Friday, December 23, 2005

Technical Announcement

I got rid of the Comments function; if you need to reach me, use the email address on the left.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Regarding Churches Being Closed on Christmas

Working at an animal hospital in high school and during the first few years of college, I had to work in the kennels on Christmas morning and evening. The same thing happened on Thanksgiving, New Year's Day, and the Fourth of July. If I can clean up animal waste on Our Lord's birthday, then ministers and church staff can darn well hold a worship service. If no one shows up, then the staff at least has done their job.

Personally, I think that these churches which are planning on being closed on Christmas should instead have been making a huge push for their members to come that day. Ask the congregants if they're willing to put off opening presents for two hours in order to honor Christ on the day on which we honor His birth. If you want to cater to those who might be a little more indecisive, offer extra evening services. This whole business of giving in to culture rather than seeking to convert it is a recipe for becoming as irrelevant as the mainline Protestant churches.

Happy Feast of St. Thomas!

Today is the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle. He is most commonly known as "Doubting Thomas" for his statement that he wouldn't believe in the resurrected Christ until he felt Jesus' wounds himself (John 20:24-29), though perhaps less well-remembered is his willingness to die with Christ by returning to hostile Judea (John 11:16).

St. Thomas is also traditionally known as the apostle who spread Christianity to the East, with churches in Syria, Yemen, India, and perhaps China all claiming to have been started by St. Thomas. It was from these churches that the legend of Prester John likely originated. The Portuguese, under Vasco Da Gama, encountered these Thomasine Christians in the 15th century. The Roman Catholic Church has a habit of not tolerating local churches which trace their descent to apostles besides Peter, and so the St. Thomas Christians were suppressed or usurped, much as was the Celtic Church.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Today's Quote

"This is God's universe, and God does things His way. Now you may have a better way, but you don't have a universe."

-J. Vernon McGee

A Short Scene

Minister: "I'm sorry, sir, your soul is diseased."
Man: "So...I need to accept Christ and have my soul renewed?"
Minister: "Well, that's one option, but it's risky and will have side-effects for the rest of your life. What I suggest is a soul transplant. We can have you put on the waiting list, and with luck, someone will abort their child and one will be come available."
Man: "Um...okay. Should I be praying about this?"
Minister: "If you like."

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Three Things I'm Thankful For 12/18

1. Christmas wreaths. I think these are one of my favorite signs of the changing of the seasons. I especially like the one my parents have which has color-shifting fiber-optic lights. It sounds tacky, but it's very relaxing to see.
2. Candles. Call me crazy, but having a nice smell in the air isn't a terrible thing. Also, the flames from candles remind me that Christ is the Light of the World.
3. Blogging. It's just a really good way to get down my thoughts and feelings. If other people can learn from them, that's awesome. I know I get a lot out of seeing what I was thinking years ago.


...traffic here spikes, and yet there are still zero entries in the comments boxes. Sigh.

Another in the Series of Posts About Women

I was watching TV this morning, and something finally crystallized in my mind. One of the biggest problems faced by Christian men in modern American society is the objectification of women. That sounds like Leftist nonsense, and if my concern were over social justice, it would be. Only a fool wants justice; we're fortunate enough to be under grace. In any case, my reasoning is selfish. When we see women as things, we become bad men. In our society, we're told that that everything can be bought. Look at commercials: how often are women seen as some prize or plaything? Are a lot of TV shows different?

Lok at history. How many problems have come from people not seeing each other as human beings? Slavery, polygamy, homosexuality, genocide, and all sorts of other assorted unkindnesses can all trace their roots back to a view of people as objects and of ingratitude for what God has given us. And that view, which can justly be called inhumanity, is rampant here. It's present among both men and women, but as I'm a guy, I'm concerned with men's attitudes.

This problem drives us away from God. We become dissatisfied with what God gives us, and then we make the fatal mistake of thinking that a woman will satisfy us. This can range anywhere from wanting to get married to feeling as though you need a girlfriend to rape. This whole desire for women isn't by itself a bad thing; it's a perversion of a natural desire. In Genesis, God says that it's not good for man to be alone (and presumably woman, either). For many, probably most, people, marriage is a good idea. However, it's not a panacea. The person we are before we enter into a relationship isn't going to be suddenly and magically healed. There won't be a miraculous change. What relationships do, in this regard, is to give us an opportunity to learn more about ourselves. If done in a way that is meant to give glory to God, though, a relationship is a huge commitment and shouldn't be entered into lightly.

In middle and high school, nearly everyone I knew was in a relationship. Everywhere you looked, there were couples. I was a normal guy: I was interested in girls. I enjoyed their company, and so why shouldn't I have a girlfriend? For a high school guy, a taste of hell is sitting on a bus on an overnight trip while your three closest friends sit with their girlfriends (and a psycho-crazy girl who liked me sitting in the seat across the aisle from me). Bombarded by the media and the culture, pressure builds up, and sometimes you crack and sometimes you snap. I wanted a girlfriend not because I wanted to honor God or edify her, but because I wanted to prove my manhood. What I wanted was a trophy, a billboard saying "hey, look at what I've got." Not only was I only valuing women for what they could provide for me, but I was only valuing myself based on how others saw me based on the girl I was with.

Out of a mixture of naivete, obliviousness, and dumb luck probably presided over by Providence, all that happened in high school in college was that I went on a few dates here and there. It wasn't until I was in grad school that I finally had a girlfriend. Even then, I wonder how much of that was simply me cracking under pressure, as I made decisions that I wouldn't normally have made. My relationship with God became a means, rather than an end. I was prepared, at least in principle, to sacrifice everything to God. However, implicit in all of it was that I expected God to provide me with a girl. That was the one thing I'd wanted, and it seemed to me to be only fair that something as small as that should be my earthly reward.

Do you see the mistakes I made in thinking that way? Leaving aside all manner of lesser mistakes, that way of thinking implied not only that I thought God owed me something, not only that a woman was a prize rather than a person, but that a relationship was something of little or no value. How wretched is that line of thinking? Even worse, how many people would see no problem with it or even commend me for willing to give up so much? I wasn't giving up anything at all, and I was demanding one of the most valuable things in the universe. Every person out there is an immortal soul, and I was asking for one as though she were a free sample at the grocery store. Why should any father, let alone the Father, entrust me with such a thing as a relationship with a girl? Would I honor this woman except when I felt like it?

I face a challenge. To be entrusted with such a priceless thing as a marriage, I need to prove myself worthy in other relationships. I need to see people as God's children, rather than in terms of what they can do for me. I need to be responsible with my time, money, and efforts. Most importantly, any relationship with a girl needs to take a backseat to my relationship with God. I won't become perfect; if I'm blessed with marriage, my wife and I will be marrying imperfect, sinful people. Only God can heal us. The great thing is that we know that He will, and that he'll provide for our needs. Maybe if I can start by trusting in that, everything else will fall into place. I think it will.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Three Things I'm Thankful For 12/13

1. My truck. I can't even begin to say how much of a blessing it's been to me. It's a place where I can sing, rant, pray, or do whatever without fear of people around me. I can also use it for ministry, holding up to five people and at least a week's worth of stuff if we ever need to go on a trip.
2. Arch-support running socks by Starter. These are seriously the most comfortable socks I've ever owned. I'm not sure how simply adding some elastic ribbing can really add arch support to socks, but it seems to work.
3. Being given the Barnabas Award for the guys' side for the second term at KAA-1 this summer. It was the first peer- or supervisor-given award I'd gotten since seventh grade, and it really, really means a lot to me.

More on Marriage

A few of my friends read my post below on girls, and we ended up having a little discussion on the topic. One friend asked the other two of us what we thought was the most important reason why people should get married. We each answered that we thought that it was to enable us to better serve God through ministry. There are some things which can best, or even only, be done while single, and there are some things which are best or only done when married. It's important to keep in mind what Josh Harris calls "seasons;" you should be single when it best enables you to minister and you should pursue marriage once it becomes apparent that your and her (we're guys) ministries would be strengthened. The friend who asked the question had a different view. He thought that the primary reason should be to help us grow closer to God. By getting to know another human being as intimately husband and wife know each other, we gain a clearer picture of God's relationship with us, the bride of Christ.

What we all quickly realized was that both of these reasons were very good and important. I think it's actually a chicken-and-egg situation: you can't minister effectively without growing closer to God, and you can't grow closer to God if your faith lacks works. What these answers more likely reveal is the mindset of the person answering. For me, I sometimes worry too much about what can be done, rather than drawing closer to God. Some people face the opposite problem.

What this also did was mean that I could add to my thinking below. Before, I'd talked about how I would want my wife to be pretty, intelligent, and Godly (once again, resisting acronymization). Basically, these are physical, mental, and spiritual measurements of whether I find a girl attractive (recognizing that I may be head-over-heels over someone whom another guy else finds utterly unremarkable). I think that "chemistry" also plays a role, though I'm not sure whether it fits into attraction, into the category I'm about to discuss, both, or neither (very Zen, I know).

Yesterday's discussion revealed that my talking about finding a "fellow-traveller" was only half of another category. This category, which perhaps I'll call holiness, centers around the pursuit of God. It can focus outward, on helping other people, whether they be neighbors, children, or each other, or focus inward, on you personally growing closer to God. Growing in holiness through service is probably understood pretty well, but personal growth may not be so obvious. The best example I can think of is how I've heard so many people tell me that they've learned so much about God's love for them by raising children. I don't have kids, but I've worked as a teacher and a camp counselor, and I've experienced at least a glimpse of this. When I was responsible for children, I thought about what I'd do to protect them, how I could best help them learn, how to show them that I didn't hate them no matter how bad they were, and many other things. Through knowing your husband or wife, you learn about someone very different who nonetheless has similarities, too. The Bible calls God's relationship to His people that of a husband to a wife; I find it impossible to believe that married couples don't gain a greater understanding of this relationship through their own with each other.

Are these two broad ideas, of attraction and holiness, the only factors that should be considered when pursuing someone? Should issues such as timing, material concerns such as finances, or the rest of the person's family come into play, and if so, where do they fit? I've got a project due in a few hours which I need to finish, but I'll be thinking.

Monday, December 12, 2005

About the Problem of Evil

If you haven't noticed, I tend to think in spurts. Usually late at night.

It seems to me that the reason there's evil in the world is because God values us, and because of that He allows our actions to have consequences. If every time you messed up God fixed it right away, would your actions have any meaning? Imagine for a second that pencil erasers can erase crayon. Let's say you're with your daughter, and she's coloring a drawing for mommy. I see three options. You can guide her hand, so that the work is technically hers but is really yours. You can erase wherever she made a mistake and fill it in properly. Lastly, you can let her do what she wants, perhaps offering suggestions or guiding her hand a little as she struggles to stay in the lines. Which of these do you think mommy will appreciate most? Which expresses the daughter? Which is the daughter most likely to be proud of? Evil is allowed because to nullify it would mean that our actions are meaningless, as we can only do what God prescribes, rather than allows. Instead, God redeems our mistakes through His love and the sacrifice of His only Son. We still do wrong, and that wrong affects other people, but it will often be turned around to form a blessing as well. God loves us so much that He lets our actions mean something, but will also teach us to help Him clean up our mess.

A Quick Question

Would there be any interest in my putting up an "audio post" on some topic where I spoke, instead of typed, my thoughts? If so, hit the Comments.

Three Things I'm Thankful For 12/12

1. Sheetz gas stations. They've got relatively clean bathrooms, a good deli, and a good selection of food, plus fairly low prices. If I'm driving, it's good to know there's a place where I know what I'm going to get.
2. Whiteboards. I dislike chalk, and so being able to use markers is great. I have several larger boards where I write down assignments and other things that I need to take care of, and also a smaller one where I can simply write out what I'm thinking (as opposed to blogging, writing in a notebook, or recording it verbally, which I also sometimes do).
3. Hooded sweatshirts. It's very easy to feel secure in one of these. You've got a place to put your hands and you've got a hood which covers most of your neck. While cheap sweatshirts may have smaller pockets or hoods, a really, really good sweatshirt is a thing of beauty.

These are all minor things, but they're things which make life better for me and which I wanted to be more consistent and open about praising God for their existence. He is the source of all that is good; even when we mess things up, He redeems them and makes them good.

I'm a Ramblin' Man

I sometimes think a lot about girls and relationships. Perhaps it may shock you that a 23-year old graduate student might consider such things, but I suspect not.

In any case, I've come to realizations over the years. Back before I was even a Christian, in early high school, I looked around me and noticed that there were a lot of pretty girls. What this made me realize was that looks alone shouldn't be enough to become interested in someone. If there are a lot of pretty girls, then either you go for the prettiest or you go for one who meets at least your basic standards. If you go for the prettiest, then you've got an interesting situation on your hands if you should ever find a girl who looks better. Besides, looks fade. There is some merit to the second option, though. It's reasonable to want to be with someone you find physically attractive.

Having established that physical looks alone weren't enough, the next two insights came at the same time, though I unwittingly learned them separately. The first was that it was necessary to look for someone who was intelligent and with whom I got along well. That sounds pretty basic, but it can be easy to overlook. One bit of advice I heard was "when you find someone whose faults amuse you, marry them." That may be a little simplistic, but again, there's some merit there. Some things need to be corrected in a person, but other things are simply part of their personality and if you're not okay with that, you're going to go through your marriage with some resentment.

The second realization was that the person should be seeking after God. Conceivably, this could even mean someone who did not formally accept the God of the Bible but perhaps secretly did, but that's a bit of a stretch. The girl (I'm a guy; if you're a lady and you're reading this, you know what to do) should be a Christian and devoted to loving and serving the Lord. Perhaps the question that most comes with this is how far apart Christians can be. I'm, for whatever insane reason, an Anglican. Would I pursue a Methodist? A Roman Catholic? A Baptist? A Pentecostal? Which things are negotiable, and which aren't? I tend to favor the ideas of infant baptism, sacraments as holy mysteries which are effective means of grace (a fancy way of saying that I think they actually do something and aren't just signs), and conditional salvation. What if I were interested in someone who stressed believer's baptism, held a "low" view of sacraments, or firmly supported eternal security? On which of these things can we "agree to disagree," on which can we compromise, and on which would we simply need to declare the impossibility of reconciliation or coexistence of views within a relationship?

Thus far, I'd established that I would look for someone pretty, intelligent, and godly (I considered making an acronym, but wisely decided against it). However, when I thought about it, these all boil down to "is she attractive?" Instead of simply looking at the physical dimension, I'd merely added the mental and spiritual ones. Furthermore, I've been surrounded by some absolutely wonderful ladies in my life, and when you sit back and realize that you know a lot of Godly, pretty young women with whom you get along well, you realize that you haven't been specific enough. How do you look at someone who fulfills all three of these requirements but yet still doesn't really hold your interest? There must be something more.

There may be a lot more, but a challenge I'd come up with for myself was to find something besides attraction which could justify pursuing a relationship with a girl. I have no doubt that there are many other things to consider, but one which hit me recently was the need for the young woman to be a fellow-traveller (you can remove that second L in "traveller" when you pry it out of my cold, dead hands). You and she should be going to the same, or at least very similar, places. If she has a heart for the inner city (there I go speaking Evangelicalese again...) and you want to go to Japan to minister to college kids, saying that you're going to have to be very creative is perhaps the kindest way of saying that it doesn't look as though there's a lot of potential there. When the Bible says not to be yoked with unbelievers, we often only look at one part of that. It's easy to look and see that a Christian and an unbeliever may want to go in different directions, and that putting them in a construct which only works if they're going the same direction is likely to fail. However, we should remember that Christians go in different directions, too. Paul thought Mark was irresponsible and untrustworthy, Barnabas disagreed, and so they went their separate ways, though they remained Christian brothers and presumably fast friends.

One of the things to consider is why you should marry someone. Does it make each of your ministries stronger, do they remain unchanged, or do they perhaps even hinder each other? Going back to the oxen, lets look at some possibilities. We already talked about what happens if one or both oxen seek to go in the wrong direction, but what if one doesn't want to move or is injured? Either way, the work of the healthy ox is hindered, and the condition of the reluctant or sick ox may be made worse. Either the second ox needs a better understanding of the mission or needs some help to heal, but the overall result is that ministry is harmed. It may mean putting off marriage for a while, or, if married, it may mean that ministry suffers for a while as the second ox becomes how they should be. What if one ox doesn't actually hinder the other, but is basically just along for the ride and doesn't pull its weight but merely does enough to stay with the plow and lets the first ox do all the pulling? Even if they take turns doing this so that one ox is always pulling, is this a good thing? It would seem that some reevaluation of priorities and techniques is in order. Things can't be independent, or else what's the purpose of the yoke? When animals are yoked together, they multiply their output. When one stumbles or is sick, the other can pull for a while to lesson the load for the other. Work gets done faster and better, and there's better company.

It seems to me that relationships can't simply be pursued blindly. If you ask around, most people will give advice along the lines of "have a good time; you're a responsible person and so I know things will go okay." That's really, really dangerous advice. Without supervision, it's nearly impossible to keep things on track. Whether it's phsyical, emotional, or something else, bad habits and dependencies will begin to develop. You will cease to appreciate the person you're seeing and take her for granted. Don't let this happen. Understanding yourself is hard enough; you're not going to live long enough to fully understand someone else, and thinking that you can fully understand God is just plain crazy. Mystery is important. She's a woman; she acts in ways which you'd never imagine but which charm the heck out of you. He's a man; he'll do things which you might never expect but which are meant to show you as much honor as possible. We're made male and female for a reason. Vive la difference!

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Three Things I'm Thankful For 12/11/05

1. My KAA shorts. I like the way they look, they're really comfortable, and they remind me of kamp.
2. My old computer. It's a 733 MHz desktop from my Freshman year, but it still runs wonderfully and is utterly reliable.
3. My maroon Hawaiian-pattern sheets. After 5 1/2 years, I still think they look cool, and they're broken in well enough that they're extremely comfortable.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The Nature of Christian Authority

It finally dawned on me that one of the most major differences between Protestants and Catholics is that Protestants advance sola scriptura and thus believe that the nature of the institutional church should be derived from the Bible, while Catholics argue that the Church is the interpreter of Scripture, and thus the Bible flows from the teaching of the Church.

In a way, these arguments address separate issues. The Protestant is essentially saying at least "if it contradicts the Bible, it's wrong," while the Catholic is saying "private interpretation is dangerous; the Church determines the correct interpretation." I definitely agree with the Protestant assertion, and I'm pretty sure that I agree with the Catholic assertion as well.

The Catholics have their strongest argument in the question of the canon of the Bible. They argue that the ecumenical Councils of the Church established the canon, and that as such, apostolic tradition (received teaching from the apostles to church leaders on down to today) has at least some role. The Table of Contents is not inspired Scripture, and so the question becomes "what are the holy books of the Bible?" Roman Catholics claim 73. Modern Protestants remove the Apocrypha/Deuterocanon and claim 66. Anglicans, as usual, sort-of claim 66, but also sort-of claim 73. Martin Luther wanted 62 (removing the Apocrypha, Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation). Some Orthodox churches include various other books, such as Enoch and 3 and 4 Esdras. Without a revelation to either the Church as a whole or at least to himself, how can a man (or, if herself, a woman, of course...) know whether to accept the Gospel of John, the Gospel of Thomas, or Tobit? If there is a teaching authority, or magisterium, things become much simpler.

However, Protestants can very well argue that what's true is true, even if everyone says otherwise. They might well take argue C.S. Lewis's view, that even if they agreed with everything the Church has taught so far, they're not prepared to promise to believe whatever it may teach in the future. Especially in light of past scandals and crimes of the Roman Catholic Church, Protestants have a fair case that perhaps Rome cannot always be trusted, however much they may like and admire John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Personally, I find it amusing that Protestants typically point to sola scriptura as their argument against the role of tradition, though the canon of the Bible itself can only be proved to be a tradition at present. Meanwhile, the Catholics typically point to Matthew 16:19 as their basis for a magisterium, although someone's private interpretation was necessarily to classify this as dogma. Ironies abound.

I also think some connections can be drawn between Protestantism and the individualism of John Locke, and Catholicism and the communitarianism of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. That's pretty deep stuff, though, so I'm thinking it would be better tackled later, when I don't have a huge project due the next day...

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