Archive for March, 2009

I’ve always loved mentadent toothpaste because of its incredible upright design (you know, the one you push down on the top to get some to come out). I brushed my teeth with it this morning, and while I was doing so, I decided to read the instructions on the back. Here’s what I found:

The MENTADENT Reaction:
In a unique dual chamber pump, two ingredients are kept separate in their most active state. When you brush, the multi-action formula combines to unleash a reaction that thoroughly cleans and whitens, giving you a whole-mouth clean you have to feel to believe…

1. Place pump dispenser on flat surface and open flip-top cap.
2. Push down evenly with palm of hand to dispense toothpaste onto brush. If the ribbon of toothpaste comes out unevenly, discard it. Continue to press on top of pump dispenser until both halves come out equally.
3. Close cap snugly after each use.

After laughing a bit to myself over the absurdity of discarding your freshly squeezed toothpaste because it came out unevenly, I had an epiphany…based on Mentadent instructions.

Justice and Mercy are the two ingredients. When infused evenly in our thoughts and our theology, the Justice and Mercy shown in the gospel “combine to unleash a reaction that thoroughly cleans and whitens.” However, if we focus on justice to the exclusion of mercy, we feel the weight of condemnation crushing us. “How could God love you, a wretched sinner?” Conversely, if we focus on mercy to the exclusion of Justice, we may create a tame, unholy God who shrugs off sin. This can lead to a licentiousness, resulting in a statement more like “God’s merciful, don’t worry about that little ‘mistake’.”

Let’s always ask for God’s grace to balance our view of his justice and mercy. Let’s remember that both were displayed at the cross, as God justly poured out his wrath on our sin. We thoroughly deserved this punishment, but Jesus took it. Therein lies, also, His precious mercy. Condemnation has no claim because we have Christ’s standing before God. We were “crucified with Christ” (Rom. 6:6). Licentiousness is likewise vile to us when we understand that God forsook his Son to pay for the very sins we may attempt to excuse.

Therefore, if we have invented a gospel in which justice and mercy are not equal, let’s discard it immediately with distaste in favor of the true cleansing gospel!


Bought with a Price

Posted: March 26, 2009 in Uncategorized
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In my sociology class, we each have service learning projects for the semester. Currently, I’m working with a guy named Josh, on sorting out books at a local museum called on the Hosanna School Museum. Hosanna was one of the first three public schools built in Harford County to support the education of recently freed African-American slaves after the Civil War. Josh (who is from the country of Ghana in Africa) and I carpooled to the museum a couple of weeks ago, and on the way home, he asked me what I thought of slavery. I told him that I thought it was an atrocity, that it was completely unjust and morally indefensible for human beings to enslave one another.

Before I go any further, I want to say that I know I am touching on an extremely sensitive subject matter, and it is not my intention to treat the topic lightly in any way.

Josh told me that he agreed, but that he felt African-Americans today take freedom for granted. He told me of one of his African-American friends who recently informed him that she was dropping out of school because it was too much stress. “Guess how many classes she was taking?” he asked. After I shrugged, he replied “two,” with a chuckle. She didn’t even have a job. He said he felt that many had little concept of real work, and lived under a false impression of oppression in a day when they have the same rights as the rest of America. “Stress…All Americans talk about is stress,” he observed. “When I was growing up in my village, I had to walk 10 miles every day for water, before going to school. I woke up at 4 o’clock every morning and got home around 9 at night.” I had never actually met anyone from any village who lived under those circumstances. I’d only ever seen it on tv or heard stories. I thought maybe he was putting me on, but his countenance told me otherwise. “I think that, of anyone, I would have reason to be stressed. But if anyone from my village was given the opportunities we have here at the college, with a library and computers, they would take a book and study it until they were finished. They would work so hard!” He was flabbergasted in particular by his African-American counterparts (he told me he considered himself African, not African-American), because of the seeming lack of appreciation for past sacrifice evident in many of their lifestyles, in addition to the majority of the rest of America. He was shocked because he’d heard so much about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil War and all sorts of laborious movements, and yet the lifestyles he saw before him evidenced an attitude devoid of any thought of those times. I told him that it’s not just African-Americans who live with a disconnect between sacrifices made and the lives we now have. Everyone in America ought to appreciate the freedom we have that was purchased by our forefathers for independence from Britain, but we don’t. He was right…Most of my generation in America is lazy and ungrateful. Josh’s point remains: Those who have been granted freedom at the expense of the blood, labor, and toil of others, ought to express their gratitude every day by working hard and taking advantage of the opportunities provided by our ancestors.

Are you seeing the connection to Christ yet? By now, I’m sure you knew it was coming. We, as Christians, were slaves to sin and slaves to the devil by our very nature. We had no hope of escape, and the most amazing part: we had no idea the situation we were in. But Jesus came and, by his sacrifice of his blood and life at the cross, rescued us from sin so that we might live a life of freedom and deep fellowship with God.

Oh, but how I am so often lazy! How often I forget what happened nearly 2000 years ago. It feels so incredibly long ago sometimes, like ancient history. How many times I fail to connect the nails that pierced our savior as he hung in agony and my present day reality. Rather than ponder the crown of thorns that tore the flesh from his scalp, I check aimlessly through my friends Facebook statuses or glance through YouTube videos. Rather than consider how my Savior struggled for breath that he might utter, “Father, forgive them,” I think about such worthless things as what will happen on the next episode of 24 or who will win American Idol. Father, forgive me for neglecting to think often of your immense sacrifice of love, for without those thoughts I inevitably lose perspective on life. I don’t want to become lazy in professing your name to everyone around me. Your Gospel has power to propel me to advance your kingdom here on Earth, if only I would think often of it. As a former slave to sin who has been freed from a cruel Master at long last, I want to sing song and live a life that proclaims freedom and gratitude to a perfect, loving Savior and Father.

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” (Eph. 2:1-5)

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)

Pseudo Random

Posted: March 10, 2009 in Uncategorized
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Warning: this post is pretty geeky

Last week in computer programming class (hey, I warned you), we learned about how to produce random numbers. The professor began by showing us a program that would produce 10 random numbers, and the numbers ranged from 41 to 30000 something. He then had someone copy the program and run it on their computer. Oddly enough, that set of 10 “random” numbers happened to be the exact same numbers as the ones on the professors screen. He informed us that computers are actually incapable of producing random numbers. After saying this, he said “After all, this actually comes down to a deep philosophical question.” Puzzled looks were the manifestation of confusion; what does computer programming have to do with philosophy? “Well, what is random, actually? Is there really such a thing as random?” He asked us to name something we believed to be random. One person called out “unexpected weather catastrophes.” “Well,” the professor replied, “I could argue that if I knew all of the weather conditions (barometric pressures, humidity, atmosphere, etc.), I could predict these so-called random events.”

So the question persists. Just because we can’t predict something, does that make it random? After all, prediction is a byproduct of understanding. If you understand something entirely, you can predict things based on it. For example, if you understand that an object falls at 32 feet per second, you could predict that an object would take 2 seconds to fall 64 feet (I’m probably oversimplifying, not taking into account acceleration or wind resistance or anything, but you get the point). Because you understand why the result will be what it will be, you can predict the outcome of any arbitrary input (e.g. feet per second and time). Another person who has never learned any physics or math, might say that the length of time it takes an object to fall is entirely random and impossible to predict.

Back to the random number example, it turns out computers just take a seed number and use an algorithmic function called the linear congruential generator (try saying that 3 times fast) to twist it around into a “random” number. For the “random” number to put into the function, computers take a number from a seemingly random source (such as the seconds elapsed from some unknown year in 1970) and plug it into this function that outputs a “pseudo” random number, or, in other words, a number that seems random and is basically impossible for anyone to figure out.

“Ok, Steve, you’re rambling nerdily,” you say, “what does any of this have to do with God?” Well, if you try to wrap your mind around it, you’ll come to the realization that there really is no such thing as random. This is astounding if you REALLY ponder it for awhile instead of just accepting it as true. If there’s no such thing as random, that means there is One who completely understands how everything works. It means all those millions of cause and effect relationships that make our planet sustain life are understood. And if those relationships are understood, clearly the one who understands them is infinitely greater than us. Think about the fact that we don’t know of any boundaries to space. As far as we know, it is infinite. We know of nothing else in creation that is infinite, which makes this concept so mind-blowing. If space does have boundaries, what is on the other side? We cannot begin to understand these complexities, and yet scientists presume to develop theories about earth’s origin. They laugh at us Christians who believe on faith that there is one who created all of this order and that he revealed to us in His Book that he created it, all the while ignoring the fact that their minds are feeble and they are accepting on blind faith that there is no Creator.

If I’ve explained any of this with any degree of clarity, and if these thoughts that are exploding my brain are being in any way conveyed to you, I hope you are equally amazed by our Creator. “Intelligent” feels like such a weak and inadequate adjective to describe the glory of such humanly unimaginable design. We who are yet to discover all the cells in the human body and who still can barely grasp how our brains work ought to tremble and bow in dumbfounded humility before such a Creator. Add to this the fact that this same God sovereignly (not randomly) sent his only Son in love to this earth to suffer His wrath for us, and you have a condition that ought to stagger your mind. If we had reason to prostrate ourselves at the thought of God creating everything, we ought now with the tandem truth of the gospel to dig a hole so we can bow lower.

God, our creator, and Jesus, our Savior, we bow before you and praise you with our whole being! How majestic is your name!

“For by him (Jesus) all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.” Col. 1:16

“It is he who sits above the circle of the earth,
and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain,
and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;” Isa. 40:22

“Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.” Isa. 40:28

I like how the NLT translates that last line:
No one can measure the depths of his understanding.