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

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Days 48-54: The End Is Near

Well, there are only four more days of project. Wow. It's still hard to believe that the end of project is so close, but I'm feeling ready to go home. This last week has been pretty hard, but also had some of the best moments of project.

The rest of the week at Tabernacle was pretty fun. We kept playing and reading with the kids, and also did gospel bracelets with them. It was very chill compared to running 7 hours of VBS at New Beginnings, for sure. I know that God used me there and hope that the kids really felt His love for them by our being there and providing attention.

But the past four days have been crazy busy, and I don't even remember much of Tabernacle after all that happened. I've been working on the project newsletter during most of my free time, which has been tons of fun. It's really hard to distill everything that happened, all the people we connected with and ways we saw God at work, into four pages, but it's going pretty well and I'm excited to be done and send them to everyones' family and supporters. It has summeries of our ministry and other weekly events, as well as stories of people that really made an impression on us. After it's finished, I'll see if there is some way to post it here. (But in my mind this blog is really the complete story, anyway)

So that was what I worked on Friday after our last day of ministry at Tabernacle. It was pretty strange to be done with ministry, and in a way I feel like the project ended with our ministry on Friday. I've had to trust God to still work in and through me, and to have a purpose for keeping me here. The last social on Friday evening was a "Christmas in July" party at Jack's house. There were extensive Christmas decorations, a holiday ham for dinner, and a white elephant gift exchange. Unfortunately, keeping up their usual secrecy the social team only told us to bring something we didn't want to keep to the event with nothing on what we would do with them, so I picked the kite that everyone had been given at the beginning of the project, which probably wouldn't have been in very high demand.

During all the community building and time spent with my friends on project, God has been teaching me more about myself. More specifically, I've realized that I have a real need for times of solitude and reflection. Not that I don't need fellowship or don't enjoy being with friends, but I need occasional time alone with God to recharge and just be with Him. I was feeling this need acutely the whole evening and was unable to do anything about it, to the point where it was really hard to have fun when all I wanted to do was have some quiet time. I don't know if this need for solitude is something I share with the others on my project, but it kind of ruined the party for me.

Saturday was even busier. I managed to get to the bank to cash a check that would get me through the rest of project financially. That day, we were having an outreach with City on the Hill Chapel, a largely Nigerian church planted by Eastbrook that Tim randomly ran into during our park outreach. They were having a barbecue, kind of like what COAH did, and we were helping out. We arrive and met with Pastor Taiyo, a fascinating man with a real heart for God and a good deal of wisdom. He led us in some prayer and shared his heart for what his church was doing. After that we got to work helping set up and pass out flyers in the neighborhood to invite people.

Soon enough, people started coming in and eating. I'm not sure how many were with the church, but I don't think the turnout was that good. I hadn't had much to eat for breakfast as our floor is trying to run out of food before we leave, so I ate a huge lunch and became pretty lethargic for the rest of the afternoon. Due to that and the loud-ish music and blinding sunlight, I kind of wandered around the barbecue in a daze, unsure what to do or how to serve. I really like having a definite task to pursue, so this wasn't too fun. I did get to pass out the meat to people, which was good, but that went pretty quickly. At least everyone else seemed to be having more fun, talking with the people or playing with the kids. (One kid kept biking around trying to bring people in by shouting "FREE FOOD!", even when no one was nearby)

So that was kind of discouraging. I was ashamed to feel kind of glad to go. Luckily, we had a definite mission to pursue after that. I think it was Tim who had the idea of honoring the women on project by giving them picture frames with Ezekiel 16:14b painted on them and cards telling them how much we appreciated them. We therefore stopped at Walmart under the pretense of 'bro time' on the way home to buy the materials. things were kind of dicey due to Katelin and Kiera showing up at Walmart at roughly the same time as we did to buy food or something; I did recon to ensure they didn't stumble across the men looking for picture frames and painting supplies. While there, Pastor Taiyo called Tim to let him know that they had apparently made some rice for us, so after getting supplies we went back to City on the Hill to pick up the rice--over 20 pounds of it! The completely full pan took two people to carefully carry to the trunk and we still have lots of it to eat. It's delicious. We only managed to find nine picture frames at Walmart, so we went to another one, which happened to have the remaining four! That taken care of, we had just enough time to get home and get dressed up to go to Applebee's to celebrate Kristen's 21st birthday.

Applebee's was a pretty good time. We were going to Eastbrook Church the next day, which was much less formal than the churches we'd been visiting (for that matter, so was the Lao church), so Saturday night was our last chance to get dressed up. We randomly saw Gloria's brother while eating outside, which was funny. After getting back we had a 'mocktail' party with margarita and pina colada mix (minus the alcohol) and the Christmas in July decorations. That stuff was DELICIOUS. (Mom, if you're reading this, please get us some) Unfortunately I was really full from Applebee's, but we kept some of it in the freezer and have been enjoying it since. We played a few rounds of Never Have I Ever, which I am apparently really good at due to all the things I have never done or tried, particularly foods and drinks. (i.e. cheeseburgers, mashed potatoes, and coffee)

The next day was Eastbrook. I'd already spent two weeks of ministry there plus the prayer night, so I was really glad to return. It was by far the most familiar church we'd been to, with projected lyrics, a praise band, and printed programs! It was really diverse, which was cool to see; they really seem to care about promoting diversity as the talk on the prayer night was about. Pastor Marc Erickson did a great sermon on Acts 8; it was a really multifaceted lesson and it was clear that he has a real gift for delving into scripture and pulling out insight. I hadn't been feeling God's presence as much since finishing ministry, and He definitely answered my prayers for restoration and healing at that service.

After church we got lunch at Bayshore before going to a park to pray over the city. It was on a big hill that literally looked out of the whole city; amazing view. The group picture of us with the Milwaukee skyline in the background is going front and center on the newsletter. I prayed with Tim, Arron, and Jacob; they spent the first while just talking while I prayed silently before we each prayed something for the city and our project. It was a really reflective time and it hit me how all our ministry was in God's hands now; we've done all we can and have to trust Him to use our efforts as part of His plan.

After we got back, it was time for more 'bro time'. In reality, this meant painting the picture frames. Luckily we had Aaron, Tim, and Bryan the painters to instruct and lead us in this effort. We laid out paper towels on the kitchen table and got to work with Man vs. Wild (a new favorite of the project men) playing in the background. We put on two coats of white paint as Jack the calligrapher put each lady's name on the frames, then penciled in the verse. We got roughly halfway through psinting the verses on before we had to eat and get to our last set of ministry and committee meetings.

Apparently all our 'bro time' had made the women pretty suspicious. At the vocational meeting, Anna (who, as associate project director, has keys to our floor) was interested in seeing what was going on on our floor and almost used fetching Jack and Jacob as an excuse to do so. It was pretty funny, as we'd already hidden all the painting stuff in a vacant room and she wouldn't have found anything, but I still pretended to be slightly suspect. Apparently they were even more suspicious at the marketplace meeting, believing we were planning to take them somewhere Sunday night. During committee meetings, some of the men formed a plan to satisfy their suspicions. We would take the women on the Riverwalk path downtown, give them a fun time, let them know how much we appreciated them, and most importantly, make them think we'd spent our 'bro time' planning it. In the 15 minutes before leaving, we managed to get a basic plan down and rewrite the lyrics to one of our worship songs to sing to them.

So that night was basically awesome. Riverwalk was really scenic; we didn't tell them where we were going and just drove there slowly packed into Jacob's car, letting them follow. We went a little ways on it before stopping at some steps. We each managed to say something about how much we'd been blessed by them on project; even though we'd thrown together the whole event at the last second, we really meant what we said and I'm glad we got the opportunity to express it. After this we sang our song with Jack playing guitar, which they really loved, and then just did some worship songs for a while. We had some people on the other side of the river and on passing boats get excited and clap with us, which was awesome. I'm really glad the women gave us the idea of doing that, as it was really nice to do something nice for them. And, of course, they absolutely did not expect that we had something else planned for them. After getting back we finished the painting of the frames before going to bed.

The next day we sort of had a mini-outreach in the form of packing "Powerpacks" for needy students in the fall. We went to the vacant room behind the chapel and carted in dozens of boxes filled with school supplies. After much opening of boxes and packaging, we got an assembly line going and turned the backpacks out pretty quickly. I was opening notebooks as fast as I could; they were unfortunately plastic-wrapped in packs of four and each backpack got five, so they went through them pretty fast. The room was a total mess afterward, and we underestimated how many notebooks we had, but we put together several hundred backpacks. This was more the kind of service I'd been hoping to do when I signed up for the project, and though I'm glad to have been stretched in loving on people so much for our ministry, it was nice to just do some basic service.

That afternoon, Aaron took our action group out to Beaver Lake, where a house he and Tim had painted was situated. They had really been building it up as "the clearest lake you'll ever see" and beyond gorgeous. When we finally managed to find the public access to the lake, it was a little dock for hand-launching boats with private property on each side. Milwaukee may have some beautiful lakes, but those lucky enough to have lakefront homes didn't seem too willing to share. Unfortunately things didn't get much better from there as we wandered around looking for a park for several hours, the six of us crammed into Jacob's two-door car. We finally found a park and struggled to grill dinner with a wood fire Bryan made with his mad survival skills while fighting off bugs. (Luckily I don't seem to attract mosquitoes for some reason) Personally I would have liked to just stay at COAH and have an ordinary evening rather than try one crazy scheme for having a lakefront barbecue after another, but I seemed to be the only one who didn't think it was the best action group ever, so oh well. (I stand by the one where we went to BWW)

We luckily returned to COAH away from the bugs for the actual Bible study, which was great after we got out of the room with mold I was allergic to. (I was puzzled as to how my allergies only started acting up after we got back inside) After going over applications of the key passages in Philippians we studied, we wrote the cards for the ladies to accompany their picture frames. The plan was to have Tim and a few other guys stay up late and leave the gifts in front of their doors so they would discover them the next morning.

Today I finally got some free time. We got a text at 6:47 AM expressing thanks for the gifts (no idea what they were doing up so early); it was really great to see our crazy awesome plan to surprise the women finally happen. After getting up and having quiet time and breakfast, I buckled down to get the newsletter as close to done as I could. I have the fourth draft printed, and except for some help with the pictures it's looking pretty close to done indeed. Lots of people are out seeing more of the city and getting Tim a fade (really short haircut), but I'm enjoying the chance to have some time to reflax and reflect. I hope to finish the newsletter tonight or early tomorrow. With only four more days on project left, pray that God would help us make the most of our time here and bring the lessons and joy He gave us on project back home!

Composed ~1:00 PM, Tuesday, August 3rd