Chuck Klosterman on Kentucky Basketball

Chuck Klosterman has written an intriguing article on Grantland.com about John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcat basketball team, and what it will (or at least could) mean to NCAA basketball if UK wins the National Championship on Monday.

It’s a compelling article and touches on a lot of issues facing college basketball today—overall decline in the quality of play, recruiting, and the NCAA’s stupid One and Done rule. I agree with a lot of what Klosterman has to say, but I think he’s too easy on John Calipari. Coach Cal might genuinely be a nice guy, but his past teams have been too marred by scandal (and their accomplishments vacated) for me to believe that he is clean. 

He’s right about one thing though—Kentucky should absolutely win the title this year. They are scary good.


The Dangers of Language Study

I have spent what seems like a significant portion of my life studying languages, and for the most part, I’m pretty good at it. Aside from English, which I’ve been speaking at least semi-fluently for almost a quarter century, I also spent several years studying Spanish (and even have a college degree in it), and for the past two semesters I have been studying Koine Greek (i.e., the Greek of the New Testament).

There’s a problem that comes with being “pretty good” at language study though: learning a language comes easy enough to me that I am not too intimidated to try it, but it is difficult enough that I never completely seem to “get it down.” Part of this stems from the fact that language study takes a great deal of constant practice, and I haven’t always been diligent about doing that. Another problem is that my brain seems to have a difficult time keeping the different languages separate, which results in me occasionally producing a weird hybrid of multiple languages. For example, consider the word in in the three languages I know:
  • English: in
  • Spanish: en
  • Koine Greek: ἐν
These three words mean the same thing, are pronounced virtually the same, and are basically spelled the same (the Greek ε is similar to the Spanish e and the Greek ν is similar to the English or Spanish n). Is it really any wonder that I semi-routinely get these words mixed up and use them interchangeably?

Genesis 11 tells the story of the Tower of Babel, which occurred at a time when everyone spoke the same language. In an act of apparent hubris, a bunch of people decided to build a tower which would stretch up to heaven. This displeased God, so he confused their language (v.7) to disrupt their cooperation and prevent the completion of their project.

All of that to say this: despite my best efforts, I feel like my languages are significantly confused and babbled in my head. And here’s the problem with that: when you misspell the word in, people start to make assumptions about your intelligence (or lack thereof).


Influence and…Faux Hawks

The Idolatry of Solomon, by Franz Francken II, 1622

Influence is a powerful force—both the influence that we have on other people and the influence that others have on us. This is by no means a new or ground-breaking statement, but it is an idea that was hammered home to me last night in an unusual way.

I was standing in front of the bathroom mirror after taking a shower, when I realized that the way my hair was laying pretty closely resembled a faux hawk. And here’s the shocking part: I caught myself thinking, “You know, that really doesn’t look too bad.” This completely blew me away, because when faux hawks first became popular a couple of years ago, I thought they were irredeemably stupid. I don’t ever remember consciously changing my opinion on the matter, but apparently, seeing one faux hawk after another for the last couple of years gradually influenced me to think of it as a normal and acceptable haircut (Don’t worry, I have since returned to my senses and there is no danger that you will see me sporting a faux hawk—ever.).

This shocking event illustrates an important point about influence—you can gradually, subtly be influenced to completely change the way you think about a certain behavior, practice, or way of life, and it can happen without you even realizing it. Sometimes you might change your mind about something relatively innocent or unimportant (like a hairstyle), but influence can also change us in much more significant (and sometimes negative) ways.

I’m currently reading a book called Sticky Faith, which addresses the alarming rate at which Christian teenagers tend to drop out of the church about the time they graduate from high school. There are a lot of reasons why this happens, but a major one is influence—when teens leave home and move off to college, they are largely freed from the greatest influence in their lives (parents), and are especially susceptible to new influences that they encounter. Often, these new and different influences push them to places where they never thought they would end up—most faithful Christian teenagers don’t plan to go to college, drop out of church, and become involved in a lifestyle of binge-drinking and sexual promiscuity, but it happens as they are influenced to change the way they look at things and to fit in with their surroundings.

Although this phenomenon always seems to be surprising to youth ministers and parents when they witness it in individual cases, it’s really shouldn’t surprise us at all, because the Bible explicitly teaches us that the influences of others can lead us to sin:
  • King Solomon was influenced by his foreign wives and concubines to turn away from following God and build places of worship to idols instead (1 Kings 11.1-13).
  • Herod’s stepdaughter was influenced by her mother to ask that John the Baptist be beheaded (Matthew 14.1-12).
  • In Galatians 2.11-21, Paul describes how certain men had influenced Peter and Barnabas to withdraw from fellowshipping with Gentiles.
  • In 1 Corinthians 15.33, Paul comes right out and says, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’”
The good news is that influence works both ways—good influences have a lot of power as well:
  • “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5.13-16)
  • “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” (1 Timothy 4.12)
  • “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” (1 Peter 2.12)
Ultimately, when talking about influence, I think it all boils down to a couple of important points:

(1) All of us are susceptible to outside influences, so it is important that we monitor those influences closely. What kind of people do you surround yourself with? What music do you listen to? What movies or TV shows do you watch? If you are a parent, answer those same questions about your children. Don’t be naive—if you surround yourself with bad influences, no matter who you are, they are affecting you negatively.

(2) All of us influence others as well, so it is important that we are aware of the kind of example we are setting. You never know who might be watching you and who might be influenced by what you do. As a youth minister I do a lot of things, but I have long thought that the most important thing I can do is to be a good example of Christian living for the young people I minister to. Certainly I don’t always succeed, but I always try to be aware that I am broadcasting an influence—for good or bad— at all times.


Blog Updates

I have left my blog to lie fallow for too long and needed to make a few changes. Last night I finally took the time to do so.

First, I slightly tweaked the header image. I wanted to keep it largely the same, but also update it—I think I hadn’t changed it at all for about three years, so it was time.

Also, after my announcement from last week, I thought I might as well add a link to my Twitter account. For those who are interested in following me, you can now do so by clicking on the Twitter link below the RSS feed on the right hand side of the page.

I also cut out some clutter on my sidebar—specifically, I removed a couple of large images and also a list of the main categories that I post under. I thought the list of categories was unnecessary—you can still access my posts on a given category by either searching for a category in the search bar at the bottom (by typing in say, “Baseball”), or by clicking the link to a category at the bottom of a post. I don’t really think this will be an issue, because I don’t think anyone actually used the category list anyway. I could be wrong though.

I also moved my bloglist from the sidebar to a page of its own called “Links” on the navbar. In the process, I updated the list, adding some new blogs while removing links to other blogs which either no longer exist, or no longer seemed to be updated. If I removed a link to your site and you think I did so in error (“No really, I am going to blog there again some day!”), let me know and I will be happy to add it back. I also added some links to some other sites that I think are cool for one reason or another.

Finally, I also updated the “About” page on the navbar. What I had there before had gotten somewhat out of date. Also, it was written in the third person—originally, I found that to be humorous, but the last time I read it it annoyed me. So, no more third person.

I’m still tinkering with the idea of making some more changes for the future, but that covers what I’ve done for now.


Jesus as the New Bethel

“Jacob’s Dream at Bethel,” 5th Century, Unknown Artist

The Gospel of John is one of my favorite books in the Bible, and one of its special characteristics is that, more than any other, it emphasizes the divinity of Jesus. This is done over and over again and in many different ways, but one interesting way it does so is through an allusion in John 1.47-52.

Here, Jesus calls Philip to follow him, and then Philip subsequently goes and recruits a man named Nathanael as well. Nathanael is skeptical that Jesus, from the lowly town of Nazareth, could be the Messiah whom Moses and the prophets had proclaimed, and so Philip invites him to go and see Jesus for himself:
“Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!’ Nathanael said to him, ‘How do you know me?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.’ Nathanael answered him, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’’ 
Although Nathanael was really impressed that Jesus knew what he had been doing before they had even met, Jesus basically told him that he hadn’t seen anything yet:
“Jesus answered him, ‘Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.’ And he said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.’”
If you know your Old Testament, then the imagery of heaven opening up and angels ascending and descending is probably very familiar to you, and it almost certainly would have been familiar to Nathanael. It likely was an allusion to Genesis 28, where Jacob, while on a journey to Haran to stay with his uncle Laban (and ultimately get married), stops to sleep for the night, using a stone for a pillow:
“And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!”
At the top of the ladder, the Lord appears, and basically reaffirms to Jacob the same promises that He had previously made to Abraham and Isaac. When Jacob awakens from his sleep, he realizes that something significant has happened:
“‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.’ And he was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.’”
The next morning Jacob takes his stone pillow and sets it up as a monument, naming the place “Bethel,” which means “house of God.”

The language of Genesis 28.12 and John 1.51 is so similar that it seems clear that Jesus was intentionally alluding to Jacob’s dream. So what does the connection mean?

In Jacob’s dream, a ladder connected earth (where Jacob is) and heaven (where the Lord is), and angels ascend and descend upon the ladder. Jacob is awed by what he sees. In John 1, Jesus paints a similar picture for Nathanael: the heavens open, and the angels of God are ascending and descending. The difference is that now, instead of ascending and descending upon a ladder, the angels are doing so upon the Son of Man—Jesus himself.

The implication is that Jesus is the New Bethel. This is the greater thing that Nathanael will get to see: just as Bethel was the place where the heavens were connected to earth, so Jesus is the medium through which heaven and earth, and God and man, are brought together.1

The Gospel of John affirms here as it does elsewhere that Jesus was unique—as the Son of God, his roots were in heaven, but as a human, he also put down roots on earth. This enabled him to carry out the work of reconciling the world to its Creator (cf. 2 Corinthians 5.18-19).

• • •

1F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 62: “In this application of Jacob’s vision, however, the union between earth and heaven is effected by the Son of Man: he is the mediator between God and the human race.”


A Letter To My Daughter

Dearest Kinsley,

Today you are three months old. In the grand scheme of things, three months is not much time, but it is hard to believe that it has been that long since your mom and I brought you home from the hospital.

Since you’re only three months old, I don’t expect you to be able to read this for at least another few weeks, but I thought I would write you a brief letter to commemorate your quarter-year birthday. This will also help me to remember what you were like at three months, because it is alarming how quickly you are growing and changing (the first time you outgrew one of your newborn outfits was pretty traumatic for your daddy).

Over the last three months, our lives have changed completely. We have a hard time being on time to anything, and frankly, it’s usually your fault. Our plans center around your feeding schedule—what time (or whether or not) we can leave the house for something depends on how recently you’ve eaten. How pleasant our evenings are and how much sleep we get at night rests almost entirely on how fussy you are. Nevertheless, all of these changes are fine with us, because they mean that we get to have you!

You’re getting to where you can hold your head up for a while when you sit up, and you also smile a lot at Mommy and even laugh a little bit when you’re in a good mood. You still love to spend a lot of time in your bouncy seat, but when you’re really upset, nothing calms you down more than Mommy or Daddy walking around with you and whacking you on the back (I never would have guessed how much you like to be pounded on the back!). I’m not sure how well you can see yet, but you always like to turn and look at lights, and sometimes you’ll turn your head to look at us when we talk to you. For the last few weeks you’ve gotten to where you usually sleep through the night (which is awesome!) but occasionally you wake up and have to be soothed a little.

Here’s a confession I have to make: one of my favorite things is when you are crying and fussy and whoever has you can’t get you to calm down, but then Daddy holds you and walks with you and you are no longer upset. I know that at this point you are largely unaware of who I am, but it makes me feel special and I can pretend that you prefer to be with your Daddy over anyone else! But my favorite thing of all is when you lie down with me on the couch and take a nap. You won’t do this very often because you usually prefer to sleep in your bouncy seat during the day, but when you take a nap against my chest I love it.

Your mom says that I am a pessimist, which means that I always see the bad side of things. Maybe she’s right because lately it seems like I have been frustrated and discouraged a lot. But here’s the thing—no matter how rough or difficult my day has been, coming home and getting to spend time with you always cheers me up. I delight in you.

I am so blessed that God has given me the job of being your dad. There’s no job that I would rather have.

Happy Three Months! I love you!



What To Do When Your Hard Drive Crashes

About 15 months ago now, the hard drive on my MacBook suddenly and inexplicably failed. This led to a couple of incredibly frustrating months, and since I don’t want others to have the same negative experience I had, I thought I would share a few tips that I learned the hard way:

(1) Back up your computer to an external hard drive. 

Of course, if you’re reading this after your drive has already failed, this isn’t a helpful tip, but if you’re reading this before you’ve had hard drive trouble, it is something that you should absolutely do. Especially now that you can get 500 GB external hard drives for under $100, this is a preventative measure that will save you a lot of money and headache. 

Apple has a built-in application called Time Machine which is simple to use and does a great job of backing up all of your data, and I’m sure that Windows has some (clunkier, less cool-looking) equivalent.

I have a 500 GB external drive on my desk at work, and I back up my computer at least once a week. It’s as easy as plugging the drive in and selecting “Back up now”—completely painless.

(2) Try the simple steps to re-boot your drive. 

These steps depend on what type of computer you have, but usually there are a few troubleshooting tips to follow—giving your system a “hard” restart, using the hard disk repair software that may have come with your computer, seeing if another computer can recognize your hard drive as a “target” disk, etc. If your hard drive failure isn’t too bad, then one of these steps might work and then you should immediately back up all of your data in case the problem reoccurs.

If these steps don’t work, then do not keep trying them over and over again. If you have a hard drive that has really failed data recovery services consistently claim that continuing to do so decreases the likelihood that they will be able to retrieve your lost files.

(3) Figure out exactly what data you have lost.

If you have backed up data already, then you just need to get a new drive, install it, and copy your old data onto your new drive.

But assuming you didn’t back up your data, you’re now stuck with a drive that doesn’t work but has all of your old data on it, and the next step is to figure out exactly which files you have lost. For me, my MacBook was my everyday computer, but I still had files stored all over the place—on my old iMac, on multiple flash drives, uploaded to the internet, and on a couple of the computers at the church building.

In my case, I basically realized that I was missing files only from the last year, with a few sermons, pictures, and other files randomly backed up on flash drives.

(4) Determine what your lost data is worth.

Once you have a pretty good idea of what files you are missing, the next step is to determine what that data is worth to you. 

Different people use their computers differently, which means lost data is more important to some people than to others:

Media Storage: Many people have a lot of music and video files on their computers which may be worth a lot of money. Of course, if you’ve purchased these files through a service like iTunes, you can usually just re-download them without much trouble. If you have a lot of files that cannot be replaced without spending money, you should factor that into how much your data is worth. In my case, all of my music files were backed up to my iMac, so this wasn’t a big problem. 

Clutter Files: This would include things like email attachments that you had downloaded but didn’t really need to save, or in my case, things like undergrad school projects that I would never conceivably need for anything again. In a sense, this is actually one of the only good things about having your hard drive fail—it destroys files that were cluttering up your computer that you had never taken the time to get rid of.

Work Projects: Obviously, work files vary a lot depending on what kind of work you do. In my case, I completely lost several sermons which I didn’t have backed up anywhere else. I still had the powerpoint presentations for those sermons on another computer, but the vast majority of the content was just gone. I also do a lot of graphic design work, and there were several projects that I lost. Finally, I completely lost access to a couple of web design projects that I had spent a lot of time on.

Work projects can often be replaced, but it can take a great deal of time to do so. And when it comes to things like crafting sermons or doing design work, there is an artistic element that can never quite be duplicated—I might be able to replace a sermon on Job with another sermon on Job, but it will never be the same sermon. For a person like myself with perfectionist and obsessive tendencies, that drives me nuts.

Determining whether or not you can replace your work projects or if you have the time to do so is an important step in assigning a value to your lost data.

Programs and Applications: Some people use only the basic programs that came with their computer, while others have hundreds and thousands of dollars of add-on applications that they use on a regular basis. If, for whatever reason, you don’t have the original install DVDs for lost programs that you need, then that also impacts the value of your lost data.

Irreplaceables: This would include things like family photos from the once-in-a-lifetime trip you went on last summer. Assuming that the photos are no longer on your digital camera and that you haven’t uploaded them to a web host like Flickr, then they’re gone and can never be replaced. Depending on how sentimental you are, lost photos might represent a great deal of value to you.

(5) After doing careful research, choose a data recovery service.

If you have followed the steps so far, by now you should have an approximate value in mind of what you would be willing to pay to recover your lost data. And honestly, if you’re not willing to pay at least several hundred dollars, then you should probably stop right now because data recovery is really expensive.

A simple internet search will yield a ton of results, but usually you have to actually call and speak to someone directly before you can get any sort of price quote. You’ll likely find a wide range of responses (from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars), but don’t automatically assume cheaper is better. In fact, before sending your drive to anyone, make sure to look for reviews from other customers who have used the company.

In my case, an internet search led me to Fields Data Recovery, who claimed to have cheaper prices and also to provide a free inspection and price estimate. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until after I had sent my drive in and hadn’t heard anything for several weeks that I became alarmed and performed a second web search where I found multiple websites which revealed that Fields, at best, engaged in some bad business practices and, at worst, was basically a scam operation. It wasn’t until after my awesome sister intervened with the threat of legal action that my drive (still damaged) was finally returned to me. 

Another (more diligent) search led me to Eco Data Recovery, who had my drive for a few weeks before determining that it was so damaged that almost none of my files could be recovered. To this day I am unsure if the original failure was so severe that it completely destroyed the drive, or if the unscrupulous characters at Fields damaged my drive to the extent that the people at Eco couldn’t do anything about it. The people at Eco were friendly and easy to work with though, and also competitively priced, so if I ever find myself in this situation again, they are the ones who I am likely to call first.

Conclusion—Lessons learned

All in all, the process of having my hard drive fail turned out to be very frustrating, as I went weeks without a computer, lost money in postage and evaluation fees, had to deal with some unsavory semi-criminals on the phone, and ultimately, didn’t get my information back. However, the whole experience did teach (or re-teach) me three valuable lessons:

(1) Always back up your data. I should’ve known this before, but now it has been driven home. I back up my laptop regularly in hopes that I never have to deal with this issue again.
(2) Be careful about who you trust on the internet. Even kids are taught this today, but if you’re not careful, it is easy to get suckered by someone on the World Wide Web who isn’t quite what they seem. Spending a little more time in research can save a lot of money and heartache later on.
(3) A lot of things that seem so important really aren’t. I felt completely at a loss with all of my files gone, but now, over a year later, I can see that it wasn’t really a big deal. A lot of the files I was able to cobble back together or replace. Those others which I haven’t been able to replace may annoy me from time to time, but ultimately, haven’t changed my life.

So there you have it—my tips on what to do if your hard drive crashes. Hopefully you can use my (bad) experience to prevent an annoying occurrence from becoming a big deal.


Is All Sin The Same In God’s Eyes? Additional Scriptures

Ruins of the Jewish synagogue in Capernaum; photo by Flickr user brett.wagner

Back in January, I wrote on whether or not all sin is equal in the eyes of God, and argued that it is not.

In the comments section of that post, on Facebook, and in person, I received comments from readers who disagreed with my viewpoint. One repeated argument I heard was that while different sins have different earthly consequences, all sins reap the same eternal consequences, so they must all be the same from God’s perspective.

However, as I mentioned in that post, the Bible does give some indication that different types of sin will have different eternal consequences as well. I didn’t really flesh out that idea before and wanted to briefly do so now.

First, in Matthew 11.20-24, Jesus pronounces woe upon cities which had witnessed the signs He had performed but failed to repent (particularly relevant parts in the following scriptures are emphasized in bold):
“Then He began to denounce the cities where most of His mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.’”
Now, granted, Jesus seems to be personifying entire cities here and it’s difficult to draw firm conclusions based on passages of figurative language, but the implication is that condemnation will be worse for some in the Day of Judgment than for others. If some persons/cities merit greater punishment in the Day of Judgment than others, that certainly indicates to me that all sins are not equal.

Secondly, in Luke 12.35-48, Jesus tells a parable about the importance of being ready for the (second) coming of the Son of Man:
“‘Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at the table, and he will come and serve them. If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! But know this, that if the master of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he wold not have left his house to be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.’  
Peter said, ‘Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for all?’ And the Lord said, ‘Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom his master will set over his household, to give them their portion of food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful. And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, will receive a light beating. Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.’”
Again, Jesus is speaking in a parable here, but the parable does deal with His unexpected return and the accompanying judgment. Once again, the indication is that in the Day of Judgment, some sins will have worse consequences than others, as some who are guilty and bound for punishment will receive “severe beatings” while others receive “light beatings.”

Finally, Hebrews 10.26-29:
“For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?
Here the Hebrew writer suggests that those who had come to know Christ and then subsequently forsaken Him would merit worse punishment than others. Furthermore, to underscore why such persons would receive harsher treatment, the author uses extreme language to emphasize the severity of such an action, describing it as trampling the Son of God, profaning His blood, and outraging the Spirit.

Perhaps none of these three passages are crystal clear, but taken together, they suggest at least the possibility that there will be different “levels” or “degrees” of eternal punishment for different people.

Even without this argument, I think the Bible repeatedly suggests that not all sins are the same in the eyes of God, but the passages discussed above add evidence to the case.


A Twitter Hypocrite

Over three years ago, I publicly stated my distaste for Twitter, and probably gave the impression that it was something that I would never be involved in:
“Twitter is stupid. Unless you’re Han Solo, your life probably isn’t so interesting that I need an update on it every 30 minutes or so.”
Perhaps because of the publicity and severity of that statement, I have been hesitant to reveal the fact that I have actually been Tweeting (irregularly) for the past few months—basically I feel like a big hypocrite for getting a Twitter account after making fun of it.

Nevertheless, I justify my Twitter flip-flopping by using my account primarily to share links or short quotations that I like which I don’t think merit a full blog post—not to constantly update people on the daily minutiae of my life.

So, if you’re interested, you can follow me @thedocfile.


Being a Christian Without Being Part of the Church

It’s a popular notion today that one can be a Christian without being a part of the Church. It’s also a thoroughly unbiblical notion.

In The Prodigal God, Timothy Keller has some good thoughts in this regard:
“Christians commonly say that they want to “get to know Jesus better.” You will never be able to do that by yourself. You must be deeply involved in the church, in Christian community, with strong relationships of love and accountability. Only if you are a part of a community of believers seeking to resemble, serve, and love Jesus will you ever get to know him and grow into his likeness.”
I have known plenty of people who were in one sense or another actively involved with the Church who did not particularly resemble Jesus. That’s a common enough claim, and shows that just “going to” church or being involved in church activities doesn’t necessarily conform someone to the image of Christ.

Of course, at the same time, I haven’t known anyone who resembled Jesus who wasn’t also deeply devoted to the Church. Jesus loved the Church enough that he paid for it with his blood (Acts 20.28); to think that one can somehow be a Christian without belonging to that Body is absurd.


The Old Testament and Immigration

It’s always potentially controversial to mix the Bible and politics, but as Christians, shouldn’t our political views be informed by Scripture? If they are not, isn’t that a problem?

I have written some brief thoughts on the issue of immigration before, but in general, it is surprising and disappointing to me how frequently Christians endorse anti-immigrant political views considering the repeated and consistent witness of the Old Testament.

Consider the following scriptures:
“You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 22.21) 
“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19.33-34) 
“He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.” (Deuteronomy 10.18) 
“‘Cursed be anyone who perverts the justice due to the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’” (Deuteronomy 27.19) 
“For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers…” (Jeremiah 7.5-7) 
“You shall allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the sojourners who reside among you and have had children among you. They shall be to you as native-born children of Israel. With you they shall be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel.” (Ezekiel 47.22) 
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.” (Zechariah 7.9-10) 
“Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.” (Malachi 3.5)
A few brief observations based on those verses:

First, someone will probably be quick to say something like, “All of those scriptures are from the Old Testament; Christians live under the New Testament” (because someone is always quick to say something like that). Of course, in a sense, they would be correct—as a Christian, I am not bound by all of the rules and regulations of the Law of Moses. At the same time, that doesn’t mean that consistent ethical principles from the Old Testament aren’t also meant to apply to Christians today (cf. Micah 6.8; Matthew 5.17).

Secondly, someone might point out that, while we are supposed to be kind and welcoming to immigrants (based on the verses above), according to Romans 13.1-7, we are to be subject to the laws of our land which means that we shouldn’t be supportive of illegal immigrants. And that might be true—I’m not really suggesting that Christians should develop an Underground Railroad to smuggle immigrants into the country illegally. However, if the consistent witness of Scripture is to suggest an “Open Arms” policy toward immigrants, then Christians probably do need to use their political influence to make immigration laws more immigrant-friendly (and thereby enable Christians to be subject to the laws of the land and also loving to immigrants).

Third, it should be remembered that these Old Testament directives were given to the Israelites, a people who were, as a general rule, supposed to remain ethnically pure as a means of ensuring faithfulness to Jehovah (when the people would intermarry with the surrounding peoples, it invariably led to the adoption of idolatry). Despite this, the Israelites were still supposed to be welcoming to foreigners. This is important to keep in mind, as a common objection to immigration has been a fear of the mixing of races or the influence of different religious beliefs.

Finally, a practical argument in favor of immigration has been that the United States is, fundamentally, a country of immigrants—how can we (American citizens) reject immigrants when the vast majority of us are here only because of the immigration of our ancestors? Interestingly, this is a repeated rationale of Scripture as well—how can the Israelites mistreat sojourners, when they themselves were sojourners in Egypt?

I have a hard time identifying closely with either major political party because, I believe, they both fail to consistently embrace biblical principles. When it comes to immigration, I think the rhetoric from the Right (and therefore, from a lot of Christians) often fails to live up to the biblical standard.

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