Friday, January 30, 2015

Don't eat the Honey!

Ok, so maybe that title is a little bit of an exaggeration, but I would like to urge you to reduce your intake of honey today.

Honey is a wonderful thing as a nice natural sweetener that you are welcome to use, but even too much of a good thing can cause problems. If you've ever had too much honey at one sitting, you probably have experienced some unpleasant consequences, including stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. 

So yes, we should not eat that much honey because we will figuratively choke on it as we push it down our system.

Now I shall write a beautiful seg-way into our spiritual application today.

Done. Proverbs 25:27 uses an analogy of eating too much honey to make a compelling point of how we should live our lives. In it, we read,
"It is not good to eat much honey: so for men to search their own glory is not glory."

So glory is something that we all kinda desire and long to possess in our lives, but just like honey, one can receive too much of a this good thing. The Proverb here implies that if we are seeking out our own glory, then we will inevitably receive too much glory that will probably more likely leave us uncomfortable.

 If I look back to my own life, I can definitely find this statement to be true. My senior year of high school, I was the President of my debate club, and as president, I was "required" to coordinate all of our evidence sharing.

I had some difficulty at times getting people to actively participate in the evidence sharing, which meant a lot of me yelling over email and trying to demonstrate the obligations of the club members.

But I did this without thinking about the Lord and the way the Lord would have me handle the situation. Instead, my focus was on ensuring I was the best debate president I could be.

But whenever my debate coach would acknowledge my astounding efforts in class (trust me, they were pretty astounding :)), I would feel uncomfortable and like I was undeserving of any such recognition or glory.

Yet deep down, that is what I was searching for throughout that entire year, so why did it hurt when I actually received it?

Probably because "It is not good to eat much honey: so for men to search their own glory is not glory."

Monday, January 26, 2015

How Saudia Arabia Combats ISIS by Low Oil Prices

Here in America recently, we've really enjoyed that oil prices have been decreased as of late. It feels absolutely wonderful to go to the pump and not feel your wallet decrease in weight (just out of curiosity, why is this still an expression? We all just use plastic cards and place them back in our wallet when done.). 

But there is a much more significant reason why low oil prices right now are a beautiful thing. A reason that has greater geopolitical significance, as well as the potential for much greater benefit for people around the world, then anything economic. 

ISIS is now having difficulty making a profit on their smuggled oil sold through the black market. 

Ever since the United States officially got involved in the ISIS controversy, they knew that one of the best ways to destroy the organization was to cut off their profit from their oil smuggling. The United States had then urged Turkey to strengthen border control to prevent ISIS access to Turkey's black market. 

But regardless of access to black markets, if oil prices as a whole goes down, it becomes hard for ISIS to actually make meaningful profit on the black market to begin with. This means that our currently low oil prices is good because it might just slow the atrocities of ISIS. 

But what has caused these low oil prices to begin with, Believe it or not, evidence indicates that this is Saudi Arabia's attempt at squashing ISIS right now. 

Saudi Arabia is the world's largest exporter of oil controlling 18% of the world's petroleum reserves. This gives them immense power over the oil prices. If they speed up production, prices go down. If they slow down production, prices naturally inflate. This of course is all due to the law of Supply and Demand. 

Right now, Saudi Arabia is pumping oil quickly and that is a large contributor to the lower oil prices. They themselves are losing revenue through this. But they believe that ISIS poses a threat to their security, so they are willing to cut off their nose to spite their face. 

Saudi Arabia is in this for the long haul too. They believe that they can withstand these lower oil prices for 8 years. 

Would it be incredibly cheesy to end this post with "God bless Saudi Arabia?" 

Too bad. God bless Saudi Arabia. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Hobbies, Hobbies, Hobbies,

The Christian life. It's one of absolute supreme pleasantness and beauty. One where we can all just sit back, pray to ask the Lord for guidance throughout the day, and be sure to attend church on Sunday, and we will have lived a successful Christian life. We don't radically need to change our lives; we just need to add another hobby on our list of life habits. 

So you would think at times when looking at least at the caricature of the church today. Though I must be careful to admit that there are obviously individuals and churches who are preaching the gospel in an accurate way, we must admit there is a consensus among individuals among the church that this seems to be the way we live. 

"So it is with our Christian worship services. We, too, have wings, we have imagination, intended to help us actually rise aloft. But we play, allow our imagination to amuse itself in an hour of Sunday daydreaming. In reality, however, we stay right where we are – and on Monday regard it as a proof that God’s grace gets us plump, fat, delicate. That is, we accumulate money, get to be a somebody in the world, beget children, become successful, and so forth. And those who actually get involved with God and who therefore suffer and have torments, troubles, and grief, of these we say: Here is proof that they do not have the grace of God."

 What a waste of a life! What a way to not live as a Christian. Let's try to actually attempt to sacrifice as needed to actually live for Him. Christianity is about having something to both live and die for. It's about having something so meaningful that you give up everything you possess. Christianity is not about having something so important that you dedicate a day out of every week and a portion out of every day.

Living a victorious Christian life is an all-encompassing goal that we must work at in everything.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Respect for Authority

Imagine this: you have a friend who sits down one day and just rants and rants and rants about how restrictive his parents rules are. After he finishes blasting them with insults (and not even addressing the rules), it becomes clear to you that regardless of how wrong his parents are, he is more wrong to disrespect his parents because they are his God-ordained authorities.

Clearly we can see that while we might be able to give some friendly criticism to show the flaws in those that have been placed as authorities before us, we should know not to ridicule, we should know not to constantly complain, and we should know to respect them in all that we say and do.

But among certain groups (of otherwise amazing people) here at my college you would guess that this particular respectfulness and willingness to criticize without mocking has not been understood.

There is nothing wrong with pointing out some things that you find weird about the viewpoints of the authorities in your life. If you think it's weird for instance that this university does not let women teach men in Bible classes (I tend to agree, but I've heard compelling arguments for both sides), then you can say so.

What you can't and shouldn't do, of course, is say that this action obviously proves the current administration to be a collection of sexist pigs who simply want to keep women in the kitchen. (Food for thought: if they really believed that, why would they hire any female professors at all?)

This attitude of name-calling and exaggeration of an issue is disrespectful to an organization that you just happen to disagree with. Regardless of the intentions that these students had in the first place, their comments ultimately just smell of the same bigotry and intolerance that they accuse the university of.

Perhaps another example may illustrate this point further. It is acceptable for one to express disagreement over chapel speakers, but it is disrespectful to make those same speakers the butt of jokes throughout the entirety of the semester (and beyond). They're human; they'll make mistakes, say some things that they regret; some may even change their minds about what they say later. If you were in their position, you wouldn't want to live in infamy for your comments the rest of your days.

While we're on the subject of chapel, why is it that we think we have the right to avoid punishment when we skip chapel? Don't get me wrong, if you want to skip chapel, you have a right to do that. But if you are going to go past your 8 allowed unexcused absences (as well as that 5 absence grace period), then you should submit to the authority of the university and pay the fine. You should not falsify excuse forms or "scan and scram" in order to avoid the consequences. We should not defiantly refuse chapel "because the university has no right to force mature adults to attend a worship service every day."

At the end of the day, students here (and everywhere, I assume) have accepted the authority of their college. Disrespecting the authority of one's parents is one thing, but we do not typically think that disrespecting a university is really bad. But this becomes especially bothersome when you consider that most students specifically chose this specific authority in their life.

When you agreed to come to this university, you agreed to respect and accept their authority. That's not even in the fine print. So can we all just take a moment to purge the wonderful community here of this one glaring problem and start to change our attitude of the current administration and beyond.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Aren't Life's Little "Coincidences" just Amazing?

"Isn't it great how God works little things like that out all the time?" 

So said a good friend of mine this last Monday night as we randomly sat in the foyer (as it were) of our dormitory here. It was a comment that is going to be the main thrust of our brief discussion today.

The comment's context came after I explained the amazingly encouraging conversation that I had at lunch that day.

The wonders of college cuisine here is that we're not just limited to a cafeteria for our meal plans, but also can use transfer meals to get meals from this fast food type place that is catered by the same food service.

Monday was the first day of the semester that it officially opened, so I thought I would repay my visits for this semester because it's slightly better than a cafeteria.

I sat down with a former fellow Biblical Studies major who is now studying Nursing and we have a chat about nice good Godly things. I phrased that sarcastically probably because I'm not used to saying it in a serious manner. #confessingyourfaultsonetoanother

So as he asked me about my devotions, I mentioned essentially what I wrote last week and how I saw it as a theme for the early chapters of Proverbs.

This was rather exciting for him because it just so happens, he was reading in the early chapters of the book of Proverbs and was hearing the same message.

The end of the lunch was then the opportunity to really get a conversation going about the spiritual walk that the Lord has with us accordingly. It was a wonderful little thing that the Lord worked out in my life precisely when I needed it.

Then of course the conversation which spurred our thesis statement was another example of it. So much that could be said about that conversation and so much that the Lord was able to work in both of our hearts at a time when both of us would normally be studying then prepping for bed (we tend to sleep early) is maybe more than a little thing that God ensured happened just right for my edification.

How exactly are we suppose to top that in our service to God?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Why State and Church should be Separated

I apparently can't count my weeks or know the difference between a politics post and an ethics post because I just did two ethics post in consecutive weeks. Whoops-a daisy. So I guess this leaves me answering the question three weeks after I promised to answer it in two weeks. My apologies.

So why does the state need protection from the church while the church needs protection from the state?

We shall once again look to history to see why. Let us begin with why the church needs protected from the state.

The year is 1547 and the country is England. Thirteen years prior, the Act of Supremacy had been passed. This act gave authority over the church (papal authority) to the monarch.

In 1547, under the reign of the first largely radical protestant monarch, Edward VI, the Act is used to make supreme changes to the official Church of England to make it more protestant. At which point, of course, protestants consider England to be a safe haven and openly worship there.

But then Edward VI dies. He is succeeded by Queen Mary I. If there is one word to describe Mary's religious leanings, it would be simply -  Catholic. Mary uses her new-found power over the church to drastically undo all of Edward's reforms. But most dreadfully of all, she uses her power to persecute and even kill protestants who would argue with Catholic doctrines.

At which point, we can see clearly two pitfalls of a state-dominated church, or put another way, two reasons why the church needs protected from the state. First the political whims of the state can easily destabilize the church. Second, free exercise of religion is not protected because the coercive power of the state is used to persecute religious minorities.

I'm hoping that with my audience, I don't need to argue that persecution of religious minorities is a bad thing, but if I do: dehumanization, tyranny, oppression, suffering, freedom of expression, freedom of thought, etc.

But perhaps we don't see a reason why state must be protected from the church. After all, the state is under the authority of God, so why shouldn't they also be under the authority of the church?

To see the pitfalls, we need look no further than the Middle East. (Note: many oversimplifications will emerge in this post as Middle Eastern politics is just simply complex.)

In the Middle East, many countries are controlled either officially or unofficially by the church within that country. Ultimately, most of the tension politically both within and between nations comes as a result of tension between the two major Islamic denominations: Sunni and Shiite.

And of course, one need not look far to see the persecution that Middle Eastern countries tend to place upon religious minorities, whether within the religion of Islam or not.

Thus, we see the problems with a church-dominated state as well. First, the whims of the church can destabilize the state. Second, free exercise of religion is not protected because the coercive power of the state is used to persecute religious minorities.

So yes, we need to protect both entities from each other because without that, we see no true stability. More importantly, we see no true protection for the freedom of religion.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Warring Influences

The very beginning of the book of Proverbs starts as most would expect. There is a discussion of wisdom and how one may attain unto it. Proverbs 1:7 clearly explains, 
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction"

At this point, Solomon begins constructing a discussion of how "his son" should heed the instruction of "thy father." There is at this point shown that good influences are placed before our lives to aid us in avoiding the enticement of sin.

Later, we see a stronger look at positive influence when wisdom begins to cry out in verses 20-33. Here wisdom begs to be understood, begs to be known, and begs to have a chance to save others from the foolishness and simplicity of the world.

In between these two positive influences though, Solomon pens in verses 10-19 a very different type of influence. Here we read,
"My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not. If they say, Come with us, let us lay wait for blood, let us lurk privily for the innocent without cause: Let us swallow them up alive as the grave; and whole, as those that go down into the pit: We shall find all precious substance, we shall fill our houses with spoil: Cast in thy lot among us; let us all have one purse: My son, walk not thou in the way with them; refrain thy foot from their path: For their feet run to evil, and make haste to shed blood. Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird. And they lay wait for their own blood; they lurk privily for their own lives. So are the ways of every one that is greedy of gain; which taketh away the life of the owners thereof."

The placement of this selection makes a great case for the idea that Solomon is trying to get us to understand that wisdom is helpful in avoiding the enticements of sin and the negative influence of those participating in the activity of sin.

After all, if you are in a chapter that both begins and ends by talking about the positive influences of wisdom, why would you decide to take a detour through the negative influences of the world, unless you were trying to show a contrast between the two?

That's what I see Solomon doing here. Further, I see Him placing it rather obviously before us that we will be met with both positive and negative influences throughout our days and as such, if we want to avoid sin, or if we want to actually attain unto any sort of wisdom, we must be able to discern which is the good influence and follow it.

We must do as Solomon declares in verse 5-9, and later in verses 23 and 33,
"A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels: To understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction. My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother: For they shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck....
Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you....But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil."

Monday, January 5, 2015

Why You Shouldn't want to Wield the Power of the Spirit

Yes, I have indeed done this very thing again. I keep telling myself that I should stop, but it is just too appealing. I have titled my blog post in such a way that the casual reader just automatically thinks I'm a heretic. This means the responses of those who are reading this fall into one of three camps.
This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.
  1. Oh, what has that dastardly college been teaching that boy? He used to have so much potential and now he's getting destroyed. I need to find out just how messed up he is.
  2. Wait, what type of church did he come from before hitting college that he thinks this is ok? I need to read this post to find out just how I can help him see the light. 
  3. Goodness, why does he think he's so clever with his titles? I really don't want to read this, but I can't move on without knowing what "clever" word play he's used in his title today. 

Well, to those who fit into the third category (and for intellectual honesty), the alleged wit is not something I can claim as my own, which might mean it's actually worth listening to. 

If asked by anyone whether they want to wield the power of the Holy Spirit in their life automatically affirm that such a desire would be quite noble. Who shouldn't want to wield the power of the Spirit? 

The notion does make a good deal of sense. After all, we all know that the flesh is weak, We all know that the flesh is incapable of serving and pleasing God. We all know that the Spirit is necessary for living the victorious Christian life. I can say nothing against any of these things because they're kinda in the Bible. I feel like I shouldn't try to take on the author of all truth on any position. 

I am more convinced than most that the flesh is unable to do anything but sin, so you once more can know that I am not taking apart any big doctrine here. But here's the thing. Do you notice what words we keep using for this? 

We need to wield the Spirit so we can live our own life in a way pleasing to the Lord. I don't know about you, but I see a couple of problems with this. 
  1. First, the emphasis of what we are doing here is very much based on what we are doing, rather than the Spirit. It basically makes it about just supplying a little help to our efforts rather than allowing the Spirit to truly shine. 
  2. Second, the Spirit is seen as something that can be manipulated easily for our ends. No goal or direction of the Spirit is provided for whatsoever. 
Mainly the problem with these phrases and the issues with the way Christians view this subject of the Spirit is that they want to wield the power of the Holy Spirit. They see that power of the Spirit as a tool to put in their arsenal against the attacks of the wicked. How disrespectful to the Creator of the universe. 

Hey, I want to please you, but I want to retain control of my own life, so you know can you just give me your power every now and then. I mean, I know you saved me and everything and have done much to ensure that I am convicted of sin in my life, but I still need to try my hardest to supplement the weakness of my own flesh with your indescribable and unlimited power. 

It also inevitably gives too much credence to the power of our flesh itself to think that we simply need a "supplement." We are completely lacking in our ability to please the Lord. The flesh is powerless, not an insufficient power. Furthermore, the flesh battles against itself. 

We are not called to wield the Spirit. We are called to be led by the Spirit. We are called to live in the Spirit. That is our defense against the attacks of the flesh. That is what we see from Galatians 5:16
"This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh."

Friday, January 2, 2015

A Happy New Year, Have You

Well, 2014 is no more. 2014 was a monumental year for this here blogger. I mean, I officially let the world know that I had been called into pastoral ministry, I began college to train towards that goal, I grew a beard and found out that trimming is harder than shaving, and I entered the now technologically with my first new computer and a smartphone (what?). 2014 was also the first complete year that this blog ran. So now, what will 2015 bring for me or for the wonderful reader of this here post (see, I'm not against flattery in all circumstances!)?

I have a New Year's Resolution! It's to not stay in bed until late morning/early afternoon when I am on break! I mean, seriously, that shouldn't be a thing that happens ever. But I guess I didn't do well when it came to that. But I feel really refreshed now. 

No, seriously, let's look at New Year's Resolutions a bit more specifically (Yes, when I started writing this post, I had no idea where I was going; yes, it happens a significant amount). So what should we all have as a New Year's Resolution? 

Hey, losing weight or getting all muscular ain't the best goal to give yourself for the new year. How about these goals and resolutions coming from my own repertoire? 

1. You may have gathered that I journal pretty much everything that deals with spiritual disciplines. This was true long before my Spiritual Formation professor made it a class assignment. Thus, I have an opportunity to look back and see how many days I missed reading my Bible this past year. Regrettably, that number is 17. Seeing as how I find that completely unacceptable, I want to set a goal of missing fewer days this year. But more importantly, I want to make sure this goal is actually measurable, so I am going to say that I should not skip more than 10 days. Of course, fewer is always good. 

2. On a similar note, I am looking to get more study of the Bible that goes beyond the "minimum daily devotions requirement." I am in the midst of a lifetime project to... I guess sort of in a way create a biblical resource book. But it has been stagnant for a very long time, as I have let my educational studies stand in the way. So I would like to find a better way of balancing my time now. I mean I can hardly expect more free time as a pastor, so I need to find the time to get more and more biblical study.

3. I want to stop procrastinating/forgetting about my blog posts and then end up posting rather boring blog posts that are more academic than relatable. I'm starting this out well by writing this blog post on New Year's Eve even when I won't be posting it until January 2!

4. While we're on the subject, maybe I should stop switching what I mean by now when writing these blog posts between time of publication and time of writing. That can't be very easy for you to understand.

5. Finally, broaden my influence. Not in the sense necessarily of finding more people to influence, but maybe just actually ensuring that I have a greater depth of influence on each person (and of course that that influence is actually good). That is something that I desperately want to see happen, and I look forward to the opportunity to have more chances (and more help) to accomplish those goals.

These are my resolutions and except 3 and 4, which I put in half-jokingly, they can be yours as well. But you should probably try to personalize it to your own walk with the Lord. All I challenge you to do is to make a resolution to ensure your relationship with the Lord grows this upcoming year.