Friday Summary Report, September 28

It has been a while since the last Summary Report, but things continue to be busy.

One of the grad school classes I’m taking this semester, Greek Readings, is taking a ton of my time. I’m doing well in the class (we have weekly quizzes), but between the translation assignments, the memorization of paradigms and principal parts, listening to the class lectures, and learning new vocabulary, it is just a lot of work. It’s just the end of September, and I know I’ve still got a lot of the class left, but I am looking forward to December.

I’ll be going to Memphis in a couple weeks for Global Evangelism, which is the second class I’m taking this semester. I have been so busy with the weekly work for Greek that Global Evangelism has taken a backseat, which means that I have a plethora of reading to do over the next two weeks. I honestly don’t know how I’ll be able to get it all done.

In addition to my classes, I have all of my regular ministry responsibilities, so it’s a full plate. My blogging will likely take somewhat of a hit for a few weeks.

Some random tidbits:
  • This weekend is Bikes, Blues & BBQ in Fayetteville; I will be doing my best to completely avoid it.
  • The Arkansas Razorback football team continues its complete nose dive. We are currently at 1-3, and are facing an unlikely opportunity for a road victory at Texas A&M this weekend. And we thought we had a shot at contending for the SEC title?!
And finally, a few articles from around the net worth reading:


The Fall of Man and the Theological Consequences of Sin

As I discussed in the introduction to this series, Genesis 3 relates the story of the Fall of Man, where Adam and Eve commit sin in the Garden of Eden by eating fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil after God had specifically commanded them not to.

A whole host of negative effects befall Adam and Eve (and consequently, the rest of us) as a result of their disobedience, and the point of this series is to examine some of those effects in more detail. Basically, sin messes everything up.

In the first post, I mentioned five different categories of consequences that came about as the result of Adam and Eve’s sin: theological, personal, sociological, ecological, and physical. Those categories come from a reading of the biblical text in Genesis 3:
  • Genesis 3.8-10: Adam and Eve hide from God because they are afraid (theological effects).
  • Genesis 3.10-11: Adam and Eve realize they are naked (personal effects).
  • Genesis 3.12-13, 16: Adam and Eve refuse to take responsibility and their relationship is changed (sociological effects).
  • Genesis 3.17-19: Creation itself becomes cursed (ecological effects).
  • Genesis 3.22-23: Adam and Eve are kicked out of the garden and separated from the tree of life (physical effects).
In this post, I want to look in more detail at the theological consequences of sin. This category probably won’t require as much explanation as some of the others, since this (along with physical effects) tends to be the area we hone in on.

Simply put, what I mean by “theological consequences” is that sin affects our relationship with God. Just as Adam and Eve hide from the presence of God after eating the fruit when they hear Him walking through the garden, so we too are unfit for God’s presence. Scripture repeatedly affirms that our sin separates us from God (Isaiah 59.2; Romans 3.23), and this is a big deal, because we were specifically created to live in relationship with God. With that intended relationship destroyed, people desperately seek out all sorts of ways of living out their desires in order to find meaning and fulfillment in life.

In the process, we become enslaved to sin (John 8.34; Romans 6), which is a powerful and disturbing image—the very desires that we follow after in hopes of finding fulfillment become our masters, and on our own, we are powerless to escape their bondage. It’s a desperate situation to be in, and in large part accounts for a society where there are so many people who are completely lost without any hope or direction in life.

Sin destroys our relationship with God.


The Fall of Man and the Widespread Devastation of Sin: An Introduction

Most Christians are generally familiar with the story of the Fall of Man as related in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve are placed in a garden paradise to live with only one prohibition: they are not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2.16-17). But then, the crafty serpent, who elsewhere in the Bible is equated with Satan,1 comes along and entices Eve to disobey God and eat the forbidden fruit. Eve shares the fruit with her husband, and Adam violates the command of God as well.

Usually when we talk about this event, we focus on it in a couple of predictable ways: the disobedient act of eating of the fruit represents the first human sin, and as a result, the spiritual relationship between humanity and God is ruptured, and physical death comes to mankind as a result.

Both of those things—the disruption of our relationship with God and our mortality—are important, and are certainly framed as results of Adam and Eve’s sin in Genesis 3. But the consequences of sin don’t stop there; they are widespread, and affect all areas of life. To put it another way, sin messes everything up, and as a result, we live in a messed-up world.2

Over the next few posts, I’d like to look at the theological, personal, sociological, ecological, and physical consequences of sin,and these categories come directly from the account in Genesis 3:
  • Genesis 3.8-10: Adam and Eve hide from God because they are afraid (theological effects).
  • Genesis 3.10-11: Adam and Eve realize they are naked (personal effects).
  • Genesis 3.12-13, 16: Adam and Eve refuse to take responsibility and their relationship is changed (sociological effects).
  • Genesis 3.17-19: Creation itself becomes cursed (ecological effects).
  • Genesis 3.22-23: Adam and Eve are kicked out of the garden and separated from the tree of life (physical effects).
Hopefully this series will help us to take sin more seriously, and see how all-destructive it is.

• • •
1See, for example, Revelation 12.9.
2One of the biggest problems I have with folks who consider Genesis 1-11 to be allegorical rather than historical (i.e., they don’t believe that the first 11 chapters of Genesis relate actual, historical events) is that such a view strips away the Bible’s explanation for the reason why our world is the way it is. The Bible repeatedly affirms that sin is a huge problem, and our own observations repeatedly affirm that our world in its current state is fundamentally jacked up. Genesis 3 provides the biblical explanation for the enormity of sin, and a groaning creation (cf. Romans 8.22).
3This series of posts is based in considerable part on the lectures of Dr. Mark Powell in his Systematic Theology class which I took at Harding School of Theology.


Revenge, the Bible, and The Count of Monte Cristo

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas is one of my favorite books. Dumas, a French author, is better known for writing The Three Musketeers, which, although more famous and perhaps more exciting than Monte Cristo, isn’t written as well and isn’t nearly as thoughtful of a book.

The plot of The Count of Monte Cristo is incredibly intricate, but in short, it is about how the life of a young sailor named Edmond Dantes is ruined by a conspiracy of four men who each have something against him (one man is jealous of his position on the ship, another is jealous because he likes Dantes’ girlfriend, another is threatened by knowledge that Dantes possesses, etc.). Dantes is sent to prison, where, through extraordinary measures he manages figure out the plot that had brought about his downfall and also discovers the secret location of a treasure of unimaginable value. Ultimately, Dantes escapes from prison, claims the treasure, and now, with untold wealth at his disposal and taking on the mysterious persona of the Count of Monte Cristo, vows to claim vengeance on those who wronged him.

The Count possesses a near godlike ability to bring his schemes and plans to fruition, and he begins to take down his enemies one by one. However, despite his success, the Count gradually realizes that he takes no real pleasure in the downfall of his enemies and that no amount of vengeance can bring back the life he once had. Ultimately, he realizes that the best course of action is to forget about revenge and move on with his life.

Many of us struggle to learn the learn the same lesson—as tempting as revenge seems to be, it doesn’t deliver what it promises and ultimately leads us worse off than before.

We live in a world of revenge; it’s something we see all the time. We’ve seen the stories of road rage on the news where drivers get upset because another car cuts them off and so they respond by ramming into the car. In the midst of a political season, we see politicians constantly escalate the level of personal attacks they make against one another, each determined to have the last (and most vicious) word. Even in church, you’ll find one Christian who is offended by another, and in response, refuses to ever work with that person again or gossips about them behind their back.

Here’s the problem with that, though: the Bible repeatedly affirms that vengeance should have no place in the Christian’s life, and that vengeance, instead, belongs to God. First, some famous words from Jesus on vengeance from Matthew 5.38-42:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”
Not surprisingly, the Apostle Paul has a very similar take in Romans 12.17-21:
“Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
It has been said that holding a grudge is like drinking poison yourself and hoping that the other person gets sick. It’s also true for revenge (which is an outgrowth of holding a grudge against someone). If you have a grudge against someone and are tempted to look for vengeance, let it go. Revenge won’t make your life better, and it won’t make you happy, but it will damage you spiritually. In the words of Paul, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”


Review: Hashtag Youth Series

Our youth group recently finished up the Hashtag Youth Video Series, which served as the summer curriculum for our Wednesday night Junior and Senior High Bible Class (we were gone a few Wednesday nights because of special activities, so we ended up getting behind and finishing in September).

Some dedicated youth ministers from Churches of Christ (primarily in Tennessee) put a lot of work into the conception and production of Hashtag, and I thought I would take a few moments to review the series now that we have completed it.

To start with, I should mention that the Hashtag Youth Series was entirely free. Thirteen videos, usually 10-15 minutes in length, and all accompanied by discussion guides and manuscripts, all were available for download free of cost. If you have any experience in finding and ordering Bible class material, you know that it can be very expensive, especially if you’re looking for videos.

Furthermore, Hashtag is incredibly easy to use. Summer can be a crazy time for youth ministers. With students out of school, it seems to be a time for constant activity, ranging from summer camps, to mission trips, to Vacation Bible School, to summer fun trips, and all of that on top of all the regular activities a youth group participates in. In the midst of all the busyness, it’s nice to be able to show a video series where you don’t have to put a ton of time into preparation and basically are able to just focus on leading a group discussion based on the video which was seen. The ease of use is also a huge benefit when it comes to finding substitute teachers—I had to be away a couple of weeks for travel or to speak elsewhere, but it was easy to find someone to take my spot, show the videos, and lead the class in discussion.

Finally, the videos themselves were of high quality. Watching the videos, it didn’t seem like you were using a free product at all. The graphic design and typography was awesome, and the video production was very good too. Nothing about the videos seemed amateurish at all.

Suggestions for Improvement
The videos were basically in the format of a summer series, where each week you have a different speaker focus on a certain topic. What I have generally found to be true with summer series also applied to Hashtag: the speakers were somewhat hit and miss. The video topics included some theologically deep concepts (see the banner at the top of this post for the topics which were covered), and although most (if not all) of the speakers were youth ministers, some did a much better job of communicating the topic at a teenage level than others.* Furthermore, the basic format of the videos was lecture: the speakers sat in a room talking to a camera. Generally, the speakers who provided visual aids or incorporated a narrative style into their lessons were better received by the audience (at least, in our case).

Also, some of the discussion guides were better than others. Some of the guides were great, providing interesting ice-breakers to introduce the videos and excellent questions for discussing them. At other times, I felt like the majority of the questions were unhelpful as discussion starters and I had to basically generate my own questions. 

Overall Assessment
All in all, I think the Hashtag Video Series was a significant accomplishment, and I would definitely recommend it to those who are looking for Bible class curriculum for teens. I’m sure that the work required to coordinate a project involving so many different ministers was extensive, and the developers should be proud of the completed project.

That the series was available free of charge meant that many congregations were able to use it which wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. The ease of use likely helped many youth ministers catch a breath in the middle of busy summers while still providing a quality Bible class (I know that was the case for me). And lastly, the technical quality of the videos went a long way towards keeping the attention of the audience—shoddy videos are easy to immediately write off, but the professional quality of the Hashtag series earned respect and attention.

Even those areas where there is some room for improvement should not be barriers to those who are considering using the videos. While some of the speakers were better than others, none of them were bad, and a few of them really were excellent. And although some of the discussion guides need work, it’s really not hard to flesh out that part of the lesson yourself, especially when you are mindful of the fact that you got all of the material at no cost in the first place.

Overall, I’m thankful that I stumbled upon Hashtag at the beginning of the summer, and am very grateful to those whose diligent work made it happen.

*To be fair, I know from personal experience that communicating at a “teenage level” is incredibly difficult. Middle schoolers who are 12 or 13 operate on a completely different level than juniors or seniors in high school. Something that is on the level of one group may not (and often won’t be) on the level of the other. Our youth group is currently skewed young, and I felt like some of the series speakers were talking over their heads.


On Being A Razorback Fan

A sad pig drawn by a talented artist. An appropriate representation of my current feelings about the Hogs.
Following last week’s humiliating loss to Louisiana-Monroe, and leading up to tomorrow’s seemingly impossible game against Alabama, I had intended to write a post on how frustrating and disappointing it is to be an Arkansas Razorbacks fan.

But then I came across this article, which really sums it all up nicely.

I hope that we’re able to pull off a shocker on Saturday, but honestly, I have very little faith that the Hogs will ever be nationally relevant on a consistent basis.


Stronger Brother, Weaker Brother: It’s Tough Either Way

There are a few places in the New Testament where  Paul addresses the idea of the stronger brother and the weaker brother, usually in the context of the issue of eating meat which had formerly been sacrificed to idols (Romans 141 Corinthians 8.4-13; 1 Corinthians 10.25-32). 

It’s a fairly complex issue, but basically Paul says that since idols are nothing (because they represent gods which don’t actually exist), eating food which had previously been offered to them is no big deal. Stronger, more mature Christians would be able to realize this, and would see that eating such meat would not be inherently wrong.

However, weaker, newer Christians, especially those who had been recently converted from a pagan background, could struggle with the idea of eating meat which had been sacrificed to an idol, and could feel like they were compromising their faith by doing so. For these Christians it would be wrong for them to eat because doing so would violate their conscience.

Paul’s real focus in these passages is less on giving specific instructions on which activities should be partaken in and which should be abstained from, and more about teaching the stronger and weaker brothers how to interact with one another. Basically, they should treat one another with love: the stronger brother should be willing to give up meat forever in order to avoid leading his weaker brother to sin against his conscience, and the weaker brother shouldn’t try to bind his stronger brother’s actions by his own conscience.

In many ways, Paul’s thoughts are summed up in Romans 14.3:
“Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.”
Depending on the issue, I think I have been both the weaker and stronger brother at different times, and what Paul commands in Romans 14.3 is challenging to both groups.

The stronger brother is not to despise the weaker. I’ve seen this happen a lot, and it can be tempting to do. We grow frustrated at the qualms of our weaker brethren and so it gets easy to ridicule them as hopelessly backward and just write them off completely. Maybe make jokes about their limited understanding and speak with condescension to and about them.

The weaker brother is not to pass judgment on the stronger. This is tempting as well. Since our brothers are doing something that our own consciences won’t permit us to do, we are tempted to view them as less holy or less devoted to their faith than we are. Perhaps we even cease to think of them as faithful Christians.

As Paul points out in the verse above, both of these attitudes are wrong. Regardless of which side we find ourselves on, we have to be careful about how we treat each other: love and respect for our brethren should always be our primary response.


“You! Jonah!”

You! Jonah!
by Thomas John Carlisle

And Jonah stalked
to his shaded seat
and waited for God
to come around
to his way of thinking.
And God is still waiting for a host of Jonahs
in their comfortable houses
to come around
to His way of loving.


Friday Summary Report, September 7

I don’t have anything too exciting to report on this Friday morning, but here are some interesting/good/important links from around the worldwide web:

(1) First, a story from Louisiana, where, in the aftermath of Hurricane Isaac, a father and son teamed up to rescue 120 people over a 12-hour period with boats. Jesse Shaffer, the father, insisted that he and his son are not heroes, but their neighbors would disagree. A great story, and a glimpse of what Jesus meant by “Love thy neighbor.”

(2) Here’s a cool story (with picture) about Clemson wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins getting baptized   after football practice.

(3) The last couple of weeks have been dominated by politics, with both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions taking place. I am not a fan of politics, in large part because it takes place in some weird twilight zone where the truth neither matters nor is really expected. I heard a ton of people raving about President Clinton’s speech, but was it accurate? Similar articles could probably be (and probably have been) written about every other speech that was given at either convention.

(4) Matt Dabbs wrote a really good blog post on the heinousness of abortion. The fact that abortion has been relegated to the political arena and has been turned into a mere talking point by both parties shows how warped and skewed our society has become. I mentioned this in the comments section of the blog I linked to above, but I’ll repeat it here: I am convinced that the legalized genocide against our own unborn is the greatest evil of our society. It is all too often discounted as ‘just another political issue’, but it far transcends politics. I sometimes wonder how long a nation that shows such little value for life will be allowed to continue.

(5) For those who are involved in youth ministry, here is a great post with some very practical suggestions for ways to get your students involved as leaders within your youth group. As Joseph points out, student leadership doesn’t have to be part of some big, elaborate, complicated program.


“How to be a Better Twentysomething”

Relevant Magazine has posted a wonderful article by Jacqueline Ritacco entitled, “How to be a Better Twentysomething.” I wish every Twentysomething I knew would read it because it contains some great insight.

Here’s a bit from the introduction:
“Now, I finally realize I am tiring myself out. Upon reflection, I see the new Millennial generation coming up from behind with so much energy and enthusiasm, reading to take over for me. That’s a good thing—a promise for the future. I admire you for all your independence, your adventurous nature, your strong faith, your command over communication and your desire for balanced, meaningful lives. At the same time, I remain cautious on your behalf as you come of age in an expansive world in which there are seemingly no boundaries. 
As you venture forth, here is my wish list for you to do well…”
Click through for the rest of the article; it really is worth your time.


Thoughts on Legacy, Cap Anson, and Enoch

Cap Anson was Major League Baseball’s first superstar. Anson spent the majority of his career as a player/coach for the Chicago White Stockings, and was the first professional player to amass 3,000 hits.  Some of the many records he set during his career lasted for decades.

Anson was a fierce competitor, and his accomplishments in baseball were so important to him that he left instructions that his tombstone read, “Here lies a man who batted .300.”

I’m a huge baseball fan and I think it would be neat to play it at the same level as someone like Cap Anson, but to choose to sum up your entire life with a baseball statistic? Even I think that’s a little sad, and it reveals a perspective on life that is more than a little skewed.

If you could write your own epitaph, or choose just a few words to sum up your life, what words would you use? Perhaps a better question would be, if others were to sum up your life based on what they saw—how you spent your time and money, the things that seemed important to you—what words would they use?
  • Always looking for a promotion…
  • Had the largest house on the block…
  • Biggest gossip in town…
  • Obsessed with cars…
  • Lived vicariously through his children…
Closely related to all of this is the idea of legacy. In legal terms, a legacy is a gift of property or money, usually by means of a will. In a more general sense, your legacy is whatever you leave behind for those who come after you—in some ways it is a token or a synopsis of your life.

If we had the benefit of hearing the epitaphs that others would write for us, it might reveal how skewed our perspectives can be at times (not unlike Cap Anson’s), and let us see that the legacies we leave are often shallow and insignificant.

In Genesis 5, in the midst of a list of Adam’s descendants, we are introduced to a man named Enoch. Enoch lived for 365 years, but his life was summed up in just a few brief words:
“Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him.”
“Walked with God.” That’s an epitaph that I could be happy with, and a legacy that I would be proud to have. But legacies like that don’t come about by accident; rather, they come from a stubborn, persistent lifestyle of discipleship.

So all that leads to this question: What will your legacy be? Put in another way, if you were to pass from this life today, what would your tombstone say?

If you would like it to read differently, then it’s up to you to live differently.

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