Archive for category Doesn’t Fit in a Category
I use an iPhone, an iPad, and two Macs (an old Macbook I just got and a Mac Mini in my office). You would think that I use Apple’s integrated apps for pretty much everything, wouldn’t you? In fact, I don’t use their apps except when I have to.
- I use the Agenda iOS app and Google Calendar for my schedule. Google Calendar is just a better cross-platform format than iCal, and Agenda has a nice clean interface that reminds me of a desk calendar. I find iCal to be cumbersome.
- For browsing the web, I use Google Chrome. The ability to sync all my settings across ANY machine I am using regardless of OS is very important to me.
- I have been using Gmail for my email for years, and while sometimes I wish I had a desktop mail client I could rely on, Gmail works just fine. Google has been adding features like Google+ integration and opening the API to developers, and Gmail is just GOOD at email.
- I take all my notes on Evernote. I even use Evernote for my mileage log. Every piece of paper I receive, every important document I need to consider, it goes into Evernote. I just throw things in there and organize it when I can.
- Rather than using Apple’s mediocre Reminder app or Google’s lackluster Tasks option for my To Do List, I use Any.DO. This nifty little app on iOS also has a Google Chrome plug-in that runs in its own window on my computers. It is well-designed and efficient at what it does.
- Until recently, I was using a combination of Apple’s Pages word processor and a virtual Windows XP machine to do document creation. Since last month, however, I have been using a combination of Microsoft Word for Mac 2011 and Dropbox. As far as I am concerned, Dropbox still owns personal cloud storage. Since Apple’s iCloud does not work on older Macs, it is cumbersome for me to have to download and upload documents every time I edit them at home. Microsoft’s new licensing plan allows me to have five computers running the Office Suite, so it just makes sense to use Word.
- For social media, I update almost exclusively from the Everypost app for iOS. Rarely do I ever post something from one of my computers. Everypost updates Facebook, Google+, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Twitter simultaneously, and you can use it for links, pictures, and YouTube. The only social media platform I interact on is Facebook, so I don’t need something like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite.
So, there you go. I would say that probably 95% of everything I do online employs one or more of these seven apps. Because they are all cloud-based, I have access to everything whenever I need it, and that allows greater flexibility in where and when I can be productive.
In the United States, violence is something that used to happen to someone else. It was something reserved for urban areas and gangsters or third world countries and oppressive regimes. But in the midst of the suburban American dream, violence was something you observed on television or in the newspaper.
All of that has changed in recent years. Violence has come home.
There has been a lot of bizarre news in the United States in 2012, and all of it has been violent. During the summer there were two – TWO! – strange stories of cannibalistic violence with people actually attacking and eating others. At the opening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, an insane man loaded all the weapons he could find and just started blasting away in a theater, killing a dozen people and injuring another eighty-five.
The past week has seen two very violent mass shootings in two suburban settings not usually associated with violence. In Happy Valley, Oregon, a lone gunman walked into a shopping mall and with apparent abandon, started blasting away at holiday shoppers. Then yesterday in Connecticut, a twenty year old man shot his mother and then went to the school where she worked and mercilessly killed her kindergarten students – her kindergarten students. Both shooters then turned their weapons on themselves.
The scope of these tragedies cannot be overstated. It simply boggles the mind that someone would be so messed up that slaughtering children seemed like an appropriate response to – well, anything.
A lot of people have been asking where this impulse of violence is coming from, and they have been coming up with all kinds of answers. Perhaps it comes from not having strict enough gun laws, or perhaps it comes from banning the Ten Commandments in schools. Perhaps it is a sign of the end times, or perhaps it is because of violent video games.
No one seems to be taking any time to consider what the Scriptures have to say about man’s violent nature.
Let’s consider for a moment just how violent human beings are.
It certainly is nothing new.
In Genesis 2, God creates man. In Genesis 3, man sins. In Genesis 4, man begins to murder his brother. In Genesis 6, we read these words:
Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence. And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.
Genesis 6:11-12 (ESV)
Mankind fills any situation with violence, and the more of us there are, the more potentially violent we become. This is something that the author of this part of the Genesis narrative knew over 6,000 years ago at the beginning of human recorded history.
Behold, the wicked man conceives evil and is pregnant with mischief and gives birth to lies.
He makes a pit, digging it out, and falls into the hole that he has made.
His mischief returns upon his own head, and on his own skull his violence descends.
Psalm 7:14-16 (ESV)
Violence is part of our sinfulness. It is multiplied and magnified in the “wicked man” but the potential exists among all of us. We need to understand that violence is part of the human experience – a natural consequence of the sin nature that lies within all of us.
And what does God say to all of this? The words he gave to the prophet Jonah echo his desire for mankind to lay down his violent nature:
Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.
Jonah 3:8 (ESV)
Jonah was speaking to the Assyrians in Nineveh in the 8th century BCE. This was a culture that used violence to good effect. They were renowned for cruelty and destruction. And yet, God points out to Jonah that there are at least 120,000 children in the city of Nineveh (Jonah 4:11). Judgment would have come on these children as well as their parents, and why? Because of their violence?
One of the promises God gives to David (around 1000 BCE) about the kingdom of Israel is that “violent men will waste them no more.” (1 Chronicles 17:9)
The reality is that violence is simply a matter of our existence here on earth. It is part of life. It has been a part of life for a long time.
We Americans seem to view violence from a distance, believing that somehow we have bettered human nature and have overcome the innate violence of our nature. Sometimes it seems like we have the underlying belief that we are better than those “other” people who are so violent.
Christians tend to think we have done this through moral law codes and sermons. Humanists think we accomplish it through just “being” better people.
But the reality is that we are not any different from Cain who killed his brother in an envious rage. We are no better than the Assyrians. We are still violent, and violence will continue to happen. Human beings don’t evolve and improve. We’re still just as sinful as Cain was.
A world without violence is an illusion. We can clean up the streets and pay more police officers, but we cannot get rid of the violence that resides in the heart of sinful man.
Perhaps nothing better illustrates our need for a Savior, for someone to take our violence upon himself. Christ’s crucifixion was a cruel, awful death; and yet it was a death invented by man to be inflicted upon man. What better way to illustrate how our violent and sinful natures torment the heart of God? What better way to show us the violent grace we receive through Christ?
Does Christ remove the violence of the world? His own words indicate that persecution and violence will continue until his return (Matthew 24:6).
If there is a theology of violence, it is that violence will always be present in sinful man.
If there is an answer to our violence, it is Christ.
No laws will change that. Teachers can’t change it. We cannot improve ourselves enough to eradicate the darkness of the sinful condition.
So, what to do?
We must answer violence with compassion, war with peace. The Church must be the peaceful rocks of truth that the waves of destruction crash upon and we must continue to love.
We must not be a marching army, determined to conquer the violence of man’s heart. Instead, we must become the heart of society – the clear voice of the gospel in the midst of voices of chaos, rage, guilt, fear and pain. To be the body of Christ is to be the peacemakers.
We must do this although the strength to do it is not present in our own spirits. We must rely upon the Spirit of God, upon the direction of our grieving Creator who wishes to see His creation reconciled. It is not enough to mourn injustice or to lament violence. We must become the agents of His peace, in whatever ways we can.
Violence will not cease as long as their are sinful human beings.
So, grace must not cease. The Church must never cease to be Christ’s peace and grace.
In 1203, a massive Venetian fleet sailed into the Golden Horn intent on landing a Crusader army and taking the city of Constantinople. The Crusaders had intended to sail to Egypt but they had failed to pay the Venetians and now were doing the Venetians bidding in attempting to put the young claimant Alexius Angelus on the throne of Constantinople.
When the battle began at the sea walls, the Norman Crusaders almost faltered. The Venetian galleys hung back as the battle became a stalemate. Then from the midst of the fleet, one galley picked up speed and headed for the beach. At its prow was a nearly ninety year old blind man named Enrico Dandolo.
Dandolo had been elected doge of Venice in 1192. Before that, he had been a wealthy merchant from a good family and had even served as an envoy to Constantinople. When the representatives of the Fourth Crusade had come to Venice seeking passage, Dandolo had taken the cross himself.
Where there was money to be made, Dandolo was there and there was a lot of money to be made in a Crusade. But the endeavor had fallen apart and Venice was on the verge of bankruptcy if the Crusade was not profitable. So, Dandolo had led the Crusaders to Constantinople to aid Angelus’ claim to the throne because the bounty Angelus promised would cover Venice’s expenses and provide a bit of profit.
When the fleet faltered, Dandolo ordered his galley beached as a message to the rest of the galleys. His act would be told and retold for five hundred years in Venice. As a result of his charge, the Crusaders took the city and the course of history was altered.
Dandolo believed in Venice and making money. His zeal drove him to exceed any human limitation in pursuit of his goal.
What about us? Do we have within us a passion for anything that is strong enough to send us at full speed to the hostile beach? I fear the greatest problem among Christian leaders is that we do not believe anything passionately. We are lukewarm in everything rather than boiling in one.
You cannot say you believe something until you are willing to accept it in the void.
What do I mean by the void?
There are a lot of rational reasons to believe in lots of things. There are often a lot of rational reasons not to believe. Sometimes there are lots of things we don’t know – places where there simply is no conclusive evidence.
There is no conclusive evidence for the Bible or the Way of Jesus. There is no way to build a rock solid, undeniable, pack-it-up-and-ship-it argument for the viability of the Christian faith. There are always rational explanations for why things don’t have to be the way we think they are.
That is the void.
Sometimes there just aren’t any answers except, “I accept it by faith.” As the old school fundamentalists used to say, “The Bible says it. I believe it. That’s all there is to it.”
Without the integrity of the game, what do you have? A bunch of big, strong, angry men who have reached their breaking point. Jackie MacMullan, ESPN Boston
Last night, the Patriots lost to the Ravens. Make no mistake – the Patriots lost that game. They had a couple crucial errors in pass coverage that allowed the Ravens to be in position to win by a single point.
But the officiating reached a new low, and I hope the replacement referees had body armor and armed guards when they left M&T Bank Stadium last night. At one point, the crowd was actually chanting expletives at the refs. This was not individual fans. It was 70,000 very angry and frustrated (and intoxicated) fans standing from their seats to insult the men in striped shirts.
The players, the coaches and the fans are seething. They have reached a boiling point while the NFL and the real officials continue to try to negotiate a contract. If the NFL does not do something soon, we are going to start seeing players turning on the replacement officials. Remember that these are, as Jackie MacMullan put it, “big, strong, angry men.”
How much is too much? When does restraint in the face of injustice become enabling the injustice? When do we say enough is enough and start turning off our televisions? When we will stop showing up at the games?
I love football. It is a game I have loved to watch for decades. But after last week, I am not sure I will watch it next weekend. Why sacrifice time on a game that is losing its meaning and rhythm because of a contract debate and scab workers who clearly don’t care or understand what they are trying to do?
Who am I kidding? I will continue to watch because I love the game. I will continue to scream at the mess the NFL has become, but I am powerless to change it. My beloved sport is about to slip over a precipice and become a caricature of its former self, and I will probably just take it.
And then, I began to think about the apathy in my own life. What kind of craziness, injustice and abuse do I allow to take place around me while I sit there? How callous have I become that I just take what comes at me without a retort or response?
It is easy to become a mute observer, an enabler to those who would abuse others in the name of restraint.
This is what Jesus accused the Pharisees of in Luke 11:42 –
But woe unto you, Pharisees! for you tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these you ought to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
In the name of “not judging”, we often allow sin to go on around us. We enable those who are hurting others for fear of being considered a meddler.
Sometimes, I find myself in this position. Do you?
Maybe it is the fear of being stereotyped as a puritanical jerk who everyone has to be careful around. Maybe it is a longing to be a part of a group, even if that group does things that privately you do not think are appropriate. Maybe it is an underlying insecurity or inability to address the issue.
There are many things we should stay silent about, but there are some we need to raise a protest about. It is not enough for us to maintain personal righteousness. Sometimes we need to call others to follow the way of righteousness as well.
This is an unpopular statement, and yet it is at the core of the the New Testament. The apostles Paul, Peter, James, Jude and John wrote a healthy chunk of the New Testament and the bulk of their encouragement is a call to righteous actions – charity, stewardship, responsibility, edifying communication, decency, order, respect, obedience, submission.
There is a time for restraint and patience. There is also a time to do something to effect change.
I hope the NFL fans will rise up and do something for the love of the game.
I pray the church if Jesus Christ will rise up and do something for the love of the Lord and his love for his people.
The Scriptures contain some very, very strange passages. There are things in the Bible that make even the most committed readers shake their heads in confusion. One of the all-time strangest passages is 1 Kings 22.
Why? Just read it.
Here’s a little context.
Ahab b. Omri became king of Israel in 873 BCE. His predecessor, Omri, was a military commander who had led a coup and then successfully crushed his competition in a brutal civil war. He handed Ahab a successful kingdom, with alliances to a number of strong states around it.
Ahab married Jezebel, the daughter of Ishba’al, the king of Tyre, and together they established a variety of Canaanite cults in their capital city of Samaria. By marrying their daughter, Athaliah, to the heir to the southern kingdom of Judah, Jehoram. Together, Ahab and Jezebel ruled Israel and wieleded incredible influence until Ahab died in battle in 852 BCE.
Jezebel and two of her sons held power for a little over a year, but then a military commander named Jehu wiped out all of their children and killed Jezebel, claiming the throne for himself. Athaliah, in Judah, survived until she was ultimately killed in an uprising around 835 BCE.
A Strange Prophecy
1 Kings 22 takes place right before Ahab was killed. In fact, it deals with the prophecy of his death. Ahab formed an allegiance with Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, hoping to defeat the rising power to their north, the Arameans.
The plan backfires. Ahab, who has defied YHWH, the Hebrew God, at every turn finds himself at the mercy of a nameless bowman. This could easily be attributed to YHWH no longer protecting Ahab. The problem is that in 1 Kings 22, the prophet Micaiah makes it plain that YHWH intentionally deceived Ahab and Jehoshaphat.
Here’s what Micaiah said:
Now hear therefore the word of YHWH! I saw YHWH sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him on his right hand and on his left.
And YHWH said, ‘Who shall persuade Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’ And one said on this manner, and another said on that manner. And there came forth a spirit, and stood before YHWH, and said, ‘I will persuade him.’ And YHWH said unto him, ‘Wherewith?’ And he said, ‘I will go forth, and I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’ And he said, ‘You shalt persuade him, and prevail also: go forth, and do so.’
Now therefore, behold, YHWH hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all of your prophets, and YHWH hath spoken evil concerning you. (1 Kings 22:19-24)
God sends lying spirits? He makes prophets deceive kings? How do we reconcile this with a God who cannot lie (Titus 1:2)?
No matter how you slice it, this is probably the most difficult passage in Scripture. If we take a hyperliteral view of the text, then we have no choose to admit that YHWH deceived someone indirectly to accomplish what amounts to the murder of a king.
What to do?
Most Christians are more than happy to be ignorant of passages like this. They have a sort of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy toward these kinds of things.
But now you’re looking at it. You’re seeing this passage for perhaps the first time. What do you do?
1. Context, context, context. Any time we are going to make an interpretation, we have to consider the context. What kind of literature is this? What is happening in the narrative? Who is speaking? Who is the audience?
In this case, we are reading a historical record. Kings is not meant to express doctrine. It records events as they occurred, and that means it includes a lot of things as they happened. As we all know, reality does not always fit into theology. The moment does not always appear to fit into the narrative.
2. Consider rhetoric vs. dogma. Throughout Scripture, the prophets say things that don’t conform to theology. They are momentary revelations that are often rhetorical devices. Nathan manipulated David through a story (2 Samuel 12). Ezekiel was commanded to prophesy while his wife lay dying (Ezekiel 24:18). Elisha made iron float (2 Kings 6:6).
This kind of stuff was not meant to be permanent truth. It was momentary revelation. Rhetorical acts and statements do not present doctrine. In fact, it is a terrible idea to form doctrine from these kinds of situations. If a prophet tells a story about something happening in heaven, he isn’t teaching the doctrine of heaven. He is bringing forth a point.
3. God deals differently with kings and nations. This might be hard to grasp, but the way God works with kings and nations is very different from the way he works with individuals. God forbids murder but at times commands war. David, a man after God’s own hearts, was not allowed to build the Temple because of his bloody past (according to 1 Chronicles). Paul tells us to honor those in authority over us while Jesus defied Caesar when Caesar’s law conflicted with God’s.
Of the three things I am listing here, this is the one I am most uncomfortable with. The Scriptures make it clear that God both controls the hearts of the kings and rulers AND that some kings and rulers are evil. God deals with kings and nations in ways that don’t make sense to individuals. That’s all I can say about the topic, really. If I ever figure out a formula or system for understanding it, I will let you know.
So, back to the question. What to do with 1 Kings 22?
First of all, we are reading things as they happened and that means we have to believe that Micaiah actually said this to Ahab and Jehoshaphat. But we are also reading the rhetoric of a prophet and the point is not the parable of YHWH and his spirits but rather the prophecy that Ahab would die. That was true.
It is easy to dwell in the valley of minutiae and argue about why Micaiah put things this way. Perhaps it is the same reason that John used the image of Caesar’s triumph in describing the throne room of God some three thousand years later in the Revelation (Revelation 4). It is a momentary revelation.
Perhaps it was a reflection of Micaiah’s knowledge of Ahab’s own workings. The way Ahab’s servant Zedekiah responds seems to indicate that Micaiah struck a nerve. Perhaps Ahab had held a counsel earlier to draw Jehoshaphat down to battle, and that the counsel had looked and sounded very much like the one Micaiah described.
Maybe God does mislead the leaders of nations to bring about their downfall? After all, he did harden pharaoh’s heart during the ten plagues.
What this text does not teach is that YHWH sits in heaven trying to figure out how to lie to and manipulate the average person. This narrative is not normative, meaning we don’t form doctrine from it. We accept it as true, but we also accept that it is meant to explain Ahab’s downfall – not to establish principles for our lives.
Last night, I watched LeBron James (supposedly the greatest individual player in the NBA) have an average game and lose. The Miami Heat consists of two tremendously talented players (James and Dwyane Wade) and a cast of basically nameless supporting players. In order for them to win, James and Wade must play extraordinary basketball. Against a team like the resurgent Boston Celtics, “average” is not good enough.
“Average” is somewhere between your worst and your best. It is not good. It is not bad. It is like vanilla ice cream – a good place to start but not really worth eating without sprinkles and hot fudge. “Average” is bland, and simply not enough.
I often tell folks, “Just good enough is never good enough.”
It is not enough to be a church with music or preaching or relationships that are “adequate.” Average doesn’t take the gates of hell. Average doesn’t overcome. Average is just – standing there. Average is exactly that – standing still in mediocrity.
Never settled for being “just good enough” because I guarantee you that the Enemy’s team is playing at the top of their game. (DISCLAIMER: In no way am I equating the Miami Heat with Jesus or the Celtics with Satan. If anything, the opposite is true.)
We cannot simply “give it the old college try.” We must be extraordinary in our commitment and passion to Jesus’ kingdom. We must rise beyond simply doing our duty to taking responsibility for His agenda and owning our impact. We push harder, train better, and when we leave the court – we leave having poured out everything and some.
Recently, one of the members of our congregation challenged me to rise to excellence in an area I don’t consider a strength. It was a welcome and needed reminder that we are not called to mediocrity. We are called to greatness.
Apparently, Fred Phelps (the pastor of that bastion of hope and encouragement, Westboro Baptist Church) has some tremendous insight into the Scriptures.
In the video below, Phelps pinpoints the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah to the year 1898 BC. This is tremendous news to me since until now I have wondered endlessly how to date the Bronze Age portions of the Hebrew Scriptures. I am entirely unsure where he got this precise date, but let me assure you that there is no evidence in the Scriptures or archaeological record that points to this date. The very idea of being this precise about anything that far back in history is simply absurd.
I make no qualms about the fact that I consider Phelps to be a false prophet who is misleading people and defaming the name of Jesus Christ. False prophets love to sound absolutely certain, to make them appear to be authoritative. Be warned. This is something we have seen in Christianity since the time of the apostles and it will only get worse as time goes on.
Test everything anyone says by the Scriptures.
A video of a North Carolina pastor was making the rounds of the internet recently. Pastor Charles L. Worley of Providence Road Baptist Church begins a diatribe on placing “lesbins, q-u-weers, and hom-o-sessuals” (that’s how he pronounces the words) in what amounts to concentration camps so they will die out.
The video has over a million hits on Youtube and has generated so much traffic that it crashed the congregation’s website. Needless to say, every Christian blogger has jumped in and linked to it, so I feel that I must cave to the peer pressure and post it here. (Wait, is that considered cyber-pressure?)
Now, you might be asking me how I feel about the things that Pastor Worley had to say. First, I need to say that this kind of rhetoric is nothing new to me. I grew up going to revival meetings where the “Sodomites” we’re ruining our nation. I remember one memorable preacher who said, “The flamers will be flaming alright – when they’re burning in HHHEEEEEEELLLL!!!!!” (It is hard to get the flavor of the rebel yell that was that last bit, but you get the idea.)
Others like Erik Raymond have written effectively about the warning flags and cautions for us, and I don’t need to repeat it. And I have written before on the subject of the Church and homosexuality, so I won’t retread that road either.
Rather than going over things already addressed, I want to contemplate what I think may be the hidden source of rhetoric like this – and that is fear.
Fear? Yeah. When I watch this guy railing, I cannot help but think that he is harboring a hidden, probably even subconscious fear that he might be “one of them.” He is so busy condemning and diatribing (and where exactly in the Scriptures are we told that building electrified fences to keep undesirables contained?) that he never stops to think about what he is saying. I cannot help but think that his fear drives this craziness.
How does that work? Think about it. If you were to admit that despite knowing the sin in which a homosexual is living you are called to love that homosexual, that would make you a homosexual lover, wouldn’t it? Who loves homosexuals? OTHER HOMOSEXUALS. Do you see? You have to run the opposite direction as fast as you can to prove that you are not a homosexual.
I call this the Gays-Are-Gross Factor.
This is craziness. I cannot tell you how many gay, lesbian and “other” acquaintances and friends I have had over the years. I remember one young man telling me over AOL Instant Messenger (remember that?) that he was gay, and when I acknowledged it without any kind of anger, he was genuinely surprised. Recently, someone I know decided that they were homosexual. (I say “decided” because the person in question is in a “am I?” kind of stage.)
Do I agree with their lifestyle? No, I do not.
And just to be clear, I believe someone can actually be born homosexual. We are all sinners by nature – born into sin. It is written into our DNA, and if you can be born a liar then you can also be born gay. The choice is not to be gay or straight, but rather is whether we will live in what God calls sin or we will accept his righteousness as our own and seek his grace to be conformed to Christ’s image.
We, as followers of Christ need to overcome our fear. We need to find renewed confidence in the grace of Christ, just as the apostle Paul reminded the Corinthians, “such were some of you.” (1 Corinthians 6:11)
Fear says that I could be like “one of them” so run away.
Faith says I am reborn in God’s grace and his grace overcomes all sin.
Instead of fear, we should acknowledge sin while extending grace. Not a one of my gay or lesbian friends is unclear about my position on the subject. But then again, none of my friends living in adultery, fornication, substance abuse, complacency (read sloth) or gluttony are any less aware of my view on those sins as well. I don’t need to be violent or outrageously vocal to make my position any clearer.
Jesus spent his life surrounded by those who did not embrace his teachings. He made his position clear, but he still extended grace. He still loved, even the unlovable and reprehensible. And at the point of repeating myself from other posts, the ones he found most reprehensible were the religious elites – not the whores or lepers or Gentile sinners.
If I have one prayer for the Church in the coming age, it is that we will recognize our own fears and the extremes they take us to. I pray that we would find the voice of gracious strength and that we would become the manifestation of Christ’s truth and grace, held in tension for the world to see.
Not everyone will agree with me, and that’s ok. There are some readers who might even take this article as defending homosexuality – so be it.
I believe God’s grace is greater than man’s outrage. I would rather entrust my gay/lesbian friends to God’s grace than to rely on my own railing and rhetoric.