Monday, December 13, 2010

Separation from God

One of the pillars of Campus Crusade-style evangelism is the fact that our sin--disobedience--separates us from God. How does this happen? My natural response--and I imagine what many other Christians believe--is that God rejects us, casts us from His presence, if we're tainted by sinful guilt. But I disagree. I think that the reverse is the case--sin's separating us from God is not initiated by God, but by us. The truth is that, sinful to the core as we are, there is no way we can bear to the presence of a perfect and holy God. This is hard to explain to those who haven't really felt convicted of their sin--not just regretting the consequences of something, but actually being hit hard by the guilt of it.

If you haven't felt this kind of guilt about God, maybe you've seen it in other relationships. When you've really wronged a friend and you know it, you're almost afraid to see them because of the guilt it brings up. Now imagine (just hypothetically) your friend is 100% perfect--humble, always asks how you're doing first, never makes these kinds of mistakes and all that. It makes whatever you did seem even worse by comparison. Now imagine your friend also happens to be the omnipotent God of the universe and you start to see how the guilt of sin can lead us to separate ourselves from God.

The Bible has evidence for this. In the Fall, God does send Adam and Eve away from His presence for disobeying Him, but look at what happens before that. When they hear God coming, they hide! (Genesis 3:8) Before he banishes them, they try to get away from Him. Again, look at the response of pretty much anyone who has ever had an encounter with God in the Bible. Isaiah "is ruined" by the sight of the Lord on His throne (Isaiah 6:5). John falls at Christ's feet "as though dead". (Revelation 1:17) When God descends on Mount Sinai, the Israelites are terrified and beg Moses to speak to Him for them (Exodus 20:18-19). Moses is apparently cool enough with God to see His back, but after this encounter the Israelites were afraid to look at him, so much so that he had to put on a veil around them (Exodus 34). When Simon Peter sees Jesus (who, by all appearances, was an ordinary guy) perform a miracle, he begs Him to leave. (Luke 5:1-11)

God certainly doesn't seem to be the one trying to get away from us in all these stories. The common theme seems to be that when people see how impossibly great and glorious God is, their thoughts immediately turn to how low and inglorious they are by the standard He sets by His very being. The essence of the Gospel is that even if we try to run and hide from God, He is actively pursuing us, looking to be in relationship with us as  He intended. And because of Jesus' death paying the penalty, the guilt of our sin doesn't have to keep us away from Him. He offers a fresh start, if we'll only reach up and accept it.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

In Which I Attempt Too Much Apologetics

A few years ago when I was really going deeper in my faith, I became interested in apologetics, and finding an intellectual foundation for my faith. I don't actively study it as much these days, but it's still good to have answers to lots of the intellectual objections people have to Christianity. A Disclaimer: I don't think it's possible to objectively 'prove' Christianity, or else someone would have done so by now and all reasonable, intelligent people would be Christians. Since I know lots of reasonable, intelligent people who aren't Christians, I think that believing in Jesus always takes some faith--a step into the unknown, not entirely sure if it's true. The purpose of apologetics isn't to prove Christianity but to clear away intellectual obstacles people have to belief.

That said, I'm going to present one of the best arguments I've heard for the key belief of Christianity: the resurrection of Jesus. It's mostly from a sermon preached at my church, Hope Community Church, plus some of my own thoughts. My pastor started with a quote from the Handbook of Christian Apologetics:
We believe Christ’s resurrection can be proved with at least as much certainty as any universally believed and well-documented event in ancient history. To prove this, we do not need to presuppose anything controversial (e.g., that miracles happen). But the skeptic must also not presuppose anything (e.g., that they do not). We do not need to presuppose that the New Testament is infallible, or divinely inspired or even true. We do not need to presuppose that there really was an empty tomb or postresurrection appearances, as recorded. We need to presuppose only two things, both of which are hard data, empirical data, which no one denies: the existence of the New Testament texts as we have them, and the existence (but not necessarily the truth) of the Christian religion as we find it today.
The basic assumption for the argument is that a man named Jesus really lived around the time the gospels say he did, he was a religious teacher who was crucified, and soon after this his followers began spreading his teachings saying he'd risen from the dead. Even secular historians from around that time who would have been all too eager to disprove Christianity admit to this much. The argument breaks the death and resurrection of Jesus into five possibilities:

1. Jesus did not die. He was resuscitated by the cool of the tomb.
The so-called 'swoon' theory. It asserts that Jesus in fact did not die on the cross and was merely unconscious when he was buried. A few days later, he came to, feeling much better, and walked out of the tomb, whereupon he began telling people he'd miraculously risen from the dead.

The key to these theories is to take them apart and examine them in detail. Consider what Jesus went through leading up to the crucifixion. He was arrested, starved, deprived of sleep, food, and drink, severely beaten, flogged (a treatment that killed some people right then), and, of course, crucified. If there was one thing Roman soldiers were good at, it was killing people. Crucifixion is one of the most horrific ways to die imaginable. Just to make sure Jesus was good and dead, they stabbed him with a spear for good measure. The swoon theory asserts that after all this, Jesus was somehow still alive, and after lying in a tomb with no food, water, or medical attention for 36 hours, suddenly felt 'much better', enough so to push aside the stone sealing his tomb shut, overpower the armed Roman guards, and go around telling people he'd been resurrected. After all that happened to him, he would have been an absolute mess, a far cry from the glorified "resurrection body" he was described as having. I doubt he would have convinced anyone he'd been miraculously resurrected. There's just no way he could have survived all that.

2. Jesus did die.
If this (much more likely possibility) is the case, there are four subpossibilities:
a. Jesus did not rise from the dead, but his disciples didn't know it.
The two most popular theories to explain this are that his disciples either went to the wrong tomb by mistake and, finding it empty, thought he'd been resurrected, or that they hallucinated.

Let's take these apart: if they went to the wrong tomb, all any of the Jews or Romans would have had to do to disprove Christianity (which they would have been eager to do) would have been to direct them to the right tomb. It's very hard to believe that during the entire rise of the early church, that no one noticed that the empty tomb the disciples found was the wrong one. (Also that everyone believed Jesus had been resurrected when no one actually saw him)

As for hallucinations: while it's certainly possible for someone to hallucinate meeting and conversing with an imaginary person, it's inconceivable for two (let alone five hundred) people to hallucinate the same person at the same time. Also, as with the other theory, all anyone would have had to do to shut the early Christians up would have been to actually procure Jesus' dead body and show it to everyone. Next theory.

b. Jesus did not rise from the dead, and his disciples knew it.
i.e. Christianity is the biggest hoax in human history. This was the theory the Jews at the time believed (Matthew 12:11-15); that the disciples stole Jesus' body and falsely proclaimed he'd been raised. My disproof of this one comes from human nature. Except for John and Judas, all of Jesus' disciples were martyred. It is much easier for me to believe Jesus did rise than to believe that anyone would live and die for something he knows to be a lie.

c. Jesus did not rise from the dead, and his disciples never said he did.
i.e. Christianity is a myth; Jesus is on the same level as Zeus. There is simply very little evidence for this theory. Nothing about the gospels is written in the "myth" style; it is presented as a series of historical events, with lots of tie-ins to the real world and real people. The gospels and epistles are very clear that Jesus really did rise from the dead, literally. The myth theory is a much more recent invention (from the last few centuries), while we have abundant evidence that Christians believed in a literal resurrection before that. And again, can you see a Greek myth-writer being martyred for his belief that Europa was abducted by Zeus in the form of a bull?

With all of these theories seeming pretty unlikely, we come by elimination to the last one:
d. Jesus did rise from the dead. Christianity is true. Hallelujah!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Game for All Christians

So I just got back from a men's conference with Campus Crusade for Christ. It was basically one of the best conferences I've been at; I had fellowship with men from across the upper midwest, got to see some of the men from summer project(!), and learned about how to be an authentic man of God. I also got to step on the Timberwolves' new practice court before they did (they had just finished it earlier that day) and spent hours outside in a snowstorm wearing shorts! A good time was definitely had.

Anyway, after getting back I had a lot on my mind. Most pressingly, I had realized that all the stress and busyness of this semester had really been distracting me from God and derailing the relationship with Him I built this summer. How could I bring the craziness of my life "together under one head"? (Ephesians 1:10) Then suddenly a fully-formed and brilliant idea sprung into my head (possibly the spiritual gift of wisdom at work). I came up with a cross between a life inventory and a pen-and-paper game.

It's pretty simple. Take a piece of paper. On the top, write your overarching goal in life. (I put "God's Kingdom", but you could put other similar things like "Glorifying God" and the like. I suppose non-Christians who have a defining life goal could also do this to see how consistent they are.) From this overarching goal, maybe write some broad applications below it (like deepening your walk with God or improving your witness) and connect them. You can have subgoals inside of goals and all that. Then, on the bottom of the page, write the things you do, as many as you can think of. My (incomplete) paper looks like this:

The goal of them game is, while being as honest with yourself as possible, to connect all the things on the bottom of the page with the goals on the top of the page. Use links (subgoals) if necessary. Hopefully it will be surprisingly convicting--if something on the top of the page doesn't connect with anything on the bottom, then maybe you aren't doing something in your walk with God that you should. If something on the bottom doesn't connect to the top, then you should think about why you're doing it at all. I'm not trying to make anyone feel bad, just help you evaluate how you're living your life in relation to the mission God has called you to. I have no idea if this will help or not, but I think it's a cool idea.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

My Political Rant/Change of Heart

The following is the result of years of processing and gathering information; I thought today would be a good time to finally put all my ideas together and elucidate my political views beyond the one-word description on Facebook.

Today, November 2nd, 2010, marks the climax of the two-year cycle known as American elections. With the constant bombardment of campaign ads, rallies, activists, and calls to vote, it's impossible to ignore, especially on a college campus. Honestly, I wish I could. One of the common tactics used to pressure people to vote is to reason that if you don't vote, you have no right to complain about politics. Maybe so, but what if my complaint isn't about what such-and-such candidate is doing, but that the entire American political system is thoroughly broken, and to participate in it is to implicitly endorse it?

Let me explain--

It was at this point that, while doing research and trying to figure out what to write next, that I had a colossal change of heart that ultimately led to me voting. That said, I'm going to go ahead with most of what I was going to say first.

It's pretty easy to see that the American political machine has some serious problems. American voters, the people we trust to decide to choose our government, are polarized along partisan lines, close-minded, and uninformed. Perhaps this is why they tend to elect people like them. The increasing polarization of politics has, I think, turned discussions of policy in a more negative direction. This is evidenced by the obstructionist tactics practiced by whatever party is in the minority, all the attack ads you see on TV, and the general sentiment that "[X candidate I'm not going to vote for] is going to run this country/state into the ground!" Who you're going to vote for isn't as much the question as who you're going to vote against. We're all too eager to blame some convenient person or group of people for America's problems: the president, the ruling party, "Wall Street fat cats", illegal immigrants, homosexuals, you name it.

The truth is that we're all to blame for the spirit of partisanship that has turned American politics into a battlefield, with everyone forced to take a side of run for cover. When politics is simplified to two sides, it's just as much a winning strategy to bash the other side as to try to work contructively for the good of your own, and a much easier one. I remember a few years ago in the Bush administration when the Republicans were responsible for all our problems; now the situation has reversed along with the party in power. Nothing new under the sun. How, I wondered, could government "for the people, by the people" possibly be a good idea when people were so flawed? Had America outgrown the democracy it pioneered?

Then, barely three hours before the polls closed, it hit me. Most of my issues weren't with the system itself, they were with the people in it. And by not voting, I was making it worse. So I biked over to Seward Towers and cast my vote--only for governor, since I hadn't had time to research any of the other races and it would have been a bit hypocritical of me to vote uninformed. I knew my vote wouldn't make a difference, but the principle of it was still important with this new viewpoint of mine.

The problems with the political system itself, I realized, are surprisingly few and definitely fixable without radical restructuring. The main ones I have thus far are outlined in this article: the measures to protect minorities in Congress that once prevented the tyranny of the majority, but now mostly serve to make obstructionist tactics possible. One of the main ones is the filibuster. When I first learned what a filibuster was, I couldn't believe it was allowed, and my sentiment hasn't changed a bit. The absurdity of allowing one senator out of a hundred hold up useful debate for an arbitrary length of time by talking about biscuit recipes speaks for itself. As this chart shows, the number of cloture votes--a measure to end filibusters--has been rising since the 60s, especially in the new millennium. There are other rules loopholes that are used for the same purpose: to prevent constructive debate and progress and stick it to the "enemy" party. And people wonder why Congress doesn't do much.

I urge you to keep this issues mind in future elections, especially the national ones in two years, as they are fundamental to how everything else gets handled. One can only imagine how much better the government could function if Republicans and Democrats would stop trying to nullify each other and actually cooperate as they could before becoming so polarized. A quote from the article on how this might work:
"The irony is that getting rid of the rules meant to ensure bipartisanship may actually discourage partisanship. Obstructionism is a good minority strategy as long as it actually works to stymie the majority's agenda and return you to power. But if it just means you sit out the work of governance while the majority legislates around you, your constituents and interest groups will eventually begin demanding that you include them in the process. And that's as it should be: we hire legislators to legislate. We need a system that encourages them to do so."
As for the problem of people, there is no solution that will magically make American voters geniuses and politicians selfless, but you can do your part. Stay informed about current events and the candidates, come up with your own opinions, stay open-minded, get into dialogue with others (especially those you disagree with!), and vote for the candidate you believe will be best for the nation/state.

Monday, November 1, 2010

This Semester

Well, I guess I haven't posted anything on my blog in almost two months. What a crazy semester it's been! It's about time I posted an update.

So, this semester I decided to take 19 credits. Since I took 20 pretty easily next semester, I figured I should be able to handle this along with my job and being vice president of Middlebrook Hall. What I failed to realize was that, whereas I only took one class in my major last semester, I decided to get caught up this semester by taking four. Three of which turned out to be incredibly difficult. Big mistake.

So the upshot was that about a week ago, I was involved in two major group projects and a complicated programming assignment, and falling behind on them all. This semester has been humbling. School has been challenging in the past, but it wasn't until this semester that I actually discovered the limits of how much I could do. I've been used to always having enough time to get A's in all my classes and have plenty of time for fun stuff and a social life. This semester I literally haven't had time to do everything and have had to make sacrifices. At once point I think I barely had a free moment for an entire week. This is extremely mentally taxing.

The biggest single factor of this, I realized, was my algorithms class, which is taught by a professor who seems to think that failing (at the current rate) over half his class is a good teaching method. Apparently he could get investigated for that, especially since it's a required course. One can only hope. Every programming assignment for this class took over 30 hours of solid work and consumed multiple entire weekends. With so much other scheduled stuff with 19 credits and two group projects, my schedule filled up alarmingly quickly.

Long story short, I dropped that class and have been much happier and less stressed ever since. Without that massive time drain, even my two group projects seem less intimidating and with some effort I'm getting back on track. (With my classes, at least; my social life is still struggling...but hey, I always get plenty of sleep, so two out of three, right?) All this leads me to an important lesson this semester taught me: Know and respect your limits. Even if you don't think you have limits, you do, and I don't envy the time that shows them to you.

The other thing that has made this semester so crazy is the realization that, despite my major being in computer science, my passion lies elsewhere. Namely in technical theater, a subject I discovered almost by accident more than halfway through high school. Let me explain what I mean by passion: increasingly through my career as a CSci major at the U of Minnesota, I've felt somehow different than other CSci majors, like I'm behind them in terms of my knowledge and skills. I readily learned what they taught us in class, but I could never figure out how to apply anything to practical programs. I was kind of embarrassed that my roommate this year, who is a mechanical engineering major, knows a good deal more about Unix and general programming than I do!

Then my algorithms professor (the very same one) made a comment after our first programming assignment that made everything clear. He basically said that we were expected to have taught ourselves the programming skills necessary to do the assignment--presumably for no reason other than curiosity and our interest in the subject. I realized that this was also probably how my peers had gained so much more practical knowledge than I had--while I was spending my free time reading or playing games, they were hacking.

I had mistaken being good at computer science (or just being a diligent learner and logical thinker) for having a passion for it. I easily comprehended what I was learning in my classes, but I had no motivation to go beyond what I was being taught. I didn't notice this in my introductory-type classes, but by junior year it's become undeniable.

By a weird coincidence, the morning I was starting to write this, I saw an article on the Magic: The Gathering website (which I still frequent, despite no longer playing) about "the power of passion." In it, lead designer Mark Rosewater said this:
If You Want to Be Happy, then Make What You Do Something that Makes You Happy.
While this might sound simplistic, I believe one of the greatest causes of unhappiness is a lack of understanding of this life lesson. Many people are unhappy simply because they do not prioritize doing things that make them happy. They chase things they think can bring them happiness (money, fame, etc.) rather than focus on the actual things that make them happy.
The truth of Mark's words speaks for itself. Given a lucrative job as a software developer or a position as an electrician in a local theater that pays half as much, I know which one I'd pick. Money can't buy happiness. So my second lesson is sort of a rehashing of Mark's lesson: Do what you love, not what you're good at. (If you love what you're good at, lucky you.) This applies especially to high school students preparing to enter college, a period in which I made many decisions that I'm not seeing the effects of. Unfortunately, it's too late for me to change majors, so I have to force myself to stick to it until I graduate.

So that's my big update post about how this semester is going. Starting next time, back to the random musings on God and which brand of detergent is best and such.

Friday, September 10, 2010


As some of you may have gathered, I've had a rather bad last few days due to a certain happening in the music world. Last Thursday, Mike Portnoy, drummer, songwriter, lyricist, public face, and creative driving force of my favorite metal band Dream Theater, abruptly left the band he's led for the past 25 years. Let me make this perfectly clear: Dream Theater is not Dream Theater without Mike Portnoy. And by leaving one of the best bands out there at the height of its career, he has lost whatever respect I had for him. I won't say any more on how heartbroken and angry I am on the subject. Maybe I'll post a rant on my music blog sometime.

Anyway, off on a reflective tangent. I was basically in grief after I heard the news. In fact, I went into denial for a day or so, thinking there was no possible way that he could leave--I couldn't even imagine Dream Theater without Portnoy. I thought it was some kind of bad joke. Once it became real to me, I became quite angry. No idea if I'll start bargaining next or how that would work here. Putting this into perspective, I was shocked by how broken up I was (and am) about it; it was like I'd lost a loved one. All this for a lousy band? For something that doesn't personally affect me at all? What's wrong with me? Maybe the sad news was a much-needed wakeup call.

This led me to thinking about how much trust I put into temporary things. Even the things we feel most secure in could be gone tomorrow. The impossible can happen without any warning. I'm sure you all have your own experiences proving this. Does it really make sense to look for happiness in things when we might not live to see tomorrow?

Jesus told a parable about this in Luke 12, which I think speaks to Christians and non-Christians alike.
 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I'll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.” ’ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”
The parable is a sober warning for anyone who focuses on temporary, worldly things instead of eternal things (which we find by knowing God). So instead of storing up treasures you can't take with you, seek to become "rich toward God"--rich in eternal treasures like love, joy, wisdom, and a relationship with God.

And while you're still on earth, stick it to Dream Theater--listen to Queensrÿche!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Law

This post relates to my previous one in addressing the modern state of 'religion', specifically its perceived legalism. But I'm coming from a more dangerous perspective: one I have never had, that of the non-Christian, the outsider to the church. I'm talking about people who think being a 'good' Christian means you have to follow all of the (at times crazy) laws in the Old Testament. (Let's call them legalists) This is a common method of making fun of Christianity; I'm sure you're familiar with satirical websites on whom to stone or what kind of animals to sacrifice to God and such. More innocuously, maybe you've heard of the guy who attempted to follow all the Old Testament laws with rather humorous results.

The basic line of reasoning behind these occurrences, I think, goes something like this: the Bible is supposedly the inspired, always-true word of God, and it has all these incredibly specific instructions and laws in the first five books, so of course we have to follow all these rules if we claim to be Christians who hold the Bible in such high esteem.

Well lucky me, the previously-cited chapter, Ephesians 5, happens to be all about Christians who think they have to follow Old Testament law! Some context: in chapter 1, Paul says the Galatian church is "deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and [is] turning to a different gospel--which is really no gospel at all." As my pastor told it, what happened was that after Paul planted the Galatian church, some Pharisees came along and told them they had to follow Jewish law (i.e. Leviticus and Deuteronomy) to be Christians. Specifically, they told the church they had to be circumcised, an outward symbol of God's old covenant with the Jews. (v. 2-6) In the beginning of chapter 3 Paul contrasts their efforts to observe the [Jewish] law with simply believing.

Indeed, the main point of the whole letter is to address the Galatians' reliance on following the law to be saved instead of simply believing. And he is at his harshest in reprimanding them; he had nice things to say to greet even the Corinthians, who were a seriously messed-up church (taking each other to court over disputes, cheering on a guy who sleeps with his stepmom, obsessing over the gift of tongues), but not here. Paul is pretty clear that the Galatians (and, by logical extension, believers in general) are not expected to follow the laws of the Jews; just read 5:2-6. (Or just about anywhere in the book except chapter 2)

Back to the modern misconception that Christians are supposed to follow all those rules just as the Galatians thought they had to. How do we answer that train of logic? Paul does it for us in chapter 3, verses 15-25, where he discusses the purpose of the law. Specifically, he says it was given "because of transgressions until the Seed [Christ] referred had come." The law was only a temporary measure given to keep the Jews from completely turning from God until Jesus came.

But that doesn't seem to be the main purpose of the law. In v. 23, Paul says "we [the Jews] were held prisoners of the law"--apparently he found it just as constraining as we do. Part of this is because no one can fully observe the law--"Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin." (v. 22) What's the point of a law that no one can follow? To direct people to the alternative to the law, the real way to be declared righteous and saved from the penalty of sin: faith in Jesus. (v. 24) Attempting to completely follow the law is not God's intended response to it; instead, we should see how impossibly high God's standard of holiness is (for all we know, it might even be above and beyond the Old Testament law) and that we have no chance at all of meeting it on our own; we need to be saved by faith in Jesus. Finally, in verse 25, Paul pretty much summarizes the whole book: "Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law."

And that's a fine take-home, if you remember nothing else. By sending His son to take the penalty of our sins for us, God gave us an alternative to the futility of trying to be righteous by following the law. To use an extremely bad modern analogy, a Christian striving to be 'good' and obey the law is like a Monopoly player trying to roll his way out of jail instead of using the get-out-of-jail-free card he already has. Through Jesus, God gave us all a free ticket out of the penalty of our sins; who would turn down such a deal?

If I ended my post after that last paragraph, I might leave readers with the notion that since Jesus forgave our sins, we can just do whatever we want; after all, His grace is unlimited, right? Paul addresses this opposite idea to legalism in a different letter, Romans. "What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?" (6:1-2) Going back to my Monopoly analogy, this would be like immediately returning to jail after getting out for free. You don't want to go back to jail.

Another example more applicable to my peers: say you've made it through college but have racked up enough debt to keep you busy for several lifetimes, when suddenly your parents step in and pay it all off. (Maybe they used their RV fund or something) You have a clean slate, a fresh start to life, financially speaking. There are two extreme ways to respond to this stupendous act of generosity:

1. "Sweet, my parents will bail me out! Let's buy that Lamborghini I always wanted and hit the casino! PARTY TIME!!!"
2. "Wow, I can't believe they paid it all. I'm going to be careful with my money and try to avoid getting into debt from now on!"

Which way do you think makes more sense? Hopefully #2. And so it is with the much greater gift of salvation. Responding by simply taking license and doing whatever you want with the assurance that you will be forgiven makes no sense; it shows that you don't appreciate the gift at all, only freedom from the penalty of sin. Instead, Paul says, we should consider ourselves "dead to sin" and live consistently. Not in order to be saved, but because we already are.

A Farewell to "Religion"

Today at Hope Community Church was "rally day"--the first day that everyone is back at the U, creating a huge boost in attendance for Hope. Naturally Pastor Steve would want the preaching to be top-notch for such a momentous event; last year we had just reached 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 (the part about head coverings for women!). So this year we're in the middle of a quick series about Hope's core values; this week we covered Galatians 5 on living filled with the Spirit. I could write many posts on what this entails, but for now I'm going to focus on something from the sermon (and that I'm increasingly seeing) that hit me.

The sermon was basically about how the Christian life is a constant struggle to avoid slipping into two extremes--trying to earn your salvation by being legalistically righteous on one hand, and abusing God's grace by living however you want on the other. He mainly focused on avoiding the first extreme; instead of having our righteous work from the outside in, making ourselves "good people" by acting holy, we're to live from the inside out, letting the Spirit make us righteous via relationship with God.

I couldn't agree with any of that more, and overall I really enjoyed the sermon. I just wanted to focus quickly on Pastor Steve's universal name for this kind of legalistic, outside-in living: 'religion'. The way I grew up, when someone asked me my religion, I would have said I was a Christian (even if I wasn't necessarily living it out yet, but it was the descriptor). As I grew up and learned about the importance of a relationship with God and how we're supposed to live that, religion was the word I used to tie it all together.

Thanks to this redefinition, Christian writers and preachers actively shun religion and look for other words to use: 'faith' 'relationship', fill in the blank; you may have heard more than me. Nowadays, religion has become a very bad word in the evangelical community--a thing to be avoided, to dissociate yourself and your church from. It's associated with dogma, divisiveness, petty doctrinal disputes, empty rituals, and the imposing of morality on others. Perhaps because of these associations, it's become of the two things you never talk about in American culture--a shame!

And the saddest part is, I can't really disagree with them. It's easier for Christians and churches to distance themselves from the term than to try and redeem it in the juggernaut of American culture. I sigh when I see student groups promising "Jesus, not religion", but if 'religion' is such a huge stumbling block to so many people, maybe it's time to move on, with 1 Corinthians 10:22 flexibility.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Spiritual Gift of Celibacy

To the world, singleness is at best a problem easily remedied by personal ads and online dating sites, and at worst a time to party, sleep around, and avoid commitment. Even the church can sometimes adopt this kind of attitude, exerting subconscious pressure on singles to "settle down" and get married. The worst that can happen (which, thankfully, I haven't seen anything of in churches I've attended) is the church treating singles as second-class citizens. Is this a biblical attitude? Paul has this to say in 1 Corinthians 7:8: "Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am." This verse (and really, the entire chapter) is a bucket of cold water on the head for anyone who thinks marriage is the ultimate earthly goal for the Christian life. It's one of the few times the New Testament goes into much depth on the subject of marriage, and a subject of frequent study for me.

In the chapter, Paul is addressing those in the Corinthian church who held an opposite view to the pro-marriage one seen today. Influenced by the Greek philosophy of asceticism, which shunned all worldly pleasures, including marriage and sex, some in the Corinthian church were forbidding others to marry as part of "Christian holiness". Paul speaks out against this additional restriction on the church and qualifies it. Paul looks favorably upon the state of singleness, but advises the Corinthians to marry "because these is so much immorality." he says this "as a concession, not a command" (v. 6)--a concession to the sexual drive God has given most people, which would lead to sexual immorality if not given the Godly outlet of sex within marriage. He expresses a personal preference for staying single, but stresses that it isn't a sin to get married.

But Paul emphasizes that whether you're married or unmarried isn't the point--"keeping God's commands is what counts." (v. 19) His basic point in verses 17-31 is that we shouldn't let concerns about our position in the world--like being a slave, or free, or married, or single--become more important than our commitment to God, which is the same for all situations. We should be faithful to the place in life where God has called us. If making some change in our life doesn't interfere with our service to God, we are free as believers to do something about it. As Paul writes in Philippians 3:8, he considers all things rubbish--including his singleness--compared to knowing Jesus. Likewise, we are to put out relatioship with Jesus first and let that being the overriding influence on life decisions like marriage.

Statistically speaking, God will call most of us to a marriage that will hopefully be another way to glorify Him--a sermon series I listened to said that about 90% of us can expect to get married at some point, though I wonder if this might be an underestimate. But Paul clearly says that not everyone has this calling. In verse 7 he says "I wish all men were as I am [single]. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that." What he is getting at here is that being able to glorify God through a marriage is itself a (likely spiritual) gift from God. And, on the flipside, being able to abstain from marriage and not "burn with passion" and fall into sexual immorality is another. This is the spiritual gift of celibacy (or singleness).

What good is this gift? Why not get married? Paul explains in verses 32-35.
I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs--how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world--how he can please his wife--and his interests are divided.
When you think about it, the value of the gift of celibacy is obvious: it gives a person undivided time, resources, and thoughts for God. Though marriage can be a very good thing, it occupies a huge chunk of one's life, which a single person can give unreservedly to God. For examples of what this can look like, the Bible has three shining examples: Paul, John the Baptist, and Jesus Himself. I can only speculate as to how their ministries would have been different had they been married, but they would have had to devote time and effort to providing for and protecting a family. Paul seemed to be happier being able to devote himself completely to serving God and thought that others could be as well.

It's important to distinguish between the spiritual gift of celibacy and the temporary state of singleness that God gives as a gift to everyone before they get married. Everyone is called to see their singleness as more than just a waiting period before marriage and make the most of it to the glory of God. Some people only learn they have the spiritual gift in hindsight as they realize all the kingdom work they did wouldn't have been feasible if they'd been married. What a shame it would have been if they'd spent their time looking for a spouse instead of serving God right where He put them?

But though Paul says that being single is better than being married, the spiritual gift of celibacy has some downsides he doesn't touch on. The biggest one for me is the loss of perspective I would have gained from marriage. The church-as-Christ's-bride metaphor doesn't come alive for me like it does for a married couple, and I imagine that being a dad would help in understanding God's role as our heavenly Father. Additionally, without the unknown variables of who I'll marry and how many kids I'll have to worry about, I sometimes find myself planning out my entire life in broad swaths, even though I still have no idea whatGod's plans might be. But despite these, I agree with Paul in thinking that the gift of celibacy is pure awesome. I'm excited to see the exciting things God has in store for me!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Spiritual Gift of Service

First, one addendum to my post on wisdom and knowledge: I think one of the applications of the spiritual gift of knowledge is the study and pursuit of theology and apologetics. Expanding peoples' knowledge of the nature of the Trinity won't directly change how they live their lives, but it might improve their view of God and inspire them to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. Similarly, apologetics certainly promotes the "common good" by removing intellectual obstacles people have to knowing God and allowing them to come to Him.

Anyway, on to the spiritual gift of service. The Bible doesn't have quite as much to say about service in a Christian context; the gift is only mentioned in Romans 12:7 as part of one of Paul's lists of spiritual gifts. But service itself is frequently mentioned as an important virtue. Jesus said "the greatest among you will be your servant" (Matthew 23:11). Humble service is a key trait for any Christian.

So what does it mean to have the spiritual gift of service? Most forms of service are things anyone can do--it doesn't take a college degree to help build a house or work at a charity event. the gift probably doesn't take the form of being exceptionally gifted or being "good" at serving in the sense that I'm "good" (skilled) at theater tech. I think the gift more takes the form of especially enjoying acts of service, and therefore being more eager to serve and able to serve more often. We're all called to serve, but someone with this gift is able to enjoy serving and do it in a greater capacity.

So, I don't have much more to say about the gift of service; it's pretty simple. For gifts like this that aren't clearly supernatural/obvious, like tongues or prophecy, it might be hard to tell if you have them, even with a questionnaire. I think that using your spiritual gifts in the body of Christ is important in recognizing them; sometimes the only way to find out is for someone else to approach you and say "you have a real gift for ____".

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Wisdom and Knowledge

The spiritual gifts of wisdom and knowledge are closely related, so I'm covering them both here.

Firstly, what is wisdom? Proverbs, a book of the Bible all about wisdom written by one of the wisest people ever, has much to say on the subject. In Proverbs, as well as Job (12:13 and 28:12), it is associated with understanding; of the 370 verses mentioning wisdom in the NIV, 39 also mention understanding.  Proverbs 14:8 says "the wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways". Matthew 11:19 is telling: "'But wisdom is proved right by her actions'". James 3:13 says anyone who professes to be wise and understanding should "show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom."

What I gather from all of this is that wisdom isn't just knowing a lot of facts. By its very nature, wisdom is applied; it is understanding deeper than the facts. It is reading between the lines and being able to discern how to apply the knowledge of the Lord to live a life pleasing to Him in any situation.

One might be tempted to think that knowledge-the simple knowing and discernment of facts--is then somehow "lower" than wisdom, that it's simply the raw material that wisdom takes to discern how to live righteously. But I disagree. Again, the two are often mentioned together on equal footing in the Bible (31 of the 130 verses knowledge comes up in). Certainly applying knowledge of God in wisdom requires having that knowledge to begin with--how will we begin to truly love our neighbors if we don't know that God is love, for instance? I think knowledge also refers to a deeper kind of knowing--knowing God on an intimate level, like a close friend. In this sense, knowledge--getting to know God better--is certainly as important as wisdom.

So wisdom and knowledge are both good. How do we get them? Despite their differences, they are given in the same way. Proverbs 15:33 says that we gain wisdom by "the fear of the Lord", while verse 1:7 says "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge." A quick aside: I've never really liked the phrase "fear of the Lord." If God is really for us and not against us, if He loves us and sent His Son to die for us to save us, if we are freed from His wrath by trusting in His forgiveness, what do we have to fear from God? Only our turning away from Him. I think 'fear' is a somewhat misleading word, and I think 'awe' might do better: an overpowering sense of God's hugeness and, at the same time, our smallness before Him and utter dependence on Him. John Piper has this to say about fearing God: it means that "God is, in your mind and heart, so powerful and so holy and so awesome that you would not dare to run away from Him, but only run to Him."

So we gain wisdom and knowledge by having this inexpressibly huge picture of God and being in right relationship to Him: creature to Creator, needy child to generous Father, damned sinner to all-forgiving Savior. Use your wisdom to figure out what this means. No need to seek wisdom and knowledge for their own sake; if we are right with God He will give them to us as He pleases. Now, all Christians are obviously called to 'fear' God so we have all been given some measure of His wisdom and knowledge. Presumably, then, the spiritual gifts of knowledge and wisdom simply mean being given an extra measure of them for a purpose: 1 Corinthians 8 calls them a "message" of knowledge/wisdom.

As I mentioned last time, the purpose of all the spiritual gifts is "the common good" and the strengthening of the church. The way to put wisdom and knowledge to this purpose is easy: share them with the church! The way Pastor Steve describes it in the sermon previously linked to is that you're speaking a message of wisdom or knowledge that people respond to, that really ministers to them where they're at and that they can tell is from the Spirit. These gifts are made to be shared, with faith that God will use your message to bless someone. I've found that if nothing else, Facebook is a handy way to ensure that many people will at least read these messages. (Maybe I should get a Twitter...nah, who uses that?)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Spiritual gifts! We all have spiritual gifts!

Towards the end of Summer Project, we all caught a bit of spiritual gifts fever. (The blog post originally talking about it is here) It all started when one of the City on a Hill staff left a spiritual gifts questionnaire lying around our floor. Pretty soon the men were taking it, then the ladies caught on and we brought the well-worn packet down to the social lounge to share it with everyone. We were really excited to see what spiritual gifts we'd been given! I got pretty into studying the subject, so now I figured that before returning to school I would share my findings with the blagosphere. I think spiritual gifts (and the Spirit in general) is a topic that doesn't get enough attention in the church today. My college church did an excellent sermon on the subject during our series on 1 Corinthians. I recommend checking it out, but in case you don't have time, I'll sum it up here. The text of the sermon is 1 Corinthians 12:7-11:
7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.8 To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.
So what are spiritual gifts? Verse 7 is the best definition I know of: the manifestation of the [Holy] Spirit, given for the common good. "Manifestation of the Spirit" is a pretty vague definition, but as we'll see this can take many different forms: exceptional talents, ways of living, even supernatural abilities. Paul immediately goes into examples of gifts the Spirit can give believers: a message of wisdom, message of knowledge, faith, etc. Speaking in tongues, the gift focused on so much by the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements (which the sermon goes into depth on) is just one of the ones listed here. Paul and Peter list spiritual gifts at other points in the New Testament. I mentioned in my blog post from when this was happening that I typed up a list of the gifts mentioned in scripture; I've put it online here. That's an overview of all the gifts mentioned in the Bible with quick definitions of them.

But notice how I say all the gifts mentioned in the Bible. I don't think that these are all the spiritual gifts people can have. Like the sheet says, Paul never knew his letters would be put together in the New Testament, so he intended all his lists of spiritual gifts to stand alone. Each of them has a different selection of gifts, so it's obvious that he's not giving an exhaustive list at any point. Indeed, the questionnaire we took had several gifts not on my list but that certainly seem like they should be spiritual gifts, like hospitality, voluntary poverty, and exorcism.

So we all have spiritual gifts; verse 7 says "to each one" the manifestation of the Spirit is given. We all have at least one Spiritual gift. (In addition, I like to think, besides all having either the gift of marriage or celibacy) Now what do we do with them? It says they're "for the common good". Paul goes on in chapter 12 to talk about how each member of the body of Christ (the church--the sum of all believers) and how the parts all need to work together. I think spiritual gifts tie into that. The different gifts are like the functions of different body parts; they're all meant to benefit the body in different ways. In 1 Corinthians 14:26 Paul says that these gifts "must be done for the strengthening of the church". And, of course, gifts like evangelism are also for the benefit of those outside the church. Ultimately, the point of spiritual gifts is the point of everything else: bringing glory to God and showing off how good He really is.

So that seems simple enough. What might also be helpful is mentioning what using spiritual gifts should NOT look like. The Corinthians are a perfect example of this. From what I gather from 1 Corinthians 12 and 14, they were focusing on certain gifts--especially speaking on tongues--to the exclusion of other gifts and proper worship. In 14:27-28 he says that only a few should speak in tongues at a time, and only if there is someone with the gift of interpreting their tongues. Presumably they weren't doing this before; I'm picturing half the church standing up shouting gibberish at once. Orderly worship indeed!

In chapter 12 he reassures the Corinthians that God has arranged all the parts of the body of Christ (the church) just as He wants them. He also emphasizes that you don't cease to be part of the body if you aren't a certain part (i.e. if you don't have a certain gift). Judging by how he addresses the gift of tongues heavily in chapter 14, I'm guessing Paul is reprimanding them for focusing on that gift while devaluing the others. In verse 12:11, Paul says the Spirit gives these gifts of each one, "just as he determines". It's foolish to focus on the importance of one gift when not everyone necessarily has that gift.

Basically, the Corinthians were worshipping the gifts (or rather, one particular gift) rather than the Giver. And this mistake definitely isn't unique to spiritual gifts; we cross over into sin when we stop being grateful to God for our place in life, possessions, friends, or anything else. Like all the other things we're given in life, we're called not to get greedy with spiritual gifts and use them to our glory, but to give them back to God, the Giver of all our gifts, in obedience to Him.

What does this look like, then? I don't really feel at liberty to try to explain how to use the gifts I don't have myself--even the ones I have didn't come with instruction manuals and I can't claim to know terribly much about them. But my intention is that this post kicks off a quick series on spiritual gifts that will last the rest of my summer vacation (until Saturday). I'll go into more depth on the gifts I think I have and maybe answer some other questions on spiritual gifts. Feel free to ask away!

P.S. I also typed up the spiritual gifts questionnaire and have it hosted here for whoever wants to take it.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Believer's Freedom vs. A Stumbling Block: Should Christians Play D&D?

This post is in response to a fundamentalist article posted by a high school friend of mine. I was just going to comment on it, but God kept expanding my answer and so I decided to share it with everyone.

The basic point of the article seems to be that whatever cultural things the world is buying into, Christians should avoid simply to avoid the appearance of being worldly. I would say that if you need to abstain from these things to set yourself apart from the world for God, you aren't living His abundant life! The mark of a Christian isn't legalistically avoiding behavior that could be perceived as "worldly" or "unsavory", it's a dynamic, life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ. That should be the overarching thing others see in you, and as long as you have it at the core of who you are and what you do, I would abstain from defining too many universal standards of how Christians should dress, act, or live (besides the standard of Christ).

If Christians actively shun "worldly" behavior and lifestyles, how far do you take it in the name of avoiding any association with the world? No secular music? No watching sitcoms? What the author suggests would basically make the application of Christian morality a slave to what the world does, or rather does not do, whereas I believe it should come from a relationship with Christ. Indeed, it sounds like the opposite of what Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 9:
Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I become like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I become like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law). To those not having the law I become like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I become weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.
If by becoming more like the world we can win the world to Christ, good! The last thing we as Christians want is to retreat into a cultural bubble that's impermeable to nonbelievers by virtue of removedness--I don't think this is what Paul meant by being "set apart" for the gospel. Bryan, one of my summer project friends who was living the kind of life that would make a fundamentalist cry until accepting Christ less than a year ago, said that this Christian rejection of all things worldly was alienating. "I definitely thought it was alienating because that kind of culture seems incredibly boring. It made me think that religion has its place in society but that those people take it too seriously. Christians of that culture were a major part of the intellectual wall I was putting against submitting my life to Christ." Paul's challenge is not to remove ourselves as far from worldly culture as possible, but to see it as a bridge, a way of reaching people for Christ rather than walling ourselves off.

But, though secondary to living out our relationship with God, avoiding being a stumbling block should be a concern. On the very next page after 1 Corinthians 9 in chapter 10, he tells us to give up our freedom as believers for the sake of other peoples' consciences. "Everything is permissible"--but not everything is beneficial. I certainly understand where the author is coming from about the power of symbols, having listened to a most thorough speaker on the subject in a discussion group at the U. And avoiding symbolic association with evil should still be a concern.

How do we reconcile this with "becoming like one not having the law so as to win those not having the law"? Once again I think Paul hits the nail right on the head in the same chapter: "So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it to the glory of God." The difference is one of intent; in everything we do, the goal should be showing off the glory of God, not simply satisfying ourselves or showcasing our individuality and beliefs or whatever as the world would have us do. I think this is the key difference that should "set us apart" for the gospel--not so much our specific behavior as the heart behind it. One other thing to note is that Paul emphasizes having what you do be to the glory of God--not what you do not do. Bryan added that in instructing each other how to live we should avoid being too negative. "I started to come around when I saw the things Jon and Tom [my neighbors who prayed with me to accept Christ] did, not the things they didn't do. I think that fundamentalists will often focus on what they shouldn't do rather than what they should do. The more important thing for non believers is seeing how much joy you have from serving Jesus."

Of course, how we reveal the glory of God in whatever we do is a lifelong struggle best left to trusting in God's wisdom. If you are glorifying yourself more than God in something, if you can't seem to give it up to Him, then perhaps it really would be best to abstain. But someone more mature in the faith might be able to bring God glory in ways that you can't, so what is not permissible for you might be for him/her. And some things can never be glorifying to God; anything the Bible commands against, for instance. For other things, remember that Christianity is a relationship with God, and like in any other relationship you want to avoid doing things that hurt the other person. For example, as you may know I enjoy listening to heavy metal music quite a bit, but I try to avoid making "metal horns" with my hands because of their Satanic connotations--both in public to avoid making others stumble, and alone simply because I feel like it's hurtful to God.

So, I should wrap this up. I believe that the "abundant life" is lived from the inside out, not the outside in. The focus should be on what's in the heart that only God sees, though this should certainly affect the outside that others see. We're called to be missional and reach out to the world, overcoming evil more by the love of Christ in our hearts than by avoiding behaviors that can be perceived as worldly (though for us the Christian life might include this). I'd like to call back to a recent post of mine citing The Screwtape Letters in describing dancing, music, and so many other elements of modern culture as spiritual "raw material". If they are currently being used by the world as strongholds aginst the gospel, should we simply let the world have them or should we fight to reclaim them and use them as venues to win those inside them to Christ? How knowing God changes your outward life is different for everyone, but it should always be unmistakeable.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Of New Hardware and the Wonders of Microcenter

Today was an adventure indeed. For several months I've had the plan of getting a second hard drive for my desktop computer and installing Linux on it, reasoning that as a self-respecting computer science major I should have knowledge of the hands-on freeware operating system. Today I finally decided to carry out this plan. I looked up hard drives and prices, then quickly drove out to Microcenter before my sister needed the car for work.

For those of you who don't know what Microcenter is, it's basically the most amazing place in the Twin Cities. (Or one of them, anyway) Picture a big-box store, maybe half to 2/3 the size of our neighborhood Best Buy, but completely for computer hardware and software. The main floor is taken up by shelves and shelves of peripherals and accessories, and there are specialty rooms around the sides for hardware, gaming, and computer books; there's even a self-contained Apple Store. Sadly I needed to be back within an hour, so I didn't get to stay nearly as long as I would have liked. I'd planned to get a 250 GB hard drive, figuring Linux wouldn't take up much space. They didn't have these, but they did have a 500 GB drive for only $7 more. Sign me up! (And always buy Seagate!) I also picked up another of Microcenter's fabulous, low-cost flash drives at the checkout line.

After coming home, I began the lengthy process of installing the drive. After popping my computer's case open and vacuuming it out (a fairly familiar process; I've upgraded the RAM and graphics card to make it better for games), it was time to put the drive in. It was a tough fit and I managed to do some damage to my hands wrestling it into place, but soon it was in. I then booted my computer up and installed the software that would set the drive up and let me use it. I wanted to have Windows on the bigger drive; luckily the software let me "clone" my old hard drive onto the new one. I did this, and could then boot from either hard drive; there was no visible difference between the two. (It you want to choose where you boot from, there's a button to press when your computer it starting up; for me, it's F10) It sure beat having to reinstall everything and copy individual files over manually!

With this done, all that was left was to install Ubuntu, a Linux operating system, on the old hard drive. I simply had to download it for free from the Ubuntu website, burn it to disc, and install it from the CD. Soon I had a shiny new OS! And I'm starting to feel like a CSci major again! Of course, there's still the whole matter of learning to use Ubuntu, but it seems simple enough. A fun adventure with new technology was had today!

Monday, August 16, 2010

On The Religion of Technology

I just finished reading a rather interesting book I got at Half-Price Book, The Religion of Technology. Unsurprisingly, it's a history of how religion (namely Christianity) and technology have been closely linked throughout much of western history. It was definitely an eye-opened as to how related the two have been, and it got me thinking about the relation between faith and technology--a relevant question since I'm a computer science major.

In the early days of the Christian church, St. Augustine wrote that technology had little to do with the spiritual condition of mankind; indeed he thought human reliance on it was a sign of our fallen condition. It had no ability to make us better, which only the grace of God could do; technology only provided temporary comforts to a fallen world.

But Europe soon moved beyond this view. In the Middle Ages, technology somehow became strongly linked with human transcendence--a way to recover the perfection that we lost in the fall. Advancement of the "useful arts" was considered a virtue, a step toward restoring mankind's lost mastery over nature and even his sinful condition. (How they thought improved agriculture, textile production, and waterwheels would improve human nature, I have no idea) This literally religious devotion to advancement of technology began in monasteries and moved outward to European society at large. In the thirteenth century, Michael Scot (not of The Office) wrote that "the primary purpose of the human sciences is to restore fallen man to his prelapsarian [before the fall] position."

But wait, it gets better! Contrary to St. Augustine, who held that the second coming of Christ was a mystery known to God alone and uncorrelated with human history, Joachim of Fiore wrote an intensive commentary on the book of Revelation. He stated that history could be divided into three stages corresponding to the parts of the trinity and that they were now in the third stage, represented by the Holy Spirit and the monk. In his system of thought, humanity was actively involved in bringing about the prophesied thousand-year reign of Christ on earth, the Millenium, and self-improvement by technological advance was the key. Joachim belived that, far from having no need for technology before the fall, Adam had a full knowledge and mastery of science and creation and by developing the "useful arts", they could recover what had been lost in the fall.

So, believe it or not, it was this system of thought that drove scientific advancement in Europe for centuries. As time went on, the goal went beyond simply recovering the perfection of Adam to becoming like God himself. In their early days engineers were seen as new Adams, the "new spiritual men". The utopias of the 19th century that you probably studied were attempts to recreate the perfection of Eden. Even in the 20th century, nuclear weapons were identified with the fire of biblical Armageddon, space travel was seen as a way of escaping a fallen world to reach paradise, and artificial intelligence and genetic engineering were compared with the creative acts of God. I had trouble believing some of what the author was saying, but he clearly isn't just twisting a few random quotes to make his point; he cites a wealth of sources from innovators throughout the centuries expressing unambiguous faith in the inextricable link between technological advance and the spiritual condition of humankind.

His final point is that this relation between religion and technology has to end. In pursuing transcendence, he argues, people have forgotten the original, Augustinian purpose of technology: to ease suffering and improve life in the here and now, not transport us to some paradise. It's a fine point, and a return to sanity after all his descriptions of Babellian levels of hubris.

Besides the frankly crazy Millennial view of technology held by so many, I saw two other bad philosophies woven into much of the book's narrative: a critical misunderstanding of human nature, and good old dualism. The former showed up in the belief that through intellectual progress and technological advancement, mankind could perfect itself and create an earthly paradise. Ignorance, not sinfulness, is seen as the greatest problem facing us, and by simply recovering the knowledge lost in the fall perfection is restored. The latter showed up mostly in the 20th century part, as well as earlier as philosophers like Decartes draw a sharp line between the malfunctioning, evil bodies we're trapped in and the perfect, transcendent mind that would be happiest without them. (Riiiight) It's a return to the ancient Greek philosophers who thought that the physical world is false and the spiritual "world of forms" and thought is true and good. (Philosophy majors, feel free to correct me if I butchered any of this) Artificial intelligence and the hope of uploading the human mind to a computer was viewed as a chance to free the mind from the body and attain immortality.

Okay, I'm going to stop parroting the book and get to what I think. The spiritual significance attached to technological advance is a self-perpetuating myth, founded on peoples' hopes and misquoted Bible verses. The biblical account of creation seems more to support Augustine's view; whether of not Adam had sophisticated knowledge of creation, it didn't matter compared to the knowledge he had of God. It seems like the Millennial view of technology has been largely self-sustaining, sticking around simply because no one managed to question it enough. Once Joachim's interpretation of prophecy became widely accepted, it was hard to stop. Additionally, I can imagine that the prospect that you can hasten the return of Christ and perfect humanity by inventing things would be quite attractive and hard to let go of.

The supposed perfectibility of humanity by technology is completely contradicted by our inherent sinfulness, covered extensively by Paul in Romans, which science (which is concerned only with the natural world) is powerless to change. He speaks against the dualistic disdain for the body in 1 Corinthians 6:15, calling our bodies "members of Christ himself"; later in chapter 15 he promises that God will give us perfect new bodies (not robots); our ultimate destination is in perfected flesh, not as disembodied minds.

And, of course, in Matthew 24, Christ assures us that His return will come unexpectedly at a time known only to the Father. The initiative is completely His and we have no part in it. And they claimed their fervent advancement of science and technology was Biblically motivated! Indeed, the quest to build God's perfect kingdom, hasten his return, and find a perfect life on earth is incredibly human-centered, with religious faith serving mostly just as a justifier.

My view is a combination of the author's and Augustine's. Like Augustine, I wouldn't attach any spiritual significance to technology; it's at heart a tool for easing our lives in a fallen world, not a means for transcendence. As far as I know, Jesus never mentioned the subject; He certainly wasn't known for His innovations in the useful carpentry arts. I tend to organize things into a hierarchy of "significance": God at the top, then the angels and heavenly beings; below them is humanity, made "a little lower than the angels" (Hebrews 2:7), then the rest of God's creation, and finally, at the bottom, human inventions. I hesitate to even call them creations, because all we can do is take what God has already made and rearrange it into pale reflections of His handiwork; it's like a child playing with LEGOs while his father builds skyscrapers. If technology has any spiritual significance, I would classify it, in the words of C.S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters, as "from the point of view of the spiritual life, mainly raw material." If we let created things rule us, then they are evil; if by faith we trust and obey God, then we can find ways to use that raw material for His purposes and they are good.

Friday, August 13, 2010

My Top 10 Freeware

That's right, three posts in two days! For great justice!

So, it's been several months since I did a technological post. I'm a computer science major. This is not good. I've been feeling a bit out of the loop with my major (and a good deal of my life) since going on project, and I'm trying to get back in the swing of things with the time I have left at home. Anyway, a good deal of the problems I regularly use on my laptop are free. In fact, pretty much the only paid programs I regularly use are in Microsoft Office. Since they're all free, if any of them sound useful or cool, I've included links to download them.

1. Google Chrome
Okay, so this one isn't really freeware in the purest sense of the word since it's made by a huge corporation and all that. But hey, it's free, so onto the list it goes! Google Chrome is my internet browser of choice. It's sleek, fast, and minimalistic. When I switched from Internet Explorer to it during my freshman year at the U, it was basically a night and day difference in terms of speed. It's technically still in beta, but it works fine for everything I've tried. It focuses more on simply delivering fast internet browsing and not on clunky add-ons like Firefox.

The display aesthetic is also designed to get out of the way; the top simply has tabs, the address bar/options, and a bookmark bar that let you navigate to your favorite websites in seconds. I've moved my taskbar to the top so that my screen has nothing on the bottom when I'm online; it's really handy having everything at the top. Since it's Google's browser, the address bar also doubles as a Google search, which is really handy (you can switch it to other searches if you want). It also has other handy stuff like searchable browsing history, an incognito mode that doesn't save browsing data or cookies, and tabs you can drag around to rearrange and form new windows. It's a very secure browser that warns you of potentially harmful pages, and is efficient at cleaning up system resources when you close a tab. Basically, Chrome is a simple browser that does its job extremely well, and I can't recommend it highly enough. I compulsively install it on random computers I find; I'm doing them a favor.

2. The GIMP
Short for GNU Image Manipulation Program, the GIMP is basically a free, simplified version of Photoshop. I haven't used Photoshop much due to the cost, so I don't know exactly how they compare, but the GIMP has always met my image editing needs. It can handle everything from simple photo touchups and cropping to drawing/making art to splicing Nintendo characters together. Unless you're a professional graphic artist or something, chances are the GIMP will be able to do anything you need in the way of image editing. I'm still discovering all the features; it has tons of various filters that apply different effects. (Even a fractal explorer!) It's a massive upgrade over the also-free Paint, and certainly worth a download.

3. iTunes
Once again, this one is kind of a cop-out since it's made by a large and well-known (and slightly infamous) corporation. But still free! I realize that most people probably already have iTunes, and if you don't you probably have a really good reason not to, but it's still some of the free software I use most, so on it goes. In case you've been living under a rock or something, iTunes lets you access, organize, and play your music library conveniently. It's also pretty much a must for putting stuff onto your iPod if you have one, which is probably why most already have it. Anyway, iTunes is nice! I like to compulsively organize my music into hundreds of playlists, which can easily be scrolled through and played via iTunes. Even better is its auto playlists, which let me get at songs of a certain genre, length, or degree of epic-ness.

One of the newer features of iTunes, which I had been eagerly awaiting for a while, is the ability to filter music in auto playlists with complex boolean expressions. For those who haven't taken multiple courses on computer logic, basically it lets you automatically sort music any way you can think of. And, of course, the iTunes store has a huge selection and lets you get more music easily and all that. Pretty much the only downfall of iTunes I can think of is that it is does take more system resources to run than more minimalistic music players, but if you have a relatively/remotely modern computer this shouldn't be an issue. Go iTunes!

4. Notepad
Another cop-out! If you run Windows, you already have Notepad! If not, you should have some analog of it that you know about better than I. Notepad is my text editor of choice, and if you're just interesting in turning your thoughts into ones and zeros, it is superb. None of those formatting bells and whistles, just you and your keyboard. You can even turn word wrap off if you want to be ridiculous. It opens instantly and the basic text files you save with it take up virtually no disc space. I have my list of my top 10 freeware open on it now so I don't forget. Whenever I want to remember something, I just pop open Notepad and jot it down. In the way of special features, it has Undo/Redo, Find, Replace, Font (I guess it is in there, but I never worry about it), and...that's about it. You probably already have Notepad, use it!

5. Audacity
What the GIMP is to images, Audacity is to sound files. It's a simpler, free version of fancy digital audio workstations like Protools. Did I mention it's free? It lets you open up sound files and edit them in all kinds of ways. If you happen upon a song with a skip in it, just open it in Audacity, select the skip, and delete. if you want to make a crazy medley of your favorite guitar solos, just put them together in Audacity (I have done this). You can also record audio from your computer or a microphone and edit it to remove noise or awkward pauses; do your own podcasts! The possibilities are endless. It also has some basic effects that are shared by more professional software, such as equalization, speed adjustment (make chipmunk versions of your songs!), fade in/out, and hard limiting (the tool responsible for modern music being so loud). I still haven't tried everything I can do, but even using only part of it, Audacity is extremely useful. Highly recommend.

6. Treesize
Treesize is a lifesaver if your hard drive is getting too cluttered. It lets you display the relative sizes of the files and folders on your computer so you can see what's taking up all the space and know what and where to clean.

7. Ad-Aware
Ad-Aware has free and paid versions. Obviously I have the free version. It protects you from harmful software, and can also runs scans to find anything suspicious on your computer. I've found quite a few questionable files on my computer, and who knows what they might have done to me if I hadn't found and eliminated them? Anti-malware software is important, and if you're not going to pay for it get something free like Ad-Aware.

8. Google Earth
MapQuest? Google Maps? Pshaw! It's handy having a separate program for all my cartographic needs. It handles directions as well as Google Maps, and is much more customizable, letting you save locations and routes for quick reference and access all kinds of information like photos, store locations, and of course street view. It also has a measurer for finding distances and the ability to view historical imagery (not that historical, since it's all satellite photos). You can even view the sky, the Moon, and Mars!

9. Skype
Many of you have also likely heard of Skype. It lets you video and voice chat (assuming you have a web camera and microphone) with friends, which is great for staying in touch. My project friends and I are making pretty heavy use of it to stay close.

10. Trillian
Okay, maybe I'm the only one who still uses instant messaging. If you do, you should definitely check out Trillian. It merges many different IM programs (AIM, Windows Messenger, Yahoo, Skype, and even Facebook chat) into one program so you can sign into them all quickly and have all your contacts in one place. Very handy.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

On Heat

That's right, it's a Fractal blog double header night! Since my last post was one of the deepest and most intense things I've written thus far, it's time to balance it off with randomness. The Twin Cities are currently going through a heat wave and it's hard to think about anything else. This week has been consistent highs in the 30s (Celsius), with high humidity. The kind of weather that makes you sweat even if you're just sitting inside doing nothing. I was hoping to escape this kind of weather when I left Milwaukee, so I'm kind of annoyed. So, I will now write about how bad heat is and how cold weather is better than warm weather. WITHOUT DIVIDING INTO PARAGRAPHS BECAUSE IT'S A RANT!!! So, hot weather is basically the worst. It's not like cold weather where if you're cold you can just put on more layers or a coat or light a fire or anything. If it's too hot and you are out of layers, there is NOTHING YOU CAN DO. If you happen to be indoors with a fan or AC, good for you. But woe unto you if you have to do anything! Especially anything outside! You will be helpless as you feel increasingly disgusting and uncomfortable! The sun feels like a radioactive death ray zapping your strength and searing your flesh! Oh, if only you were in winter, when you could just run back inside and put on a coat and hat and then feel pleasantly toasty! I've noticed that having temperature gradients in my body feels good; wearing a winter coat and then my hands and feet being cold, for instance. But when it's hot you just get hot everywhere and it feels nasty. Just to prove that this isn't just a me thing, even the universe is against you in hot weather! It's the curse of the second law of thermodynamics that doing pretty much anything produces heat. When it's cold you can bundle up to preserve this heat and stay warm, but when it's hot it all builds up everywhere and everything is horrible forever!!! And you can't get rid of the heat, you can only move it elsewhere, which in itself makes more heat! And thanks to global warming, it's all getting worse! Okay, done now.

On Faith (again)

Time for some reflection on summer project already. As I think I mentioned in my narrative of it, on the morning of the second-to-last day we had a time for reflecting on key points for us leading up to or during project. Some people picked turning points when obstacles to coming to Milwaukee were removed; others picked moments of inspiration and joy; still others picked times of difficulty that helped them grow as believers. I picked the point on project when my faith was brought up to a new level--Wednesday, July 7th. Since I think it was the key point on project where everything changed, let's reflect on it!

It was almost at the halfway point of project; our third of six weeks of full-time ministry. The staff were on their last few days; they were going to leave Thursday night and leave us to run the project ourselves. My crisis started on the evening of Monday the 5th, when we had our usual action group. We were going around saying cool stuff we'd seen God do in our lives the past week, as usual, and for some reason I couldn't think of anything; I couldn't see what He'd been doing. This was distressing to me. Even worse was that looking back on my life thus far, I couldn't seem to find anything that was unequivocally God's doing; other explanations seemed to get in the way to the point where I couldn't really say what He'd done for me. My being distracted during action groups was sadly a running theme this summer, and I was especially so this time. While my brothers in Christ were discussing Colossians, I was watching as the foundation of my faith seemed to crumble away.

I would say I wrestled with God that night and for the next few days. I overflowed with questions. Why does God not seem to be working in my life? Is it my fault? Are God's promises true? What is going on? After more thought, I realized the issue was that God wasn't giving me the kind of life I expected at all. I was expecting to see Him doing amazing things through me this summer (and He was!), but I couldn't see any of it. I wasn't looking at my life with faith, but with skepticism and doubt. Faced with the prospect of following a God who seemed to not make sense, promise nothing, and not do anything in my life, I think I briefly lost my faith.

The result was some of the worst depression I've had in a few years. I think it's an indication of how central faith is to my life that once it was removed, I pretty much had no hope or life in me. I managed to somehow set it aside for VBS at New Beginnings, but I may as well have not been at the teaching that night; I was off in my own little world of despair. Okay, I'll stop sounding emo now. What I'm trying to get across is that I had no hope without faith in God. This is where it gets awesome!

Of course, God wasn't just letting me sit there and doubt Him. Thankfully, Dave my discipler noticed something was wrong at action group and talked to me afterward. I was still pretty confused, but tried to explain what was going on to him. I remember he told me Hebrews 11:8: "By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going." His point was that by faith we follow God even if we don't see what He's doing or know the way He wants us to go; He leads us, not the other way around. Having the faith that would follow God into the unknown seemed like an insurmountable challenge to be at that point.

The truth, I've later realized, is that I was still seeing God as my helper as I had been doing for years, not as my Lord. The difference was that instead of wanting help with living a comfortable life or being a better person, I wanted help with doing good works and advancing God's kingdom. It's an incredibly subtle distinction from trusting God and letting Him lead you in kingdom work, and all the harder to distinguish from the truth. I was putting God in a box, unconsciously expecting Him to help me do the good things I wanted to do because I love Him. When He didn't help me in the ways I expected, I thought He wasn't with me at all.

The next night Aaron Miatke, another of the staff, talked to me about being certain that I was saved. He gave me a Cru resource on it and a book on Spiritual discipline (or something), which I wish I'd had time to read through. I was still seeing faith as this painful thing, following God blindly and never seeing any reward for it this side of heaven. With this view, no wonder I was struggling to recommit my life to Him.

The next morning I took off from ministry, being in no condition to do draining work with kids when I felt so empty. It was a good thing I did, because that Wednesday morning was when it all got better. In the midst of all the darkness in my life, of everything seeming not to make sense and God seeming to hide His face from me, I made an intentional decision to put my faith in Him. The whole thing reminded me of Job, who similarly struggled with his faith when God seemed to turn on him and forsake him. Ultimately Job realized that God was too big, too awesome, too far above him to question and argue with. "You asked, 'Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?' Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know." (42:3) Part of one of Job's speeches became my statement of faith: "Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him."

Looking back, that morning was the turning point in my summer, my faith, my entire life. No longer did I need to understand God to believe in Him; I was willing to simply go ahead where He sent me and left God be God. If I believed in God when His face was hidden and He seemed far from my life, how much more would I believe when I saw Him reveal Himself to me through prayer and worship, keep me joyfully sustained through three more weeks of service, lead a man to Christ through me, and bring me all kinds of amazing stories of His work in Milwaukee through my job writing the newsletter! Since then and even after project I've been able to trust God to be Himself and take care of me in absolutely any situation, and this new, powerful faith has given me unspeakable peace and joy in knowing Him. Trusting Him to work through me instead of trying to do things myself with God as a fall-back plan has helped me to abandon my preconceptions of what God wants to do in me. Quite simply, knowing God and having faith in Him is the best thing ever, hands-down.

A clarification: when I say I didn't need to understand God to believe in Him, don't think that Wednesday morning was when I traded reason for blind faith and turned into an airheaded "Jesus freak". I have always been, and will likely always be, a curious and intellectual person who loves studying and understanding things. God is no exception, hence my interest in theology and apologetics. What I mean is that my need to understand things is now secondary to my faith in God; if He gives me no answer to my questions, I trust Him to know what He's doing, where He's guiding me, and simply go along with Him. Maybe He'll make sense of things, maybe not. An example of this is in my previous note on prayer. I was directed to a sermon today on prayer and community in which Matthew 18:20 came up repeatedly: "For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." So Jesus is present when people gather together for Him (i.e. praying together) in a way that He is not when we pray alone. Do I have any idea what this means or how it works? No! Will it stop me from faithfully praying with others? Of course not!!

Wow. I think I just wrote an alternate version of my testimony, all in one go. Having time to reflect is helpful for that. I hope you made it through all that, faithful reader, and I hope it has helped you understand what faith in God looks like and how life-changing it can be.

Monday, August 9, 2010


Well, with Summer Project over, it's time to get back to the meat of my blog: random thoughts and reflections! For starters is something I've been wondering about for a while: prayer.

I've always been a curious person, including (and maybe especially in) matters of faith. I like having a solid intellectual grounding for my faith; hence I read authors like C.S. Lewis and John Owen. My desire to know everything about my faith has caused trouble at times, since if I know everything about God can I really say I still believe anything on faith? (Also the fact that there are things about Him I can't know yet) So He's been teaching me to set my questions aside sometimes and just believe; other times He teaches me really cool stuff! But prayer is one question that's been burning in me for a long time, and that I really hope God will answer, possibly through the wisdom of my brothers and sister in Christ!

My intellectual issues with prayer have evolved slowly over time. Before I started thinking about it, I just prayed, largely out of habit. As time went on I stopped praying as much, reasoning that if God already knows what we need and provides for us, why ask? Later I concluded that the main point of prayer is simply spending time talking to God growing in relationship with Him, which I would still say today. But I learned there is a point to praying for things. I read a George McDonald quote which reads,
‎But if God is so good as you represent Him, and if He knows all we need, and better far than we do ourselves, why should it be necessary to ask Him for anything?" I answer, What if He knows Prayer to be the thing we need first and most? What if the main object in God's idea of prayer is the supplying of our great, our endless need--the need of Himself? bring His child to his knee, God withholds that we may ask.
 Maybe God only gives us what we ask for if we trust Him enough to ask for it. I don't claim that prayer is some kind of cause-and-effect thing--pray X number of hours and out pops a new bike or anything like that--but I believe that there is power in prayer for change, and it's worth it!

Anyway, that's all background. So my private prayer life on project was pretty good, especially after discovering that quote. But corporate prayer sessions were, and continue to be, a struggle for me. When listening to others pray my mind tends to wander; I want to be participating, but what am I supposed to be doing? Just listening? Praying along silently? It's just an awkward time for me, and I sometimes feel that I'd rather just be praying by myself. But presumably there is some benefit to believers gathering in faith and praying together rather than all on their own. But what? Is it to encourage one another?

So this blog post is really more of an open question. If anyone with more wisdom on the subject than me has anything to share; Bible verses pertaining to corporate prayer, experience of really being blessed by praying in a group, or anything else, please do so

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Days 55-58: The End...or the Beginning?

Well, here I am back at home. Project is over...and yet, in so many ways, it isn't. We may be gone, but we can still participate in what God continues to do in Milwaukee by prayer, and the kingdom work He has prepared for us is just beginning! I'll continue posting reflections on project in the weeks I have before going back to school.

It's already hard to remember what happened Tuesday. I mostly sat around until people got back from touring the city; we soon had dinner. I was in finish-the-newsletter-at-all-costs mode, and I mostly needed pictures from people. I announced that they should meet me in the office before training to do this. Things quickly went wrong, however, as many didn't have any pictures I could use in the newsletter. Also, I managed to get Heidi's memory card stuck in my computer's card reader slot, and temporarily entered get-Heidi's-memory-card-out-of-my-computer-at-all-costs mode. I quickly decided to take my laptop apart (almost as much out of curiosity as hope of getting the card out), and had people who happened to be at Wal-mart pick up some precision screwdrivers for this.

So I spent training night disassembling my computer. This was extremely cool, but not very helpful as the memory card reader was underneath the motherboard as I got at it, and therefore unaccessible without destroying my computer. I eventually managed to get it out by bending a paper clip into a little hook and getting it behind the card, then pulling it out. Back to the newsletter! I quickly got pictures together and had Sarah Hoffman, my mom, and Cheryl all proofreading it. I stayed up until 12:45 on that thing, but the next morning it was DONE! After a trip to Kinko's (now Fedex Office), my work on that was pretty much done; the staff would pick the newsletters up and pay for them. Hallelujah!

The rest of the morning and much of Wednesday afternoon was occupied by cleaning up and finishing various tasks. It was good to make a huge dent in my to-do list, but kind of depressing as it was a reminder that we would soon be leaving. At 3 we went to the Sprecher brewery for a tour; Sprecher is a local company that produces European-style beer as well as various delicious sodas. The tour was pretty short, but afterwards, we got to drink as much soda as we wanted and bought some bottles on our way out. Consequently, we were pretty much stuffed for dinner on our floor that night.

The final weekly meeting was more of a time for reflection and free-form worship. Along with the usual songs, we had some guided prayer time, "station time" where people went around the church and worshipped in various ways (I didn't fully understand that part), and even communion. My ability to participate was limited by my being glued to my computer keeping things running as the meeting slowly derailed from the schedule we'd set up. It was stressful, but I did get to journal a bit during prayer time before the preselected music ran out, and for some reason I just felt a sense of satisfaction, like God really had shown up and I'd been a part of it. After the meeting I packed a bit, and picked up the printed newsletters! Glorious!

Thursday the women had something planned for us, which they claimed had been in the making since before our surprises for them. I don't know about that. A few of them led us on an adventure around the parking lot to stall for time, then led us on a circuitous route around COAH ending in the social lounge. Bah! They underestimate the male sense of direction! The event itself was a nice breakfast where the men, for once, got to eat first! Unfortunately, Anna had jokingly told us earlier that we should eat before their surprise for us, and we all believed her; Bryan stuffed himself in case he couldn't accord lunch. Nonetheless, we all tried to eat as much as we could (which, for me, was one sausage) and it was really nice of them. After breakfast they appreciated each of us individually as we'd done on our cards for them and gave gifts. I got a tie with chili peppers on it to celebrate my love for spicy foods (my dad will be proud and jealous). Even though things didn't go very smoothly, I really appreciated their heart behind it. Thanks, project ladies!

I can't really remember the next two hours or so. I think we were packing and hanging out on the 4th floor. But just before noon, we headed out to a retreat at the Wisconsin Dells! Everyone else was pretty much pumped; due to my aversion to swimming I didn't really care too much, but I figured I'd find stuff to do. It was a two-hour drive ending in lunch at Culver's. So filling... We met up again and headed to where we would be staying: a luxury condo at the Kalahari resort, basically a whole house to ourselves! It was probably the fanciest place I've ever stayed. it had two floors, a deck, five bedrooms, an elevator, and a whole home theater with a universal remote that I claimed as my baby and used to blast peoples' iPods through the surround sound speakers. Even better, many of the staff were back, including Dave and the Ryghs!

Pretty soon everyone else went to the waterparks; I got caught up on life back home using the wireless internet and then read some C.S. Lewis while listening to Christian music on the speakers. It was just the thing I enjoy on retreats: protracted time to spend alone with God, and it really got me back on track and ready for the last few days of project.

Soon everyone got back and changed, then we had a huge dinner out on the deck. Everyone then went to the Tommy Bartlett waterski show, which was great fun. A ridiculous plot involving rivalry between an evil fraternity and a summer camp as used as an excuse for increasingly crazy waterski stunts, up to the classic pyramid. The second half was more of a variety show, with juggler-comedians, acrobats, and two guys who did stunts on top of 50-foot poles with no safety lines (not everyone could watch that part, but I thought it was amazing).

After we got back we spent the night just enjoying each other's company and playing various games downstairs. We also gave out presents: the long-awaited project T-shirts, a CD of songs chosen by everyone that Erica made, picture frames, and my newsletters! We all signed each others' frames; my signature consisted of my first name written twice at the same time. Everyone eventually started watching The Princess Bride, which I respect as a classic movie but am personally sick of, so I went to bed.

Friday morning we made a timeline of project and the time leading up to it and asked everyone to share favorite memories. It was really cool to see how God had been at work removing obstacles for people to come to project, and then radically changing them and teaching them when we were there. After this we scrambled to get out of the condo by 11 for an afternoon of more water fun! Which for me meant sitting in the car with all the food, keeping it ventilated so the pop didn't explode (which it will do under extreme heat; I know this from experience). I finished The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis; remind me to write another few blog posts on it later. It was an amazing description of God's purpose for suffering and the fallen condition of man.

Before dinner some of us went on a tour of downtown Wisconsin Dells, which was pretty much the quintessential tourist trap. I've concluded that the tourist trappiness of a place can be measured by the proportion of its buildings that sell souvenirs and memorabilia, and here it was at least half. (Many more were old-timey portraits...seriously.) I didn't get anything, but it was interesting and I was treasuring every chance to be with people this close to the end of project.

For dinner we went to a pizza place, where we all got antlers to wear. (I wore mine backwards and upside down like a gangsta moose; they looked like pigtails) I also distributed final evaluations, which thankfully got turned back much more quickly than mid-project evaluations. After dinner we all headed back to COAH for one last night there; my car went on a bonus drive around to see the city one last time. At COAH everyone gathered in the lounge (which was being converted back into an office) to sing worship songs and say goodbye to the people who were leaving early the next morning. It was a tearful, yet joyful time of celebrating God's goodness and all that he'd done this summer. Knowing I would soon have to say goodbye to my project friends--who are really as close as family--was worse than actually doing so.

This morning was the beginning of moveout day. I was woken up by Aaron leaving for the airport around 6:30, and got to say one last goodbye to him and Tim before my room became a single. I quickly packed and took care of the last remnants of my job (bringing final evaluations to the office), then basically wandered around waiting for people to leave so I could say goodbye to them. It was as depressing as it sounds. Eventually we all hung out on the womens' floor (the very first time I'd set foot on it the whole project; crazy!) so we could say goodbye to people as they left. Our numbers dwindled down as noon approached, when I would leave. There were six of us left when I did so, packing into Ariel's car as I had done coming to Milwaukee.

On the way back, we listened to the CD Erica had put together, which contained songs that everyone chose to represent project. I met up with my parents at the McDonald's where we'd gotten lunch the first day; I was so glad to see them! We talked about project and just enjoyed being together again on the way back. Right around the Minnesota border, we randomly passed the Ryghs' van on the interstate, which was bizarrely awesome. Soon after I was home! I got to see my sister again for the first time since her graduation.

So, that was my summer project. If this post seems a bit cursory, know that though I don't really show it like the others on my project, saying goodbye was really painful. I've found fellowship in my project friends like I've never had before, and by serving together I've come to appreciate their faith and gifts. Having this second family torn from you in a day hurts, a lot. At this point it's tough to go over the past few days in too much detail; it just reminds me how much I miss everyone. Hopefully it will be better after a night's sleep and my return to Hope Community Church tomorrow!

Finally, a word of knowledge for my brothers and sisters on project, who I know miss each other at least as much as I do: this summer we served, and will continue to serve, a God who is unchanging and eternal. His power, wisdom, and love were the same at the beginning of time as they were when He died for our sins as they were this summer as they will be forever! So even as we miss each other, a lot, know that He is the same God the rest of summer and beyond as He has been the past eight weeks, and He will never leave us!

Finally finally, I managed to host the newsletter online for all to see if you don't manage to get a copy: find it here.

Composed ~10:20 PM, Saturday, August 7th