Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Piper on Knowing Jesus

In Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ, John Piper talks about a few ways we can learn who Jesus is. The first is by rigorous, painstaking, academic study. But this takes a long time as well as great devotion, not to mention the mental faculties to read and research the subject through the writings and findings of people who are a lot smarter than us (and try to prove it by making their writings completely unintelligible to the normal reader). He notes that there must be another way, since, "it would seem strange if God revealed himself in his Son Jesus Christ and inspired the record of that revelation in the Bible, but did not provide a way for ordinary people to know it."

The second, more universally accessible way, is through self-authenticating, divine truth, as he calls it. Piper basically claims that there is something about Jesus--his attitudes, thoughts, actions--in scripture that causes us to know who he was and is, without having had to learn it. He says, "it is like seeing the sun and knowing that it is light and not dark, or like tasting honey and knowing that it is sweet and not sour. There is no long chain of reasoning from premises to conclusions. There is a direct apprehension that this person is true and his glory is the glory of God."

Of course, many people read the Gospels and never believe. There are theologically liberal seminaries full of experts on these biographical accounts, yet these experts believe them to be but fables. Yes, the words and works of Jesus were and are self-authenticating, but it is a spiritual business to believe, and the Holy Spirit must open our eyes to see and experience what is real. This enabling to see reality for what it really is is quite important, because salvation doesn't depend on having correct doctrine.

Imagine that you were born blind, and that people had always lied to you and said the sky was yellow. If one day, some sympathetic person told you that everyone had lied to you, and that, in fact, the sky was blue, and for whatever reason you believed them over all the others, you still wouldn't really know what color the sky is until you saw it for yourself. After all, there are many people who confess with their lips that Jesus is the Son of God, but who don't know he is the Son of God. Knowing this truth means more than just saying the right proposition, it means that the Spirit of God has opened your eyes to SEE that He is the Son of God.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The War of the Words

Tonight I was lying in bed, unable to sleep, thinking a bit about my life. Oddly enough, I often think in three different languages when I can't sleep. My mind wanders endlessy through my past experiences, my hopes for the future, and random scenarios where I am a super-hero. And all in English, Spanish, or French. But one thing I have noticed is that I feel completely different when I speak Spanish than when I speak French.

When I speak Spanish, I feel like my heart is connected to my words. I feel what I say, and I say (or try to say) what I feel. Unfortunately, that process takes a lot of effort. The ability to speak Spanish comes at great effort, even when I was living in Spain. I was constantly thinking--conjugating verbs, using new vocabulary, seeing every word written down in my mind before it left my mouth. Sort of like a computer.

But when I speak French, it's completely different. I feel so unattached, that often I begin speaking and don't realize that I've started to say something that is too complicated to finish. So, I'll jump in on a conversation without hesitating, but will end up not finishing my phrase, or having to say it two or three times to get my point across. I don't feel like I accurately communicate my emotions in French.

My question is this: Does not feeling as connected to French automatically mean that I speak better Spanish? That's what I thought at first, but now I think differently. While I was in Spain, I remember thinking that I felt more Latino than American. I fit in better with my spanish speaking friends than I did with the Americans. I felt new avenues of communication, the emotive ones, in particular, open up, and I ran through them. The result was that when I didn't feel those same things while starting to learn French, I assumed that I didn't like French as much. Makes sense, right?

Oh, but language learning is a very complicated process, and one that involves every part of the human being--soul, body, and spirit. When I started learning French, I had something under my belt that I didn't have when I started Spanish, that is the experience of having already learned a foreign language. When I began Spanish, everything was new to me. Every word was vibrant and full of meaning, and each new phrase gave me a new, fuller understanding of reality. But when I started French, I had already experienced that process. Now that I was learning a third language, the words weren't as fresh, and the phrases were a lot less meaningful. I had romanticized Spanish in a way that I couldn't do with French. It would have been dishonest. Like going on a date with a girl and pretending that she didn't have problems like every other girl you've dated. Entering into French with another language learning experience behind me left me unimpressed, not that it isn't a beautiful language, but after all it is just a language like all others.

Second, French resembles English a great deal. And, in fact, I am just beginning to learn how much of the english language is borrowed from French. What this means is that I don't have to think nearly as hard to understand and speak French as I do Spanish. The sentence structure and words are close enough that most of the time I can take an older English word (one that is old enough that most English speaking people wouldn't recognize it) and Frenchify it in order to say what I want. Think King James Audio Bible read by Pepe Le Pew. The easier it is to speak, the less I have to think.

My last thought is really a combination of the previous two. Which language is more natural to me? Spanish, where I FEEL like I can communicate more clearly because of the effort I put into speaking, or, French, which is so close to my native tongue that I speak without thinking? If I were backed up into a corner I would say both, mostly because I really love Spanish, but in reality I think the answer would have to be French. I mean, how many of us think before we speak in our native language? How many of us say, "I really put my foot in my mouth" and feel the weight of those words because we are so concentrated on understanding the grammar of the sentence? None of us. That just means, "I said something stupid," or, "I shouldn't have said that." When looked at in this light, French is a much more natural language for me.

In Spain, I felt like I found a new aspect of 'me,' through learning the language. Here in France, I am learning that I'm the same old Mike Gorski, I just speak a little bit of a few extra languages. And my English is getting worse.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

So I was just thinking about how learning a language relates to sharing the gospel with people in another country.  Of course, there are the arguments about learning the heart language of the people you want to reach, and tons of christian language aquisition materials saying that the language is the key to understanding a culture--if you master the language, then you give yourself the greatest opportunity to effectively share the truth of the Gospel.  

And I am in agreement with these statements 100%.  But then there is the objection that the real work of missions is spiritual.  It's isn't learning grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, and phrases that we need to be doing, but reading the Bible and praying.  We need to be spending more time "praying people into the kingdom," as it has been said.  I know of some whose practice of missions is basically to set up a community that worships God, and as the people around them see their worship, they will turn from their sin and to Jesus.  I also agree with this objection, but not in the sense that is implied.

Why?  Because of Romans 10:13-17 and 18-21.

In the first set of verses I see a focus on 'hearing,' and that is physical hearing.  It starts with the statement, "for 'everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'"  Then, it describes, in a way, the reverse of the process that leads to calling on the name of the Lord and being saved.  And at the beginning  of that regression is hearing.  Verse 17, "for Isaiah says, 'Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?'  So faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ."  In order for someone to come to a saving knowledge of Christ, they must hear the words of the gospel. 

This is a very physical process that involves hearing certain phrases, propositions, and ideas, and responds to the truth of these statements with faith.  Contrary to St. Francis of Assisi's famous quote--"share the gospel at all times, and when necessary use words"--there is no gospel without words.  That is where missions and language learning converge in obedience to God's word.  A person cannot be saved without hearing the Good News in a language they can understand.  We must 'hear' in order to 'call on the name of the Lord.'

This applies for evangelism within our own culture as well.  I can't use the same words when speaking with a 90 year old as I can with a teenager.  Just this afternoon, Valérie's mother was reading a magazine and she turned to ask, "What does 'bling-bling' mean?"  One way that the church in America needs to grow is in sharing the gospel in a way that the hearer doesn't need to be a Christian to understand.  Words like 'justification' are rich with meaning for a believer (or should be, at least), but to someone who has never read the Bible or been to a church, the word means something different altogether.  We need to be more intentional about learning to share the message in a way that overcomes physical linguistic barriers to the gospel.

So, at least in one sense, missions is very physical.

But in what way is the work of missions spiritual?  Enter verses 18-17.

18But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for

   "Their voice has gone out to all the earth,
   and their words to the ends of the world."

 19But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says,

   "I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation;
   with a foolish nation I will make you angry."

 20Then Isaiah is so bold as to say,

   "I have been found by those who did not seek me;
   I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me."

 21But of Israel he says, "All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people."

Verses 18-20 show that just because people hear the gospel, that doesn't mean they will believe it and, "call upon the name of the Lord."  Paul says of Israel, "have they not heard?  Indeed they have, for '...their words have gone out to the end of the world.'"  The nation of Israel had been hearing God's truth throughout their entire history, yet they were still unbelieving.  Verse 21, "but of Israel he says, 'all day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.'"  They were hearing, but not believing.  We need something to carry us from simple, physical hearing to mysterious, spiritual believing.

That something is the Holy Spirit, and the answer to the question, "in what way is the work of missions spiritual?"

THE SPIRITUAL WORK OF MISSIONS IS FIRST AND FOREMOST GOD'S WORK.  Now, when I say this I don't mean it in a general sense.  I mean that when people hear the gospel and respond to it in belief, it is solely the work of God's spirit in election.  That is the spiritual aspect of missions.  Verse 20, "...I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me."  It is God, and God alone, who can bring a dead soul to life.  We are all rebellious, independent, and uninterested in finding Him, but He shows Himself to those who did not ask for him.

What are the effects of this spirituality on missions?  First, I have made it sound a bit like the practical and spiritual aspects of missions are completely independent of and unrelated to each other, but they are not.  We must do our best to learn the language where we are, but we have to remember that our 'success' does not depend on our level of fluency, but on the work of God's spirit.  Yes, we should have the goal of mastering the language, but the Holy Spirit is powerful enough to speak through the most broken Spanish/French/German/Arabic and change the heart of the most broken sinner.  That brings real freedom to a missionary's work.  

Second, this should bring us to depend more on God when faced with a lack of response to hearing the gospel.  Discouragement is a daily, if not hourly presence in the life of anyone in ministry, so this should drive us to the Lord.  The very things that are mistaken for the 'spiritual' work of missions--reading, praying, studying--should be the response of missionaries whose only hope is for God to work.  There is only one encouraging place to be when you feel like a failure, and that is in God's word and in Prayer.

Third, this frees us to see that our job as missionaries isn't to save people, but to sow the seed of the gospel and watch God save people.  Like Paul says in 2 Timothy 2:10, "I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory."  We can be bold and spread the seed everywhere possible, but without the pressure of trying to make it grow ourselves.  As one friend of mine once said, "I want to cast my net as wide as possible so that I can find the few fish I catch."

Again, I'm not trying to lessen the importance of prayer in ministry, it's just that I'm trying to see it in it's proper place, as best I understand in God's word.  If what I'm saying is true, then it should drive us to pray more and more, not less.  Anyway, I'm tired so I'll have to finish these thoughts another day.  Good night.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009


So I need to clarify something from my last post--my wife is awesome.  And I'm sorry that she doesn't exactly look awesome as portrayed by my previous post.  Know that this is not a confession.  A confession is something you give after doing something wrong.  I don't need to confess, because I've never felt that my wife is anything other than awesome.  The only thing I'm guilty of is bad writing that didn't accurately communicate what I wanted to.  Anyway, I'm sorry.

I'm sure you remember my description of marriage, the words that every good Christian couple read right before feeling a profound nauseous shudder--"It's hard, but it's great."  For most people, the word 'hard' conjures up ideas of suffering and pain and guilt and regret.  The definition that I had in mind was something more like: "Not easy, in the sense of requiring genuine effort."  Actually, I wanted to just write, "Not easy," but I'm pretty sure I would have faced the same fallout as the last post.

In rewriting that section, I would say, "Relationships are hard, but they're great.  And the deeper the relationship, the harder it is.  But the more effort you apply, the greater the reward."  And keep in mind my definition of 'hard.'  

Every interpersonal interaction we have every day is in fact a relationship.  But the shorter the interaction, and the more superficial your knowledge of each other is, the more likely it is to continue without conflict.  For example, my relationship with the cashier at our local supermarket is great.   We've never disagreed about anything.  Ever.  We exchange our obligatory "Bonjour," she checks my food items (usually apples for Valérie and cookies for me), I give her money, and we say our obligatory "Au revoir."  That's it.  

But it's only that easy because of how lame it is.  If I really cared at all about her, I would invite her to eat dinner with Valérie and I, and after she left we would both give a huge sigh of relief and say to each other, "She's got problems," or, "She is SO annoying," or, "Do you think she is on drugs?"

Now, increase the level of intimacy to solid friendship, or even further, to marriage, and you have multiplied the complexity and delicacy of the relationship by a million.  I don't have to do a whole lot to convince the cashier that I'm a nice person, but my wife and my closest friends have seen me be a complete jerk.  The likelihood of hurting the cashier's feelings is a lot lower than that of hurting my friends' feelings.  And I'm a lot more likely to say or do something that upsets my wife than my friends, and it's not as though my wife is overly sensitive.  In all reality, I'm the super sensitive one who takes everything way too seriously.  Anyway, the closer the relationship, the more maintenance it needs.

This is because there is more at stake.  We've got more to lose should this close relationship turn sour.  So I say something stupid to the cashier and she thinks I'm an idiot.  Big deal.  Our entire interpersonal world is built on saying "hello" and "goodbye" to each other, and that's only because we're expected to be polite.  So I'm having a bad day and I'm rude to her even though I know it's wrong.  In the long run, who cares what she thinks about me?  I don't have to prove anything to her.

But the deeper the relationship, the more we've got to prove, or at least that's how it feels.  I guess it is unfortunate that we think of it that way.   We spend all this time and effort to get close to people, earning the right to be comfortable being ourselves around them, and when we get there, we find out that it's not true.  We can't be ourselves, because we are the problem laden annoying drug addict cashiers that we can't stand.  And it is only in these relationships that we come to this hard realization.

The shocking revelation that we are complete losers is accompanied by a call to vulnerability.  It isn't enough that through relationships we come to see our own faults, but God doesn't want us to cover them up.  This goes against everything in our nature.  Everything about our world seems to revolve around saving face or making ourselves look better than we actually are.  When I see pictures of smiling celebrities I think about how much their life must suck.  It must be awful to wake up with a huge zit on your face and know that you can't leave the house without covering it up because millions of teenage girls' hopes and dreams and ideas about beauty depend on your pretending to be perfect.  There really isn't any difference between that and Adam and Eve covering up their mistake with a fig leaf.

But why does God want us to be vulnerable?  First, because only when we're honest and vulnerable with Him does He get all the glory He deserves.  To the extent that we try to make ourselves look good to God, we steal the glory of His victory over sin.  Second, because only when we are vulnerable with God do we begin to realize how truly great our salvation is.  As I begin to understand how terrible a person I really am, the good news that God's mercy and grace are infinitely greater than my sin increasingly looks like "Good News."  Third, God wants all of our human relationships to reflect the first two reasons I gave.  In relationships, this means that when I cover up my sin I'm actually stopping my friend, wife, etc., from seeing the worth of God and the magnitude of His love for them.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Depression and Marriage

Lately I've been feeling pretty depressed.  I don't mean like indie-rocker write songs about how much the world sucks-depressed, but more like a general feeling that God and the world are out to get me and that in response I should stay in bed all day.  I mean, what's the point if I'm just going to be disappointed all day anyway.  Of course, this isn't a possibility because I'm married and my wife would never allow it, but nevertheless that's how I've felt.

Actually, my wife is the one who made me feel guilty about being depressed.  She didn't say anything like, "Get your lazy @$$ out of bed!", in fact, she didn't really say or do anything.  She understands that it is part of life, and especially when you are adjusting to a new country.  What made me feel guilty was that as the days passed and my sulking increased, Valérie started to feel the same way.  The more I became quiet and withdrawn, the more sullen and hopeless she felt.  Of course, she would never use the word hopeless.  It's too extreme for her.  But she started to see everything turning black along with me.  

I just finished a facebook chat with a teenager here in the village.  He asked me what marriage is like and if I had any advice for him.  Online chatting is hardly a medium worthy of such a sacred topic, but I wrote back, saying "It's hard, but it's great."  He was confused by this.  "What do you mean, 'hard'?"  

Only since I've been married have I begun to see the depths of my sin and selfishness.  Everyday there is some small revelation about how I'm failing to die for my wife.  After all, the apostle Paul tells husbands to love their wives, giving themselves up for her as Christ did for His church.  I'm part of Christ's bride, the church, and everyday I act like I'm the most important person in the world.  And what does Jesus do?  He pays for my sin.  No matter what.  There is nothing I can do or say that His blood can't cover.  

It's this same selfless love that God teaches us through marriage.  When she doesn't want to go for a walk because "there's a lion in the streets," or leaves the cap off the toothpaste, or seemingly complains about everything (which I'm slowly learning is part of being French), God is giving me an opportunity to love her and give myself up for her--to overlook her sins the way God overlooks mine.  Sadly, I usually hold it against her and grumble about in my mind, but I'm learning.  When you're single, there is a real freedom to sin that isn't there when you're married.  As a single, you can take refuge in the fact that nobody really knows you.  It's pretty easy to keep the facade and portray yourself to the world as you want to be seen.  But when it comes to your husband or wife, you're naked.  Every blemish is visible.

What does this mean for me as a husband?  It means that when I see all of Valérie's imperfections and shortcomings, I have a choice to make.  I can either focus on those blemishes until they are all I can see of her, or I can be like Christ and see her as she should be, as she will be.  This is very difficult.  The more I can criticize her faults the more I can convince myself that I'm good, or at least better than her.  But God designed marriage to show me my utter failure in loving my wife, because that's how we learn about His love.

So, Valérie, I'm sorry that you have to suffer, but I hope you are learning as much as I am.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Valérie is Pregnant, or, I Knocked Up My Wife

Just covering all my bases.  Email, facebook, and now the blog.  Valérie is pregnant, and so by God's grace we will be parents by the end of August.  Words can't really describe the roller-coaster of feelings that I've been riding about all of this.  I've never felt so out of control and preoccupied for someone's health in my life.  And I don't even know the one that is growing in my wife as I write this.  But it is also driving me to seek God.  

My feeling completely out of control is only compounded by the importance of the situation I find myself in.  It's one thing to not understand what the cashier says to you at the grocery store, but to watch a doctor in a medical system that you don't understand hurriedly mumble and point at things in a fuzzy picture that you don't understand, and all of this in a language that you don't understand, is a lot more stressful.  Sometimes my stomach hurts because of it all.

Right before Christmas Valérie had to go to the emergency room for something about the baby.  Here is part of a journal entry I wrote while waiting for her:  "Right now I can only find comfort in God Himself.  In His love, His sovereignty, His character.  I know the God who created the universe, in all his power and majesty, yet here my only resort is begging.  I've got no eloquent prayers or reasons why He should be merciful; just begging.  'Please, God.  Please.'  It's my heart's cry."

It's stressful, and I imagine that won't ever change, no matter where I live, but I'm thankful that it all points to something bigger than myself, and that it's all heading somewhere.  I trust Him.  We humans are a hopeless cause in ourselves, but in Him we have everything.  And that's enough.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Stories Part I

Stories are something that I really enjoy.  I don't know why.  And the closer they get to being unbelievable, the better.  Forget the ones about having to pee in the woods because you were camping.  After all, everyone's done that.  But tell me more tales about my Grandpa evading the police.  Tell me them all, and tell them to me over and over again.  I love 'em.  But why?

Stories scratch the age old itch of communication.  They connect us to other people and other times, and even other worlds.  They give us messages in a way that is both informative and normative.  That is to say, it gives us practical examples of how we should live, and why we should live that way, or how we shouldn't live and why we shouldn't live that way.  When I think about the best books I've read, they have been the ones that made me 'experience' whatever it was that the characters were experiencing.  When the characters were tempted, I felt the temptation, and when they reaped the fruit of their actions, I felt the stinging consequences, and therefore understood the error of their ways and changed my life and made decisions accordingly. 

However, in this current period of human history, stories and myth are shunned for 'facts' and information.  The Enlightenment and the resulting victory of Reason over human experience has left us with few sources of truth and beauty.  We can only believe what dull textbooks and boring geniuses tell us, and our only justification is that they are smarter than us.  The average person can no longer trust his feelings and justifications regarding what is Beautiful, he has to double-check it with the definition of beauty that comes down to us from the ivory towers of the critics.  Even in the Church, especially my beloved Reformed churches, stories have been abandoned for point by point logic, as if the Apostle Paul were a robot and not a man.

This is a mistake because we as humans don't live in a world of abstractions and theories.  We live in the real world--one of flesh and bone and tears and sweat and blood and sin and broken relationships.  For the past 150 years we have heard about the progress of mankind, and how science and knowledge is directing us toward a better life.  But we haven't seen increases in the quality of life, just the quantity.  Sure, we live longer and are more comfortable than ever, but that just means we have more time to hurt each other.  There as many wars today as there were then.  It's obvious that this method of communication isn't sufficient by itself.  Alright, enough science bashing for today.  I'm just a little prejudiced, but trying to remain objective.

That's where stories come in.  They take all the abstractions and theories, and give them hands and feet, flesh and bone.  Instead of just reading the book of Romans in the New Testament, filled as it is with tight arguments, we can see that theory worked out in Paul's life.  They are complementary.  We read a commandment and know that we should obey it, but when we can read stories about what happens to people who disobey, or the pain God feels when we disobey, we have a more human reason and desire to obey.  It's like 3-d morality.

For example, the Hebrews taught their children to say something called the Shema every day.  It was something like, "Hear O Israel, the LORD your God is one."  It was a commandment that they teach it to their children, just it was commanded that they teach the law to the next generation.  But, these mandates were always accompanied by stories.  Why should you believe that the LORD is one, or not worship idols?  Because He is the only God who could send the plagues down on Egypt, lead the Hebrews out of slavery and through the Red Sea as if it were dry land.  Only the true and living God, the God of the Bible, could lead his people through the desert forty years and provide for them miraculously.  Only He could drive out the nations before them as they headed toward Canaan.  

And so it was these commandments, coupled with the stories that reinforced why they were trustworthy commandments, that have given all of us a reason to keep believing, even in the face of trials and persecution.  So don't be like so many Christians today who say, "the Old Testament was for the Jews and the New Testament is for us."  Learn about who your God is and how His power, mercy, correction, and love have guided His people since the beginning of time.  Read the Old Testament and remember that God still moves teenage boys to slay giants, and closes the mouths of lions--be they physical, spiritual, or emotional.

Hear, O Christians!  You who are the children of Abraham by faith: The LORD your God is one.  He wants to do great things with your life, and he wants you to tell His stories and give hope to the world.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Just in case...

...you were wondering where the title for my "Books! Check 'em out!" post came from.  It sounds a lot like Sir Mixalot's voice.  I guess "Baby Got Back" wasn't his only contribution to society.

"Fellas, Fellas, has your girlfriend the books?"

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Here are some pictures from the past few months.

Vancouver, Canada.  I can't even mimic a stupid bear.  Idiot!!

Los Angeles sucks on the whole, but the beach was cool.

A Tyrannosaurus Rex trying to eat my wife.  Soon after, I regulated.  If you think he looks bad in the picture, you should see him now.

San Francisco.  I got my Visa and spent a day in a really cool city.  And ate with Roland Cabral, Sheila Brown's brother.

Brugges, Belgium.  It's pretty.

Books! Check 'Em Out!

Lately, I haven't been able to sleep.  Most nights I lay down only to stare at the dark ceiling, a million thoughts running through my head at a million miles per hour.  It's pretty frustrating.  I finally fall asleep somewhere around one or two o'clock every morning, but I'm tired all day and can't think as clearly.  Some good points are that I've been able to catch up on some long overdue phone calls.  I've had a lot of good conversations that remind me that God has blessed me beyond what I deserve in my friends and family.

Don't worry, I'll get to those questions  from Psalm 78 soon enough, but I need a little more time to better shape my thoughts.  For now, I'd like to write about a few books I'm currently reading.  The first is The Reason for God by Tim Keller.  He is the pastor of a presbyterian church in New York city, a tremendous preacher, and an equally talented writer.  The book is really philosophical, but completely accessible.  He is able to write about complicated things in layman's terms, which makes it a lot easier to follow.  And, in my opinion, that much more useful for the church.  But his book isn't meant to be "Christian", at least in the sense of just being for christians.  Instead, it is a book for skeptics, addressing the most common objections that he has encountered during his time in New York City.  

I'm not very far into the book, just a few chapters, but it is amazing.  Thanks go out to my friend who gave it to me this summer while I was in Laramie.  He really reminds me of C.S. Lewis, which makes sense since Keller himself says that there isn't a chapter he's written or sermon he's preached that doesn't borrow from Lewis.  I hope this book finds its way into the hands of many honest skeptics.  People who really care about truth and are willing to question and test their own beliefs, not just secular fundamentalists.  After all, we're all religious when it comes to our most basic and foundational beliefs, right?

Normally, I'm skeptical of these types of books because christians tend to use them as ammunition against their neighbors and classmates without really understanding what they read.  I think that in order to worship God rightly, we need to understand him, or at least the little that he has revealed to us in his word.  Or better put--begin to understand.  He is complicated and beautiful enough that even an eternity of revelation won't exhaust our thirst and hunger to know him.  But I'm not elitist about the academic aspect of christianity either, though  I used to be.  Fortunately, as time has gone on, I've learned that I'm not nearly as smart as I once thought, and that it isn't nearly as important to God as I had originally thought.  Loading your Gospel Gun with skeptic-atheist-agnostic killing silver bullets isn't what God is after, but he does want you to learn about him.  That's why I recommend Keller's book, and would recommend it to any truth-seeking, honest person I know.

Also, I'm reading N.T. Wright's Simply Christian.  Like Keller's book, it's written for those outside of the faith, and more particularly, those who know nothing about Biblical Christianity.  No christianese.  No alter calls.  His premise reminds me of how I tell people why I became a christian and not a Jew, Buddhist, or Muslim--when I read the Bible, the world started to make sense.  Evil.  Sin.  The complexity of nature.  The fact that even the 'purest' of us think the most unimaginable thoughts.  The entire human experience was explained.  And not like a "Get Saved!" baptist handbook, but like a collection of books from different genres and time periods that make a 3-d image of life.  Where it came from, where it's going, why it sucks, how it will be fixed, and what that means now.  Not just for me, but for the whole world.

Wright starts the book by reminding us that everyone is born with a longing for justice, and that we live as if we'd just woken up from a vivid dream.  We can't remember what exactly the dream was, but it's effect and message remain with us nonetheless.  In that way, every person has the knowledge of the Creator, even if they don't remember how they got it.  

N.T. Wright has some unorthodox beliefs regarding the specifics of salvation, and is a proponent of the New Perspective on Paul (maybe even the first?), but as far as I can tell, the book is neutral and unaffected by these beliefs.  As Wright says in the introduction, he means the book to be a basic guide, not to what christians believe, but to the questions that all humans should ask about their existence, and how the Bible addresses all those questions.  It's great so far, and I would recommend it as well. 

Friday, January 09, 2009

Caribbean Queen

If any of you were wondering what it's like to be married to a West Indian girl, just watch this and listen to the lyrics.

Right now my Caribbean Queen is sleeping on our folded out futon because she's sick. I
think I'll join her.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Psalm 78

My friend Brian is a pastor in a small town in Indiana.  He wrote about his New Year's resolutions in this post on his blog.  Discipline and self-examination are only two of his strengths.  Among the others are his physical strength, an inhuman ability to consume chicken wings, and projecting sound at high volumes over long or short distances in either open or confined spaces.  This year's resolution: 

Brian and Betsy have been parents, and good parents,  long enough to realize that the goal in disciplining their kids isn't just behavior modification.  Many times, he says, he reacts with harsh words (bad) and correction (can be good), but it doesn't seem to work.  Actually, it seems to do more damage than anything else.  His goal is to have well behaved children, but that is not his ultimate goal.  His ultimate goal is to have children who really fear and love God.

Reading Psalm 78 this morning made me think about how to teach obedience to children of any age, including ourselves.  Asaph starts out by saying, "Hey, listen up!!  I'm going to tell you all something very important!!  All the stories our parents told us about the amazing things God did for them and their parents, we should tell them to our kids and the coming generations."

This Psalm is made up of example after example of God's faithfulness and miraculous protection of His people, followed by their failure to follow Him.  Seriously, Asaph had to be pretty creative to think of ways to describe how weak they were.  "But they rebelled against Him."  "And they still rebelled."  "Despite all this, they STILL didn't turn their hearts to the Lord."  He even mentions when they give lip service to God, just to highlight the fact that they really didn't care.  It's a sad history.

Of course, I'm reading this Psalm with a lot more perspective than Asaph or his contemporaries had.  He wrote about God's people being stubborn until they were given a good king in David.  That was a great way to end a somewhat depressing song, by talking about God's mercy in  granting them a godly leader.  But even then, we know the rest of the story.  Within a few generations they had already strayed again.  What a hard headed group.

But here are some questions/observations I had after reading Psalm 78.  

First, it's important to share the story of God's provision and protection to the next generation.  This means everything found in scripture as well as all the history leading up to today, including our own personal testimonies.  

Second, is that knowledge enough to cause obedience?  I don't think it is, but it leads to a related third question/observation.  

What can we do to encourage obedience without just changing our children's behavior?  I don't have kids, but I'm still going to think about it because, if that knowledge isn't enough to make the next generation obey, then it isn't enough for me.  So, how do I bring about my own obedience?  

And lastly, how do we present the gospel to people in a way that communicates God's desire for obedience AND confronts the human desire to just be a law keeper?  

These are all hard questions, and I'm looking forward to thinking about them more and more in the coming weeks.  Realizing the effects of growing up in a postmodern culture and living in post-christian Europe have made me think about that last question a lot, but I don't want to swing to extremes the way that I'm often tempted to do.

Anyway, I'm hoping to get back into blogging more this year for a number of reasons, so please feel free to comment, ask questions, dialogue, or offer suggestions.  Just remember, I'm not an expert on anything, especially difficult things like life.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

This is my resolution...

It's 7:58 on a cold winter's evening here in Thumeries.  The occasional car passes outside, but other than that, the only noises I hear come from the ticking clock that hangs above our futon, and my sleeping wife, who rests just below the clock.  Unfortunately, she has come down with a cold and is feeling pretty weak.  Fortunately, we have some homemade chicken noodle soup simmering in the kitchen.  Hopefully it will give her some relief.

The Christmas season has been an interesting one for me.  Though I tried, it was hard to have a good, spiritual, christian Christmas.  I wish I had some good excuses, but the sad truth is that this year Christmas just didn't feel like Christmas.  For many reasons, it should have been one of my most memorable holidays.  It was my first Christmas with Valérie.  My first Christmas in France.  The first Christmas where I didn't spend time with either my family or someone from my home church.  But it wasn't Christmas.  It was just another Thursday.  

And I kept telling myself, "Mike, it's time to start thinking more about the advent season, to meditate on how and why Christ came to earth," but no motivation.  Nothing.  I tried to watch Andrew Peterson's "Behold the Lamb of God," a personal Christmas season tradition of mine for the past 3-4 years, but I didn't even watch it through one time.  But, why?  I still don't have any good answers, except that all of my surroundings were just unfamiliar enough to make me long for the familiar, and familiar enough to not make me desperate to seek God's face.  Here in france there are lights up, and sales and Christmas shopping just like in America, but it's still different.  No Christmas specials on TV.  No egg nog.  No frosted sugar cookies.  And instead of celebrating on Christmas day, the God intended, they celebrate on Christmas Eve (GASP!!).

But I guess that's the way everything is in life.  For some reason, we are only drawn to God when we really need him.  When we're sick, or a loved one dies.  After a national tragedy like the September 11th attacks, or we get news of cancer.  Between these milestones we say goodbye to a real, living dialogue with God and welcome every other idol that comes within arms' length.  For me it is comfort and security.  Sorry if this sounds like one of those overly spiritual posts that tries to tell you all what bad Christians you are.  That's not the point at all.  The point is, that even the most Godly among us get distracted and seduced by the everyday.

I'm learning that I live in a perpetual state of making resolutions and being overwhelmed.  Telling myself that I'll read the Bible more or pray more,  don't actually motivate me to perform.   Actually, when I lift up my eyes to see the top of the mountain I've just promised to climb, I am overwhelmed by the fact that its peak is invisible, stretching far above the cloud line.  As my jaw drops and I ask myself, "what have I done?", it sinks in that none of my resolutions will ever be fulfilled.  Not while I keep throwing out rediculous, out of reach goals that only a genius could keep.

This year, my resolution was to make a schedule that would help me set aside time to accomplish all of the various tasks I want to perform this year.  Something that would give me time to study French, study the Bible and pray, read the bible in a year, study theology, play music, and write more.  And I'm thinking about starting to slowly teach myself greek.

I have yet to create the schedule, and astonishingly, it hasn't started or finished itself.  But I remain hopeful that it will help me make the most of my time in these days.  Working on a schedule has never been my strong point, but I'm learning that nothing worth gaining isn't worth working for, and that even those who are the best at what they do have to work hard to get to that point.

So, here I am, another year, another mountain.  But this time, I'm making a plan.  I'm going to divide the mountain into sections, and take each section until I reach the top.  This year I'm not going to raise my eyes to the elusive mountaintop looking for hope and motivation.  Instead, I'm going to, "lift my eyes up to the hills--where does my help come from?  My help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth."