Ya Bunch of Ingrates

Posted: September 27, 2011 in Uncategorized

Last week, Facebook revamped their design to include a scrolling quick-feed in the top right corner of their page so that, as my friend Brad put it, “You can stalk people up in the right corner of your page…while you’re stalking people on the left side of your page.” Exactly. They also updated the way that stories show up in your feed, discarding the old “Most Recent” and “Top Stories” dichotomy to blend them together. These are just a couple changes out of the drastic redesign. As you can guess, people were wrought up by this atrocity. They were happy with things the way they were. How dare Facebook change the whole site AGAIN? Every other status update spat vitriolic vocabulary about the redesign, every person being sure to vent their disapprobation of the social networking company. This uproar puzzled me. Why is everyone grabbing their pitchfork and torch over such a relatively minor change? After all, even as I’m writing this a week afterward, everyone has long forgotten their frustration and adapted, as they have every other time Facebook has updated the site. My friend Josh sent me this cartoon that encapsulates my thoughts precisely:

What is it about our human condition that we so naturally assume we deserve what we’re given? In this case, the problem looks something like this:

1) Facebook gave us a site to use freely (if you don’t count your private data being sold to advertisers ;))
2) Facebook changes some features of their product, which still costs nothing to the user
3) Facebook users become livid with Facebook for ruining their lives.

Somewhere between steps 1 and 3 there is a massive assumption on the part of users. Perhaps, instead, it ought to look like this:

1) Facebook gave us a site to use freely (if you don’t count your private data being sold to advertisers ;))
2) Facebook users assume that because they have been given the privilege of using the site for so long, they have earned the right to have everything about the site stay exactly the way they please.
3) Facebook changes some features of their product, which still costs nothing to the user.
4) Facebook users become livid with Facebook for ruining their lives.

But what sense does assumption 2 really make? On what grounds does the user deserve to have things stay the way they please? This reaction is akin to a child opening an iPod for Christmas and yelling at his parents that it’s not the right color. For some reason, when we have been given something for long enough, we escalate privilege to the level of right, and we’re furious when somebody steps on our supposed rights.

Don’t we tend to do this with everything in our lives? We hold a job for some time and we’re devastated when it’s lost. We have our health for our whole lives, and we’re destroyed when we find out we’re ill. We have a long, happy relationship and it crumbles. But were we ever right to assume these, or are we guilty of equating blessings with rights? Are we not merely users in God’s cosmic free site?

“”Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”” -Job 38:4-7

Advertisements

If you’ve worked with kids long enough in Sunday School, you’ve probably learned that when you ask them for prayer requests, it will probably go something like this:

You: “Alright kids, does anybody have any prayer requests?”
Billy: “My great-grandmother is 97 and she has cancer.”
You: “Ok, we’ll pray for your great-grandmother. Anyone else?”
Sally: “My dog has lots of ticks and my mom says if we can’t get rid of them we’re going to have to take him out and give him the Old Yeller treatment. I don’t know what that means, but it sounds bad.”
You: “Ok, we’ll pray for your dog…”

And the conversation continues on like this as kids share about their friend’s dad’s uncle who shot himself in the foot hunting and other odd scenarios that you’re forced to keep your composure through.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed that the prayer requests of adults are less bizarre, yet they’re still usually related to sickness and health. “Please pray for my dad, he’s getting knee surgery tomorrow so just pray that everything would go smoothly.” “Please pray for my sister, she’s got a cold and is feeling nauseous.”

Are these wrong to pray for? Not at all! God cares for the little concerns of life, too. He wants to heal us of our infirmities, big and small. But if our requests are almost exclusively requests for physical healing or for safety or smooth sailing, we miss the most important things.

God wants to change our hearts. Even more than perfect health, God wants to draw people closer to himself. Bill’s uncle’s knee surgery could go smooth as a whistle, and he could be back on his feet in weeks without realizing it’s God’s grace that got him through. Remember when Jesus healed the paralyzed man in Mark 2? While the man’s biggest problem appears to be the fact that he’s paralyzed, Jesus makes the point clear that this man’s greatest problem is not his physical informity, but his standing before God. “Go, your sins are forgiven.” Jesus healed the man because he loved him and was merciful, but he showed everyone present that his greater concern was for this guy’s heart to be healed from sin.

And after Jesus heals the paralyzed man in John 5, he told him to go and sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to him. Again, Jesus took pity on the man and healed him as he desires to do, but time and again I see in the gospels that Jesus’ healings were almost always accompanied by teaching the person to repent and follow him.

So, should we pray for healing? Absolutely. But I think we should pray even more for God to work in people’s hearts through the sickness and through the healing, that they may bring glory to God and praise him.

All of this to say, I think our prayers ought to be less about God changing our circumstances and more about God changing our hearts. Should we pray for our friend to land the job he wants? Sure! But maybe it would be better to pray that your friend would trust God and his providence regardless of whether he gets his dream job, so that his family and those around him may be encouraged by his faith. This is just one example among many, but I think that our prayer requests and prayers reveal our maturity and our perspective of what matters most.

Ephesians 6:18-20 says:
“With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly as I ought to speak”

Notice Paul’s biggest concern here? Not for safety. He’s in chains and has been experiencing all kinds of agonizing persecution. His prayer request is that he would be a bold witness no matter how painful the consequences are. He wants boldness to speak as he knows he ought to speak.

So let’s think about our prayer requests. If your request is purely asking God to change a situation in your life or someone else’s to make it easier, think through that request and what it reveals about what you’re wanting most.

Praying Platitudes

Posted: July 20, 2011 in Uncategorized

“Dear God,
We just pray that you would be with us today. We just want to thank you for who you are, God, Father, would you please, Father, just bless us today, Father. We just thank you for today, Father. Amen.”

Have you ever heard a prayer like this one? First off, it’s full of “Fathers” and “justs”, which seem to be the “ums” and “uhs” of prayers. Also, these types of prayers are full of platitudes we use that sound good but lack substance.

Let’s take, for example, the phrase “God, please be with so-and-so.” Unfortunately, the meaning of this isn’t very clear. It would seem to assume that God is not already with that person, that he isn’t already omnipresent. When someone prays this phrase for a Christian, it’s even less clear, because God promises ” “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5) If it’s true that God will never leave us, we ought to instead thank God that he is already with that person. Perhaps we ought to pray instead that God would make his presence more profoundly felt or that God would comfort that person or give them boldness or, if they’re unsaved, that He would reveal himself to them. Using the blanket sweep phrase, “be with so-and-so” is at best vague, and at worst confusing.

Secondly, I want to challenge the phrase “God, we just thank you for who you are.” This phrase is perhaps even more unclear than the previous. What does it mean? Imagine if I wrote my mom a Mother’s Day card and I just wrote “Mom, I just want to thank you for who you are. Love, Steve” What kinds of questions is she left with? She would probably wonder “What does he mean? Who am I? What kind of characteristics and qualities does he have in mind that he’s thankful for? What have I done for him that he’s thankful for? I wish he had highlighted at least a few specific qualities of my character that he’s thankful for and told me why he was thankful for them.” Of course, God knows our hearts and knows what we’re thankful for, but maybe we don’t. Maybe we’re just throwing that out there without really thinking about anything we’re actually thankful for about who God is, in which case it’s an empty phrase. And since this phrase is being used in public prayer, it’s not very beneficial for those hearing it, since they may be left with the questions I mentioned in the analogy of the Mother’s Day card.

One other little thought about prayer habits. Have you ever noticed that some of us tend to use God’s name like punctuation? “We just pray, Father God, that you would be with us, Father God. Father God, we thank you for this day, Father God. Amen.” I’m guilty of this one. I’m also guilty of listening to people who pray this way while trying to predict when the next “Father God” will be in their sentence. I know, I’m a heathen! But I’ve been thinking that perhaps using the names of God (God, Father, Lord) as filler words can tend to diminish the significance of those names. They roll off our tongue like commas and periods in a sentence. I’m glad people don’t talk to me that way! “Steve, would you come here, Steve. I just want to talk to you, Steve, and thank you for who you are, Steve.” Somewhere along the line I might consider punching that person. Just kidding. Maybe.

Anyways, these are just a couple of thoughts, and they’re not meant in any way to sound condescending. I know I have habits in my prayers that render them less effective, as well as words and phrases I don’t think about. These idea are only meant to provoke some thoughts and challenge us to think carefully about what we’re saying when we’re speaking to our Creator. What are some phrases you hear often that are confusing or seem to be used without much thought? I’d love to hear them so I might be challenged, especially since I may be guilty of them!

Once again, I’ve found myself with about 20 minutes until class starts and a thought I can’t get off my mind…

Don’t you just love watching somebody geek about about something? Math professors seem particularly prone to this seemingly unprovoked ranting about the glories of a mathematically concept. In ninth grade, I had a the most enthusiastic teacher I’ve ever had teach me geometry, and it was one of the most enjoyable classes I ever took. Most people proofs and theorems, but to Mrs. Styker, proving the Pythagorean Theorem seemed to hold more excitement than opening presents on Christmas morning. For 5 of my math classes in college (Trigonometry, Precalc, Calculus I & II, and Discrete Structures), I had a professor named Chris Jones who explained things more clearly and was more helpful than almost any other teacher I’ve ever had. Once again, he was known to rant about the beauty of mathematical order and the ways you can manipulate values to get what you’re looking for. He was even known to describe mathematical concepts as “sexy” (as in, “…and that’s how you can use the integrals of two functions to find the area bounded by a curve. That’s sexy.”).

I’ve been known to geek out about all kinds of topics: drumming, computers, English grammar, language, etc. We consider it to be geeking out when somebody gets more excited about something than seems appropriate given the topic. For example, we all use computers, but to get excited and discuss processors and memory seems geeky to most. However, I think that getting excited about some field that someone has learned a lot about brings glory to God. In the example of math teachers, God created the world in an ordered, reasonable way such that mathematical concepts can be applied to figure out and predict how things work. Excitement about those universal rules seems to be a manifestation of a greater appreciation for God’s order than most people have, and thus I believe it is because we are in the image of God that we find beauty in that (some more than others). I think it is beautiful that God creates us all with different interests, as I believe it shows we all have varying levels of appreciation for the way God has created his universe.

I’ll probably expand on this later, but that’s all for now. Keep geekin’ out to the glory of God!

God’s Time

Posted: March 8, 2011 in Uncategorized

Toward the beginning of the semester, an older man in my church told me he remembered I was looking for something useful to listen to while I commute back and forth 45 minutes each way to UMBC. He told me that Wayne Grudem had his Systematic Theology in podcast form from a long series of lectures he gave awhile back. I’m so thankful for the recommendation, and am enjoying growing in my knowledge of God’s character and his Word during an otherwise unprofitable hour and a half.

So when I was listening the other day, Grudem had a guest speaker talk on the topic of time: what it is, how it works, whether it is quantifiable, etc. The man was a Ph.D. in physics who actually wrote an amendment to Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity, so suffice it to say a good bit of the lecture went over my head. What I did grasp of it, however, I simply can’t stop pondering. He started off with a short crash course in Physics that took me back a few years to Senior year of high school, remembering the days of solving dreaded momentum and velocity equations (at least it wasn’t as bad as Chemistry!). Starting off, he talked about relative motion and how a motion can be perceived with equal validity from different perspectives and get different values. For example, think of a person who is moving 30 miles per hour in a car looks who looks at a person driving a car 50 miles per hour in the same direction. The first person who is moving 30 mph would see the person who is moving 50 mph and see him moving at 20 mph because of relativity (50 – 30 = 20 instead of 50 – 0). However, according to Newton’s Laws, there is no absolute rest because any point of reference in considering motion is equally valid.

Now, if I haven’t lost you already, let’s try to take this approach to measuring the speed of light (186,000 mi/sec). Consider measuring the speed of light from earth and from a rocket ship traveling 93,000 mi/sec relative to earth. If the same rules apply from the car example, we would think that the rocket would measure a different speed than we would get on earth. The odd thing is, the measurement remains 186,000 mi/sec no matter what frame of reference we measure from. Weirdly enough, a person in that rocket actually experiences a different time than a person on earth. And on earth, two events could appear simultaneous on earth, but moving in space a person would see it at a different time. In other words, time, like motion, is actually relative! According to everyone on the earth, time is perceived the same way. One hour is one hour, one month is one month, whether you’re in Baltimore of Beijing, right? But what seems like the most constant thing we experience (and indeed even among physicists is the most accurate constant they have) is actually a relative dimension in the space-time continuum. How mind-blowing! God’s creativity is amazing!

One other notable concept from the lecture was that Newton’s Second Law of Entropy actually points to a created origin. You see, the Law of Entropy says that matter goes from order to disorder. Basically, matter is always deteriorating and breaking down, not improving. This contradicts the theory of everything developing from some blob of matter into a complexly structured universe.

Anyways, it’s 2:00 a.m. now and I should probably get some sleep since I have to get up somewhat early tomorrow, but I hope this made some sense. And if it did, I hope it also increases your appreciation of the awesome, creative power of God!

To listen to the full podcast, follow this link and look at #31: What is Time?
http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/wayne-grudems-systematic-theology/id322844869

Socks and Sins

Posted: February 21, 2011 in Uncategorized

I have a confession to make. I ask for your deepest sensitivity and understanding in this matter. Brace yourself.

I hardly ever wear matched socks.

Actually, it doesn’t bother me anymore. In fact, what used to be a persistent endeavor to plumb the depths of the sock basket for a match has become a passive, apathetic attempt before giving in for “close enough.” My sister has lectured me on the issue, heralding the merits of following the long-embraced social convention that is matching pairs of socks. I just don’t see the big deal. If I’m wearing shoes and pants, and the two look close enough, what’s the problem? As the comedian Steven Wright says, “I do match my socks…they’re the same thickness.”

But the other day as I was indifferently scanning the basket for a couple of socks that look close enough, I began to think. Before long, I realized my sock habits are like my sin habits. My once diligent quest for sock order diminished over time through repeated compromises. The more I settled for “close enough,” the less I cared about the real deal. In the same way, repeated compromises with sin leads to sinful habits, and sinful habits rob me of the real deal of godly ambition and the pursuit of holiness. James 1:14-15 says, “But each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”

Integrity becomes inconsistency, ambition dissolves to apathy, and striving fades to settling.

Let’s match our socks and kill our sins.

“It’s a slow fade when you give yourself away
It’s a slow fade when black and white have turned to gray
Thoughts invade, choices are made, a price will be paid
When you give yourself away
People never crumble in a day
It’s a slow fade, it’s a slow fade”
-Casting Crowns, Slow Fade

“So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” 1 Corinthians 10:12

If you just saw the title of this post, you probably came either as a Ravens fan to show your support (even if it seems a bit like hyperbole), or to harass me for my sacrilege and heresy. But as I was walking down the streets in Pittsburgh toward Heinz Field, home of the Steelers, wearing my Terrell Suggs Ravens Jersey, I had this distinct feeling: “This is sort of like what it’s like to be a Christian.” You see, there were Steelers fans at one corner yelling all kinds of profanities at us and yelling at us to go home. Yet, as I listened to the screaming filth, I couldn’t help but smile more as the trash-talk got more intense. I had come to represent my home team, and my pride and confidence in the Ravens only increased with the volume of cursing. At the end of the walk to the stadium, I only wished it had been more intense so that the victory would be even more sweet at the end. Obviously, the parallel to being a Christian ends here, as the Ravens lost in such a disappointing fashion to the Steelers in the 4th quarter.

But as Christians, we can read to the end of the Book and know the final outcome. This doesn’t mean we should talk trash to non-believers or be in-your-face about how we are right and they are wrong, but it should produce a joyful attitude toward persecution. Walking through Pittsburgh toward the stadium, I didn’t want to hide my jersey under my coat, even if it was freezing out! I welcomed the insults and mockery because I was confident in my team and wanted everyone to know who I thought was going to have the final victory. What if we took this approach to our faith? I’m not talking about putting on a cheesy Christian t-shirt that says something like “Abreadcrumb and Fish” or “A Blood Donor Saved My Life”, and I’m not talking about blinging out with cross-shaped Silly-Bandz. But what if we walked onto our college campuses and classrooms with a bold, confident stance to represent Christ to atheistic professors and classmates. What if we didn’t try to hide our Christian beliefs and convictions from our bosses and co-workers in the name of “building relationships,” when we’ve been “building” them for years with only subtle references to God here and there? What if we welcomed ridicule for the sake of Christ and so that others might know God? What if we know Who is going to win in the end, and we’re hiding our jerseys?