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Fasting Not Required

December 22, 2021

Seventy years elapsed between the destruction of Israel's first temple (in 586 B.C.) and the dedication of the second (in 516). During that period, the Israelite survivors kept an annual fast to remember their status as exiles and mourn that which had been lost, including brethren, country, and—most of all—God's temple.

Mourning candles

After the events mentioned in "The Burning Bulwark", when the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple were well underway, Israel's leaders asked the Lord, "Should we continue our annual fast?" Since the things they had been fasting and mourning were ostensibly returned, they assumed that the fast was no longer necessary. Indeed, Jerusalem had been rebuilt, and also God's house within it.

The Lord responded through Zechariah: "When you kept that fast, was it really for my sake?" Instead of providing a simple "yes" or "no", God returned an introspective question and then followed it with this command: Be just, be kind, and be merciful to one another; furthermore, don't oppress the downtrodden, the helpless, the unfortunate, or anyone else, and don't plan evil things against them.

God's reply was not to sidestep a definitive answer, but to express dutiful anger. While Israel's powerbrokers had ceremoniously observed the fast-of-mourning, they had also opportunistically maltreated their countrymen. "Was it for me that you were fasting?" God asked, "Or for yourselves?" The Lord effectively expressed, By not eating, you had extra time and money, but did you do my good works with them, or did you put that excess toward taking advantage of the least among you? Fast if you wish… or don't, for the important things are these: administer true justice, show kindness, and have mercy on those around you.

Wheat

The same sentiment is expressed throughout the Bible, perhaps most succinctly in 1 Samuel 15:22: "Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, or in obedience of his word? To obey is better than sacrifices; to heed is better than the fat of rams." Jesus echoed the same belief after religious authorities lambasted his followers and him for picking grain on the Sabbath; he told them, "If you had understood the meaning behind God's saying, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifices', then you would not call us 'guilty'." (Matthew 12:1-8)

Like putting the cart before the horse, who among us is so close to godly perfection that only minutia and details remain? Is the punctuation of our prayers more important than their content? Does religious ceremony take precedence over compassion and decency? Indeed, what good is a fast if we mistreat those around us and abuse the authority God has entrusted to us? We can ask God about the nitty-gritty, but God's priorities are usually elsewhere, like when the prophet Micah explained, "People, the Lord has told you what is good and what is required of you: Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God."

Pardons and Poultry

November 24, 2021

Since the Lincoln administration, American presidents have had sporadic engagements with turkeys. On Thanksgiving morning, 1989, President George H.W. Bush declared about one such fowl friend, "He will not end up on anyone’s dinner table. Not this guy. He’s granted a presidential pardon as of right now." Thus began the amusing tradition of granting pardons to Thanksgiving turkeys.

Drawing of a turkey

Most people neither need nor receive a presidential pardon, but we all need (and are eligible for) one of God's royal pardons. Whether or not you agree with the doctrine of Original Sin, by the time you're old enough to read this blog, you have inevitably transgressed the Divine One's royal statutes. Not that you're necessarily a "bad person" by any reasonable measure, but even the best of us has, at some point, been guilty of hubris, envy, falsehood, heartlessness, and much more.

Since God is a holy god and we are but the creation, the punishment for our violations is always death. Though harsher than we might expect, such is the demand of justice. And God (who is perfectly just) will not fail to collect the payment. Hope abounds, though, because our creator is also perfectly merciful; that is why God became a human and, as the person Jesus, died for our account.

Gift, small black box with white ribbon

When Jesus was executed, he assumed our sins and died in our place. Thus, our capital offences were expiated. It was not a pardon per se, for in that act of subrogation, Jesus switched roles with us: We were acquitted while he was condemned. The result, however, was the same: We walked away free… almost.

Although Jesus paid the debt, not everyone has been freed from their obligation to it. To accept that mercy, we must acknowledge that Jesus—not we, but he—made it possible; we must acknowledge that we are unable to atone for our sins ourselves; and we must accept Jesus and follow in his footsteps. Otherwise, our "pardon" is a gift, freely given by God.

Therefore, pause tomorrow to give thanks. The name of your benefactor is Jesus, and if you have not yet accepted his gift of mercy, consider doing so. Like the many Christ-followers who have come before and will follow after, you won't regret it.

The Burning Bulwark

November 11, 2021

The city of Jerusalem became an Israelite possession around 1000 B.C., when King David breached the city walls and conquered its stronghold. He and subsequent kings enhanced Jerusalem, expanded its footprint, strengthened its walls, and raised a great temple for the Lord. But it was all ruined in 586 B.C., when Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem, including even the city walls and God's temple.

Pile of broken bricks

Several decades after the sacking, the Israelites began to return and rebuild. Though they had an auspicious start, their progress eventually slowed; as for God's temple, its reconstruction ground to a halt. Instead of rebuilding God's house, the people worked on their own dwellings. Therefore, God commissioned the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to redirect Israel's collective heart and encourage the nation to complete the Temple.

Since, however, the city walls were still ruins, Jerusalem was vulnerable to attack. It didn't seem like a good time to start such a grand building project. Therefore, God (through Zechariah) promised to be like a wall of fire around Jerusalem—a burning bulwark, as it were—to protect the city and its inhabitants as they carried out the Holy One's instructions.

Though God's assurance of a fiery fence applied to that specific situation there and then, there is still a message for us here and now: When we place God's priorities above our own and strive toward heavenly purposes, the Lord will shield us from distractions. When we work on the Temple, God will avert reavers and pillagers. Jesus echoed the same: If we seek God first, our subsequent desires will be satisfied. (Matthew 6:33)

Temptation, divertissement, and malevolence will always be present to complicate matters and test our mettle, but if we keep to the work of God, success will follow. If God says to build, then we should build and not worry about the surroundings. Indeed, God will be present. From the words of Zechariah: "I lifted my eyes, looked, and behold! there was a man with a measuring line in his hand, so I asked him, 'Where are you going?' He said to me, 'To measure Jerusalem—its width and length… for thus says the Lord: I will be a wall of fire all around her, and I will be the glory in her midst.'"

The End is (not) Near

October 21, 2021

Suppose that, within the next month, your car will be due for an oil change. If you intend to keep that vehicle for the next twenty years, then you'll change the oil and perform other routine maintenance. If, however, you knew that, in the near future, your car would be swept away by a flood, then you wouldn't bother with the maintenance.

Broken down car surrounded by trees

When the end is near, otherwise irresponsible behaviors can be justified, but what happens when the flood doesn't come, when the end is not near? What dire consequences do we suffer? When imminent demise is expected, mentalities shift from productive endurance to carefree burn-out. In the case of vehicle maintenance, we vitiate the car and see to its premature breakdown.

Believing that creation's end is at-hand disserves the individual, the Church, and the world itself. It causes God's people to treat church buildings like bomb shelters and hunker inside, abandoning the world to its own devices and destruction while desperately awaiting an eleventh-hour rescue from Jesus. Yet such behaviors contradict the Church's raison d'être dating back to The Great Commission—Jesus's valedictory words to his followers—recorded in Matthew's gospel: Fill the planet with Christ-followers, and be assured that Jesus is with the church until the work is complete.

John's Revelation, other New Testament works, and Christian tradition assert that Jesus will return to a victorious Church that has successfully completed its mission and fulfilled its purpose. Why, then, in recent years, have many congregations rallied around doom, gloom, and the world's impending annihilation? Indeed, wayward morals, hostility toward Christianity, and other problems abound, yet the Church's proper response is not to abandon and cower, but to rise up as the instrument of God.

Hands-shaped fountain giving water

Since the end is not near (as it likely isn't), and since the Church has been commissioned to build the kingdom of heaven on earth (not wait for it to fall from the sky), genuine Christ-followers should engage in media, entertainment, cultural debates, and politics; they should seek the helm of these institutions because such institutions are the driving forces of the culture.

The goal is not to burden non-Christians with Christian mandates, as the great monarchies of Europe once attempted, but to safeguard values such as justice, wisdom, responsibility, and industry, and to create a world in which the Church can thrive and continue its daily tasks of sharing the Gospel and spreading God's love.

The world is our vehicle, and we will be driving it for a long time; after us, our children and progeny down the line will drive it also. We are commissioned to manage, maintain, and meliorate it. God's people are not bystanders who hope for non-believers to fix the world, neither are God's people dooms-day fanatics who plead with God to "just destroy it already". God's people are the hands and feet of Christ who have been commissioned by God to overcome the earth with the Good News of Jesus. The end is not near, and the Church is not yet victorious; therefore, the command is not resignation, but action.

Shorter Days, Temporarily

September 22, 2021

A day like today hasn't happened for six months, nor will it happen again for another six. Today is an equinox (an "equal night"): a biannual occurrence on which the lengths of day and night are the same. The cause of equinoctes and their counterpart solstices is Earth's tilt, yet even though science and astronomy have supplanted the mystery and astrology of these events, we can still use the occasions to consider the world and our places in it.

Drawing of Earth, Sun, and Moon

The transposed lengths of day and night mean that darkness will, for the next half-year, outweigh the light (in the Northern Hemisphere, that is). But at the same time, many might feel like the world, too, has been benighted, and that forces of evil will soon outweigh those of good. It can seem that the steady enlightening of mankind has reached its zenith and is beginning to yield to darker times.

If such sentiments are even remotely true, then it's a good thing that the Church exists. Be assured, also, that the Church will always exist; its long history is full of oppression, marginalization, and being driven underground, but the congregation of Christ will unceasingly persist and grow. Jesus has charged the Church to promulgate his message and forefend godliness. Thus, it will always be present to shine light into the darkness.

In the aftermath of resisting Christian values and indulging terrene appetites, people of the world will crave the Gospel and need the Church's guidance. Therefore, despite days shortening and nights lengthening, Christ-followers must be faithful and steadfast, so that when the seasons change and the daylight conquers darkness, they will be ready to welcome their prodigal brethren with love and healing.

God's Greek Time

August 23, 2021

Statue of Albert Einstein

Perhaps the most famous demonstration of time's nontrivial nature happened when Albert Einstein published On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies in June 1905. The groundbreaking paper about special relativity proved that time dilation was an immanent property of time itself. Time, which is ordinarily perceived as an unyielding but steady force, actually proceeds differently for certain situations. Not only is the perception of time different, but time itself is different: faster for some, slower for others (depending on their velocity and gravitational influence).

Time proceeds regularly in everyday life, and while we are helpless to alter its methodic progression, God, nevertheless, is not bound by it. Indeed, the prevailing theological assumption is that God is outside of time altogether. As such, when we encounter life, we approach it from a certain temporal vantage point, but God approaches it quite differently.

Exactly one month ago, I posited that one of God's common answers is "wait"—that is, God might grant us a request at some future time, but not now. In coming to terms with such a response, we must acknowledge that God's timing (also wisdom, understanding, concerns, etc.) is different from our own. One helpful way to think about timing is to consult koine Greek: the original language of the New Testament.

Pocketwatch on pile of sand

In Greek, two words are used for time: kronos (χρόνος) and kairos (καιρός). Kronos (like chronology) is clock-time: the rigid tick-tick-ticking of seconds, minutes, years, and decades. Kairos, on the other hand, is opportunity: the appropriate moment for something.

Appointments are governed by kronos: One arrives at the dentist at eight O'clock (on-the-clock). Planting and sowing are a mix of kronos and kairos: Lettuce should be planted in early spring, but the timing is subject to change based on weather and other factors. Falling in love, however, is governed by kairos: One cannot say that on such-and-such day he or she will fall in love; love happens when the opportunity is right.

In fact, many of life's most important moments are guided more-so by kairos than kronos. One who approaches life saying that he will—come hell or high water—begin a thirty-year career by month's end, find a partner and marry her two months later, begin a family nine months after that, etc. will end up as a miserable wretch. (God will also ensure that life does not become so tidy, predictable, and boring.)

Raspberries ripening on the vine

We entreat God for Thing x at Time t because we want to organize our appointment books and plan for upcoming events, but the precious things in life cannot be organized around birthdays and grocery shopping. God respects neither the clock nor the calendar; the Holy One waits for the opportunity to be right, for the circumstances to be fitting. God is more kairos than kronos. If God were otherwise, we would be able to mark Christ's return on the calendar. But Jesus did not promise to return after a lustrum, a century, or even a dozen millennia, he promised to return when the occasion had arrived. The nature of kronos and kairos is that budding fruit cannot be picked after a set number of days; it must be picked when it has ripened.

Raspberry Pie

July 30, 2021

For an illustration of last week's blog, consider: When we ask God for something, it is often like a child asking a parent for a tasty treat. Dad, could I please have some raspberry pie?

Silence equates to, well, silence. We called from the dining room into the kitchen, and there was no response. Did dad hear? Is he plating our pie? Ignoring us? Not even home? It's confusing.

Raspberry Pie

God answering "yes" is the same as dad coming out of the kitchen with a fruity delectation, fresh from the oven. It's delightful.

"No" means that we don't get our pie. Dad won't leave us hungry, though; he will dish out something healthy for us, perhaps spiced rice with grilled vegetables. It's better for us and is still delicious, but it's not what we want, and we probably don't appreciate it. It's saddening.

Being told to wait is akin to dad emerging from the kitchen with a small bowl of raspberries, saying, "I'll start baking your pie now, but it'll take a while to get it right, so use these to whet your appetite and hold you over." We see that dad has raspberries and wants to give us some, we even smell baking from the kitchen, but we're so hungry that we forget that baking pies takes time. When we forget our sensibility, and the waiting… it's enraging.

No matter how God does or doesn't answer our prayers, it is important (though not necessarily easy) to remember that God is indeed a loving god. Everything he does—regardless of its appearance to us—is somehow in our best interest. We can feel confident and secure knowing the truth of Romans 8:28: "In all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

Four Common Answers

July 23, 2021

As we discussed in "Trick Questions", God often answers prayers with silence, and yet, at other times, God speaks. Today, let's consider four of God's common answers to yes/no prayers. The first, as previously discussed, is silence; the other three are "yes", "no", and "wait".

Statue of person listening with hand to ear

Silence is, undoubtably, the most confusing response, if it can even be called a response. Its negative effect is to cause us to question God's existence, authority, helpfulness, and goodness. (If God were there and listening, then surely we'd hear something; perhaps God isn't real, doesn't have the power to help, lacks advice to give, or is simply cruel.)

While some people fall down the slippery slope just described, others reap the positive effects of God's silence, especially growth and patience. When God is silent, we have an opportunity to learn waiting, endurance, and faithfulness that—despite the silence—God is still there.

"Yes" is the most pleasing response. God consents to a desire, and the effect is felicity. The positive effects of such an answer are joy and bliss; there is intense happiness. Perhaps, after the "yes" has come, we will even remember that God—not happenstance—had something to do with it, and remember God's kindness in the midst of some future struggle. On the other hand, the negative effect of "yes" is to forget God and assume that whatever happened would have happened regardless of the prayer. It's an unfalsifiable proposition: Believe God or believe luck, for there's no proving which it was. "Yes" is also unchallenging, lacking the lessons of the other three answers. We love "yes", but we rarely grow or learn from it.

Dog looking longingly from beneath blankets

"No" is the most saddening response. We feel shot down by God. The negative effect is to feel that God is against us. And, if we believe that we know what's best for ourselves, then we get mad at God and mistrust his opinions and designs. The positive effect of "no" is feeling that God saved us from ourselves. We thought that option A would be best, but God, with omniscient insight, knew otherwise and diverted us from walking into a self-made tragedy. It's good to note, but doesn't make the "no" any easier at the time.

"Wait" is the most enraging response. If God will give it someday, then why not now? The negative effect is to embitter our relationship with God. We probably won't know the reason for the wait, and even if we did, we might not agree with it. Seeing something just out of reach is maddening, more-so knowing that God could reach out and grab it so easily. "Wait" also has a positive effect, though, in that it reveals God's plans for us. It gives hope, confidence, and remembrance that the holy one is with us. And remembering that God is indeed with us will surely help us cope with whatever answer God gives, whether silence, "yes", "no", "wait", or something entirely different.

Solstice

June 20, 2021

Half a year has passed since I exhorted you to "Glom the Winter Solstice", and about three months since "VULTUS VERIS VENIAT". In both blogs, I urged you to use the momentum of the seasons to enhance your situation. While I maintain that same advice, let's use the solstice (which is today) to consider other matters.

Several globes

On this day, if the sun does not set, then you are living in the arctic circle. On the other side of the planet, however, some will experience a day with no sunrise at all. Those people are living in the antarctic circle, and for them (and all denizens of the southern hemisphere), today is the winter solstice.

Celestial clockwork such as solstices are good reminders that there are people in the world who have vastly different circumstances. While some are in the heat of summer, others are in the dead of winter. It is helpful, now and again, to think about people in different places. Who lives 50 miles from you? Who lives 5000? And what realities of their situations might help you grow in your understanding of humanity?

It is easy to assume that your own situation is more-or-less universal, after all, it's what you know, but the only way we can be effective ministers of God's word is by making it relevant to others. Someone across the world—or even across town—likely has different understandings than you do, different experiences also. To communicate a meaningful word, we must consider others and tailor our delivery for relevance. Mind you, this is not compromising the content nor making amendments; rather, it is adding pertinence.

Knowing where to add the parentheticals and explanations comes from considering the person receiving the message. (In the New Testament, we see how Paul used different strategies when preaching to different groups, yet the content remained constant.) If you talk of June as the middle of summer, but your listener is in New Zealand, then there's a disconnect. Through thoughtfulness, though, it is overcome; and through caring about others, the gospel is spread.

Trick Questions

May 30, 2021

Fork in a red brick road

"Oh Lord, where should I live: City A or City B? God, what career should I pursue? Who should I date?" At life's crossroads, have you ever asked similar questions? I know many who have asked God these questions, and yet, I don't know a single person who has received a timely answer. Upon such weighty matters, why does God keep silent? It's not like choosing from the lunch menu… this is the course of a life we're talking about!

When we ask God which path to take, it is often with the preconceived notion that they lead to vastly different places; moreover, that one leads to better things while the other leads to worse. Therefore, we seek God's prescience and desperately ask, "A or B? Option 1 or 2?"

If the motivation behind the question is personal aggrandizement, then I'm not sure what to make of God's silence. However, if somewhere behind the question is a sincere desire to follow God and pursue whatever divine plans might be outlined for our lives, then, if silence is still the reply, one possible explanation is that we are asking a trick question… there is no right answer because both are correct.

Barberpole

Is it not true that we can serve God no matter the situation? Paul found ways to share the gospel whether he was out in the streets or locked up, with his countrymen or among foreigners. It seems like every place and every facet of life need God; the far side of the world needs your talents just as much as your hometown. What if God's silence is tacit approval of either option? "Lord, should I be a barber or an engineer?" But God is clever, replying, "Ho! It's a trick question! Either will work out just fine because I'll be with you either way. So, which do you want to do? Go with whichever you prefer."

Maybe, like many of the heroes of the Bible, God has a very specific role for you to play; if that's the case, then my prayers are with you, for God's call is rarely to a place of our choosing. Yet for the rest of us—indeed, the vast majority—God has given us desires, interests, penchants, and charismata around which we can shape our lives.

It never hurts to inquire, but unless God tells you "no", then choose for yourself. It's a trick question, because whatever choice you make will be fine, only keep God first and foremost in your life. It can be daunting, and we'd prefer God's explicit approval of our decision, but that's the nature of faith and trust. Therefore, let us trust that God will be with us, and with that knowledge, let us seek ways to build the Kingdom of Heaven here on earth.

Ounces Make Pounds

May 3, 2021

Soldiers with large ruck packs

When packing for missions, Special Operations teams have a saying: ounces make pounds. While obvious on one hand, this terse truism is actually very helpful advice. If you have ever ventured forth on a multi-day trek, then you understand this well. Within the large, heavy packs of hikers or soldiers, there are rarely any heavy items. At best, perhaps one or two things weigh scantly more than a pound; nevertheless, scores of small, one-ounce items add up quickly.

Little things add up to big things; this is true of both positives and negatives. Take first the negatives: One donut a day soon compounds into a very unhealthy lifestyle, just as one artisan coffee each morning quickly drains the exchequer and grieves the budget. Of course, this is true of sins, also; frequent small misdeeds establish a habit of ungodliness. White lies begin small and grow into monsters, and the pattern is repeated for all transgressions.

At the same time, ounces also make pounds for positive things. One walk a day will quickly improve your health; reading one section of the Bible each day will rapidly vivify your relationship with God; and one good deed for a stranger will bring an incredible amount of godliness into the world.

Statue of runner about to go

Imagine preparing for a marathon and considering the gear you'll require; maybe your packing list looks like this: water, backpack, cell phone, car keys, energy gel, dried fruit, Band-Aids, Vaseline, sunglasses, small towel, etc. No single item is very heavy, but together it's worth fifteen pounds. Before the end of the race, that backpack will feel like a boulder, and chances are that you won't use half of what's in it. As you plod along with the shoulder straps chaffing you, consider the fastest people in the race. Chances are that none of them are carrying a single thing. Through training and discipline, and with the help of others along the course, they have been able to cast aside all those weights to run faster, farther, easier.

Hebrews 12:1 famously expresses that "since we are surrounded by such a large crowd of on-lookers, let us lay aside every weight, every sin, and all things that get in our way, and let us run, with great perseverance, the race that has been marked out before us."

Take these things as a metaphor. The more we include unnecessary or even detrimental things in our lives, the more they will weigh us down and—what's worse—inhibit us from carrying out Christ's plans for us. Many small things will quickly encumber us and render our efforts inefficient at best, counterproductive at worst. And as we, one by one, cast aside the weights, let us also, one by one, replace them with benefits and helpful things, understanding that ounces make pounds, small things add up to big things, and we have a long race ahead of us.

Indeed!

April 4, 2021

The two Christian holidays that everyone knows are Christmas and Easter; the former remembers the birth of Jesus, and the latter remembers his resurrection. Of the two, Easter is generally considered more important, but why?

The kingdom of Israel, unlike many of its contemporaries (and even modern-day kingdoms like Saudi Arabia, the Vatican, and the United Kingdom), was not a theocracy in which the offices of priest and king were held by the same person; in fact, God demanded that they be distinctly separate.

Cute baby sheep

Yet, there was a belief that, one day, someone would arise and become Israel's greatest king; he would throw off the nation's oppressors, establish the people of God like a shining beacon of righteousness, and—what's more—be sanctioned by God to subsume both priesthood and kingship unto himself, thereby combining those two offices within a single secretariat: messiah. Christmas is special because it commemorates the birth of Jesus, the messiah.

Another important idea was that man had been separated from God and that our continual sins made any sort of reconciliation quite impossible. As a temporary solution, animal sacrifices were instituted to recompense God for our wrongdoings: We sinned and deserved death; therefore, an animal was killed in our place, thus paying the debt. All the while though, animal sacrifices were a foreshadowing and placeholder for the ultimate solution: one final sacrifice to atone for humanity's sins—past, present, and future. Christians believe that this was accomplished in the death of Jesus on Good Friday (the Friday before Easter Sunday).

Easter itself commemorates that Sunday after Jesus' death when he resurrected from the grave. Not to belittle that occurrence, but the resurrection was not the fulfillment of a long-awaited promise. Through the prophets, God had promised the messiah and the atonement of sins. But the resurrection of an individual, where did that come in? Furthermore, how did it come to overshadow Good Friday—the atonement for the sins of all mankind?!

Tomb stone shaped like a cross

Of Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter, here's why Easter is the greatest: It vindicates the other two. Jesus' resurrection proved that he was who he said he was (i.e., the messiah and the sacrifice). Without the resurrection, his death could have ended it there; his most zealous votaries might have believed in his message and fought for it, but how would they have convinced others? The proof is in the pudding, as they say, and the resurrection was the proof.

The sacrifice was the deed, but the resurrection was the receipt. Thus, when the early Christians got together for Easter, their greeting to one another was not "He died for us, huzzah!"; it was, "He is risen!", to which to reply was, "He is risen indeed!" The word "indeed" emphasizes agreement and affirms truth. To celebrate Easter is to believe in the resurrection; to believe in the resurrection is to believe in the atonement of sins and the arrival of messiah. If you agree, then joyously proclaim, "Indeed!"

VULTUS VERIS VENIAT

March 19, 2021

The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year (in the Northern Hemisphere), and the summer solstice, in opposite measure, is the longest day. So it stands to reason that sometime between the two, day and night must equalize, diurnal and nocturnal must balance out. This mystifying event will happen tomorrow, and since the lengths of day and night will be equal, it takes no great stretch of the imagination to understand why it's called the equinox.

Crocus flowers in bloom

As the springtime is ushered in by this astronomical occasion, let us take a minute to consider the visage of spring. If you live in a deciduous part of the world, then the greys and browns of winter will soon give way to visually-stunning congeries of every color. There will be a great awakening of the world: Reclusive animals will reappear, livestock will yean, snow will melt, flowers will bloom, and the dormant mood of winter will be replaced by the busyness of the new season.

As I once invited you to glom the winter solstice—that is, take hold of its momentum—I encourage you now to let the visage of spring shine forth in your own life. Brighten up, liven up, and go forth with a spring in your step. Be invigorated by the vivified world that surrounds you. Be animated by the settings all around you, and awaken whatever is dormant within yourself.

Tomorrow is the vernal equinox. It is named this because "VER" is the Latin word for spring. Some more Latin for you: "VENIAT" means "let (it) come", "VULTUS" means "expression/countenance/face/visage", and the letter V makes the W sound (wultus weris weniat). So as a mantra this week and beyond, consider saying, "Let the visage of spring come." Or, to alliterate, you could always say, VULTUS VERIS VENIAT!

First Principles

March 7, 2021

Widgets

Suppose that you and a friend consider starting a widget business. Together, you brainstorm a comprehensive list of needs, down to the nitty-gritty like business cards, T-shirts, lanyards, and a QR code. The list grows longer and longer until one of you finally steps back and asks Are all these things really necessary? With that question, you have taken the first step toward discovering the "first principles" of your widget business. In this exercise, you attempt to discover essentials.

In mathematics, the first principles are axioms; in science, they are fundamental laws. Setting aside all assumptions, deductions, and preconceived notions, what is left? As Elon Musk explained it: "boil things down… and reason up from there." Now, when it comes to finding the first principles of a church, we can wonder… Has anyone done this lately?

Some twenty years ago, a few bold church-planters did, and the megachurch movement took root. The concept of a church was reinvented: Sanctuaries gave way to auditoriums, and just about everything—the building, the service, the music, the outfits—was reimagined. Today, those that follow the megachurch model are generally profitable and growing, and some really are "mega".

Sofa in a living room

But now, it's been about two decades since churches started replacing altars with stages, and they are no longer the avant-garde, but ubiquitous. There is a fine line between critical and commonplace. Consider that nearly all homes have a sofa, yet does this mean that a sofa is necessary in one's dwelling? And if not (as it isn't), then does everyone have one because they're the best, or because nobody has thought about the possibility of not having one?

When considering starting a church or vivifying your current one, don't look down the street, find the most crowded church parking lot, and ask if you can make slight improvements upon their model. Instead, think about first principles, and ask What is the essence of a church?

Ask questions like these: Is Jesus at the center? Do his values guide it? Is his great commission fulfilled in it? Does it bring people to the table? Is there community? Are all people sincerely welcomed? There are many more to ask, but these can begin the discussion and help guide us as we figure out what we really need; that is, as we ask ourselves about first principles.

God and Sons Co., Part 2

February 8, 2021

The previous blog discussed the way in which God and believers are described as father and sons. We, the believers, can all—regardless of whether we are male or female—be thought of as sons because of the particular privileges that sons (and not necessarily daughters) had during the day and age when the Bible was recorded. But in that last blog, I also made mention of my favorite God-believer dynamic: partnership. Let's talk about that.

Clownfish and anemone

In a healthy partnership, both parties contribute. What they bring to the table is not always equal—skills, talents, resources, etc. can vary (and probably should)—yet each contributes to the effort in an appreciable way, and there is an expectation of co-dependance. (In a biological relationship, this is mutualism, like clown fish and anemones.) Of course, God is God, and we are… something less, and yet—believe it or not—we have something to contribute, and the Almighty One seeks our partnership.

Have you ever wondered why God has not eradicated all of the world's ills? There are numerous factors that theologians might readily discuss through the night and forward unto dawn, but suffice it to say that one of those reasons is partnership. God wants our help to better the world; it is about trust, desire, and responsibility. We are like children daunted by their messy rooms, and—like a loving father—God looks at the mess and offers to help tidy it, offering to lift the items too heavy for us. And yet… if we fail to contribute (or at least attempt to), then God will let us wallow in the that mucky welter, that messy room.

The God and Sons partnership begins in this way: by our making efforts to show that we care at least one small scintilla about whatever we are petitioning for. (We want our rooms clean, and see: We are picking up the first toys ourselves.) And over time, as we grow and mature, as we develop skills and penchants and proclivities, as we refine our capabilities, then we can endeavor upon greater and grander missions with God.

Two men in a row boat

When the disciple Peter began his walk with Jesus, it was in partnership: Jesus sought to preach a sermon to a shoreline full of would-be listeners, and he asked Peter to row him out a little and steady the boat there so that he might better address the crowd. (Luke 5:1-3) Did Jesus need Peter? In a sense, no… because Jesus—being no less than divine—could have wrought some miracle to accomplish his purpose; and yet, in a sense… yes, because Jesus needed a better lectern, and Peter had one to give.

In our partnership, we can eventually take on more and more, like when (in Matthew 16) Jesus gave Peter the metaphorical keys to heaven and invited him to lead the church. Why wouldn't God lead the church? Well, if the church weren't important enough to mankind that people would step up to lead it, then why would God bother? But if Peter put forth the effort, and then Linus and Anacletus and their congregations, then God helped.

There are many facets to the relationship between God and believers, but one of them is partnership. Like when father and sons share the same mission and desire and therefore agree to synergize their efforts to bring their purposes to fruition. They enter into business together and create a father and son enterprise, perhaps with a name like "God and Sons Company". Together, then, they change the world.

God and Sons Co., Part 1

January 25, 2021

Father and son

The relationship between God and believers is described by the Bible in several different ways. There are the dynamics of the creator and the created, the deity and the dust-begotten, the shepherd and the sheep, the father and the sons, the parent and the children, etc., and my favorite that never gets mentioned: the partners.

First, though, let's consider the dynamic of parent and children. At several places in the Bible, believers are described as sons of God. (For example, 1 John 3:2 begins, "Beloved, here now, we are the sons of God.") In most modern translations, however, the Greek word τέκνα (TEK-NA)—sons—is translated as children. This neoteric practice is well-intentioned because it accounts for the inclusivity of both genders. Indeed, both men and women—all who believe—are ranked as sons of God; the honor is not exclusive to males.

Scared child in bed

However, in emphasizing inclusivity, the very thing into which we are being included is underemphasized and perchance missed altogether. What is it to be a child of God? No doubt, it is a special privilege. Who but the child of a loving parent can, with impunity, awaken that loving parent in the dead of night for the most insignificant of reasons? What creature of God's handiwork can pester and petition the divine ear with seemingly trivial affairs? Surely the angels cannot, just as an employee cannot awaken the CEO to seek refuge from grotesque shadows on the floor. But do you know who can? The CEO's child.

And yet, the Bible describes God's believers as sons, not children. Now, one can lament the perceptions and roles of the sexes—real and imagined—in ancient and modern times, but the fact remains that the Bible was written in a time where men and women—sons and daughters—had vastly different roles.

With that in mind, for good or bad, it was better to be a son. Sons had the inheritance, the authority, the legal standing, and much more. To call believers sons does not ignore half the congregation; it elevates all. It places us in the most prominent relationship with God, on par with Jesus himself.

We are not merely distant kin of the Lord, but we are as close as close gets. We are not only doted upon, as might be a favored daughter, but we have a share—in fact, the share—of the inheritance. We are stakeholders with God, to carry on the family name, to enjoy its honors, its victories, and every there-pertaining titular privilege. We can speak with authority on behalf of the father. We can use the family seal. And indeed, when we mature, we can enter into a prominent role at the family business and become partners together. And that… we will discuss in part two.

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