeavor to do good, whenever I draw close to righteousness, there will be a resistance and opposition. It comes both from within, from my evil flesh, and from the spiritual forces of evil at work in the world. It will often manifest with intensity directly proportionate to the fervor with which I seek to do good.

Thankfully, unlike Newton's third law, which says that in physical matters the reaction will be "equal and opposite," I am comforted in knowing that He who is in me is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4). Nevertheless we must be watchful, aware, and prepared for this reactive opposition.

A Lesson From Stoicism

Welcome discomfort. Comfort is not the key to contentment. Pervasive, Epicurean pursuit of pleasure dulls your senses. It lulls you into climbing a hedonistic hill that only gets steeper, all the while you are unable to enjoy the view.

Take Joy

We are told to never be content with what we have, to never settle for less than more.  I challenge you to take joy in any simple pleasure you are ever afforded.  Are you warm? dry? clean? healthy? Do you have friends? family? a roof? freedom? You obviously are using a computer with internet.  We don’t deserve the least of pleasures yet we ignore so many.  Even if you disagree regarding entitlement, there is little excuse for unappreciative apathy. 

Spring Is...

A crisp but gentle sprite who giggles as sleepy sugar snow floats down to bright new blades of grass.

A welcome morning warmth like a slowly growing glow from a nearly forgotten sun.

The smell of thawing earth with ripe dew-covered will to push a life of color into breezy air and lengthy rays of light.

People are Books

People are books. More accurately, people are like books. This can be a useful simile overall, whether applied to friends and family members, or to a new relationship or conversation.

Some books are required reading. Even if you don't enjoy those books, commitment is in your best interest.

Some books look like great fun, but end up being a waste of time.

Most books are somewhere in between. If you pick up a new book, especially if you paid for it, you will probably try your best to enjoy it. Most people approach voluntary reading with an open mind and sense of curiosity. The contents of the book are ripe for discovery. Even if it doesn't become your favorite book, you'll have a more enriching experience if you focus on what you enjoy about the book, rather than entering as a critic.

Of course, like any simile, this one isn't perfect. People do not exist for your entertainment, and no book actually requires your attention or benefits from your involvement in their existence. In other words, thinking of people as books is not to illustrate the balance of giving and receiving. It is to illustrate a mindset of willingness. On the other hand, some books really are not worth finishing, and there are some people who have no place wasting your time. You just can't judge that, as the saying goes, by the cover.

A lot of people don't even like books at all anymore. Those people are missing out on a lot!

If you would give a book a chance, give a person a chance.

Try approaching your next conversation with the same curiosity and eagerness to learn and discover as you would a brand new book.

The Fairy Stone

The fairy stone is a unique and all but lost family tradition here. It started and ended with my great grandmother, Marge Sturgis. I only partook in the tradition for one week as a child, but to me, the value of this story is not so much in the tradition of it, as what it tells of her personality and sense of imagination. It was a superstitious story of grandma's fabrication—I sometimes got the sense she had a whole delightful world of mythology, all her own, living in her head, that only she understood, but into which she would give us little awe-filled glimpses.

As this story went, there was a stone fairy, kind but shy, that lived in the huge rock next to the red cottage. She called it the fairy stone. The really special and fun thing about it was convincing the fairy to give you treats. See, although she was shy and would never let you see her, she really loved buttercups. If there were some children who were so inclined as to collect some buttercups and place them on the stone, then maybe, just maybe, the fairy would come out in the middle of the night and take the buttercups, leaving some treats (candy, little toys, etc) in return.

Like I said, I only actually did this during one visit, but the story was passed down to me from my dad. He still remembers the fairy with a twinkle in his eye that harkens back to that young childhood awe, wonder, and delight. I'm sure that's why she did it. That little joyful squeal in the morning, the gears of imagination turning in their little heads. That necessary connection to nature, scouring the fields and woods to spot just the right flower. And, in creating those little golden memories, I think it satisfied a certain childlike imagination and wonder of her own. Her heart was always overflowing with love for her grandkids (and great grandkids), and that was just one example of her expression of it. What a beautiful way to be remembered.


UPDATE: After writing this post, I went outside to get a better photo of the buttercup my wife left on the stone last night. I'm not sure what I expected, but the buttercup was gone. In its place, a chocolate donut. The fairy is alive. The tradition lives on.


Our yearly vacation on Wolfe Island always awakens a bountiful store of fond memories from as far back as I can remember. Yesterday, I sat on the deck of the red cottage with Ellie to enjoy some quiet time alone together. As we sipped bourbon and watched the scout ship in the distance, I started sharing some of those memories. As we talked, we both decided I should start writing some of them down as they come to me. This is the first, hopefully of many.

Laughter of Children

No chorus of angels can rival the music in laughter of children.

Why Did I Choose a Career in the Arts?

My decision to pursue a career in the arts may be ascribed to four key factors: affinity, ability, passion, and philosophy. Ultimately I believe that God directed me to where I am and what I do, but these four factors are what I see as the primary instruments He used in doing so. Combined, they led me to study graphic design, photography, and, my current profession, web design. I could expound in much greater detail upon what follows, but will try to keep it brief.

The first factor, affinity, is what draws most people into the arts. Without a natural liking, sympathy, or attraction to the arts, one would scarcely venture to practice them or pursue them professionally. For as long as I can remember I have loved all the arts, from music to painting. I doodled incessantly, danced to any music I heard, and had an insatiable fascination for the world of technology.

My parents enrolled me in extracurricular art classes when I was five years old, and I continued to study under many remarkable teachers in various parts of the country and world for the remainder of my schooling. Those teachers developed my affinity into ability. They gradually guided me in acquiring the tools, knowledge, and experience necessary to achieve the aspirations of my imagination.

As my parents encouraged the development of my ability, the combined inclination and skill incubated passion. Passion is what made me want to live, breathe, drink, and be art and technology. Passion is what made me want to learn more, push my boundaries, and explore possibilities. Passion drove my conversations, my focus, my goals and my dreams. Passion is the fire that, when fueled, provides fulfillment from whatever your mind and body find to do. At some point in high school I happily realized that my passion corresponded well with an entire growing industry, to which I could direct my focus when continuing my education into college.

The final element is a very personal one, and the most crucial. For you see, without a fundamental purpose to fuel the flames of passion, there is a grave inevitability of them flickering out. Any good artist will tell you that artwork without purpose is empty, soulless. Philosophy, or worldview, is what shapes each person’s perception of themselves and the world they live in. It is ultimately the reason for what they believe, say, and do. Mine includes theological beliefs which shape my perception of purpose. I believe that all concepts of truth, goodness, and beauty originate from the very nature of God, and our pursuits of them result in reflections of His nature. Whether it be math, technology, history, science, or art we are ultimately seeking to reveal, learn from, or showcase elements of His design. As every design reflects its designer, the entire world reflects the nature of God. This perspective gives me an acute appreciation and fascination for any scholarly and/or artistic pursuit. Given where my greatest passion lies, I find in my philosophy a purpose to pursue that passion. My ultimate purpose is to glorify God, and in the scope of my profession, to seek, reveal, and reflect the inherent beauty of God. I believe this is accomplished, in however a small way, wherever beauty is born.

On this topic I have written and discussed elsewhere in much length, but this will have to suffice for now. I will leave you with a quote from the late, renowned designer Massimo Vignelli, from the film Helvetica: “The life of a designer is a life of fight. Fight against the ugliness. Just like a doctor fights against disease. For us, the visual disease is what we have around, and what we try to do is cure it somehow with design.”

A Twilight Dream (Biscay Bay)

I lean against the buff Oak and catch whiffs of dried herbs and desert sage, distant aromas carried along the breeze of stormy weather lurking at the horizon.

A sip of Marsala tickles my palate like cashmere rose petals melting upon my tongue.

When two finches, flaunting breasts of cadmium orange, dart across my gaze, they turn my attention to the dark reflecting pond before me. The pool gazes back in the waning light, deep and sorrowful.

Sister moon greets the dusk and lends a shimmer to the amethyst orchids which dance at the water’s edge. They are dancing to the song of the storm.

Airplane Streaks Across the Sky During a Sunset

I am going to briefly explain why I believe that anyone who isn’t awe-struck by airplane streaks across the sky during a sunset is simply not paying attention.

Now first of all, these things are, at a base level, just objectively beautiful. If anyone does not recognize that, they need to rub their eyes and try again.

Then, physically they are fascinating, how the setting sun hits these isolated streaks of moisture suspended in the atmosphere and they’re visible for miles from the surface of the earth.

Theoretically/metaphysically they are awe inspiring, that the sum of certain endeavors from mankind, indeed the endeavors of countless men, small and human, has resulted in these fleeting things of massive proportion to the earth that are so visible and beautiful, yet the byproduct of an end to a means of transportation, not actually the end of any means. (Breathe). That is to say, those streaks were never the reason for any of the mechanical engineering, design, or production of airplanes. They just happen to be what happens.

And finally, spiritually, the fact of beauty arising from all this. The phenomenon of beauty itself. That we can be stirred so deeply by such an arbitrary mass of molecules. Such beauty is so ingrained into the matter of creation that it inevitably reflects the intimate nature of the Creator, as do brush marks the hands of a painter.

Not a Writer

“Not a writer” who doesn’t drink, Who doesn’t think in terms of words Constructed fondly, full to the brink With meaning and moving like herds Of a mass, many seemingly one thing.

Success!

My tinkerings with reflective geometry theory finally paid off! I have a working visualization and infinitely expandable numerical constant for the decay of unpredictable termination along a pair of 2/4 axis!

Nib Demands her Reservoir

The pen bids me write
Like fountains bid water soar.

Pages of Platonic shadows
May fill bindings of books
And delight decades of eyes,
But reflections are flat,
Caves finite, our sky high.

I will let my ink flow with the majesty of infant cries.
Somewhere strokes wax radiant like human screams,
Assured in self and desperate ends of line.

Yellow water droplets plunked noiselessly
Onto glassy shimmers, reddening roughly
As dancing blues rippled haltingly.
Pink smoke drifts warmly beside crawling grey,
Bumping rolls over smoothly. Then black scratched still.

Geyser

Bottle-capped geyser, never felt wiser, to drown an ear in bubbly fear and set the oceans free.

This, my friend, would be the end to ghastly pressure beyond measure.

Distracted

I find myself transfixed and contentedly so, to sit and stare in utter awe at the bushes outside the window beside me. Though they barely move in the breeze, their form is ever changing in perception, undulating with radiant propensity for existential significance, not the least of which is manifested in a breathing glow that swims and flies and dances among so many needles of evergreen wonder.

Their subtlest movements are a veritable burst of dancing expression. This is not an evergreen bush, but a being of character and nuance, as infinitely observable as it is undefinable. Stripped of a label this marvelous exhibit of life is both eternally unique and unimaginably united with every possible context in which it exists.

In moments of stronger gusts, the branches absolutely explode with song, screaming the simple but incomparably profound fact of their presence. Their song is a harmony, a conforming transposition of their idiosyncrasy with inferential deference to their surroundings.

Their compliance in song hinders nothing of their movement in growth, and detracts no efficacy from their declaration of residence. To the contrary, in prevailing and progressing they are rather defiant.

I should probably get back to work.

Hurricane to the Head

My head is sent spinning, caught on the gust of an unexpected song, left unwinding in stupefying motion.

Imagination fell short by miles of nearing in precedent the delight within her soul.

At that I join the choir of those proclaiming this as madness.

Madness it must be, and to madness I must go.

After a while.

As Time Goes By

Love. Few words in our language carry so much weight, yet are flung so frequently from the surface of every English speaking tongue. Romantic love is often lauded above all else, and despite its age equaling exactly that of humanity itself, remains garbed with wonder and mystery. Science has yet to explain or quantify the effects which artistic endeavors have been so often dedicated to express, how this phenomenon endlessly enraptures, bewitches, enrages, and further proves apt to puppet the full range of human emotion from a cortex of immense power we call love.

That cortex, that million-faceted expanse of human experience which we reduce to four letters, has remained a reliable constant, evident in all forms of human expression throughout history.

Less constant has been the process of romance, by which two individuals transition ultimately from strangers to marriage. In fact, culture has arguably seen more change in that process over the past century or two than across the rest of history combined. With changes in romance comes changes in the expression thereof.

One particularly observable example from modern culture is that of music. As romance is an expression of love, so music has long served in expressing romance. The explosion of variety in music introduced by the last century has opened the door to infinite nuances from which to conjure emotional reflection.

However, following the birth of smooth jazz, countless listeners and players alike have relied on that specific genre for just such expression.

Jazz now sits enthroned among musical genres as a dominant champion in the field of amour.

The heading of this article bears the title of Herman Hupfeld’s profusely covered song, originally written for the 1931 Broadway musical Everybody’s Welcome. Among the singers who uttered Hupfeld’s lyrics is Frank Sinatra (pictured), an icon in his era of love songs. He and so many others sang those lyrics that bear sentiments less often reflected today than those which proclaim the changes being wrought in modern romance.

Perhaps such singers found comfort in the lyrics as they bore witness to the changes around them and the various tumults of their own love affairs. Singing of “The fundamental things” delivers a certain reassurance and refreshing honesty, stripping away all the gaudy garments shrouding romance to expose the core, which, as of yet, truly remains constant. After all, When two lovers woo, They still say: “I love you.”

Amid

Sky on my head and ocean below, never such a sound as the cold clouds blow.

3/22/13

(Written last night, in observing my own journey through grief)

While easily the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced, it is somehow beautiful. Why? because God is in it. This is part of his creation process, the growth through trial to count as joy (James 1:2-3).

The pain, being so overwhelming, can be distracting. This is grief, a sorrow felt on every inch of my body, to the core of my bones, the pit of my gut, the tenderest regions of my heart. I know the good of it, though it is hard to see when the throbbing is at its peak. Yesterday i could not feel the joy, i only accepted it. Joy and sorrow can coexist. Joy does not require happiness.

Grief should neither be ignored nor obsessed over. Even in seemingly insignificant situations, acknowledgement and full experience of sorrow and pain is healthy. However, such emotion demands focus and clouds judgement. As such, it is crucial to step away momentarily and assess the broader scope of a situation. Therein joy can be found and remembered, even when lapsing into the embrace of pain. This is what will cause each ebb and throb to decrease steadily in severity.

Today joy overshadowed the pain most of the time. The pain is still there, and the wound is still fresh, but the grace of God can be distracting as well. I do not mean to say that joy and pain are oposite entities…they can be conflicting feelings that are evoked within a single entity or action. That is to say pain is sometimes a part of joy, or the reverse, or that both are part of a larger envelope.

Today I’ve been remembering to discover the subtle pleasures of life, emerging from enthralled, consuming emotion, returning to appreciations not long ago acquired. There is so much to enjoy in life that once noticed causes the pain to fade into the background.

I hope for sleep soon, because I have not gotten nearly enough this week. Sleep and food are crucial to heal properly, though both are so easy to forgo.

Emotions

I have been recently bestowed with some emotional states of being, of intense proportion, that are not commonplace in my life. My examination of such emotion was both bewildering and enlightening.

Emotion is bewildering in that it can be so potent that it feels not containable, spilling over and clouding into reason and objectivity. Truly frightening is the fact that emotion has the potential to exact action in the realm of influence to which belongs the individual imbued with such emotion. This very wonder led me to realize that God experiences every emotion that humans do.

Unlike us, however, he is an infinite being who’s very whim has cosmic consequence. That realization subsequently conjured images of unimaginably immense seas of music of every color and proportion, with infinite raging waves, unending placid stillness, and every possible delicate ripple in between.

Apply the concept of such raw, monumental force of feeling and potentiality to God’s realm of influence, coupled with the fact that he would have “room” to leave logic unaffected, and you may understand why this heightened appreciation moved me deeply, even to tears. Even so, appreciation does little for my inability to fully comprehend my own emotion, rendering futile any attempt to fully comprehend the implications of an emotional God.

The Fruit & The Flower

Ohhhh the glory of harvest! Such magnificence is nearly unbearable, in all her shy, unbeckoned potentiality, hiding behind skirts of self-imposed obscurity, that blinding smoke of oblivion.

In this moment, what I see is that God is utterly, terribly beautiful, and this thing of magnificence will indeed by rendered to full glory by his hand.

That glory is, in fact, a gracious gift of his own reflection, and even for this broken image I can but weep in humble adoration.

So weep I will.

But tears cannot drown the laughter for visions of fruit and flowers in full bloom, which intoxicate and fulfill the innermost yearning of our kind, however dormant those cravings may have lain.

Seeds may be yet sprouting, branches may be yet budding, but what is time?

I see my sister last night. Others call her moon and generally forget her. Parking lot lamps vie for my praise, laughing and thanking some dim-witted clouds to blanket a chorus of stars.

I wink at their shallow splendor, shrug at what glory burns brightly on a short wick. Sister reigns far above, far brighter, far before and for far beyond these insolent slaves of man. She is patient and congenial, appreciating my quiet acknowledgment of her beautiful smile.

Sister hides waves of chiming laughter behind that sad grin. She knows darkness and watches evil rage rampantly across the earth. Unwillingly witness to unending atrocity, she in reverence and deep sorrow remains silent.

The laughter will be unleashed, because sister knows atrocity is not truly unending. She knows the glory which overcomes darkness, beaming with joy for sheer vision of his distant existence.

How awesome are both the fruit and the flower, that I tremble in wonder at the deeds of the potter.

Rock & Roll

A friend posted this on Facebook last night:

“So I been thinking about this for a long time and I can’t come to a decent conclusion. So I figured I’d ask my question here.

What is Rock and Roll? If you had to pick a band that personifies rock and roll who would you choose? Some people say that AC/DC are what rock and roll is. Others say Led Zeppelin is the one.
So who would you choose? Think on this. I want a real answer.”

Not being committed to any other engagement, and being profoundly passionate about music and especially R&R, I had to write a response. Though a little longer than I expected, I ended up with an answer worth saving.

My answer

Led Zeppelin does personify Rock & Roll pretty well. Of course I say that with them being one of my favorite bands of all time, but Rock & Roll cannot be totally embodied in one band of musicians. Rock & Roll as we know it is the result of a generation, grandfathered by that of Elvis. Though he is called the king of rock and roll, his style music is now known as rockabilly.

The 70’s really defined the heart of Rock & Roll. The 80’s brought the core sound of “metal” into the mix, the 90’s introduced ska, shoegaze, and the ubiquity of “indie” artists. We now have an infinite spectrum of sound that transcends genre, but much of which owes its roots to the Rock & Roll of the 70’s. Live, loud, inventive performances on stage, using a core ensemble of electric guitar, drums, bass, and voice are what drove the spirit of the genre. Rock & Roll also stood for a specific lifestyle which has since been largely separated from the music.

However, I have to look at Rock & Roll as an evolution rather than an entity. It began as a departure from rigid hymn style melodies, relaxed jazz, and big band dance groups. The electric guitar in itself was a catalyst to the evolution of music, with an entirely new breed of virtuoso players making their mark in the world. Electric guitars and synthesizers, coupled with experimentation in psychedlics in the 60’s, gave rise to a wave of new sounds. A culture of new sounds, ideas, and technology all paved the way for the pinnacle of Rock & Roll to be reached.

There were several other stepping stones, however. Duane Allman is a good example of one who bridged the gap between bluegrass, blues, and rock & roll. The Grateful Dead provided another radical mesh: that of gospel-rooted blues and psychedelic rock. Eric Clapton & BB King showed the 70’s just how alive and soulful the music of a guitar can be. Pink Floyd, after decades of experimentation, created progressive-rock masterpieces like “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” with a decided sound and sweeping scenery that never gets boring. Led Zeppelin’s ability to turn “Dazed & Confused” into more than a 20 minute all-out jam session of a performance as recorded on BBC sessions is an example of Rock’s intimately expressive nature. Rock and Roll performance takes on the spirit of the performers, engulfing the musician in a sort of reverse-birth. In the most spectacular examples of true Rock & Roll, the artist rediscovers and is transformed by the music created by his own hand, every time he plays it.

Seas of devoted, undulating fans also became symbolic of Rock & Roll. The fans were just as much a part of Rock & Roll as music itself, which points back to the fact of Rock & Roll being a very large niche of a generation-a lifestyle, as it were.

Regarding your original question, Zeppelin and AC/DC are certainly icons of Rock & Roll, and are 100% Rock & Roll, as opposed to being results of, or rooted in Rock & Roll. I would also mention the Rolling Stones as having a major impact on Rock & Roll. As Zeppelin was influenced by blues and the likes of Elvis, Zeppelin influenced many others, who influenced the musicians who are coming forth today. Fairly immediate impacts of Zeppelin who now stand as icons in the genre include Aerosmith, Guns n’ Roses, and quite a few others that I consider pure Rock & Roll bands. However, not one of them is a complete embodiment of the genre. In short, I believe Rock & Roll is too “big” to be contained by any one group of musical performers.

I hope that was thoughtful enough.

TIMELESS GOD: Answering the Question “Where Did God Come From?”

In collaboration with my brother, Mike.

Defining Time:

Time is defined by Merriam Websters Dictionary as follows: Link to source

A: The measured or measurable period during which an action, process, or condition exists or continues

B: A nonspatial continuum that is measured in terms of events which succeed one another from past through present to future

At this, we ask ourselves a challenging question: Can there be a being that is not restricted by time?  It is my personal conclusion that the answer to such a question cannot be understood resolutely by science.  We can, however, muse over the possibility and implications.

Defining GOD:

God is defined by Merriam Websters Dictionary as follows: Link to source

The supreme or ultimate reality

For this discussion we will not restrict God to a specific religion, simply that God is defined as an ultimate reality. This means that God has infinite and limitless capability.  That notion itself is one that humans cannot fully comprehend. It would be like attempting to visualize a new color, or imagining an additional “dimension.”  Imagine trying to explain 3-dimensional space to a 2-dimensional being, or color to a person born blind.

In Short:

The definition of God implies the possibility of timelessness.  Time is something that a deity may or may not interact with, however by definition it is not restricted to the laws time restricts us to.  A Deity would not require a beginning or a creator, because a beginning thing cannot exist without time.

To the Point:

God being defined as a supreme or ultimate reality implies certain attributes.  I doubt one could argue that not existing  is superior to existing, so existence is implied in the definition of God.  Likewise, existing and living is superior to existing and not living.  Therefore, God can henceforth be referred to as a “being.”  The definition of “existence” as The fact or state of living or having objective reality  does not imply any time-related attributes.  Time, understood as an observation or continuum does imply existence, but  does not imply either a beginning or an end, nor does it exclude the possibility of such.  Therefore, our definitions neither imply nor exclude the possibility of God’s attribute of existence being separate from time’s attribute of existence.  In order to continue this discussion, we will entertain just such a possibility.

A being whose existence is separate from the existence of time would not necessarily have the capability of entering into or interacting with time.  We must look to our definition of God to determine whether such a being would have this capability.  At least from the perspective of an ultimate being, the ability to interact with and/or enter time at will would be superior to the lack thereof.  The observed existence of matter and organisms which are subject to time implies that interaction with time potentially influences such matter and organisms.

If time has a beginning and ending, God would perceive all that is encompassed in time as a singular entity.  If matter has a beginning and an ending, God would perceive all matter as a single entity, or child, encompassed in time.  Therefore, interaction with matter in time would be perceived as a “change” in an already “completed” entity, with “change” and “completed” being temporal terms.  At this point, It becomes difficult to discuss a non-temporal being with temporal terms.  Again, it is difficult, perhaps impossible for temporal beings such as ourselves to even imagine such a perception of time in which all events and entities exist singularly while still discernible and distinct.  Though this is all fascinating speculation, it is, however, irrelevant to the origin of God…perhaps the subject of a future discussion.

In Conclusion:

Returning to the question “Where did God come from?” One must realize that this question applies  temporal and spatial  terms to a definition that is not necessarily temporal or spatial.  Therefore, if a temporal and spatial God conflicts with your logic or observations within any given context, then assume God is being defined therein as non-temporal and non-spatial, not excluding the possibility of God’s interaction with time and space.

 

Collington’s “Into The Sea”

Having thoroughly enjoyed Collington’s previous release, “feet on the ground,” I was thrilled to have the opportunity to preview his latest album.  

With “Into the Sea” Collington has polished his style, entering a state of robust excellence. There is a noticeable increase of instrumental exploration and a wider range of techniques employed. His combination of subtle details and catchy musical curves lends both intellectual and effortless enjoyment to the listener. 

The drum and electric work are much appreciated, filling out each track quite effectively. The improved instrumentation results in an overall greater tangibility. I got chills when I came to the solos in “Save Me.” Such expertly placed electric guitar and harmonica riffs give emotional connection and musical luster that are right at home with Collington’s music. 

As for the  vocals, I found them decidedly confident. Not to say there was any lack of confidence before, James has come into himself with amplified personality, showing itself through a wide range of expression. The harmonies, though still sparse, have a stronger presence without losing the delicacy that has me continuously eager to hear more. 

Though I have listened to the entire release upwards of five times through, I am far from tired of it. The lyrical compositions are solid and moving.  Personally the strongest music is that which connects to me on a spiritual level as well as musically. Collington not only succeeds to do this, he succeeds again and again, each track resounding in my soul with wisdom, insight, and comfort. Needless to say, I have been blown away by “Into the Sea.” I am blessed to enjoy this addition to an already impressive collection of music from Collington, and wholeheartedly recommend it to any and all lovers of music and soul-food.

Spotify: Collington – Into the Sea

Buy it on iTunes or from Collington’s merch site

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/collingtonmusic

White Hole Cosmology

The following is a summary of Dr Humphrey’s White Hole Cosmology, a possible explanation of the cosmological events of creation week in the Bible. I do not know who originally created this list; I will add credit if anyone informs me of such. I am not implying my agreement or endorsement of the views represented henceforth, but present them as thought provoking and certainly worth consideration.

  1. The deep was a large ball of ordinary water at ordinary temperatures and density
  2. Water molecules are held together by electromagnetic and nuclear forces, therefore these forces must have been in place at the beginning of the universe
  3. The existence of these two forces, nuclear and electromagnetic implies the presence of relativity
  4. Gravity would define the space between the waters and the vacuum above the waters. Since this interface is described in the Bible, we can assume gravity was also present from the beginning
  5. Gravity would also shape the water into a sphere.
  6. The sphere of water was slowly rotating in respect to the space it occupied
  7. There was no visible light at the surface of the sphere
  8. To contain all of the visible universe, the sphere had to have an initial radius of at least one light year (two light years in diameter)
  9. The universe started as a black hole; the event horizon was very distant, 450 million light years away.
  10. Gravity would continually pull matter inward. (The only matter present was the large sphere of water)
  11. Thermonuclear synthesis would result from the extreme heat and pressure from the gravitational effect on the water
  12. The intensity of these reactions would release enormous amounts of energy in the form of light
  13. The light would be pulled back into the condensing sphere from the gravitational forces, there would be uniform light on the surface of the sphere
  14. As the compression continued, gravity would be so strong that light could not reach the surface, and the sphere would be dark again, God being the only source of light
  15. If God made Himself localized, the sphere would have a bright and dark side.
  16. As the sphere became smaller, its speed of rotation would increase
  17. Dr. Humphreys estimates the time for the first rotation was 24 hours, or one ordinary day. Time on the surface of the sphere passes much more rapidly since gravity is the weakest there.
  18. God changed the black hole into a white hole. God rapidly increased the cosmological constant, Λ, which began a rapid inflationary expansion of space
  19. The waters above the expanse, the expanse, and the waters below the expanse were thus defined.
  20. Material within the expanse pulled into large clusters as it expanded. The waters above and below the expanse stayed coherently together.
  21. As the expansion proceeded, the matter cooled as rapidly as it expanded
  22. The expanse contained clusters of hydrogen and helium
  23. As the radius of the curvature was expanding, but still about 1000 times smaller than today, the expanse cooled to about 3000 K°
  24. Atoms began to form, the clusters became more defined and the space between the clusters became transparent
  25. Thermal radiation of the expanse would continue to decrease in temperature as the expansion continued. This is the uniform cosmic background radiation of 2.74 K°
  26. The matter above and below the expanse has optically thick walls.
  27. Day 2 of creation week ends, but the work of Day 2 is not yet complete
  28. On Day 3 the dry land appears and is separated from the seas. Perhaps God used rapid radioactive decay to heat and expand the supercontinent so that it was more buoyant than the earth’s mantle.
  29. The event horizon of the white hole continues to shrink and the waters above the heavens reach and pass beyond it. The event horizon continues to rapidly shrink towards the center, earth
  30. The clusters of hydrogen and helium left behind by the expansion would be pulled together by gravity
  31. The events in the expanse are operating under Schwarzchild time; time is passing much more rapidly in the perimeter than near the gravitational center.
  32. The event horizon reached earth early on Day 4
  33. Also on Day 4, nuclear fusion within and continued gravitational collapse of, the stars caused the emission of light that would be visible on earth.
  34. The stars thus had billions of years to form and starlight had billions of years to travel to earth as measured in Schwarzchild time.
  35. During the time the starlight was traveling to earth, the universe expanded by a factor of 5. This caused the stretching of the light’s wavelength, causing the observed redshift, in the light from the stars.
  36. God stopped or slowed down the expansion on the Sixth Day of creation. This makes the cosmological constant, the curvature of space zero or a small positively increasing number.

Developmental Factors Regarding Legal Consideration of Minors

Children under the age of seven are not held responsible for crimes in America because they are said to be unable to form criminal intent. As evident in the story of a six year old from Michigan, the legal view of children and criminality can have a significant impact on people’s lives and the outcome of major criminal court cases. The scientific support for such must therefore be observable and convincing enough to uphold this legal stance. Moral development, emotional development, social learning and brain development are all relevant factors in situations leading to crime. To understand the legality of child crimes one must thereby consider the prevailing psychological concepts relating to such developmental components.

Many crimes are defined as such on a moral basis, so it is reasonable and arguably necessary to examine moral development. Empathy leading to prosocial behavior and antipathy leading to antisocial behavior, the level of a child’s empathy or antipathy can be said to relate directly to the likelihood and capacity of that child to commit a crime. Both empathy and antipathy can be observed in children under the age of four, and by age 4 or 5, as a result of brain maturation, theory of mind, emotional regulation, and interactions with caregivers-most children can be deliberately prosocial or antisocial. Where, then, is the distinction between these children’s deliberate antisocial behavior and those of corresponding adults? One possible contribution to the answer is the role of nurture in a child’s development. A child’s morality and capacity for empathy is largely influenced by nurture. For example, children learn from their parents what it means to “be bad” and what the consequences are for it. If a child was never taught that breaking the law is “bad” and had no concept of the potential consequences, he would have no resulting motivation to keep the law. Though such a scenario is unlikely, it demonstrates the impact of nurture on morality.

Emotional development also plays a significant role in this context. Emotions often dictate or influence behaviors, so emotional regulation must be considered necessary to rational decisions. In The Developing Person Through The Lifespan Berger describes this as an “accomplishment between ages 2 and 6” in which children “learn how to be angry but not explosive…” A child’s inability to control the outcome of his anger is undoubtedly a major force of reasoning against holding them accountable to violence. Guilt, motivation, and self-esteem are all emotionally related and, undeveloped, can not be held to the same expectations as they would be in an adult.

Social learning and brain development are impossible to ignore and fuel much of the previously mentioned development. Crimes are inherently social in nature, thus making children’s grasp of social concepts pivotal in determining their responsibility in criminal situations. Learning processes such as scaffolding are seen to be completed in the years leading to age six, reinforcing that cut-off for criminal intent. Likewise, brain development is the process from which most others stem, being the core element of the developmental process. When the brain itself has limited capacity for the discussed elements of development, abstract qualities such as morality empathy are not only environmentally, but physically inhibited by age.

Evidently, there is in fact strong scientific support for the decriminalization of children under the age of seven. Given their moral, emotional, social and physical limitations, children are not held to the same standards or expectations as fully developed individuals. This does not change the argument that children have the capacity for evil intent and do possess a conscience, but provides protection from the shortcomings of being underdeveloped in those areas.

Is Hacking/ Cracking Ethical?

Spoiler: there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that there are perfectly ethical uses for hacking.  Though there is debate over the meaning of the term, a positive application is possible regardless of any one definition.  Both good and bad reasons and uses for hacking exist.  In other words, hacking can be unethical, but it does not have to be.

Some prefer to differentiate the terms Hacking and Cracking, with only “cracking” indicating a negative connotation.  For the purposes of this discussion, however, I will only be using the term “hack” and its derivatives, as it is the popular, all encompassing term in use today.  The common social concept and stereotype of a hacker has become that of a malicious computer criminal, often a teenager, sitting alone in a dark bedroom.  Most people would probably define “hacker” as someone who breaks into computers.  The origin of the word, however, predates computers by several years.  Though academic hackers at MIT popularized the term, it can actually be traced to HAM radio operators.  The word was used to describe those who resourcefully fiddled around to learn about or improve the radios—“hacking around” with them.  “Hack” as a noun, to this day generally represents the result or sum of any particular hacking activity.  Most tech enthusiasts and programmers still would define the term hacker as one who is a master hobbyist, or at least an accomplished master of a skill.  In fact, “hacker” used to be, and in many communities still is, the highest compliment attainable, particularly among programmers. 

I consider the original computer hackers, as it relates to its original definition, and those who follow in their footsteps to be the “true” hackers.  There are a few generalizations that can be made about this community of hackers, as they have developed somewhat of an inevitable culture due to their similarities in personality.  Firstly, it takes a very intelligent mind to absorb all the information required to be such a proficient programmer.  They often go as far as to consider themselves a class above everyone else.  Most hackers are avid readers, especially of science fiction.  They dress casually, with more hippie influence than stereotypical nerd.  Perhaps the most common attribute is a distinct distaste for anything proprietary, especially anything to do with Microsoft.  The open source movement arose out of this distaste, and is considered a large part of what defines a hacker. In fact, they do not like to be forced into anything, including “impractical” social standards.  Exclusive use of a Linux kernel is usually a given.  Political views vary, but in general hackers avoid politics, or at least conventional classification of political views.  If anything, they tend to be more liberal than conservative, and have unique, unusual ideas on the subject.  They certainly have a powerful aversion to government censoring of the internet, or otherwise authoritarian standards or policies.  They obtain their gratification by solving problems, mounting new challenges, and expanding their knowledge.  Hackers are constantly trying to become better at what they do, as opposed to being just content with the minimum required.  Creatively solving new problems and improving existing solutions is a major part of hackers’ drive and sense of purpose.  This is done with the progress of the greater good in mind.  

Of course, in popular culture, “hacker” refers to any computer whiz who can crack security systems, steal passwords, etc.  Though hackers indeed possess such ability, it is not within their interests or goals.  If they do by chance happen to do anything “unethical” or illegal, it is not for the sake of being malicious, but is the result of some higher purpose or principle.

Since its inception, however, out of the box thinking has always been a common strand in defining a hacker, regardless of whether it was used in a negative or positive context.  In short, hacking is about the combination of mindset and skill set.

Individuals who possess the skills or even the attitude of a hacker can certainly use them for evil.  Apart from activities which are simply illegal, many applications are clearly wrong.  For example, there are some people who do use their skills to access trade secrets, emails, passwords, etc, for various malicious purposes.  Cyber attacks between two hostile countries are also incredibly common.  Because so much of our lives is controlled at least in part by computers, and hackers are partially defined by their ability to control computers, their control, and at least their potential influence, is very far-reaching.  As a result, proficient hackers possess the power to wreak damage costing billions of dollars, or even lives.  Of course, many, if not most hacks are at a much smaller scale, and essentially harmless, even if not ethical, but the potential is still there.

On the other hand, hacking has plenty of potential for good.  In fact, most (if not all) true hackers actually despise those who use computer proficiency for malice.  This is especially true if those people try to call themselves hackers.  Actually, hackers do not consider other people to be hackers until they have been deemed as such by an outstanding member of the hacker community.  Self-proclaimed hackers rarely, if ever, actually are.  The hacker community laments the wide misuse of the word in the media, and the flawed stereotype that has become so popular.

One of the most common utilizations of professional hackers can be found in the implementation of system security.  Private organizations and government establishments alike need to defend against malevolent cyber criminals.  Who better to develop and test the defense system than those equipped with the same skills and thought process as the “enemy” on the offensive side?  It is common practice for large corporations to employ hackers to test their security, find the holes, and assist in patching them.  In this way, hackers can help others stay safe from their own game.  On a slightly different note, the creativity and ingenuity of the hacker mindset can provide another benefit to society.  The best programmers are those who can provide ingenious solutions to problems, as well as come up with innovative new ideas.  Hackers are not afraid to search beyond the established boundaries and expectations in order to discover unprecedented opportunities.  Steve Wozniak himself was an early hacker.  He, along with Steve Jobs (also a hacker), helped build Apple, which is often considered to be one of the most innovative companies in the world.

In this light, hacking can more or less be considered an art form.  Some hackers actually consider art to be an indispensible element of their definition.  After all, the foundation of any type of art is creativity, the execution of which is made possible and perfected by skill.  Hacking is the employment of mastery and creativity when it comes to computers (though originally it did apply to any hobby).  In addition, like other types of artists often do, true hackers possess a unique outlook on life and have strong, if only semi-conscious, convictions regarding political and social issues.

Professional “hackers” have daily proved useful in as large-scale matters as national defense.  For example, the pentagon is constantly defended against hackers and various forms of cyber attacks by the “good” hackers in order to keep information secure.  Of course, ethical hacking does not always have to be on the defensive side.  For example, it would be perfectly ethical for a hacker to use his skill in order to tap into the infrastructure of a terrorist cell in order to learn about and predict their movements.  Granted, this type of activity may seem like the events one might witness on a television crime drama, but that and similar situations actually occur in real life. 

So much of our society leans quite heavily on various forms of technological dependence, in nearly every aspect of our daily life.  As such, is it not logical that those certain individuals who have such a deep understanding and creative approach to computers be considered crucial to modern civilization?  In any given emergency situation involving computers, the hackers would most likely be the first ones to find a solution.  In fact, that trait is debatably within their very definition.

Regardless of the term “hacker,” extreme technological proficiency is clearly useful and ethical.  Any sort of criminal act, however, or anything with malicious intent is, of course, not only unethical but plainly wrong.  Cybercriminals who engage in such activities are often tagged with the term “hacker,” and get a lot of bad publicity.  The “real” hackers make up a community with a distinct culture of their own, and provide innovation and expertise to the technology world.  It is important to distinguish the two, and realize the importance the former has in society.  Perhaps we should all give them a little more respect; after all, they helped make the internet what it is today.

Some references and resources:

(2010, February 19). Reeling in the hackers. Irish Times, Retrieved from Newspaper Source database.

Löwgren, Jonas (February 23, 2000). http://webzone.k3.mah.se/k3jolo/HackerCultures/origins.htm. Retrieved March 2010.

Raymond, Eric (25 August 2000). “The Early Hackers”. A Brief History of Hackerdom. Thyrsus Enterprises. Retrieved 6 December 2008.

Eric Steven Raymond (2001). “What Is a Hacker?”. How To Become A Hacker. Thyrsus Enterprises. Retrieved 2008-10-18

Eric S.Raymond: A Brief History of Hackerdom (2000)

hacker. From the Jargon File. Retrieved March 2010

See the 1981 version of the Jargon File, entry “hacker”

Sterling, Bruce. “cyberview_91.report”. “"hackers” had built the entire personal computer industry. Jobs was a hacker, Wozniak too, even Bill Gates, the youngest billionaire in the history of America – all “hackers.”“

Graham, Paul (2004). "Great Hackers”.

Computer hacking: Where did it begin and how did it grow?.

“Timeline: The U.S. Government and Cybersecurity”. Washington Post. 2002. Retrieved March 2010

Raymond, Eric Steven (19 September 2003). “Reasons to Believe”. The Art of Unix Programming. Addison-Wesley. Retrieved 2008-11-16.

cracker. From the Jargon File Retrieved March 2010

Thompson, Ken (August 1984). “Reflections on Trusting Trust”

Richard Stallman (2002). “The Hacker Community and Ethics: An Interview with Richard M. Stallman”. GNU Project. Retrieved March 2010

Developmental Theories from a Christian Perspective

There are many legendary scientists and theories that provide insights invaluable to modern research, and which broke both hardened and uncharted grounds in their day. However, Christians have a crucial element to add to any perspective, and it can have a significant impact on how we use our predecessors’ findings and conclusions. I see the five grand theories as valid (if not true) explanations for different facets of the infinitely complex diamond that is human development. In fact, the major tenets of all five seem fairly compatible with each other when the weight of influence is distributed, if not evenly, across every aspect of the perspectives.

Christian worldview is especially pertinent to psychological disciplines. In a field that focuses entirely on humanity, we can not ignore that humans are an image of God, subject to his sovereignty, and living in his grace. Being engineered by God, we can understand more about ourselves if we understand more about Him. Not to mention that God is the source and provider of all knowledge, we acknowledge that He is responsible for our genetics, our soul, and much of the world around us. Though humans and the devil have been allowed to achieve many of their own desires upon the earth, God’s influence has not been absent. The implications of all this is personally the most significant contribution Christianity has on psychology.

Freud’s psychoanalytic theory observes human nature’s tendency to produce conflicting desires and the constant struggle against innate impulses. Scripture describes this as the flesh, or worldly nature. Of course, not everyone has been reborn with a new, godly nature to put up a worthwhile fight. However, everyone has a knowledge of good and evil, with a God-given conscience that will conflict with sinful desires. Freud’s observations had the added factor of modern culture’s confused and twisted state which further complicates human duality. His own experiences and witness of others’ led to conclusions that are in most ways accurate, though not universally applicable.

Erikson’s psychosocial analysis and focus on major crises is similarly derived from the fallen state of man. He observed the truth that everyone goes through crises, and realized how great an impact they have on a person. Indeed, such events undeniably serve to shape a person, though they do not entirely define a person. Alongside physical crises we have decisions, accomplishments, relationships, and spiritual journeys that define us.

Behaviorism and cognitive theory are the ones I have seen get the most attention in recent years. They are extremely applicable in practical situations. Understanding the use of stimuli and reinforcement enables more effective behavioral conditioning, both for humans and animals. Seeing-eye dogs, police dogs, and other such trained animals are a product of such understanding. Behaviorism also observes the effect one’s physical environment has on a person’s development, which aids in the optimization of such environments when possible.

Cognitive theory, the way I see it, explains why behaviorism works, especially within the context of human input. Stimulus/response conditioning is effective because of the way brains remember and analyze experiences. In this, the correlation between nature and nurture are evident and, in my opinion, the two are inseparable.

Knowing that God defines truth and logic leads me to believe that our brains have the capability, through cognitive development, to analyze our world with logic and form concepts that ultimately lead us to understand God more thoroughly, allowing a more intimate relationship with him. Furthermore, wielding the tools of behavioral adjustment gives us a responsibility for the actions of those whom we train. Children, namely, are very much a product of behavioral conditioning, and those who raise them are accountable to God (and in some cases society) for the results of their choices.

Sociocultural theory also relates directly to the previous two. Apprenticeship-type learning is largely cognitive in nature, and part of such training includes behaviorism techniques, even if subconsciously employed. This theory is an overall view of how behaviorism and cognitive development play out in natural situations, as well as the impact it has on culture in general, with the omission of non-human environmental factors.

The remaining grand theory, universal perspective, has been reflected in many movies and other such entertainment. The overall struggle of mankind to survive as a species has been depicted in battles against natural disasters, alien invasion, evolution (planet of the apes!), and even self-destructive acts of mass destruction. Self preservation is undeniably a powerful innate motivation. However, universal preservation is more conceptual, less observable, and relies somewhat on the theory of evolution. Whether self preservation would win out over species preservation is a topic I have seen discussed in varied contexts.

On the other hand, selflessness and elements of humanism are crucial elements of Christ’s teaching. Consequently, whether or not species preservation is a human impulse, it should be a conscious consideration. Understanding how humans are driven by needs, interests, and patterns can help to be more effective in humanist ventures.

Though long-winded, I know, I hope to have communicated the general position I hold. In short, I believe the grand theories are compatible, and through the lens of Christianity can provide remarkable insight, direction, and understanding. God is, after all, inseparable from psychology. Christians must therefore be careful to never attempt separation of God from psychological endeavors, or from science in general. Let none of us ever be guilty of such irresponsibility!

Pride & Beowulf

While Beowulf is far from my favorite piece of literature (shoot me), the classic hero is a prime example for a discussion of pride which I have been mulling over after a discussion with a friend of mine. There are polar conceptions of pride, and talking about it recalled to memory a discussion in school about Beowulf.

Having historical implications ranging from the cosmic to the domestic, pride is one of the oldest and most consequential manifestations of personality. It is has naturally been a subject of thought and analysis for people all throughout the ages of history. Medieval storytellers were apparently no exception, as Beowulf reflects distinct notions regarding pride. One notable observation is the portrayal of both “proper” and “improper” pride in the poem. The descriptions of Beowulf’s characters and their actions seem to reveal a somewhat dualistic attitude towards pride that acknowledges both positive and negative expressions of it.

Pride is often interpreted as haughty, selfish, and boastful. It usually has dark and negative connotations, especially in the context of Christian doctrine. It implies a grossly elevated sense of self, and perhaps a lust to inflate one’s ego. False pride is the sin that led to Satan’s corruption and banishment. Satan thought that he could rival God, and was proud of that. Of course, he quickly found out how sorely wrong he was. Nonetheless, he still strives against the Lord and his armies leading his own army of rebel angels. His pride was thus false and misplaced, and will have led to his ultimate eternal demise. Not only that, but Satan’s pride impacted all of humanity in tempting man to sin. Because of this, pride is often thought of as the truly original sin, or as being the deadliest of all sins. A Christian mindset would thereby of tradition have a strong aversion to the notion of sinful pride.

The pursuit of fame and glory is another, related theme in Beowulf. The poem closes with an optimistic statement that Beowulf was, among other things, “keenest to win fame”. This is stated among other positive, honorable attributes as a testament to his goodness as a ruler. However, with fame and glory inevitably comes the opportunity for pride. After all, pride is certainly fueled by one’s accomplishments and his sense of self-worth. What more effective accelerant is there to the flames of pride than that of fame?

In contrast to selfish fame, the poem often associates honorable fame with generosity. A “ring-giver” is known to be a good king. A greedy king on the other hand is assuredly a bad one. Unfortunately, pride and greed often nest and breed alongside one another. Knowing this, Hrothgar cautions Beowulf, “Do not give way to pride”. He is wisely warning against the potential for pride to consume one’s ego with selfishness and self-adoration. Such a state would cause Beowulf to lose his focus on his people, their needs, and the sort of altruistic attitude that a king should posses. One’s quest for fame can end up driving them to obtain greatness at all costs. Instead of being a generous sort of fame focused on the community, it becomes a selfish lust for glory consumed with greed and pride. The example of a past king, Heremod, is given as someone who “brought little joy…only death and destruction” and “grew bloodthirsty, gave no more rings”. A few lines later, however, Hrothgar refers to pride in a different light, saying “Take your place, with pride and pleasure, and move to the feast”

Indeed, Beowulf himself appears to carry a significant amount of pride. However, it is a different kind of pride. It is more of a strong positive self-esteem that drives his quest for noble fame. Beowulf is presented in the story as an ideal hero, so his pride seems to be of an acceptable and even respectable nature. His pride is a confidence in his ability and assurance in his past victories. Beowulf seems to enjoy telling the Danes about his great feats. He certainly does not shy away from recounting his accomplishments, nor from defending his honor and credibility when challenged by Unferth. Beowulf told of his bravely killing nine sea monsters in a swimming competition against Breca that lasted for five days, in retort to Unferth’s jealous mockery that Beowulf did not win the race. Beowulf points out that because of his bravery those waters are now safe from sea monsters, and that neither Breca nor Unferth ever accomplished such deeds. Unferth then is accused of false pride in that he should have been more able to take on the danger of Grendel. At that point Beowulf has completely turned Unferth’s accusations around on him, completely discrediting the attacks that were made on him.

Beowulf also mentioned his “great triumphs” upon greeting Hrothgar for the first time, and spoke of his own “awesome strength” and his extreme, impressive battles with “many a glorious deed”. This pride is apparently a good thing, though it may appear haughty upon first glance. He does speak very highly of himself as he recounts the most gruesome and severe of his adventures. He uses very flattering language to describe his feats of power. Instead of being selfish and gloating, though, it reflects his keenness for honor, fame, and glory. Furthermore, Beowulf is helping to reassure his audience and qualify himself for the task by telling of his past deeds. Another indicator of Beowulf’s motives is found in that he “placed complete trust…in the Lord’s favor”. Such a mindset is surely indicative of selflessness, as he did not know with certainty that he would prevail in battle. Had Beowulf known beyond a shadow of a doubt that he would win the fight against Grendel, such a statement would not have carried as much weight. On the contrary, he does not know. This potentially could lead to Beowulf’s death. His acceptance of such a possibility as being under the control of God shows that he is willing to sacrifice himself for the good of a people under a king that is not even his own.

Beowulf, the ultimate medieval hero and king, provides the ultimate picture of noble and proper pride. Perhaps his confidence is so great and startling because only he could be worthy to truly fulfill such pride. Through Beowulf’s conversations with Hrothgar, and also with Unferth, the sinful side of pride is also presented, and in great detail. The author of Beowulf has communicated that while improper pride may always be more dominant, and certainly easier to obtain, there is a place and function for proper pride. What must be striven for is the right motivation and the absence of empty, false pride. Beowulf will remain a classic, heroic picture of the ideal balance.

Though we will never have such reasons for pride as Beowulf did, we need not feel guilty for the sense of pride that comes with fulfillment and success. It is a healthy and pleasant part of being human. Allowing it to become haughtiness, contempt, self-righteousness, or self-glorification is what we must caution against. This is a challenge for some people more than others, but most importantly for everyone is to simply be aware of it.

Interpreting Colossians 3:1-4

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (ESV)

Paul is addressing people in Colossae, which was a city in Asia Minor/ Turkey. In this particular selection he is describing what should be the mindset of one who has been “raised with Christ.” Before that, however, in the end of chapter two, Paul was discussing things not to do, and the process of dying to the world. The first paragraph of Chapter three is thereby somewhat of a contrast, or shift in mood. It urges the reader to have a heavenly mindset, and to find life by centering it on Christ. The following paragraph returns to the subject of death to earthly things and warnings against immorality.

Colossae was inhabited predominantly by Gentiles, though there was a Jewish population of notable size. The church there was made up mostly of Gentiles. Though Paul did not visit Colossae, the church was started as a result of his ministry. The city was at that time not as large as it had been, but was still part of the trade route. A major issue during that time was that of syncretism, the attempt to blend opposing religions and philosophies.

Paul deals with the principle of the old life versus the new life. Christians should die to sin, and to their evil nature. In contrast, they are brought to life just as Christ was resurrected when they define life by Christ. God is pure and holy, so as his children and heirs, his “chosen ones, holy and beloved,” Christians must get rid of those things which are contrary to his nature.

For example, someone who idolizes material possessions or entertainment may need to re-allocate time and resources. Some people prioritize their favorite television show over their relationship with Christ. They may spend hours upon hours each week watching TV, while only a few minutes praying, reading, meditating, and studying. Others have a lustful habit of sexual indulgence. Whether physical or mental, it is easily accessible in today’s culture. This too is an example of an earthly thing that should be replaced with heavenly thoughts and actions.

The Gospel

The Christian gospel is perceived in as many different ways as there are different people who hear it. There are, however, certain general categories, and I will share a few that I have noticed.

Some people receive the gospel the first time they hear it, and live transformed lives ever after. Others accept it, and may say a prayer or make a decision to follow Christ, but don’t really change much; their faith is not evident in their works. Some are indifferent to the gospel, and are OK with those who accept it, but are uncomfortable with fully embracing it themselves. Still others reject the gospel all together, perhaps holding to some other religion, and some go as far as to actively attack it and anyone who holds to it.

From what I can tell, and certainly within the social groups I am in contact with, the vast majority fall into the middle two categories. I am witness to a sickeningly huge number of people who proclaim a faith in Christ but lead mediocre, complacent lives. (I do not say this without recognizing my own tendency to this fault, which is perhaps why I feel such a burden for those who are in that category without realizing it.) I also see many who do not profess Christianity, while not completely rejecting it. Unintentional agnosticism often results from simply “not thinking about it”.

Everyone has their own reasons or excuses for rejecting Christianity. I have a friend who hung out with some of my church friends and I, and attended youth group regularly, but found his intellect getting in the way of developing a faith of his own. One of his issues was his perception that if God forgives sin, it doesn’t matter how one lives, because “at the end of the day, you’ll be forgiven.” (After many discussions he has recently come around, and it’s awesome to see his faith changing him as a person.)

Some people reject Christianity because of what they know about Christians. The people I have the shortest temper and patience with are those who misrepresent Christianity. Christians have acquired a distasteful stereotype (media being a definite catalyst) that has varied over the generations. Of course, stereotypes arise out of truth, and a lot results from the ultra-legalism that peaked some years ago. Proclaiming Christians who act self-righteous or who have a completely un-rationalized or non-biblical faith are a certain hindrance to the gospel.

Christians need to strive for a Christ-like stereotype by being loving, accepting (of people, but not of sin) and zealous. Such a reputation need not be appealing to non-believers, but it ought to at least be an accurate one! In fact, one of the greatest downfalls of modern evangelism techniques is the attempt to create a gospel that is attractive to the world. We should of course avoid being offensive or unsocial whenever possible, but never at the expense of watering down or bedazzling the gospel. Unfortunately, politically correct is often biblically incorrect.

Angelology, Satanology, & Dualism

The conflict between good and evil in the world is pervasive and undeniable. Its effects have been observed and contemplated by people all throughout history. Because there are many other fundamental opposites in the universe, a dualistic philosophy may be a very logical arrival. While much of our existence does in theory seem dualistic, good and evil are not quite that simple. This arises mainly from the fact that “good” and “evil” are not merely cosmic forces.

Ethico-religious dualism is the idea of the universe containing two entities of force or being that are essentially equal in power and opposite in nature. In other words, it represents the philosophy of an all-encompassing good versus evil. One example is a variation on traditional Christianity that presents God and Satan as forces, or even persons, that have always existed in contradiction to each other. They would be moral opposites and, in a sense, metaphysical equals. In contrast, traditional Christianity views God as existing before and above Satan. This is the biblical position.

God, while obviously limited by His nature, (logically by the law of non-contradiction) is otherwise omnipotent. (Matthew 19:26, Genesis 17:1, Job 42:2, Jeremiah 32:17, Luke 1:37, Revelation 19:6) God defines holiness and truth. His very person defines what we know to be “good.” He organizes the movement and action of goodness. On the other hand, “evil” can be defined as anything which is contrary to goodness, and thus anything which is contrary to the nature of God. Satan organizes the movement and action of evil.

The ruler (or prince or king) of Tyre in Ezekiel 28 seems to refer to the person we call Satan. The passage indicates that prior to rebelling out of pride he was a cherub who was created by God in Eden and was beautifully adorned (28:13). This means that he has not existed as long as God, and is subservient to God. Also notable is that God’s existence is not dependent upon Satan’s, as some dualistic views may suggest.

Isaiah 14:12 speaks of a morning star, or day star, which has been translated into the Latin Lucifer meaning “light bearer” which may have referred to what we now know as Venus. The verse exclaims “How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star…!” and some believe it refers to Satan. While Satan probably had a role in the corruption, the context seems to point towards a Babylonian King. On the other hand, the amount of information regarding the name Lucifer is, personally, inadequate to make a definite conclusion. My belief may conflict somewhat with mainstream theologians on this issue. However, I also believe that whether or not Satan was called Lucifer is a menial disagreement with little or no consequence. What is said about Lucifer in Isaiah 14 certainly coincides with what we know about Satan, and the theme of the passage remains relevant and unchanged either way.

Some may posit that because God created Satan, God created evil. However, Ezekiel 28 is clear that God created a glorious cherub who was a “signet of perfection…blameless…” until he sinned (28:12-16). This indicates a voluntary act on the part of Satan to go against the righteousness of God.

Satan is not equal in power to God, and is still subject to God’s authority. The narrative of Job illustrates this truth in a very straightforward way. Satan required God’s permission to oppress Job as he did. Furthermore, we see that Satan is neither omniscient (he was wrong about Job) nor is he omnipresent. (Job 1:6-12)

The reality of Satan and the power that he does have may seem to warrant an excuse for sin. One may wish to blame Satan for every time temptation leads to sin. This is unacceptable. Though Satan can tempt even Christ (Matthew 4, Luke 4) it is ultimately the decision of human will to sin or not. Furthermore, 1 Corinthians 10:13 assures us that “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” Also, the bible teaches that everyone’s sin is comprehensive and condemning (Romans 3:23, James 2:10).

While dualism may be attractive, look perfectly logical, and even seem to fit in with Christianity, it falls short. Scripture offers the teaching of a goodness which precedes and overpowers that which opposes Him. We may be assured and comforted in this fact, knowing that justice will prevail and evil will be eradicated for eternity.

Spiritual Gifts & Speaking in Tongues

Though Christ ascended from the earth, he sent to his disciples for all time the Holy Spirit to equip them in continuing His work. He baptizes us and dwells within us, guiding us in our life on Earth. Through the Holy Spirit, the church has been prepared and provided for so that it may function as Christ’s body. One fascinating and powerful aspect of our provision is that of our spiritual gifts.

Spiritual gifts are given to all believers as the means to carry out their “calling,” especially relating to Christian service and the development of the church. Every Christian is given at least one (1 Peter 4:10, 1 Corinthians 12:11). They are like skills or tools; they equip members of the church’s body to perform their functions. Paul wrote that we have differing gifts “according to the grace given to us.” (Romans 12:6) which is referred to again in Ephesians 4:7.

While everyone in the body of Christ has been given a gift, gifts are not the proof or measure of a Christian’s maturity. Sometimes spiritual gifts are confused with fruit of the spirit. Fruit of the Spirit is outlined in Galatians 5:22-23. It is the result of a Christian lifestyle, and should be present in every Christian’s life as a testament to their faith. It shows one’s spiritual maturity and character. On the other hand, not every spiritual gift is given to every believer.

The Bible lists speaking in tongues among spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 and as a sign of faith and spiritual baptism in Mark 16:17. In 1 Corinthians 14:27 Paul wrote that in a particular gathering no more than three people should speak in tongues, and that there should be an interpreter. The disciples spoke in “other tongues” in Acts 2:4, which were languages of other people present at the meeting. Acts 19:6 tells that Paul laid hands on some disciples who said had not heard of the Holy Spirit, and they began speaking in tongues. Biblically, tongues were used to preach to those of a foreign language, and as a sign of the Holy Spirit upon an individual. Beyond that, there is no other biblical description of its use.

Baptism in the Holy Spirit refers to the moment of a believer entering the body of Christ. Paul wrote that we are all baptized into one body in one spirit (1 Cor 12:13). Water baptism symbolizes one’s immersion in the Holy Spirit as they join the spiritual network of Christians. John the Baptist spoke of water baptism as a symbolic, precursory alternative to the spiritual baptism that Jesus Christ would bring (Matthew 3:11, Luke 3:16). When John later baptized Jesus with water, the spirit of God descended upon Jesus like a dove, commending and resting upon him (Matthew 3:13-17). In Matthew 3:12 and Luke 3: 17 John describes the baptism as an extreme, inwardly purifying process. Though it does not get rid of the flesh, or sinful nature, it does signify repentance and should thus be followed by a change in lifestyle and motivation.

Some say that baptism in the Holy Spirit must necessarily be followed by the gift of speaking in tongues. However, that is clearly not the case, as Paul stated plainly that not everyone has the same gifts (1 Cor 12:8-10, 29-30). The gift of tongues may follow baptism, and serve as a sign or affirmation of baptism’s occurrence. However, it is not a requirement for affirming baptism.

1 Corinthians 13:8 says that “as for tongues, they will cease” upon the arrival of “the perfect.” Some believe that the perfect has yet to come, and others that it already has. The interpretation of that verse is obviously crucial in determining whether or not the gift of tongues has a place in present day Christianity. If “perfect” is to be understood as the completed canon of scripture, as some believe, the revelatory gifts would have ceased. However, as God himself is the only perfect being, the correct interpretation seems to be that the coming of the perfect refers to the second coming of Christ. However, one must be aware of Paul’s limit of three people in one meeting that are speaking in tongues, and the requirement of an interpreter to validate the speech (1 Cor 14:27).

The blessing of the Holy Spirit, His baptism, and the spiritual gifts are phenomenal and of enormous potential. The spirit of Jesus Christ is among us, empowering us so He can live through us. Let us continually cherish and develop our gifts, and follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Hereby may Christians truly be of one spirit as the living body of Christ around the globe.

Christology

The person of Jesus Christ is a unique and highly controversial topic. The bible teaches that he possesses full deity, yet walked the earth as completely human as any other man. This union of God and Man is called the hypostatic union. Because that attribute of Christ is essential to Christianity, heretical fallacies must be avoided.

Christ’s humanity is quite evident in scripture. John makes it clear with statements such as “The word became flesh…” (John 1:14) while his human development, emotion, and temptation are recorded throughout the gospels. Hebrews 4:15 states that Christ was in every way “tempted as we are, yet without sin.” The writer was affirming Jesus, the high priest, as someone who is able to sympathize with our human struggles, because he fully experienced manhood.

Also evident, though more often disputed, is the deity of Christ. He behaved with divine authority, and made statements affirming his belief in his own divine nature. He spoke with the authority to forgive sin, which is a power attributed only to God. (Mark 2:1-12) He described himself as being one with the Father (John 10:30, John 17:21) and referred to himself by messianic titles. Jesus is referred to as “the Word” and John 1:1 states clearly the eternality and divinity of the Word.

The dual nature of God, or hypostatic union, may be understood as one person with two complete and separate natures. The concept may not be entirely comprehensible with our limited understanding of human and divine essence, but we can know that the union was, in fact, achieved. The notion should not be entirely alien, as every man is simultaneously human and spiritual—though not a perfect example, we indeed have two distinct natures coexisting (at times in conflict) in one being.

That Jesus was man means that he had every attribute that can be said of every other human, with the exception of fault, or sin. He was blameless. (1 Peter 1:19) However, he is part of God and retains, alongside his humanity, divine authority, wisdom, and power.

Atoning redemption from the penalty of sin required the blood of a sacrifice without blemish. Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death was the sacrifice of a blameless human life. Only he could achieve such a life, as everyone else is guilty before God’s law (Romans 3:23) God paid our penalty for our sin against Him by providing his incarnate self to receive the sins of the world. The sins are of the flesh, and thus required flesh to receive them.

It is important to avoid an unbalanced view of Christ’s dual nature. Denying either his deity or his humanity would result in an unscriptural understanding of Jesus, who would not have credibility, authority, or saving power.

Since the earliest days of the church, there have been wrongful, heretical views regarding Christ. Ebionitism, for example, posited Christ as a normal man who received the spirit of God when he was baptized. Arianism declared Christ as the first born of Creation, created from nothing before time began, and denied distinction within the Godhead. Apollinarianism departed from Christ’s total humanity in an attempt to defend the unity of God and man. Such views are contrary to scriptures such as previously cited, and have been condemned as heresy.

The manhood of Jesus Christ exists as a perfect model for his followers. He was tempted, tested, and tortured to the extent or beyond that which I will ever experience. Nevertheless, he submitted to the will of the Father. He demonstrated the fruits of love and taught the meaning of truth. I strive to live according to His teachings and example of how a man should live and interact with his friends, neighbors, and enemies.

Jesus Christ came as God incarnate. He existed as completely human and completely God—one person in the triune Godhead, possessing two distinct and essential natures. Living as a human, humiliating himself to walk among a corrupt people on a fallen earth, he provided a perfect sacrifice for redemptive atonement of all mankind. This understanding of our Lord is a cornerstone for Christianity. Let us continually uphold the importance of these truths regarding Christology.

Inerrant Inspiration

I firmly believe the Bible is inerrant, inspired, and authoritative. These concepts are closely correspondent and strengthen each other. There are several basic arguments for these properties, which I will briefly outline. It is more relevant to someone with a basic acceptance of the bible, as opposed to someone who rejects it completely.

To say that the Bible is authoritative is to claim its possession of certain objective attributes. Authority grants the bearer a certain power or credibility that is objective in some respect, however obligatory or not. Authority implies that the Bible is not merely a mortal product of religion. Its authority did not come from the church, a council, convention, or even those who originally penned the words. The Bible’s authority is divine and establishes itself as a measure of truth. It proclaims its own authority repeatedly and undeniably. As the word of God, it inherits His property of absolute truth. The authority of the Bible is derived directly from God himself, through the process of inspiration.

Biblical inspiration refers to the concept of “God-breathed” textual communication. Some would say that the bible is merely some inspired concepts, put in the words of the writers. Others that only part of the Bible was inspired. However, every word of the Bible, while maintaining the style of the writers, was “breathed” out by God. The word that has been translated as “inspired” literally means “breathed.” Scripture such as 2 Timothy 3:16, which states that “All Scripture is inspired by God…” declares that God breathed the scripture into the writers for the benefit of humanity. This establishes the Bible as the literal concepts, words and messages proceeding directly from God in the form of human symbols of language.

The result of inspiration is that the Bible is inerrant. There exists neither error nor fallibility within its texts. Each word is perfect and verified by God himself. It is completely and always true, when interpreted properly in context. The work as a whole is without contradiction or conflict. It declares itself as being inspired, as in 2 Tim 3:16. This implies inerrancy. It fits within the guidelines set forth before Israel (Deut 13:1-5, 18:20-22) to determine the validity of human communicators of God’s word, as with the prophets. Furthermore, Matthew 5:17-20 and John 10:34-35 affirm the authority of the Bible, and thus its inerrancy as well. Also, the precision of Scripture is a testament to its inerrancy. The very presence or the tense of certain words greatly impact the meaning of certain passages.

In addition to the Bible’s self-affirmation, this view has survived the test of time. The church all throughout history has believed in the inerrancy of Scripture. This fact alone does not prove anything, but it strengthens the premise in that it has yet to be positively rejected. From an epistemological standpoint, it can be argued that the Bible must be inerrant, or otherwise cannot be trusted at all. If some of the Bible might be false, how can we know what of it is true? Finally, there is a slippery slope that may present itself when inerrancy is rejected. It opens the door to rejection of other fundamentals of Christianity.

Because the words of scripture were “breathed” by God, they must be perfect. Because God is perfect and defines truth, what he says and does must be perfect and true. Thus, the Bible being a product of God, it inherits His inerrant nature.

Because I believe the Bible to be authoritative, inspired, and inerrant, its teachings greatly impact my life as a human. It presents God as my creator, and defines the concept of sin against Him, as well as the penalty of such. Because I have sinned and fall short of his glory (Romans 3:23) I am in need of his salvation and grace. The process by which the God sacrificed himself in his son for the sake of the world is clearly narrated in the New Testament, and explained by the Old Testament. Because I live redeemed, justified, and sanctified by that process and my belief in it, I must behave accordingly. I accept Jesus Christ as my Lord, and cede my life on earth to His glory. The life of Christ and the life of the church that followed serve as clarification and models for my life on earth.

The words of the Bible have been breathed into existence by God, providing inerrant authority. This is the only perfect government by which we can live. We should not take this for granted, but rather place Scripture at the utmost priority. How might our lives change if we truly let the Word of God govern our every thought?

Atypical Despair

I do not read enough to recognize authors simply by their writing style, but the subject matter in A Grief Observed is certainly uncharacteristic of Lewis. His writings tend to be objective, logical paths of discussion of truth on matters such as morality, nature, and goodness. A Grief Observed is instead an outpouring of personal emotion and feeling, deeply and passionately dark and heavy in nature.

On the other hand, it is evident that he was able to view his situation from a somewhat objective standpoint, and was aware of every subjective, internal experience. Of such experiences it seems he used his writing to logically assess and analyze.

I most certainly am not disappointed that it was Lewis who wrote the book. It is actually in some ways encouraging. I say that because Lewis is such an exemplary Christian and intellectual figure, and to some an almost unapproachable role model. However, this writing shows that even he experienced the darkest, most common emotions and personal state of proverbial “lowness.” I also find it respectable that he was able to open such a raw unveiling of his heart and innermost thoughts and emotion to the world, for the sole purpose that it may be of some help to someone else. It attests to a certain selflessness and humility, and care for others, while he would have every reason to fall into conceit.

I thought it very interesting that Lewis mentioned how he realized the truth that “it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not in imagination.” He had thought extensively about issues concerning pain and suffering, having previously written The Problem of Pain. He had definite convictions and very levelheaded, logically sound conclusions that probably seemed altogether reasonable and acceptable to him as he wrote them. He says he even warned himself against expectations of worldly satisfaction and happiness.

Despite all of that, he was clearly very disturbed and shaken by the grievous event of Helen’s death. He maintained a strain of logical objectivity that was able to observe his own instability, but underneath that he was evidently rendered quite unstable by the emotional impact the event had on his well being. However, in the end, it seems that he ultimately ended up with all the more reassurance for his convictions, while possessing on a deeper level a certain empathetic grasp on the reality of grief and pain.

The insight and perspective that follows once he healed emotionally could be seen in a sense as growth or maturity in his life, both mentally and spiritually. That positive result may, as it seems to me, be able to be attributed to that particular strain of objective logic that he maintained through his grief. Being able to think of one’s situation from an observational standpoint is, I believe, very conducive to emerging with a desirable outcome.

Painful Paradox

In chapter seven of The Problem of Pain Lewis presents six paradoxes. The paradox in his first proposition is very fascinating to me. I have actually thought about the problem before, but not to conclusive ends. As usual, Lewis was able to articulate the matter in an almost transcendentally clear and understandable way.

A summary of the paradox is as follows: The bible says that those who suffer, and those who are poor, etc are blessed. This would seem to imply that suffering is good, and therefore should incline us as Christians to pursue it. However, the bible tells us to try our best to alleviate both poverty and suffering. We are warranted fleeing from persecution, and praying for deliverance from suffering. In fact, as Lewis mentioned, Christ himself prayed that he would be delivered from his suffering prior to being beaten and crucified.

However, Lewis gave an explanation for rejecting the claim that suffering is good. First, he distinguished that the simple goodness of God is different from the complex goodness that results from creatures rebelling against the simple good, producing evil, and God utilizing the situation for redemption and growth. Lewis further explains the difference between self-inflicted suffering and the unintentional suffering used by God. He explains how there can be benefits to practices such as fasting, though it comes with dangers.

It is generally in accordance with nature to avoid pain, and basic self-preservation enables us to live and stay healthy to do the activities God calls us to do. On the other hand, we have to be able to accept suffering as an inevitable part of life, as resulting from the sin of man, but as something that God by his mercy still utilizes as a means for good. In fact, Lewis specified that suffering ought to be viewed as sometimes a means for good, but not the actual end of good itself to be pursued. I think that statement in itself is an effective summary of the discussion.

I think this most important lesson that I learned from The Problem Of Pain In short, the fact that God blesses those who suffer, yet wants us to minimize it. It was personally the most significant discussions because, though I had by my own pondering arrived at the same conclusion as Lewis, I had no effective way to articulate why.

In other words, I had little logical argument against seeking and self-inflicting suffering. Lewis’s breakdown of the matter really helped clarify it for me, as his writings have such a propensity to do. He somehow is able to write about deep, rich philosophical topics on a high intellectual level, while being very easy and crisp to follow. All the while he avoids “stepping on toes” amid controversial topics without compromising conviction or truth. I am digressing from the discussion at hand though.

There is one thing I have yet to mention, but that stood out to me when I read it. In positing the idea of pain as a means, but not an end, Lewis gave some examples of justification for using pain as a means to good. Though I’m not sure about the morality of war in some cases, he gave one example I consider particularly effective. He mentioned that surgeons have authority from their patients to inflict pain as a means to accomplish a good, namely improvement or preservation of ultimate physical health. Few would debate the virtue of at least certain surgical procedures, so the example seems like a very strong one.

Good God

There is grave danger in misunderstanding the goodness of God. Unless we have a good working understanding of the goodness of God, we may unwittingly fall into a type of devil-worship. The problem, ironically, simply comes from a misinterpretation of a perfectly valid, and, in fact, very important truth realization.

We have a dilemma that follows any contemplation of the goodness of God. The dilemma arises out of a single stem, that of God’s wisdom. It basically states that because God is so much wiser than we are, his judgment must differ from ours, including judgment of goodness and evil. Therefore, goodness as we perceive it may be utterly different from goodness as God defines it, and evil as we perceive it may be utterly different from evil as God defines it. Because of this difference in moral judgment, it follows that we should not say “God is good.” If we say that goodness is totally different in our minds than in God’s, we cannot say that God is good. That is a clearly self-contradicting statement. If we don’t know anything about that attribute of God, how can we form any basis for loving and following it?

The devil-worship comes in when we accept the doctrine of hyper-total depravity. If humans are literally totally depraved, then their perception of good and evil must be corrupted, and useless. The reason that the result can be considered devil worship is because once our perception of good is thrown out, we must pursue things which are completely contrary to it. In other words, we will turn to things that we actually perceive to be evil. That is a huge danger, and the reason why it is crucial to eliminate the confusion by thoroughly understanding the true nature of God’s goodness.

The Numinous

In The Problem of Pain Lewis tells us about the numinous and about how it relates to fear. He says the fear of the numinous could be otherwise stated as dread and awe. It can be explained as the sort of dreadful awe that comes with belief in the supernatural. People are naturally equipped with a strange supernatural dread and awe of the concept of spirits and the like.

Lewis gives an example, hypothetically drawing a scenario of a man who is told that a tiger exists behind a certain door. If that man believed that there was, in fact, a real tiger behind the door, then he would of course inevitably be deathly afraid for his life if he were also told the door would be opened, because he knows that tigers are vicious creatures and he is afraid of experiencing the physical pain and probable death that would ensue if he were to be exposed to the creature.

Humans have a natural fear of being physically wounded because of the pseudo-physical emotional response that we call pain, which inevitably results. The ultimate culmination of pain is death, which is the natural epitome of human physical fear.

If, however, that aforementioned man was told that there exists a ghost behind the door, and he believed it, he would experience a different kind of mysterious fear. The fear would not be based upon premonition of future physical experience, but upon something else solely related to the spirit, or at least his belief in the spirit. Lewis explains how the idea of dread and awe of the numinous can be seen in historical and in modern culture. He also explains how it must ultimately come from either a real experience on the spiritual level, or by some twist of our physical mind that causes it.

“Heaven”

The word heaven is used very frequently in the bible. Many people just automatically assume that each case always refers to the same thing. They assume there is only one meaning of the word. However, that translation is used to represent several different original ideas.

Like a host of other English words, “heaven” has been used for several meanings. At times it is used to refer to the general space in the atmosphere surrounding earth. In other words, it’s referring to the sky: clouds, birds rain etc. all reside in the “heavens.” It can also mean the space beyond our atmosphere (aka outer space) in which resides “heavenly” bodies such as the stars, sun, moon, and planets. Thirdly, it can be used to refer to the conceptual residence of God. I think of it as a wholly different plane of existence separate from time and space, but we will only ever fully understand it when we actually experience it.

In this light, the biblical heaven could also be considered as having several “levels” of existence. The first level would be considered the immediate atmosphere. The next, “higher” level would be considered to be outer space and its inhabitants. Finally, the highest level is of course the dwelling place of God.

Also worth noting is that in some cases “heaven” can be used to refer to God himself, as something of a code word. It is important to understand these terms in their context when reading scripture. Otherwise a certain verse or passage could be misinterpreted and cause dangerous or contradictory implications.

Childhood Inquisitiveness

Human beings enter the world of life when they are born with a vast storage space in their mind that is constantly expanding. At the same time, it also constantly matures in its processing complexity. All this space starts off empty, though, and has no facts with which to interpret any aspect of their surrounding environment. It has only its rudimentary programmed instincts which allow it to stay alive. Thus, once a child has acquired the ability to communicate to the level of inquiry, the child will naturally begin to ask any questions necessary in order to fill gaps in their understanding and interpretation of their sensory input.

Children do not typically consider the epistemic or philosophical value of the responses they receive, or of the questions that they ask. They simply recognize a missing piece of their understanding, assume there is a piece that fits, and assume that asking an adult (usually a parent) will result in them providing the child with that missing piece.

In the same way, there is a continual importance of being inquisitive about spiritual questions with the confidence in God’s ability to provide an absolute factual answer to that question. See James 1. That is the best way to really gain certainty about the most important matters we will ever encounter.

Hell on Earth

Some have posited that earth, if chosen instead of heaven, will turn out to have been only a region of hell, and earth, if put second to heaven, to have been from the beginning a part of heaven itself. While it may not be true in a purely literal sense, the concept and experience certainly is. In other words, hell, heaven, and earth may be distinctly separate places, but one can at least have a “hellish” or “heavenly” experience on earth based on their attitude towards it.

A Christian who realizes that his lifetime spent on earth is only the prelude to an eternity in paradise can draw more pleasure out of it. Such knowledge gives hope in difficult situations, and perspective to pleasant ones. Such perspective offers so much more appreciation of nature. I believe this is because God has left something of an imprint of himself in His Creation. As such, we can see a reflection of whom God is when we look at the infinitely intricate and detailed, yet massive and majestic, yet coherent and united creation.

The world is beautiful and practical; it is artistic and scientific. On the other hand, life on earth affords much displeasure and pain. Someone without the Christian perspective has no hope to cope with suffering. This reflects the eternal hopeless suffering of hell. We can thus see that our lifetime on earth can either be experienced as a prelude to eternal comfort in heaven, or as a prelude to eternal, hopeless discomfort in hell.

Books About the Bible

Books about the bible by scholars are not necessarily bad thing, but it is crucial to caution one’s self when diving into them. Many people put too high a value on scholarly books about the bible, and may even spend more time reading them then they do the real thing.

Such books do, of course, have value. They can help interpret and reveal biblical passages, often offering excellent insight into the background and context of the bible. For example, the New Testament was written in a different time period to a different people in a different culture than we have now. Therefore, understanding the specific difference can shed light on many passages that may otherwise be confusing or misunderstood.

Many men have studied and learned things that we will never have the time or even capability to discover for ourselves, and we must rely on their research. Such is the case with many other aspects of life. However, the danger lies in the very thing that makes them useful. By their nature, books about the Bible tell us how to read or interpret the Bible.

If we are not careful and do not think critically about whether or not the information presented is reliable, our faith can become a dangerous place. Taking human word as truth without a “grain of salt” is foolish. Because men our born with naturalism in our bones we all naturally tend to interpret things in a distorted fashion. While salvation brings remedy—a clear lens so to speak—our inborn naturalism sometimes creeps in to fog up the lens.

Lewis’ Grand Miracle

Lewis explains that in his view the “grand miracle” is the incarnation of God in Christ. That is, the physical coming of God as the son into a man’s body through human birth. The reason he believes that this event is the pivotal, central miracle (the “Grand miracle”) is because every other miracle is a preparation for, exhibition of, or a result of that one event. In other words, every other miracle that we can see recorded actually points ahead, inwardly, or retrospectively to the incarnation.

If that is true, then in that light, it is the obvious conclusion that the incarnation can be granted such a title as “the grand miracle.” Lewis defends against Hume’s logical arguments attacking the possibility of miracles using logic. One humorous defense he used addressed Hume’s argument that if it is only said to have been observed only happening once, it is extremely improbable that it happened at all. However, we only observe the whole of history to have happened once, but we do not question its probability, or even consider it to be a thing of amazement.

He goes on to explain how certain other concepts dealing with nature, sin, the trinity, and religion which may at times be difficult, fit into this idea. He is very thorough and the details of his arguments are really very extensive. They can help us gain perspective on our life from a very philosophical, yet in the end, practical perspective.

If one does accept the grand miracle, it would indeed not be philosophically responsible to reject such miracles as Christ’s calming of the storm. Some may argue that a miracle of such sort would throw the balance of nature off kilter. However, if Jesus was God, it only makes logical sense that he would be able to perform such an act. As creator of the universe, natural situations are ultimately orchestrated by Him and are hereby subject to his instantaneous manipulation. Nature simply adapts to the new situation, which makes sense because there is really nothing unnatural about it.

Lewis gives the analogy of closing a window to calm the immediate storm in a house. By doing so he has manipulated the natural storm into a peaceful calm, as the storm outside no longer affects anything indoors. Obviously, though, nature is not thrown off balance; it merely adjusts as if nothing happened. Similarly, when God changes certain affects of the natural state of the earth, nature “digests” the change and moves forward, so to speak.

To reject the ability of Jesus, given he was the incarnate God, to perform such miracles would be to reject him as creator. He who creates must obviously have total rule over his creation, or at least has the authority to make changes. A miracle such as calming the storm is nothing new for God; he controlled the weather all the time in the Old Testament. Therefore, if one accepts Jesus as God he must accept that Jesus was attributed all of God’s authority.

Miracles

Some people, in their attempt to refute the possibility of miracles, must argue that they go against the laws of nature. They say that miracles by their very nature contradict the natural flow of events. However, in light of our understanding of God’s nature, that is not a necessary or even reasonable conclusion.

Being myself an artist I often see analogies in a painting. Studying one painting scientifically may allow one to draw up conclusions about regulations and patterns within the painting. However, those regulations and patterns are not such that the artist was or is confined to. To provide one possible specific example: suppose an artist used only three colors to create a certain painting. It would be ridiculous to reject all other colors simply on the basis of that fact. Though science certainly has its merits and proper uses, scientific study of a painting can provide nothing about the artistic intention of its creator, in relation to its purpose as a whole. Such an observer cannot judge an artist or his work scientifically.

How then can we as humans expect to confine God to our so called scientific “rules” that we have observed in His far more complex creation of nature. Such observances only tell us what God has done, not what he is capable of doing. One cannot with science compute values for what God should or shouldn’t do within his own masterpiece, because they have little if any understanding of His ultimate view and intentions, and of the purpose of His creation.

CS Lewis & Nature

Lewis has stated that only a super-naturalist can ever really truly see nature. The basic reasoning behind this type of view is that to super-naturalists the whole of creation, which includes both nature and men, is something of an epiphany. It is God’s love made manifest in his attributes. Such various attributes of his can be found all throughout nature—beauty, order, intelligence, love, unity, reason, power, harmony, etc.

Such a perspective results, or at least should result, in admiration, respect, awe, and submission of human reasoning and will. The very fabric of creation has been woven through the fabric of who God is, and we are therefore presented with an invitation to peer into divine nature through physical nature. Through nature we are offered a very cursory taste of God’s goodness and mystery.

It is interesting to notice Lewis’s affinity to parables and analogies. He seems to very frequently resort to such literary tactics in order to best convey his message to his audience, who in most cases are plain folk. In fact, perhaps his most publicized work, The Chronicles of Narnia, is itself entirely allegorical fantasy, paralleling real life and biblical events. Likewise, Jesus filled the New Testament with parables, using earthly situations to teach heavenly concepts. This speaks to the parallel between divine nature and earthly nature.

The Church “Body”

The local church is a believer’s immediate access to “plugging in” to the body of Christ. Just as each Christian is a small yet vital member of the vast church of Christ, each local church is a unique and important part of the global church. The human body is an excellent illustration to how that works.

The human body as a whole is made up of quite a few different “systems” such as the circulatory system, respiratory system, reproduction system, etc. Each of these systems is made up of various organs, which are comprised of combined tissues, which are maintained by individual cells. Each entity, from the entire body down, is both singular and unique in itself, yet is comprised of equally singular and unique entities.

The church of Christ is (or at least should be) very similar in concept and function. The key to maintaining it is unity and cooperation amongst each unit. This finally brings me to my point. The best way to ensure unsuccessfulness in the body of Christ is to create disunity amongst its members, and vice versa. Contention amongst individuals in a local church is a starting point for the opposing forces of evil, and it can be achieved in a number of ways.

The most basic and obvious source that I know of is a simple difference of opinion or interpretation of truth, where each member firmly posits his position as necessary for everyone else to agree with. Obviously, not everyone does, and tension ensues. Disunity is not isolated to within the local church, of course. Local churches argue with other local churches even within denominations, and the tension between denominations is on a massive scale! The satan has indeed used this weakness to his advantage, and it is one every Christian should be well aware of.

Humor

Humor can be either detrimental and sinful, or innocent and healthy, depending on the use and context. Humor is a gift granted by God that allows humans to have pleasure through a curious experience called being amused.

The nature of amusement, and why certain things amuse us humans, has long been a wonder of mine. While everyone has a somewhat unique sense of humor, senses of humor tend to resemble each other, and there are certain things that most people find “funny.” The simplest, most mundane little things can be sources of amusement.

Much humor is completely harmless, and laughter can actually be a great benefit to one’s physical and mental health. Laughing, besides being pleasurable, lifts one’s mood and “brightens” one’s state of mind. However, It can also unfortunately be a bad thing. Using various sinful topics as sources of amusement, for example, is no doubt sinful and displeasing to God.

Comedic relief can also become a scapegoat for situations which should really not be laughed at. It can also be a consuming distraction, as with any pleasure. If someone gets caught up in the pursuit of amusement it may become a illegitimate priority for them that gets in the way of their relationship with God. It then becomes sinful, even if the original intentions were not. It is important to be sure we assess our humor, its sources, the function it serves for us, and the priority it holds in our lives.

Screwtape and Pleasure

Screwtape’s comment that the “Ever increasing craving for an ever decreasing pleasure is the formula” provides insight and warning as to how pleasure may harm us. Pleasure, though a gift granted by God, can if abused lead to the treacherous downfall of any Christian. Proverbs 21:17 warns that “He who loves pleasure will become poor.”

If we develop “increasing craving” we grow unhealthy, un-proportional love and desire for one or more particular pleasure, or for the acquisition of pleasure in general. Such desire is not always consciously developed, so it is important to evaluate the value we place on certain pleasures.

Some people consciously make pleasure the centre of their ambition and lifestyle. Those who practice hedonism, for example, place a high, centric value on pleasure. It is harmful because our desire for pleasure can cloud our vision for what is true and what ought to be done. In other words, it harms our sense of priority. That means it may get in the way of our relationship with God, and obscure our spiritual senses, disabling us from “hearing” his will.

Diminishing return from the source of pleasure results in greater expense on our part to acquire the pleasure, compounding the problem. This is similar to a cocaine user requiring more and more to achieve the same experience. It ultimately results in a spiral of destruction. I have certainly experienced the cloud of pleasure, and the spiral that so powerfully and cunningly sucks its victims down into its immobilizing clasp of stupor. It wasn’t until I was shaken out of it that I realized the true gravity and despicableness of the condition that I was in.

There are few ways I can think of to avoid and fight it. The first is what I mentioned previously, the constant self-evaluation. If we simply take an honest look at the value we place upon the various pleasures in our lives and make adjustments accordingly, we can avoid a lot of problems. Most importantly, I think we need to maintain a certain attitude, or mindset of self sacrifice. By that I mean constantly realizing that since we have given ourselves to Christ, we do not belong to ourselves, and therefore neither do our experiences.

Screwtape and Freedom

Human freedom allows us to choose to sin and disobey God’s commandments. It enables us to act in discordance with His will, even if such is quite clear to us. For this reason, in The Screwtape Letters Screwtape was telling wormwood of the advantages of free will.

Displeasure caused to “The Enemy” and events occurring as a result of His will being fought against or contradicted are, essentially, the primary goals of Screwtape, his nephew, and the army they belong to. Naturally, then, they will want to capitalize upon anything that may serve as a catalyst to facilitate such occurrence.

However, human freedom also enables true love and submittal. Love and submittal are pillar states of being for a Christian. The enabler of such attributes, free will, is hence also a grave danger to those in opposition to God. In the end, from the perspective of an enemy of Christianity, the free will given to human beings can be observed as either the most horribly terrifying hazard or as a superb circumstance to take advantage of. It is that concept that Screwtape wished to convey to Wormwood.

The imperative to stay within God’s will is one we should constantly remind ourselves. If we realize we have been given freedom of will and action, and realize what great a privilege that is, the weighty importance of the correct use of that freedom should be imminent in our hearts. Light regard and light use of our freedom allows our enemy to creep in and work his own will into our lives.

Judging Hypocrisy

One does not often know another’s heart and soul, their past, or their present situation. It is easy to accuse someone of hypocrisy when they commit a sin that goes clearly against Christian principles. However, they may be at a point in their spiritual transformation where they have come a long way from the amount or magnitude at which they used to sin.

Everyone in life is on a journey, or process of transformation. It is important to look at people in light of where they come from. That doesn’t mean that where someone stands is exactly where they should be, only that they are indeed making progress, or yielding fruit. On the other hand, there are people who call themselves Christians yet live a completely blasphemous lifestyle, and are not in fact Christians at all. Those kinds of people certainly contribute to giving Christians and Christianity a bad reputation.

You cannot, however, look at a Christian who sins and call him a hypocrite. First examine what he does with that sin. Another point worth pointing out is that for those who are Christians, yet sin, their sin is not representative of their position. One difference that may exist between someone who follows Christ and one who doesn’t is that when a Christian sins, they are repentant. That is, they are deeply convicted, sorrowful, and sorry for what they did, AND they put forth every effort to minimize further sin. The presence and effects of repentance is one of the results and evidences (or fruits) of salvation.

Death and Life & Clive

Amidst the fear and uncertainty often surrounding thoughts of death, Christianity offers hope and even joy when it comes to such thoughts. CS Lewis has given some excellent perspective on the matter. He is very thorough and careful and explains everything from a wide point of view, and thereby avoids unnecessary confusion or offense.

One of my favorite quips of his that I have read is a statement that I have seen quoted several times, and really sums up the heart of what Lewis is saying, particularly in chapter ten. It goes as follows: “Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.” It is a clever, concise way to put a very significant concept.

If we make heavenly matters our main objects of aspiration or attainment, the earthly ones will fall automatically into place. Furthermore, we will more fully appreciate any earthly accomplishments and pleasures by not expecting them, or assuming we deserve them. If we go through life expecting nothing pleasant (but with our eyes set upon the hope and fulfillment of the next life) anything we do enjoy will be more significant, and our difficulties less so. Not so, on the other hand, if we go through life constantly running after all the pleasure it has to offer, setting our goals upon worldly accomplishments.

Many people have the mindset (and it is easy to accidentally fall into) that we deserve enjoyment, and that the purpose of life is to seek the next fun or gratifying thing. It is better to realize that we deserve nothing but suffering, though God allows us to enjoy the earth he created. This may sound pessimistic, but the result should be quite the contrary. It is my belief that God strongly wants for us to enjoy our time on earth, and we are probably doing or thinking something wrong if we do not find pleasure in even the little things in life. That’s just not our primary objective.

Some would disagree, as I’m sure John Piper would, but I think pleasure is a direct result of our objective rather than the main goal. There probably is nothing wrong with allowing that to be motivation, but I would state the Christian goal as the glorification of God, along with expanding the body of Christ.

On a personal level as we grow more intimate in our relationship with God we will discover His role as the ultimate source of pleasure and fulfillment. That in itself pleases and glorifies him, so we really have a self-satisfying circular chain reaction. From that perspective, it does not really matter where you start, as long as you do.

Money

The issue of generosity and giving is one I have contemplated many times. A chief conclusion I have made is a desire to maintain a mindset of earning money for the purpose of giving money.

My vocation will presumably be related to the major God has placed me in. He has given me everything I have now, has been unspeakably loving and faithful, and I will never come close to having any potential to repaying Him. Should I not then have every desire to give back everything I possibly can, if only to begin to demonstrate the gratitude that ought to be overwhelmingly, ever present? Jesus told us that the way to do this is to give to the poor, feed the hungry, etc. Not to mention the fact that we should want to help others out of our own love for people.

The somewhat deficient financial situation of typical College students (me being very much included) certainly leaves opportunity for plenty of excuses for being greedy with monetary funds. One must be careful not to give in to such tendency. However, Christ doesn’t necessarily demand money from every situation. God has placed me in this school, so that is currently my priority when it comes to setting aside funds. I don’t think God would be upset if there were nothing left over to give after paying the bill. We can give in other ways besides money, specifically by giving our time, energy, and skills.

The important thing is to be doing/giving everything we possibly can out of the overflow of love and gratitude in our hearts. The question I ponder the most, especially concerning my future, is concerning the balance of how much I should keep versus how much I should give. I wonder to what extent personal luxuries can be justified, if at all. I am still on the fence regarding the specifics. However, when it comes to daily life, if I just make every decision according to God’s council, how can I go wrong?

CS Lewis’ Law of Nature

The continuity amidst the various conceptions of the “law of nature” manifested across the globe is indeed crucial. It is perhaps the strongest practical testament to the existence of an externally (supernaturally) administered standard of morality. It is a simple, yet often overlooked concept. This evidence for the law of nature presents a major problem to any worldview or religion which denies the existence of an absolute standard.

Certain proponents of such worldviews (atheistic humanism for example) may say that each person does, in fact, have an instilled sense of morality, but that it is relative to each individual. No one person’s morals have any higher value than another’s. The similarities are merely coincidental, or simply because of the common factor of humanity.

That standpoint falls apart quickly, however, because those who take it, perhaps many times subconsciously, place a higher value on certain individual standards than on others. To provide a classic example: few humanists would attempt to justify the actions of Hitler, though he was acting upon his strong personal standard of morals and ethics. Thus, they place their own standard, and the standard of the majority of the world, at a higher value. They may call him an “exception,” but for there to an exception there must be a rule, and therein have they proved themselves wrong.

It is quite fitting that Lewis opened one of his most well-known books, Mere Christianity with this issue, as it truly lies at the foundations of Christianity, if not all of Philosophy and Theology. Likewise, I find it no wonder that so many other religions choose to deviate from the truth at such a fundamental level.

The use of subtlety such as Lewis employs in the reading can be a very shrewd and effective decision in presenting Christianity. Most people have some preconceived notions about Christianity that are not necessarily accurate or positive. As such, jumping right into “Christianity” talk can cause people to immediately turn their minds off to the conversation. When talking with non-believer friends, often the most “productive” conversations begin with basic philosophical questions that inevitably lead to God, eventually. Often people are probably more willing to talk about neutral philosophical topics than about Christianity.

This type of discussion is especially more desirable for an intellectual, reasonable thinker type of person. A discussion that doesn’t directly use the Bible but still follows its principles can be much less intimidating and more effective. Quoting scripture left and right may be fine for discussions among Christians, but non-believers do not hold the same value or faith on the Bible, and it is thus useless to use it with them. If I were engaged in philosophical conversation with a reasonable, non-Christian friend, I would most likely use this method. In fact, I have on multiple occasions conversed with friends in a very similar manner to how Lewis laid out his argument.

Most any issue can be boiled down to an issue of morality, and further to the origin of one’s standard of morality. It is a powerful argument, and one that can rely on human logic and reason alone. This allows the foundation to be laid long before any spiritual aspects are introduced.

I have noticed that Lewis often uses analogies to illustrate the concept he is trying to communicate. Though no analogy is perfect, they can be very effective when it comes to ideas that may be normally confusing, difficult, or just weird. I often think in terms of analogies, and have personally found them useful both when wrapping my head around things myself, and when explaining things to friends.

His tennis analogy serves to help explain how we are not morally perfect, and shall never be, but why we should strive for moral perfection nonetheless. There are some people who may argue that because we will never be perfect there is really no point in trying. Giving the example of a tennis player provides a relatable way to understand why that is nonsense. The more an athlete trains to hone his skill, the more effective he becomes. Just because he will never be 100% effective is no reason for him to give up trying his best to reach his highest potential. If he were to do that, he would be considered a very poor athlete, or else not one at all. As Christians, we too can train our “moral muscles” in order get as close to perfection as possible.

Simply putting forth the effort to doing the right thing as much as possible can help tremendously. Doing so will cause it to become easier and arrive more naturally over time, so that slipping up will be the exception instead of the rule, and all the more so as time goes on. Athletes prepare themselves in other ways besides practicing their sports. For example, they condition themselves mentally, and nourish themselves as well as possible. We can further prepare ourselves by nourishing ourselves in the Word and spending time in intimate prayer and meditation, communing in the presence of the spirit.

Music

I am fascinated, maybe obsessed, with the uniqueness of people’s musical tastes, preferences and listening habits. I am constantly prodding my friends with questions regarding music, asking them to listen to songs so I can know their thoughts on them.

All You People

All you people You are doing what I do.
You are saying what I say.
You are watching what I watch.
You are listening to what I listen to.

Do you not remember how I
Told you to listen to That?
I told you to watch that,
I told you to say that,
I told you to do that,
Oh, all you people

How did I get like this?
How is it that I am so influential?
How is it that I am such a sensation?
How did I ever become such a fascination?

Could it be all because it was you like this?
Don’t you know that you’re influential?
And it’s you-the sensation-
You, so fascinating.

A Reflection on the Book of James

Quotations taken from the ESV (English Standard Version) translation of the bible.

The Book of James is a letter with many powerful and convicting truths that provide practical help for daily Christian life. James uses a lot of imagery and straightforward language, which I personally appreciate immensely. He aims to guide and instruct his brothers in Christ to a unified life that carries out the work of Christ, pleases the Father, and yields spiritual fruit.

Chapter one opens with some challenging thoughts that should help shape our everyday living and thoughts, both through theological and philosophical truths. Most readers appropriately come to a halt after the very first sentence of the body,

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

That strong statement carries a heavy charge, and its concept paints the background for the tone of the entire book.

Counting trials as joy can seem impossible, but it results from a proper Christian mindset. As such, our philosophy can be shaped by it. The way we view the world and our own lives should result in joy, even in the most trying circumstances. Here the theological implication reveals itself. Knowing that God uses difficult and painful situations to produce “steadfastness” is encouraging. I should note that although God may certainly test us in certain ways, I believe most of our suffering is brought on by our sin nature and the depraved society that has resulted from it. The fact that the LORD turns evil into good shows a part of his righteous and redemptive character.

James continues with strong statements, urging us to be perfect, righteous, complete, and lacking nothing. Verse five is personally very moving. It is one I live by and cling to.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

Wisdom is something that God talks about very often, and that many of the writers in the bible value very highly. This verse is a clear statement of His willingness to give graciously to those who ask for it. Wisdom is something I have sought after for as long as I can remember, especially after hearing the story of Solomon. Christians have access to the ultimate source of universal wisdom and knowledge: the author of both. That fact excites, inspires, and encourages me.

Verse six can be a source of conflict, some viewing it as support for “prosperity gospel” theology. I see it as more of a warning against doubt than an endorsement to use faith as a magic genie lantern. James is contrasting an unstable, flaky man with the steadfastness and faithfulness that he praised shortly before and continues to advocate.

Verses nine through eighteen reinforce and elaborate on the ideas he has presented. James gives us some earthly insight to the tune of ecclesiastes, then a picture of God and sin in their relation to us. He assures us that God will not tempt us, but that temptation arises from the desires of our hearts. The imagery of desire conceiving and giving birth to sin, which grows into death is very poignant. Sinful desire must be aborted swiftly and without mercy for the sake of avoiding sin and death. Simple desire may seem harmless, but desire governs our thought life, which in turn is revealed in our words and actions. Unless Christ is governing our desires, we can not expect Godly actions or spiritual fruit. Likewise, if driven by worldly desire, we fall prey to worldly temptation, corruption, and ultimately death.

The rest of chapter one provides some practical advice on how to live out these ideals. With specific commands of conduct James implores the reader to put into action the truths learned by hearing the word. It is good to know the word and Christ’s teachings, but worthless unless acted upon. He sums up by stating:

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

Pure and undefiled religion is presented thus as a practical servitude towards the weak and suffering in the world, while maintaining a separation from that which stains us in the world. That stands in strong opposition to dogmatic, ceremonial religion that dominated the culture at the time, and still runs rampant around the world to this day.

Chapter two continues with practical advice, with examples of what Godly living on earth looks like. The reader is told to treat everyone with high respect, with no more or less regard for one class (or race) of people than another. Truly Christ-like character puts other people before ourselves, with love begetting selflessness.

The second half of verse two contains a very powerful passage that blatantly presents the importance of good works.

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace be warmed and filled.” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

Without any sugar-coating, James has proclaimed that faith without works is dead. That is personally the most necessary concept to grasp of the whole chapter, and perhaps the whole book. It is useless to proclaim faith in Christ if we do not follow Him in our life with service and love for each other. True love should be a result of true faith. The love of Christ in turn should be spread to others and govern all our thoughts, desires, and thereby our actions.

Chapter three addresses a crucial aspect of daily life. Words and speech are literally a part of every day for almost every person. James illustrates just how powerful the tongue is with several analogies and his characteristically poignant imagery. It is a very poetic passage, with so many great verses I am tempted to quote the whole thing. He likens the tongue to a ship’s rudder, a forest fire, an untamed beast, and declares it to be “A restless evil full of deadly poison.” Such a powerful tool must not be overlooked or ignored. We must be constantly aware of our speech and the impact it has on those around us. As Christians we should direct the power of our tongues into praise, blessing, and the glorification of God.

Chapter four delves into greater detail regarding some of the worldly evils that Christians must guard against. He spends most of the chapter warning the readers not to quarrel or fight with each other. As the world wars with itself, we should be set apart from the conflict that destroys our love and unity, as you recall “For we war not with flesh and blood.” Instead we should concentrate on our own righteousness, sanctification, purity, and piety. We are not set as judges over each other, but as brothers to one another. We are called to humble ourselves and lift up our brothers.

The latter part of the chapter briefly addresses another practical issue. James is warning against pride and boasting. It is foolish to rely on our plans for the future, or what knowledge we think we have of it. “For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” Our life is so relatively short and unpredictable that we should rely on God above all else, and realize that all achievements and fruits are dependent upon His grace and mercy.

Chapter five opens with vehement condemnation of self-indulgent, gluttonous lords of luxury. James reveals no sympathy for those corrupt, filthy-rich slaves of fortune and power, and declares their doom in verses one through six. With that out of the way, he beseeches us to watch and wait patiently for the coming of the Lord. He tells us that our hope rests in the knowledge of his imminent return. He also states the importance of having a reliable word of honor, as opposed to relying on oaths and swears.

Finally, he closes with a reinforcement of a concept that he touched on in chapter one. He reminds us to pray in response to any of our needs, desires, or failures, whether physical or spiritual, and to do so in unwavering faith. The power of prayer is often overlooked, despite being virtually unlimited.

The whole book is very practical and straightforward. I strongly believe it is important for all Christians to be familiar with the book and the teachings within. It is beneficial to our relationship with God, and with the world. May the wisdom and truth of the Word never cease to guide us and chide us as we seek to follow Christ.