Friday, September 30, 2011

The Importance of the Dead Sea Scrolls

In what is a very exciting project the Israel Museum and Google have collaborated together to create a digital copy of the Dead Sea Scrolls. So far they have digitized five scrolls. Overall the Dead Sea Scrolls include some of the oldest copies and fragments of the Hebrew Bible, which Christians call the Old Testament. My Hebrew is not quite strong enough for me to recognize much of characters used in the Isaiah Scroll (the Temple Scroll text is easier to recognize) but it is very interesting to see these scrolls in such detail.

The first video is a quick introduction to the project and the second video is a lecture by Dr. Weston Fields on the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Dr. Fields video is a very interesting lecture on the history and importance of the Scrolls. He discusses the importance of the scrolls at around the 19 minute mark to about the 27 minute mark of the lecture. The one sentence summary is that the Scrolls show how well the process of transmitting the scriptures was handled. It means that the Jewish people were able to transmit their texts very well and this is important in that it gives us the confidence that our Scriptures are reliable in terms of literary accuracy.  

From the Israel Museum in Jerusalem:

The Dr. Weston Fields Lecture:

Further Reading:

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Should Christians Keep the Sabbath?

I would assume most Christians see the “Ten Commandments” as being an authoritative rule for our lives. But we only seriously try to follow nine of them. We willfully ignore Commandment 4. 
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
Exodus 20:8-11
Even if we try to keep Sunday as a day for God we are not keeping the Sabbath. Saturday – not Sunday – is the Sabbath. But are we as Christians supposed to observe the Sabbath? Can we willfully ignore this commandment?

One thing that we need to remember is that keeping the Sabbath went further than not doing any work on Saturday. Both Exodus 23:10-12 and 15:1-7 speak of taking a Sabbath year as well. Every seven years it was to be a year where the people did not work the land. Rather the land was to rest and whatever it provided on its own was to be the food for that year. It seems quite obvious that we as Christians do not really observe Saturday or every seven years as the Sabbath. But should we? Is this a law for us to follow?

The Law as given to Moses is what we consider the Old Covenant. It was given to the people of Israel at Mt. Sinai. It was for the people of Israel. It was not given to Gentiles – or non-Jews. On top of that God spoke in Jeremiah 31:31-34 of his New Covenant – which was made complete in Jesus. Jesus reiterated each of the Ten Commandments (1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 6, 7, 7, 8, 9, 9, & 10) throughout his ministry except for the commandment on the Sabbath. Rather he challenged the common understanding of the Sabbath. Jesus made the point that the Sabbath was made for man to rest rather than man being made to observe the Sabbath. That, I think, really changes how we should view the Sabbath.

When the Disciples were debating what rules the Gentile believers had to follow in Acts 15 they came up with the following list:
“For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, from blood, from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”
Acts 15:28-29
This is far from a complete list in that it does not say anything about murder, stealing, bearing false witness or coveting. But it seems safe to say that these things were not considered optional. What is also interesting is that the early followers of Christ started gathering together on Sunday to worship God.

Paul speaks of our freedom in Christ in terms of the Sabbath in both Colossians 2:16-17 and Romans 14:5. It is my take that we are free from keeping the Sabbath as a requirement of the Law. However, I do not think that we are free from the principle of needing rest that is conveyed by the Sabbath Law. We as human beings are not blessed with unlimited energy. We are like a rechargeable battery that needs to sit and recharge every so often. So while we are free from the requirement of the Law we are not free from the spirit of the Law. We should take a day of rest every week. 

Further Reading:

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


This may be one of the funniest clips from one of the funniest episodes from one of the funniest shows on TV. (At least through the first 2 and a half seasons.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Can Non-Christians be Moral?

Can an Atheist or a Buddhist or a Muslim be a moral person? Do Christians have a monopoly on being moral? Are Christians more moral than people of other faith (or non-faith) beliefs?

There is quite the debate between Atheists and Theists over morality and how it is grounded. I do not mean to rehash those arguments. Rather, the idea that I would like to explore is if, as Christians, we believe that ultimately right and wrong comes from God then can those that do not believe in God be considered moral people? We need to start by defining our terms. The two that are important for this discussion are sin and morality.

Sin is when we do things against God’s Law. But there is more to it than that. Both the New Testament and the Old Testament convey the idea that sin is like missing the bulls-eye. Sin is what has lead to the corruption of our very nature and separates us from God. While sin may have entered the world through Adam and Eve, we are responsible for our own sins.

I find it helpful to imagine a glass of water and a vial of extremely strong poison. The poison is so powerful that a single drop in the water is enough to cause death. The water is considered corrupt as soon as that drop is added. Now that glass of water misses the bulls-eye of being pure water. In the same way, as soon as we commit a single sin we are no longer considered pure.

Morality is holding to what is right and wrong. It means following the rules. It can pertain to following the “religious” rules of Christianity as well as to the “societal” rules. If we take the Ten Commandments as a quick example we can see that the first 4 commandments pertain to the “religious” aspect of Christianity (and Judaism) and the last 6 pertain to “society” as a whole. As a matter of fact all societies regardless of their basis will usually contain laws regarding murder, stealing and bearing false witness. In those societies people who follow the rules are considered moral and those that consistently do not are considered immoral.

Atheists, Buddhists, Muslims and any other non-Christian can be moral people. In the way that we usually use the term morality, being a moral person does not require one to have a certain belief in God. Christians are not more moral simply because they are Christians. Christians are not even moral simply because they are Christians. And that is important for all Christians to remember – we are only moral when we are following the rules.

So how do we as Christians make sense of someone that does not believe in God, the ultimate source of what is right, being able to be a moral person?

The first thing that we need to remember is that from God’s perspective a single sin causes us to be corrupt. That glass of water with the single drop of poison causes the water to be immoral in terms of being pure water. We are the same way. We are all, from God’s perspective, immoral. We normally think of someone as being moral in terms of our standards. It is understandable for us to think this way in order to have a functioning society but we all fall short of perfection.

The next thing that we need to remember is that God has placed his law in every person’s heart. We as Christians believe that Atheists can be moral because they – by the very nature of being human – have the basic laws of right and wrong within them. It doesn’t matter why they think they are moral. So remember that whenever – as Christians – we are dealing with someone with different beliefs. They can be just as or even more moral than we are. And this means that we as Christians need to do a better job of being moral.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Sacking of the Monday Morning Quarterback


I am not a paid sports reporter, a frequent guest on sports radio or bet money on the games. I do not get paid for my sports knowledge and I have never been asked to run a professional sports team. Let me share why I am not considered an expert…

Looking back at my Monday Morning Quarterback Week 1 post is quite revealing. It tells us everything that we need to know about my football acumen. Following the Bears win against the Atlanta Falcons I said:
Well, well, well. It has been interesting to hear the media faun all over New Orleans, Green Bay, Philadelphia and even Atlanta as the top teams in the NFC this year. But the Bears were never really included in the conversation. Apparently they were just too lucky last year in making it all the way to the NFC Championship game.
It looks like the experts that dismissed the Bears this season have been shown to be more accurate after the way the Bears played against the Saints and Packers the past two weeks. I, on the other hand, look like one of the Super fans.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Faith of our fathers?

Thursday's post covered the topic of whether or not God holds us accountable for our parents' sins and the answer is an emphatic no. But what about our parents' faith in God? Does that transfer over to us?

I has the privilege of interviewing a number of people that became Christians later in life. Some of them reported having little or no religious background or influence while growing up. Some of them reported having a nominal religious background where their parents had some sort of faith in Christ but it was not very explicit. Then there was one person who told me how they were raised in a Christian home and went to church every Sunday. They even taught Sunday School and Vacation Bible School. But it wasn't until after this person was married and had children that she really made her beliefs her own beliefs.

I also had a very similar experience. I was born and raised in a Christian home. There was never any real doubt about what I believed growing up. It wasn't until I was an adult that I realized that I had to make a choice for myself. Don't get me wrong, I had made a choice for myself in terms of actually trusting in Jesus when I was young and that decision has held firm since then.

But as an adult that decision had to weather many different storms.

The first major storm was in regards to how I was going to live my life. As an adult I no longer went to church because my parents went to church. I had to do it for my own reasons and initially I did not do so because I had not made my own decision to make my faith my own faith. I had to make a decision to pursue Christianity on my own.

The next major storm was in regards to Christianity in general. I ran into an odd pair of friends in college on day. One was a Muslim and the other was an Atheist and they engaged in a sort of tag-team challenge to my faith. I remember as I was fielding their questions thinking about how odd these two were. They were obviously friends and had approached me together regarding my belief in Christianity. Some of their challenges sent me in a tailspin. I realized that I could not simply rely on the beliefs of my upbringing and needed to start getting my own answers.

That is when I started to do some very serious research into the reasons that I should believe in Christianity that went beyond saying, “Well the Bible says…” Do not hear what I am not saying. I am not saying that the Bible is not sufficient for life and faith. But rather I was being like the Bereans in Acts 17:11. I needed to see if what the Bible said was reliable. Is there any evidence for what it says?

As I started doing this research I ran into authors and speakers such as Lee Strobel, William Lane Craig, J.P. Moreland, Hugh Ross and Greg Koukl to name a few. It was at this point that I really started to make Christianity my own faith rather than simply the “faith of my fathers.”

We all face this decision and can go one of two ways. We can either try to continue relying on the things that we were raised to believe. Or we can make them our own.

But it isn’t just a onetime thing. What I really started to think about the other day was how I am constantly coming up against the “faith of my fathers.” There are certain doctrines - or sets of beliefs - that I realize that I have held simply because that was the way I was raised to believe. It is not that they were wrong but rather I had not thought them through and truly decided what I believed. Quite often I have affirmed the belief but I now have the belief for a completely different reason. And then there are the beliefs that I have come to change. (I must state that at this point I am talking about peripheral and not essential beliefs.)

It really drives home the idea that we are in a continual growth and learning process and will never really know it all.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Does God hold children responsible for their parents' sins?

“You shall have no other gods before me.”

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
These are commandments "One" and "Two" in what we commonly call the “Ten Commandments” as found in Exodus 20. (Although there are more than ten commands that are given to Moses on Mt. Sinai and these are not actually called "The Ten Commandments" in the text.) On their face the two commandments are pretty straight forward. But what about the second part of that second commandment?

Does God punish children for the sins of their parents? Does he reward future generations for the good things that people do?

On the one hand this is actually not that hard to understand. Both my brother and I have some of the very same habits of our dad. Everything from the way we think to the way we sit. Choices that my dad made before we were born shaped how we were raised. There is a whole theory of psychology based on how the family system operates and affects decisions and reactions for generations.

There is no question that when a parent commits a crime and is sent to jail that it has a direct effect on their child. The opposite effect of “blessings” through the money that is inherited can be seen when you consider families like the Rockefellers or the Kennedys.  (The sins of the parents continuing on in the children are also apparent when looking at these families.) These examples show how both the good and the bad move down through the generations.

But does God actively punish future generations? If my dad were to commit a sin would God hold me responsible and punish me?


The system that God set up for this world places great importance and an influence of parents on their children. And this works both for good and bad. It is through this system that we see these things happen but God does not hold me personally responsible for my parent’s sins. In the same way, no one else will ever be held responsible for my sins.

What I believe God is communicating through this verse (and the same message also found directly and indirectly in Exodus 34:7, Numbers 14:18, Psalms 79:8, 109:14, Isaiah 65:6-7 and Jeremiah 32:18) is the contrast between God’s desire to punish sin verse his desire to be merciful to sinners. Yes God is a God of righteousness and of justice that demands punishment for sins but he desires to show his mercy and grace even more.

Jesus quoted Hosea 6:6 when he said, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” It is helpful for us to remember this when we approach God in regards to our sin. Yes we have committed a great offense against God but he desires to show us an even greater mercy.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Most Dangerous Guy at Church?

Pastor Erik Raymond has an excellent article entitled "Who is the most dangerous guy at your church?" He starts out the article by posing the question:
“Who is the most dangerous guy at your church?”

Here I am not so much aiming at an individual as I am looking at a type of person.
He then goes on to explain a little further:
Sure, we all can spot the unbeliever who doesn’t fluently speak the language of Zion, we can identify the person from doctrinally anemic backgrounds because they keep cutting themselves with the sharp knives in the theology drawer, and of course any Calvinist can sniff out an Arminian within 20 seconds.
And finally he gives his thoughts:
But I submit that these types of people are not the most dangerous people that attend your church. At least, they are not in my experience.

Instead, the most dangerous person at your church is the apparently smart guy who is unteachable. (Emphasis added)
His article goes on to describe why this person is potentially dangerous. It's because they eclipse the Gospel, are critical, divisive, rob leadership of joy and waste valuable resources. There is the potential to misdiagnose someone that has a legitimate problem with a particular teaching - I am sure there are those that wanted to brand me as such when it came to the pedo-baptism/believer baptism arguments in seminary - but I would guess that if we are not that "smart guy/girl who is unteachable" it becomes easy is not as hard to avoid a false characterization.

The one thing that strikes me is that the longer we are in ministry the easier it becomes to fall into the trap of being that person who is too smart and unteachable. Is there anything more destructive for a church than a know-it-all pastor? I don't mean that we need to have a theology that is as firm as jello but rather having the attitude that we always know best and are always right. Christ may be infallible but I am not. It's a problem of pride and of an unhealthy self-reliance. I know that I have the potential to struggle with both of these things and it means constant hard work on staying humble.

The article is well worth the read as  Pastor Raymond has some very good (and intuitive) suggestions on how to deal with these types of people.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Abraham's "Smokin' Hot Wife"

One of the things that I will always remember about my seminary experience was the introduction that one fellow classmate gave. Like all introduction processes we would give our name, background and family info. And we had to do this for every class and seminar that we took. Part of the family info that this particular student, let’s call him Johnny Kalven*, gave was that he had a “smokin’ hot wife.” He made sure to share this vital piece of information every chance he had. Unfortunately he transferred to a different seminary that first year so I don’t know if his introduction would have stayed the same. I do have my suspicions though.

On the other hand we have Abraham planning this introduction of his wife Sarai in Genesis 12:11-13:
I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.
Apparently Sarai was a “smokin’ hot wife” because all of the Egyptians started bragging to Pharaoh how beautiful she was. So Pharaoh took Sarai into his house. Things didn’t go well for Pharaoh and he found out that she was actually Abraham’s wife. Pharaoh was a bit upset.

But it doesn’t end there.

Abraham passes Sarai off as his sister rather than his wife again in Genesis 20. This time it’s Abimelech the King of Gerar that takes Sarai (now called Sarah) into his house. Again things don’t go well and Abimelech finds out that Sarah is Abraham’s wife. Abimelech was a bit upset.

I don’t know about any of the other husbands out there, but if I ever denied that my wife and I were married...let’s just say that it wouldn’t go well for me.

Abraham’s actions, while not complete lies because they were half brother and sister, are also a direct violation of the bond that is supposed to exist between a husband and a wife. God designed it that way from the beginning: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

Paul spelled out what is implicit in God's design in his command to husbands found in Ephesians 5:25-33:
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

It is quite obvious that we as husbands shouldn’t go passing our wives off as our sisters merely to save ourselves. But the question that we need to continually ask ourselves is whether or not we are loving our wives in the same way that we love ourselves? I am sure that all of us husbands could come up with examples of where we fall short. It may be how we are short or rude when talk to our wives. Or it could be an unfair expectation that we place on her that we would never place on ourselves. It could even be doing something selfish like taking the bigger piece of apple pie. I know I could come up with a list and that list needs to become my relationship “To Do” list.

It might be a difficult task but today seems like a good day, with the help of my wife, to start a new “Honey Do” list.

*Name has been changed to protect the easily embarrassed.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Cat vs. Printer

This one is specifically for my wife. Although I am sure that others will enjoy it just the same.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Tis a song brin'in' a tear to th' eye...

Ahoy thar me mateys!

In honor 'o speak like a scurvy dog day I thought I'd be sharin 'tis movin' picture wit' ye. It be of a fine young laddie picking out a tune on the ol' guitar. It be th' best piratey theme song that e'er be in existence.

'Tis mighty fine playin. Arrrr...

Worship, Football and Mr. Sandman

Last week I sat and watched the Bears game in amazement as they took apart a pretty good Atlanta team. Atlanta just beat a pretty good Philadelphia Eagles team although Philly QB Michael "Dog Killer" Vick missed the fourth quarter with a neck injury. So this week I was really looking forward to watching the Bears play New Orleans.

I was leading worship at church and had a meeting following the service. As the meeting kept going longer and longer I was noticing the time was getting closer and closer to kickoff. Finally the meeting was over and we were on our way...oops...have to stop at da Jewels ('s really Jewel-Osco which is a grocery store) to pick up some tomatoes.

Finally after getting home and preparing lunch I sat down to watch the game. I was just in time to see the Saints kick a field goal. The score was Bears 7 and the Saints 3. Not too bad. Through out the second quarter it was clear that the Bears were having a tough time on both offense and defense.

The offense was struggling except for Matt Forte. That guy is really good. The defense got torched for a long TD pass from Drew Brees to Devery Henderson. The defense held the Saints to a few more field goals and the Bears were able to get one field goal. So going into halftime it was 16 to 10 in favor of the Saints.

Enter Mr. Sandman...

Leading worship is always an energy intensive activity. An hour practice before the service and playing through most of the service means almost two straight hours of playing and singing. When I come home I am usually wiped out and laying on the couch watching sports is usually a drowsy combination.

I promptly slept through the rest of the game which looking at how it ended up was not a bad thing. The Bears have a lot of work to do before next weeks big game against the Packers. Next week's game may go a long way to showing whether their week one performance was a fluke or not. Hopefully not but Aaron Rodgers has the ability to pick apart defenses as well as Brees. So it could be another long afternoon.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Pig With The Froggy Tattoo

The Muppets were a staple in our house when I was growing up. We would get a big bowl or two of popcorn and would watch the show. It was always good fun and my favorite part of the show was always Waldorf and Statler:

By the time the movies started to come out I was starting to get too old and too “cool” to go see them. So when my wife mentioned that she wanted to see the new Muppet movie a few months ago, I just rolled my eyes. Still too old and still too “cool.”

But that was before I saw the newest trailer. It is a parody of the trailer for “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” movie and it is awesome.

Even though I am guessing that the trailer doesn’t accurately portray the movie, it does make me want to go and see it. Hopefully Waldorf and Statler make an appearance.

And here is the original trailer for “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.”

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Coloring of Creation and the Image of God

For my Facebook friends, you may have seen my paraphrase of the conversation my wife and I had following last night’s Adult Bible Study at our midweek service called FEAST!:
Onya: I really liked coloring at Bible Study tonight. It wasn't boring like last year.
Me: Last year?
Onya: Yeah, right before we broke for the summer.
Me: You mean when I was leading?
Onya: Uh...maybe boring isn't quite the right word.
It was quite funny at the time and had us laughing hysterically. My wife is really good at keeping me grounded and busting on me when it is necessary. And in all seriousness I do know what she actually meant. Drawing and coloring based upon the Days of Creation found in Genesis 1:1 – 2:3 is going to be more fun and a much lighter topic than talking about poverty and hunger.

As we were drawing our pictures for Day Six…and for me I use the term draw very loosely…I started to think about what it means to be created in God’s image.

Ludwig Feuerbach said that we as humans project our greatest attributes or our greatest desires onto what we want to be God. And while I disagree with what he means by saying that theology (the study of God) is really just anthropology (the study of man), I think that to a certain extent his notion of projecting what we want onto God is right.

It can be really easy for me to “need” something from God and to then think of God in terms of my needs. For example, when I have done something that I know that I should not have done, it is very easy for me to think of God as a merciful and gracious God. And of course these traits are accurate. But it is inaccurate for me to emphasis these traits at the expense of his justice and righteousness.

It also is very easy for me to think of God’s attributes in terms of my own understanding. Whenever I think of “love” in terms of how I understand “love” and then think of God as a loving God in those terms I am projecting my own wants and desires on Him. What I need to remember is that my love is an imperfect reflection of God’s love. The same thing is true for God’s grace, justice, righteousness and so forth. Remembering that my understanding and reflecting of these things is incomplete as well as imperfect is something that is very difficult to do at times. A fairly frequent rereading of the first few chapters of Genesis can go a long way in reminding me of this fact.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

With Friends Like These...

Job has been quite an interesting read. One thing that I had not noticed before was both the good counsel and the bad counsel of Job’s friends. Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite are easily remembered for their poor advice and scolding of Job throughout the book. Their dialogue takes up 9 chapters alone. Throughout their portion of the dialogue they insist that what has happened to Job must be the result of some sin. No matter how much Job protested that he was not guilty his friends kept telling him that all of his losses were his own fault. It turns out that at the end of Job that both the friends and Job were wrong. God allows the rain to fall on the fields of both those that follow him as well as those that do not. And, for reasons we do not always understand, God allows the sun to scorch the land of both as well.

But what I had missed before in my reading of Job was that at one point Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar did provide good counsel for Job. I have to admit that the only reason that I saw it was because my Old Testament teacher in Seminary pointed it out to the class. So this time around I was aware of it:
Now when Job's three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.
          Job 2:11-13
They sat with him…on the ground…for seven days and seven nights. And no one said a word to him because of they understood just how great his suffering was. I realize that there are going to be times when words will need to be said in times of great suffering. My problem is that I tend to like to talk a lot. What I need to remember is that in these occasions that less is more. How willing would I be to sit in silence on the ground and covered in dust for seven days?

Matthew 26:36-46 tells of Jesus going to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray just before he was arrested and crucified. He knew what was coming and he went to pray with his disciples. But they kept falling asleep on him. Jesus was not upset at them for not having just the right thing to say. Rather he said, “Could you not watch with me one hour?” Jesus simply wanted his friends to be with him during his time of need. I think that it is very good advice for anyone comforting someone in need.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Fighting Over Creation

God created everything that is in existence...Everything that has come into being has come into being because of God’s creative work. God created human beings in his own image for his glory and purposes...We are not a product of Darwinian Evolution. This also means that because he is sovereign over all of creation that we as Christians should not fear scientific discovery but rather we should strive for a better understanding of both the scope and limits of what can and cannot be found through science. Much of what we see in terms of Darwinian Evolutionary science is largely based upon the theological foundation of Naturalism which starts with the fundamental belief that there is no God. We as Christians can be confident that scientific discovery will ultimately not be at odds with creation because nature bears God’s imprint.
This statement from my Credo paper is bound to cause some to nod in agreement, others to scratch their head and still others to blow their top. And I expect those reactions from within the Christian community as well as those outside of it. First and foremost I understand that this posting has the potential to be inflammatory; especially when I start to explain my terms and further nuance my beliefs.

First let me explain my terms.

I must admit that I believe in evolution. Take a moment and look at Merriam Webster’s definition of evolution. I have absolutely no disagreement with any of those definitions until you get to 4b. I even believe in biological evolution. We see change over time repeated throughout the biological world. Living creatures adapt. I use the term Darwinian Evolution to differentiate between general evolution (change over time) and that of speciation (change over time leading to new species).

Next I state that Naturalism is a theological foundation because it presupposes certain beliefs about God. Naturalism is the philosophical belief that everything can be explained by natural causes. Therefore, in Naturalism, there is no need for or the existence of anything supernatural.  It is philosophically and diametrically opposed to the existence of a god in the same sense that Christianity holds that there is a God.

Next let me nuance my beliefs – and this is where I will get in trouble with some of my Christian brothers and sisters.

I am an “Old Earther.” There is a fairly strong debate within the Christian community between those that believe in a young earth (tens of thousands of years old) and those that believe in an old earth (billions of years old). One thing that must be pointed out is that there is a difference between those that believe in an old earth with specific creation and those that believe in an old earth with theistic evolution. Without getting into all of the details (links with details below), I believe that God specifically created the universe over time which included the specific creation of the first man named Adam and woman named Eve.

So what does this all mean in terms of everyday life?

Being posted under the tags Credo and Foot Knowledge mean that I see this as a point where what I say I believe doesn’t always match how I live my life. The issue isn’t that I need to live my life different when it comes to old earth creation. To be honest I wasn’t always an “Old Earther” and while some of my arguments may have changed, how I do and should live my everyday life has not changed because I became an “Old Earther.”

Rather my disconnect comes when reading 1 Corinthians 11:17-22. The passage is dealing with the unity that should be found in the Lord’s Supper and the reality of the divisions found within the Corinth church. The same can be said over the arguing between Creationists. I realize that there are some fairly serious ramifications in the differences between the old and young earth views. But the rhetoric and divisions have created two distinct groups of people. The distinctions are drawn sharp enough that I thought twice about posting this…and for a doctrine that should be a peripheral doctrine, this should not be.

Some Old Earth References:
Greg Koukl’s article Star Light & the Age of the Universe
Hugh Ross’ chart of the Creation Timeline
Hugh Ross’ list of Fine-Tuning For Life in the Universe
Greg Moore’s article Old-Earth Creationism: A Heretical Belief?
Greg Moore’s article Does Old-Earth Creationism Contradict Genesis 1?
Kevin DeYoung’s interview with Jay Richards What’s Wrong with Theistic Evolution?
Stand To Reason’s Science & Evolution resource page
Reasons to Believe Friend’s Papers resource page
J.P. Moreland’s Articles resource page

Young Earth Resources:
Terry Mortenson’s article Why Shouldn’t Christians Accept Millions of Years? 
Ken Ham & Dr. Terry Mortenson’s article Chapter 12: What’s Wrong with Progressive Creation?
Answers in Genesis Articles resource page

And merely for informational purposes, here is an article by Answers in Genesis doing the very hermeneutical gymnastics that they accuse the “Old Earthers” of doing.

Monday, September 12, 2011

My Top 4 Productivity Apps

Doing the Bible App review was so much fun (at least for me) that I thought it would fun to do some more reviews. So here we go. Once again these are iOS apps although I am sure that a number of them are also available on Android and Windows Phone 7. Today* I would like to look at My Top 4 Productivity Apps. These are the apps that I use on a daily basis that help me stay organized and informed.

The number one app that keeps me on track is Appigo’s ToDo app. I have to admit to needing a task manager/reminder app or two in order to stay on track. I use this one because Appigo has a Lite version (read free) of their app which allowed me to try it out. I soon ran against the limit of 10 items and bought the full version because I liked the way it worked. For a while I used the sync function to sync with Microsoft Outlook but when I moved to using Google Calendar instead I had to find an alternative. Appigo offers only a Mac desktop app so I started to use Toodledo’s online app which syncs with the ToDo app. It is a bit of a convoluted system but it works for me. Appigo is bringing iCloud support this fall and it will be interesting to see how it works. I wonder if I will end up using iOS 5’s Reminders more than ToDo. 

Some of the features that I find extremely valuable in ToDo is the ability to set different types of tasks. It has 8 different types of tasks and while I use the “Normal” type most often I also use the “Checklist”, “Call a Contact” and “Email a Contact” types. Both the call and email variants allow you to select a contact and to either call them or email them directly from the app. The biggest two features are the reminders and the icon badges. Having the ability to get reminders as well as seeing the icon badge help keep these tasks in mind so that there is at least a better chance that they will get done on time.

Paired with Appigo’s ToDo app is the iPhone’s native calendar app. I use this extensively as it syncs to my Google Calendar. Generally when someone asks me to be somewhere or do something I immediately put it into my calendar. I sometimes feel like it might be a bit rude to whip out the phone in the middle of a conversation but if it does not get put into my calendar or my ToDo app, chances are it won’t get done in a timely fashion. So I just figure that it is more rude to forget to write a recommendation letter or miss an important event than to tap away at my phone. I generally keep two different calendars at the same time. One is for events and other big things that I have to do, like lead worship on a particular Sunday. The other is to break down the workflow of my day. My wife’s phone syncs with the big event calendar so she knows what is going on. My calendar also syncs with her calendar. That way we do not double book. 

As far as the interface of the native calendar app goes, it is far from perfect. As a matter of fact, I really don’t like it. But I don’t want to pay for a prettier calendar app when this one accomplishes what I need it to do. It looks like the iOS 5 calendar is going to be a big improvement. So I will be waiting for that as well.

The next two apps are not so much productivity apps per se, rather they are apps that I use to keep on top of my reading. I use Google Reader to follow a number of blogs and other RSS feeds. I follow 75 different feeds which can be a lot to read at times. I don’t read everything that gets posted but rather sift through the different articles. Most of these feeds update multiple times a day. If I miss checking them for a day or two and it is not uncommon for me to have well over 1000 items to look at. So I find it easier to keep track of them on the go. 

I use MobileRSS to sync with my Google Reader account. I use the app in a fairly basic way and it has more features than I will ever use. I have heard that Reeder is a superior app but once again MobileRSS has a free version to try out and Reeder does not. So I bought the know commodity rather than the unknown. 

While I will read some articles in MobileRSS, most of the ones that I really want to read I save to my ReadItLater account and access them through the free ReadItLater. The interface for reading articles on ReadItLater is much better and it loads a text version of the article to the phone. This was really nice on our latest trip to Los Angeles. I was able to download a bunch of long articles before boarding the plane to read on the way. It also serves as a great archive for articles that I want to keep. These two apps together work out well for me.

These, right now, are the four apps that I use most often to keep me up to speed. I realize that different jobs will call for different types of productivity apps – my wife uses a very complicated construction calculator in her job which is lost on me. But these work for me as I work with my church.

*This is the post that I started on Friday 9/9/2011 and never finished.

Monday Morning Quarterback Week 1

Well, well, well. It has been interesting to hear the media faun all over New Orleans, Green Bay, Philadelphia and even Atlanta as the top teams in the NFC this year. But the Bears were never really included in the conversation. Apparently they were just too lucky last year in making it all the way to the NFC Championship game. Don’t get me wrong, they did have a lot of luck last year.

It seemed as if every other week they were playing against a backup quarterback. But they still went out and won a playoff game…yes it was against a 7-9 Seattle team that had no business being in the playoffs…but it was a playoff game none the less. And they played very well against the Green Bay Packers and may have won if it wasn’t for an injury to Jay Cutler.

I think that a lot of people bought into the “Jay Cutler is soft and cannot be a leader” Twitter firestorm that ensued after that injury. How anyone can think that Cutler is not tough after last year boggles my mind. The guy was sacked 52 times last year including 9 times in one half by the New York Giants. In that Giants game, Cutler suffered a concussion that had him walking to the wrong sideline before he was taken out by the coaches at halftime.

Fast forward to week 1 of the 2011 NFL season and the Bears opened up against the aforementioned Atlanta Falcons. And straight from clichéville: The Bears showed up to play. They were very good, but not great, in all three phases of the game. Their defense did give up some yards but held the vaunted Falcon offense to two field goals. They sacked Matt Ryan 5 times, had 11 more hits on him and intercepted him once. They also forced 2 fumbles and returned one for a touchdown. They did give up 100 rushing yards to Michael Turner and 319 passing yards to Ryan but the Bears played the “bend but don’t break” defense to a T. Brian Urlacher had a great diving interception and then returned a fumble for a TD. Julius Peppers and Henry Melton both had two sacks. Melton had 7 of the 11 quarterback hits and took full advantage of being on the opposite side of Peppers.

Special teams played well as they were able to pin Atlanta deep on punts (48.0 yard average) and limit the Falcons returns on kickoffs as well as punts. Devin Hester was good on returns but didn’t break any really long ones. Robbie Gould was gold again: 3 for 3 on both PATs and FGs.

Cutler led the offense with 312 yards passing and a 107.8 QB Rating. His only interception came on a ball tipped at the line that bounced right to Kroy Biermann. Biermann ran it back for a TD and if Earl Bennett had only been a step closer to the play, he would have caught Biermann and possibly caused a turnover. Matt Forte was great. He rushed for 68 yards and had 90 yards and a TD receiving. The Bears need to be smart and make sure that Forte is a Bear for life. I think Cutler is on his way to being an elite QB but Forte might end up being mentioned as one of the top three or four Bear running backs ever. He is right now their most complete offensive football player.

The season is long but if the Bears continue to improve from week to week, we are probably looking at a very good season. Handily beating the Falcons may go a long way towards changing the perception of the Bears throughout the league. The next two weeks (at New Orleans and vs. Green Bay) will go a long way in revealing just how good or bad the Bears are going to be this season.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Friday Fun?

Today has just been one of those days. There was nothing major that prevented me from putting together a blog post. It was just like a death of a thousand paper cuts.

One interesting thing was the following text message that I received from my brother this morning:

"What smells at 2:30am like rotting vegetables mixed with burning rubber... A border collie that got sprayed in the face by a skunk."

If you have ever dealt with a dog (or a person for that matter) that has had a run in with a skunk you know exactly what he is talking about. It is quite the fun experience.

That is all for today. I will be back on Monday with both a Deep Thought as well as the post that I started to write for today.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

The Controversy of Suffering in the Book of Job

Just a few weeks ago I started a Chronological Bible reading plan. For the most part the beginning of the Old Testament is organized in a chronological order. The book of Job is one of the early exceptions. There is no firm date for the writing of Job or when the events took place. Internal clues such as having a patriarchal setting as well as external clues found in places like Ezekiel 14:14 give a probable dating of around the time of Noah and Abraham. So this particular reading plan had me read the first 11 chapters of Genesis and then skip over to reading Job.

Job is a fascinating and controversial book. For those unfamiliar with the book, Job is a rich and godly man. He even goes as far as to perform sacrifices for his kids just in case they may have committed a sin. Satan and God have a conversation regarding the righteousness of Job and Satan challenges God by saying:
Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.
The book is somewhat about how our righteousness should not be based upon our lot in life. But the major point of the book is that we do not always understand why things happen because we do not have the full picture. God is sovereign and we need to trust in him. There is a curtain being pulled back and we are given a brief (and very incomplete) look at the spiritual conflict that is happening between God and Satan.

One interpretive challenge that I see in the book is that it can seemingly paint this spiritual conflict as being a trivial game of chess where pawns are easily sacrificed. But even though we are given a brief glance behind the curtain we must always remember that we are not given the full context or all of the details of the interchange between God and Satan. There is a much longer history of this conflict and the events of Job (as well as the events in our lives) are only a very small portion of that conflict.

Admittedly it is also a very hard to understand conflict. One bit of understanding that Job does give us is a great foreshadowing of the coming of Christ. Job knows that there is a great Redeemer that will one day come and right all the wrongs.
For I know that my Redeemer lives,
     and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
     yet in my flesh I shall see God,
Whom I shall see for myself,
     and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
     My heart faints within me!
               Job 19:25-27 
I do not fully understand why bad things happen. All I do know is that Jesus offers us the way to make it through them. One day Christ will come and set all things right.

Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Rock Stars or Worship Leaders?

Ted Kluck has a great article entitled Where Rock Stars Go to Die on the Gospel Coalition’s Blog. It is an excellent article about the blurred lines between being a rock star and a worship leader. Kluck relates his experiences at an Acquire the Fire youth rally and shares this about the student worship band:
The student house band is called School of Worship, and they’re quite good. They sound good and look good[7], and the kids in the crowd seem to be responding. The lead singer (all 96 pounds of him, including vest and glasses) is shaking his hips and gyrating onstage like a real, live rock star. The crowd is responding like a real, live crowd should.
The only thing that separates a “worship band” from a “rock band” is the presence of lyrics on a projection screen behind the worship band. What’s really happening is a concert. A performance. But the presence of lyrics on a screen somehow makes it “worship.” If this sounds weird/confusing to you, that’s because it is weird and confusing to me as well.
Actually it does not sound weird and confusing to me. I know all too well the struggle between performing for others and leading others in worship. I must admit that it is one of my great struggles when I lead worship at church. I would also guess that anyone who enjoys being up in front of people will struggle with it too. John Ortberg has a great sermon on this entitled A Leader’s Greatest Fear. Various versions of that sermon can be found here. While the short version gets to the point, I highly commend the full version.

I can struggle with my mind starting to drift while leading worship. Unfortunately it can drift from being focused on worshiping God and leading other in worshiping God to how I look and sound. In the middle of one song I actually started to think about whether or not I sounded good. It was not in terms of wondering whether or not I was doing a good job but whether or not I could take this show on the road.

I’ve tried different things to stay in the right place (if you have seen me lead worship in the past you will recognize this one) but nothing has done better than sharing my struggle with others and expect them to hold me accountable. I also understand that this will most likely be a life long struggle.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Is the Trinity Biblical and Does It Matter?

I find that the Trinity is one of those difficult doctrines to explain and to source. As Fred Sanders pointed out in his article Think Bigger in Biola Magazine, there really is not a “Trinity Verse”:
…I would prefer to have a doctrine be stated clearly and concisely in one place. I like my doctrines verse-sized. I sometimes wish there were one verse that said, “God is one being in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
But unfortunately the single slam-dunk case closed verse does not exist. So the question remains, is the Trinity Biblical? While Sanders’ piece is not a comprehensive handling of (there has been, and to a lesser extent remains, quite a bit of debate over what all should be included in) the doctrine of the Trinity, he does a good job of showing how the doctrine can be built in shorter passages. This is one of those doctrines that I touched on in my Credo Paper (See my posting The Intersection of Revelation and Apple Pie for an introduction to my Credo Paper) where my head-knowledge and foot-knowledge diverge a bit. Although in this case it is different. I touched on how I know having a personal God does not always affect how I act but this disconnect is different. In my Credo I state:
All of God’s attributes exist within each member of the Trinity. God is of one fundamental nature that exists in three persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Each member of the Trinity is a distinct person from the other but is of the same substance. This one fundamental nature, or essence, is also called the Godhead. The Godhead’s separate persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit all operate in unity with one another (John 14:10-11, 15:26, 16:13-15). Each person of the Trinity being of the same substance means that each member is Divine and therefore worthy of worship. 
This doctrine does not always translate into foot-knowledge simply because it can be so difficult to wrap my head around. I get that each member of the Trinity is of the same substance. I get that each member of the Trinity is distinct and separate from each other. I get that each member of the Trinity together make up what is called the Godhead and together they are one God. I get that all works together at the same time but I do not understand how.

The doctrine of the Trinity should have a very real impact on my life. Because of the Holy Spirit lives within me, I can have the peace of God through Jesus Christ even when the world is going to pieces around me. I have to admit that I must put the word “can” in the previous sentence. It should be “do” but I do not always have “do”.

It should also have a very real impact on my worship of God. Yet there are times that I simply focus on one person of the Trinity. I think that it happens because I tend to have a modal view of the functions of God. I see God the Father doing one thing, God the Son Jesus Christ doing something different and God the Spirit doing something completely different. What I need to try and move from head-knowledge to foot-knowledge is that all three persons of the Trinity are working together in order to accomplish the same thing.

For further reading on the Trinity:

Bob Passantino has a good apologetic article called Is The Creedal Doctrine of the Trinity Biblical?
And Greg Koukl at Stand To Reason (one of my favorite resources) has a couple of good articles: The Trinity is Biblical and Does the Trinity Make Sense.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Monday Morning Deep Thought #2

It's Labor Day. When did it become a holiday where those taking the day off celebrate by going and doing something that causes others to labor?

What am I doing this Labor Day?

Flying back from California.

Guilty as charged.

Don’t Lose Sight of Christ

I came across an article by Sinclair B. Ferguson entitled A Preacher's Decalogue in the Gospel Coalition's latest issue of Themelios. Overall it is a really good article and one that I am going to need to reread many times. One of the points that really struck me was number 3: "Don't Lose Sight of Christ." It sounds so obvious but I know that I have had the tendency to fall into the trap that Dr. Ferguson is warning about.
"Paradoxically not even the systematic preaching through one of the Gospels guarantees Christ-crucified centered preaching. Too often preaching on the Gospels takes what I whimsically think of as the “Find Waldo Approach.” The underlying question in the sermon is “Where are you to be found in this story?” (are you Martha or Mary, James and John, Peter, the grateful leper . . . ?). The question “Where, who and what is Jesus in this story?” tends to be marginalized."
I find it easy for me to relate to the characters in the Scriptures and therefore preach in the "Find Waldo Approach." I realize that it is not always the case-or the intention-but I never considered how self-centered this approach can be.

It seems to me that when we "find" Jesus in a passage that we will then be able to see where we are in relationship to him because Christ did not come to be crucified for his own sake but rather for our sake.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Bible App Reviews

Admittedly this posting is going to be a bit one-sided. I use a smartphone that is sold by a certain company based in Cupertino and just had their CEO resign. One of the things that I have enjoyed is trying out different apps; so much so that my wife just rolls her eyes when new apps show up on her phone. Usually she just deletes them without ever opening them up.

I have really enjoyed trying out different Bible and Theology apps and right now I have 14 of these types of apps on my phone. I only use 2 or 3 on a regular basis and another 2 or 3 on a semi-regular basis. The others are used far less frequently but still reside on my phone.

The first of the apps that I use on a regular basis is Crossway’s ESV Study Bible App. It’s a bit pricey at $14.99 but it includes all of the ESV Study Bible notes, articles, maps and illustrations. Seeing that the print edition is going to set you back a minimum of $35 to $50, it’s not a bad deal. The app is even easier to use now that you can swipe between the Study Notes, the text and your own notes. The only problem is that you cannot swipe while you are in the full screen reading mode which would be really nice. The font size can be changed. I usually keep it on medium which I find balances readability and amount of text on the page. I find that the large and extra large sizes have too little of the text on the screen. Changing books and chapters is fairly nice and actually reminds me of the Zune HD UI. There is a free version that does not contain the study Bible notes that is still quite good to use.

The second app that I have just started to use on a regular basis is an app called ReadingPlan. It is an app that simply tracks my Bible reading plan. There are various reading plans available; it comes with 6 and there are many more you can download. It gives you the book and chapters to read with a checkmark box next to them to tick off as you finish. Pretty snazzy idea. It also links nicely to the ESV Study Bible App, other Bible apps and even online Bibles. The limitation is that it does not contain a Bible within the app so you must have either an internet connection or one of the supported apps to actually read on the phone. I haven’t tried it out with a printed Bible but I am fairly confident that it would function just fine.

The third app that I have used on a fairly consistent basis is the WAVE Study Bible app. I found it to be a great app that assisted me in some translation. It contains a limited number of translations which include the Greek New Testament, the King James Version, the New English Translation and God’s Word Translation. There are a couple of others for purchase and there is a supposed to be an update containing the Hebrew Old Testament. There is a Bible Tutor function that includes some “How To” lessons that I have not used nor had the desire to use. Overall it is good for what it does but is somewhat limited.

I also have the Blue Letter Bible app which is based on the great Blue Letter Bible website. The app has a lot of content and does need internet access for the language tools but can be somewhat clumsy to navigate. It is not touch friendly in that the icons are not always intuitive and are too close together. One of the great things about the website are the language tools and they are available in the app. But they require internet access which is not always an issue. The language tools are the most navigation unfriendly part of the app. You cannot move from verse to verse while using them. You can only look at them a verse at a time and then you have to go back to the main text, select the next verse then tell the app that you want the Concordance/Interlinear option before you can see the next verse. It gets quite cumbersome if you want to look at multiple verses.

I also have the Logos Bible app but because I do not have the Logos Bible Software for my computer the app is somewhat limited. It sounds like a great app in that you only have to purchase the content for your computer version and you get the app version of the content (if it is available on the app). I look forward to the day that I can afford the software and start playing with the app as well.

Other apps that I like to use on a semi-regular basis include the Stand To Reason app, the Leadership Journal app, the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary app and the Thoughtful Christianity app.
Given my propensity to search out and try new apps, I am sure that if I revisit this post in a few months that I would have different recommendations. Feel free to share if you have an app recommendation or two.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

The Great Theologian Bill Cosby

As I was reading the story of Noah in Genesis 6-7 this morning it initially felt somewhat incomplete. Where was the part where Noah didn’t know what an Ark was? Where was the part where Noah asked God what a cubit was? Of course if you have ever heard Bill Cosby’s Noah routine you know exactly what I am talking about. Now I have nothing bad to say about Mr. Cosby’s comedy; I have often pictured other scenes of the Bible in a very similar way. In fact we have the story of one of Gideon’s conversation with God that could very easily have been a Cosby skit. What I find interesting is that I know that Cosby’s material is not in the Bible but to a certain extent it still colored my reading.

I remember reading reviews of the Veggie Tale movie Jonah that question the Biblical accuracy of the closing act of the Jonah part of the movie. (I really tried to find one of the reviews to link here but that was almost 10 years ago.) The movie goes into the part of the story where Jonah sits outside the city of Ninevah and waits for it to be destroyed. When God spares the city, Jonah gets mad at God. But that part of the story is not always told when it comes to kids versions of Jonah and the Whale. I remember reading it as an adult in amazement.

I must admit that I find how our current culture and ideas shape my reading of the Bible to be interesting. And it is something that I need to always be aware of.

If you haven’t seen (or seen it in a while) the Bill Cosby’s Noah it is worth the watch. It is also worth the watch just to see a very young Bill Cosby.