Archive for October, 2008

We are predictive creatures. In his book entitled On Intelligence, Jeff Hawkins states that our brains function primarily through a never-ending series of predictions founded on memory. On all past experiences, he says, we form a basis on which to make predictions in all present circumstances. He’s not just referring to foreseeing lucky lotto numbers or who’s going to win the upcoming election. The brain makes millions of smaller, subconscious predictions every day.

Hawkins (not to be confused with Dawkins) uses two examples that made his argument clear to me. First is the “altered door” phenomenon, and it goes like this. Say I take your front door, which you walk through every day, and change it in some way. Hollow it out, move the doorknob a couple inches, or whatever other small alteration I would choose. Walking through, you would notice the change immediately because you’ve predicted that the door would be as it’s always been, but the change surprises you. Maybe it’s heavier than you remember or the handle doesn’t feel quite right.

Second is the staircase example. You’re walking down your steps one day and you get to the last one…or so you thought. Expecting to step onto a lateral surface even with your other foot, you find that the floor has mysteriously vanished beneath you and you jerk to balance yourself out in time. This panicky jerking motion (similar to the feeling of waking up from a dream in which you’re about to collide with a car) kicks in only a split second after you’ve overshot your target, in this case the imagined floor. You predicted your foot would land one place, but it actually landed much lower.

At every moment we are making predictions of what we expect to see, hear, touch, taste, or smell. We don’t realize we are doing so because when something is in line with how we expect it to be, we dismiss it. Only surprises reveal that things are not as we predicted.

When I thought about this prediction theory, it caused me to consider if that might relate to anxiety. I predict events will take place in a manner suitable to my self-centered taste. For example, I expect to arrive at school five minutes early, but traffic prevents me from fulfilling my prediction. In the same way that I freak out when I miss a step, I become frustrated or angry when my perceived future and reality conflict. And if Hawkins is right, I’m not just predicting what I choose to predict, I’m predicting my life’s details at every moment. Sure sounds like a problem, considering I have no ultimate control over my future.

I want to submit my predictions to God’s authority. I can’t stop making them, for they are the backbone of human functioning. Without predictions, there would be no planning or wise foresight of consequences. But I want to be sure that my expectations don’t take precedence over a humble acknowledgment that God’s the decision-maker and I’m the servant. He’s the Author of life, who understands the story as a whole, while I’m the reader, taking in one sentence at a time. May He be honored as the unfathomable, all-wise, all-knowing Creator of heaven and earth. Nothing is mysterious to Him, for He’s planned time and space, and they are both bound to his will.

James 4:13-16
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.

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Last week in my Friday morning Trigonometry class, we were learning about trigonmetric identities and how to use them in fairly complex formulas. After a long series of steps, one girl asked what many frustrated students have thought in these types of math classes. “No offense or anything, but are we ever going to use this stuff in real life?” Thankfully, we have a sympathetic professor who understands that many are only in there because they need the credit to move on in their academic endeavor.

Fast forward to earlier this week. I was working, and I overheard a nearby conversation about prophetic teaching, Revelation, eschatology (study of the end times), and topics of that nature. After the man went on about his eschatological beliefs, the woman casually asked, “And just to understand, how is a belief one way or the other really going to affect my life?”

These questions caused me to realize that every time we set out to learn something, we want to have a purpose in view. Behind every search for knowledge is a yearning for relevance for that knowledge. Few people want to learn facts just so they can store it away for that inevitable game of Trivial Pursuit. “How can this new-found understanding be applied to real life situations?” is the question on almost everyone’s mind. That’s absolutely understandable. Without a desire for relevance in learning, we’d be hopelessly trivial creatures chafing at the bit for any possible debate (even more so than we already are).

But I soon saw how quickly it can becomes problematic when we transfer this mindset over to reading our Bibles. Certainly we ought to search for relevance, but I think we often forget that everything in Scripture is relevant and pertinent to our Christian lives because God has said that’s the case. 2 Timothy 3:16 says that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” So many times I’ve only glanced over genealogies, rushed through historical accounts, or altogether skipped over passages in the Bible I’ve deemed ignorable. In this way, I’ve been like Thomas Jefferson, who cut out portions of God’s word he that he disagreed with or didn’t like, I may not literally cut out pages, but too frequently I’ve seen myself take my metaphorical scissors to the paper with my negligence of heart. (Credit goes to C.J. Mahaney for the Thomas Jefferson analogy. He uses it in the book Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World, which I can highly recommend.)

What I’m proposing, then, is that we as Christians should see more difficult parts of the Bible as a challenge, an invitation to delve deeper into the contents of Holy Scripture. We ought to do this rather than promote ourselves to the level of Judge, deciding on what pieces we think are imperative when, in fact, God has said all of it is.

So let’s pull out our study bibles, commentaries, concordances, and maps, and let’s get serious about knowing what we can about what God’s chosen to include in His Book. I can assure you, with full confidence in God’s promises, that doing so will not be a fruitless drudgery but rather an eye-opening adventure.

Thank you, Father, that you’ve not left us without means of knowing You. We are grateful that You’ve given us your Scriptures, which “are able to make [us] wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15). Through the Bible we’ve learned of your plan of salvation, which causes us to bow down before you and worship you. Forgive me for proudly asserting some pretended authority over your infinitely superior Word. Help us to glorify you by seeking to learn and obey every word you’ve blessed us with. Amen.

Funny Commercial

Posted: October 28, 2008 in Uncategorized
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Disclaimer: I don’t have anything insightful or meaningful to say here. This is just a commercial I saw the other night that made me laugh for a long time.

Be More Specific

Posted: October 25, 2008 in Uncategorized

How many times have you heard a conversation like this in a church small group setting? We’ll use the name Billy as a hypothetical name (if your name is Billy, please don’t be offended).

Leader: Ok, guys, before we get started, does anyone have any testimonies of God’s grace?

Billy: I do!

Leader: Great, let’s hear it.

Billy *in a quiet, “spiritual” tone of voice*:  Well, recently I’ve been going through this struggle. But God began to show me his grace and showed me that I need to trust in him more. So I prayed and humbled myself and cast myself before His throne of grace, laying all my burdens at the foot of the cross. Now I’m on fire and just want to see his name lifted high above all names.

At this point, everyone looks around in a very serious way, acting as if they’ve been really encouraged by this incredibly insightful testimony.

Leader: Thank you for sharing that, Billy. With that, let’s go ahead and pray and get started….

Now, Billy feels as if he’s done a great service to his small group by sharing his life. To some degree, he has. But unfortunately, his testimony lacks any specific details of exactly how God worked in his life (and never mind the littering of Christianese). Sure, he understands how God showed grace in his particular circumstance because, after all, it happened to him. With details lacking, however, he’s missed an opportunity to encourage others who may be in a similar situation.

When I used to write papers for my mom in high school, I would fairly consistently get them back with this remark printed somewhere within the body: “Be more specific.” In a paper, you have to support your thesis or stance with various specific examples, quotes, details, facts, etc. If I were to say that Abraham Lincoln was the best president in America’s history, I would have to give clear reasons why that’s true, regardless of whether or not my reader otherwise agrees with that statement. In the same way, if we tell our small group that God’s been gracious to us, they need to hear specifically how. Otherwise, they’re left with an unsupported opinion that will likely be forgotten by the time they walk out the door (certainly by the time they wake up the next morning).

For a great example of a clear and specific testimonial song of praise, look at Exodus 15.

“Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD :
“I will sing to the LORD,
for he is highly exalted.
The horse and its rider
he has hurled into the sea… ( v.1 )

But you blew with your breath,
and the sea covered them.
They sank like lead
in the mighty waters.” ( v. 8 )

If you read the entire song, you’ll see that the Israelites carefully chose to sing about precisely how God saved them from Egypt and Pharaoh’s army. They didn’t simply sing “God saved us from our enemies and now we’re free.”

I hope I’m not coming across as judgmental. I’m guilty of overgeneralizing in these settings, myself. But let’s think of it this way. God sovereignly chooses our specific trials. God sovereignly chooses our specific outcomes. Therefore, I think He’s more honored when we acknowledge that He planned every facet of what we’re praising him for and our praise ought to cover those facets. Others are also more encouraged, especially if they’re failing to see God acting in their own lives.

Let’s be more specific!

Too Blessed to be Stressed

Posted: October 24, 2008 in Uncategorized

Too Blessed to be Stressed mug
Too Blessed to be Stressed mug

“Stephen, don’t you have an 8:00 class today?” I bolt from my bed, but it’s futile at this point. It’s already 8:40 and the class only goes until 9:20. Forgot to turn on the alarm. There’s no way to get ready and get over to school in time. Panic sets in as I recall mention of a midterm coming up soon. Please tell me it was next week and not today. If it was today, how am I going to explain to my professor that I overslept one of the biggest tests of the year? Somehow, I suspect he wouldn’t find my absent-mindedness compelling enough to warrant a make-up. More worried thoughts pound in my head, one after another.

Thankfully I only missed a smaller quiz and a lecture, and my professor let me take the quiz later that day without any questions. But what I found in these moments was more concerning than even being absent for a midterm. In these moments I was calling God’s sovereignty into question. Hidden beneath my more superficial questions lay more pressing concerns. What if this affects my grade so severely that my entire average grade plummets? What will I do then? Misguided questions rooting from doubt in God’s sufficiency to provide my best. He could have chosen to make me remember to set my alarm, but bigger things were at stake here. My heart was at stake.

I saw this mug while I was working at Christopher Matthew’s today. Though an entirely simple message is painted on, it carries quite a profound message that caused me to seriously think: I’m Too Blessed To Be Stressed. Sure, balancing school and work gets a bit hectic at times. But in reality, could I envision better circumstances than the ones God has me in? Would a life with less responsibilities and in which everything ran smoothly really be a better life?

Numerous school papers and midterms are all planned by God. And even those trials are vastly outweighed by the God’s blessings in what we call the mundane. Driving home from school on a beautiful day. Climbing under the covers on a cold night and feeling the satisfaction of accomplishment in hard work. I want to make a point to praise Him in these moments.

I’m too blessed to be stressed…now if I can just remember that in those anxious moments of the routine day.

To listen to an amazing song of Sara Groves that speaks on this topic in a much more beautifully elegant and worshipful way, click the link below. Really listen to the lyrics as you do.

Sara Groves – He’s Always Been Faithful

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

Posted: October 22, 2008 in Uncategorized
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“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). This verse has come to mind as we’re learning about the human brain in psychology class recently. I haven’t studied anything more fascinating in a long time. The complexities are so vast they seem limitless. Indeed, the brain can never fully understand itself.

As you read this sentence right now, billions of neurons are firing off and chemicals are shooting through what are called “synapses” (gaps between neurons) in various regions of your brain. These neurons are firing off in a precise way in a complex neural network in order to tap into the regions of the brain dedicated to not only visually perceiving the words, but also regions for interpreting and recalling. If you read out loud, you use others regions as well to pull off this intricate process. It all happens so seamlessly, however, that you would probably guess that reading only uses a small part of the brain.

Both hemispheres of your brain are connected and work together to accomplish tasks. Some time ago, doctors began doing “brain splitting,” taking out the connection between the two hemispheres. The result? The brain was only insignificantly affected! Families and friends of these patients barely noticed a difference. Some strange little side-effects did result, though. For example, a person with a split brain can copy two pictures simultaneously by hand without getting confused. It’s an example of the right hand not knowing what the left is doing, or in this case, brain hemispheres. The author of my textbook humorously imagined a split-brained patient playing a game of rock-paper-scissors with himself (left vs. right). Like I said, absolutely fascinating stuff!

Men’s and women’s brains are also programmed slightly differently. While both have proved consistently to have about equal intelligence, their brains don’t work in the same way. Men have more neural connections between regions in the brain (and generally work better with math related things), while women have more cells dedicated to memory and verbal skills. Women’s brains also have features that help it better maintain internal balances, which handle certain types of stress and such. It’s been suggested that this is an adaptation due to childbirth and other maternally related stressors.

I hope it doesn’t seem like I’m trying to bore you with a biology lecture. I am just once again so amazed by God’s creative handiwork. He’s created our brains in such a complex way that even with our latest technological developments, we only understand how about 10 percent of our brain works directly. Side note: The myth that we only use 10 percent of our brains isn’t true. We just only understand how that 10 percent actually works. I would encourage you to research this topic some more on your own, because there’s far too much I could say. Unfortunately, I’ve probably already surpassed the average attention span for a blog (sorry!). Praise God for creating us so fearfully and wonderfully! Let us praise him because he made us and completely understands every aspect of our being.

Putting Blinders On

Posted: October 20, 2008 in Uncategorized
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Last week, as Sarah and I were coming home from school, we were at a red light. A middle-aged woman asked us if we knew where Harford Mall was located. Sarah informed her that it was just down the road a bit, and after thanking us she started on her way. I noticed she was walking a little slow, but I didn’t think much of it. Sarah quickly suggested to me that we offer her a ride, but I hesitated. “She’ll be ok,” I said. I thought, “We’re at a red light, what if it turns green while she’s coming around to get in? People will be upset. Besides, there’s so much junk in here from school, we’d have to move everything around. By the time I do that, I reasoned, the light will surely be green and this line of cars behind us won’t be pleased. I mean, we’ve been out driving around for at least an hour now and I’m tired. I just want to get home….” Excuse after terrible excuse shot rapidly through my mind, but I knew Sarah was right. We should give her a ride.

I climbed in the back, and we made our way down to the mall. Sarah, thinking quickly, turned on the new Sovereign Grace Psalms CD at a moderate level as she conversed with the woman. She may not have been “evangelizing” in the sense that most think of it today, but this woman heard the name of Jesus being exalted as we served her. After expressing her gratitude, she got out and waited for her bus. Conviction set in for me as soon as the door shut.

I looked back at my thought process with utter shame. I was so self-absorbed, caring only for my immediate pleasure, that I would have thought nothing of passing up a God-given opportunity like this. Every excuse I made revealed the toxic stench of pride and selfishness spewing from my heart in this particular moment. I sometimes pray in the morning that God will bring opportunities my way to serve and glorify him. He faithfully obliges all the time. I just run by them with blinders on.

Thank you, Jesus, that you did not think so highly of yourself that you ignored the needs of others. Thank you that you care so dearly for the needy and the helpless. I am one of those needy and helpless people who needs your grace every day. Thank you that I don’t have to feel condemned about failures like this one, but can know that it is forgiven because of the gospel. I want to be more like you, Jesus, and I want to be a man on a mission to find each opportunity to serve others, Help me to embrace every chance to humbly serve people as you did in your earthly ministry 2,000 years ago. All glory belongs to you!