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Monthly Archives: January 2012

Searching for God Knows What Part 3: A Filled Cup, A New Name

Okay, I promise I haven’t abandoned this blog. It’s been almost a week since my last post, and that will probably be usual for the next few months. College life, you know.

For now, I will continue my review of Searching for God Knows What. These will not be as detailed or dense with quotes as the first couple not only because I have less time and feel lazy, but because I want to avoid copyright infringement. I greatly respect Don Miller and his work, and therefore do not want him suing me. I will instead continue pulling interesting ideas he presents and then commenting on them. If you are interested in following along with my reading, I encourage you to buy the book. It’s worth the full read.

Miller’s books live apart from other memoirs or theology books because he uses a humorous yet realistic tone. He brings up ideas in situations readers can relate with that, once read, you wonder why you hadn’t noticed the same things before. As you read, it feels as if you are discovering these new ideas along with him. Miller doesn’t put up any pretensions as he leads you through his story. He steps off the pages as a fellow human, someone with faults and without everything figured out. Refreshing.

Last time, I left off by saying how Miller’s childhood “god” deflated like his belief in Santa. Chapter three picks up with why Miller believed in God again. He found a person rather than the system of ideas he used to call “god.” The person he found, God himself and not a made-up image of him, turned out to be bigger and more powerful than he had ever thought of before. He said if you know God as he truly is, then you should fear him because of his overwhelming greatness.

If you read the Bible, you will see a fearsome deity who seeks justice and with the ability to destroy whole nations out of his righteous anger. God is not a pet. He is a wild lion with your head inside his jaws. His omnipotence should be enough to terrify, but God also wields all knowledge and exists in every place in every moment. Thank God his description doesn’t end there (not that he can be fully described, anyway). We can be relieved that he is perfect love. People seem to focus on this trait most and hold it above all else. And yes, it’s important, because it’s the only reason this world still turns. It’s the only reason we have any hope for the future.

But I want to discuss more in-depth another point Miller comes across. Reading the Bible, he saw God’s true greatness alongside our desperate need. The Bible began explaining humanity and our current condition better than any personality theory he had studied in psychology. Specifically, he noticed for the first time his searching need for something or someone to give him an identity. Every teenager experiences this. We call it “finding oneself.”

“I could see it in the people on television, I could see it in the people in the movies, I could see it in my friends and family, too,” Miller wrote. “It seemed that every human being had this need for something outside himself to tell him who he was, and that whatever it was that did this was gone, and this, to me, served as a kind of personality theory.”

In high school, Miller tried earning his identity from others by being the “smart” guy and memorizing poetry to attract the attention of girls. As you can guess, none of it satisfied. Earthly love, the broken love we gather from people around us, just leaks out of our cups and makes us look for constant filling up.

“Imagine, a Being with a mind as great as God’s, with feet like trees and a voice like rushing wind, telling you that you are His cherished creation,” Miller wrote.

That kind of love, when fully accepted, is enough to fill the cups of the world and never run out. Christians are called to be wholly engulfed in this waterfall. We are invited, not to subscribe to a list of ideas, but to identity and love in Christ.

A couple friends recently shared their struggle with losing themselves within Christ. They are concerned about giving up their identities, how they know themselves, to grow closer to God. I understand how they could feel afraid of this strange call. We Christians can accept many sacrifices: our comfort, our desires, even our lives. But who we are? That seems a bit much. How is it even possible?

We all can relate to searching for an identity. We constantly live in a state of personal redefinition. We change and grow. We find different names for ourselves: boyfriend, mother, leader, Doctor, Sergeant, President. Our lives and decisions form us. God extends us an invitation to a new, final identity. He wants to form us into who we were meant to be, before the Fall, and in relationship with him. We are comfortable with what is familiar. We don’t want to give up the moth-eaten, scratchy coats around us even as the stitching comes apart. God offers us silken royal robes.

Which will you wear?

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Posted by on January 31, 2012 in Books

 

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How Do Theologians Waste Time?

Normal people can fall back on Facebook or Angry Birds to waste time. They reliably kill thirty minutes even when you only needed to get rid of five. You get nothing useful done and probably haven’t improved much as a person. How much valuable information can you learn from reading people’s frivolous updates?

But killing time doesn’t have to be wasteful. When I started this blog, I stumbled upon Apologetics 315, an online apologetics resource. If you are a Christian, like learning new things, and want to defend your faith, then this website is what you need. Bookmark it.

I knew the first time I visited that I could easily spend hours browsing the website before I got bored. Apologetics is all about giving logical reasons to believe what you do. This vast field goes beyond, “The Bible says so,” and explains in detail why the Bible is historically accurate and trustworthy. If this interests you, Apologetics 315 can get you going and then never stop.

On each page, “Must-Visit Pages” are listed in the top right column. Start here to get all your basics and then some, including apologetics-focused MP3s, recommended books and blogs, audio debates, a “Basic Logic Primer,” and an ebook/podcast about starting apologetics in your church.

Once you can swallow those pages and are still hungry, the website has a never-ending collection of interviews with Christian apologists, video debates, free ebooks and MP3s, and book reviews. Everything you could need, short of starting your own apologetics library, can be found here. The left column of each page is a linkable list of all the topics you could learn about through the website. Have a particular question on your mind? Scroll down the list (it goes on a while) until you see it.

So the next time you find yourself with an odd chunk of time with nothing to do (perhaps now, since you’re reading my blog, are you not?), I suggest popping over to Apologetics 315. See how far you get before you realize you forgot the time.

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2012 in Other thoughts

 

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Searching for God Knows What Part 2: Let’s Be Real

Last time on Searching for God Knows What…

Emily finally fulfilled her promise to her sister. Donald dropped the rules and turned rebel. In a dramatic revelation, he discovered his long-lost Father wants to renew a relationship with him. But will Donald believe God’s his real father? DUN-DUN-DUN! *blackout*

Okay, so maybe this book isn’t a serial soap opera. (Though, you have to admit it would make a good soap title.) The second chapter goes on to talk about “God impostors” and how they lead us away from the real thing. If I can stretch my analogy a bit here, real life people represent fake gods just like you can never tell whether a soap character is really the next-door neighbor or the victimized daughter who got kidnapped as an infant and is now carrying her brother’s child.

Miller relates God impostors to department store Santas. The only difference is when he found out the dressed-up Santas are fakes, he figured this out because his mom finally filled him in that Santa doesn’t exist. If Santa isn’t real, how can the men sitting kids on their knees be the real thing?

“That is good and fine when we’re talking about Santa, but when we’re talking about God, the ramifications of an impostor are more upsetting,” Miller wrote. “There are, after all, a lot of people who don’t believe in God because they can’t reconcile their idea of Him with the idea presented on television.”

The media shows us pictures of a god who supports only conservative politics and wants us to blindly argue with our opponents, whose followers sexually abuse children and steal money from charities. These impostors show off their inflatable gods that look good on the plastic surface but are filled with air and no substance.

In high school, a psychology class punctured Miller’s God and left it deflated on the floor.

“I didn’t have a relationship with God; I had a relationship with a system of simple ideas, certain prejudices, and a feeling that I and people who thought as I thought were right,” Miller wrote.

Without the system he grew up believing, Miller had nothing left to separate God from his childhood belief in Santa Claus. You can imagine what happened next or read the book for yourself.

There are two questions I think every Christian could ask themselves at this point.

First of all, do I have a relationship with a God impostor or the real thing? How do you tell? The easiest test here is to go to the source, which for Christians, would be the Bible. There are many reasons I trust the Bible as my primary source of information, but let’s not go into that just now. To keep this short, your personal picture of God probably isn’t right if it doesn’t match up with the one the Bible gives. There is no excuse to skip taking this test. If you have internet connection (which I know you do, since you are reading my blog), you can read the Bible and check for yourself whether what everyone else tells you is true about God or not.

Next, if I know God as the Bible describes him, am I representing this God to others or leading them to know a fake? Don’t be the one reposting on Facebook those “Photoshopped” images of God. Look at your social media profiles and compare them to what you claim to believe. Do they match up? If you’re someone without a metaphorical mirror (or with a warped one), grab a Christian friend/mentor and ask for his or her honest view on the God-image you have taped to your shirt.

To be continued…

 
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Posted by on January 22, 2012 in Books

 

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Searching for God Knows What Part 1: Getting to Know God

I’ve put it off long enough and it’s time to push aside all the excuses.

As I said in my last post, my sister gave me Searching for God Knows What by Donald Miller to read and discuss it together. Sort of a family book club, you could say. It’s been four weeks since Christmas, so I’ve let her down… but no more! To keep me accountable, I will be posting my thoughts from the book on this blog. That means you can look forward to several more posts on this.

Let’s start with a little background. Donald Miller wrote the Christian bestseller, Blue Like Jazz. He wrote Searching for God Knows What just after Blue Like Jazz yet before he knew what a hit the previous book would be. Like the bestseller, Searching for God Knows What (SGKW?) continues Miller’s journey into what it means to live as a Christian, sharing personal revelations through a series of snapshots into his past.

The first chapter starts with formulas people use, those 1-2-3 steps we use to get what we want.  Miller describes how he began considering the usefulness of formulas after attending a writing seminar that taught two simple formulas to write successful books. He looked to his bookshelf of self-help and how-to books and realized none fulfilled his life like they had guaranteed.

“It made me wonder, honestly, if such a complex existence as the one you and I are living can really be broken down into a few steps,” Miller wrote. “It seems if there were a formula to fix life, Jesus would have told us what it was.”

We hope the simple step-by-step methods will make our lives easier or better. But as any honest person would tell you, formulas don’t solve the complexity of reality. Life isn’t made of formulaic steps. Neither are our relationships.

“Some would say formulas are how we interact with God, that going through motions and jumping through hoops are how a person acts out his spirituality,” Miller wrote.

This idea confuses Miller because we don’t do strange rituals to hang out with a friend. We just call them and ask them over for coffee. Using rituals to reach God makes him out to be less than a personal, more like a robot than a being.

I agree that it’s all too easy for Christians to forget God’s actually aware and sentient, especially since God isn’t visible like your friend and you can’t hear his voice over the phone. For instance, the last time you prayed, did you actually wait and listen for him to respond back? Or did you say, “Amen!” without a thought that God might have something to say to you? I’ll admit I’ve done it.

Miller began reading the Bible under a new light. Instead of formulas, he looked for what God wanted to say.

“When I did that, I realized the gospel of Jesus, I mean the essence of God’s message to mankind, wasn’t a bunch of hoops we need to jump through to get saved, and it wasn’t a series of ideas we had to agree with either; rather, it was an invitation, an invitation to know God,” Miller wrote.

This is what Jefferson Bethke was getting at in his spoken-word poem (see my last post). Christianity isn’t about following the right rules, taking the right steps, to earn God’s acceptance. God wants us to know him.

 
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Posted by on January 20, 2012 in Books

 

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The Difference Between Religion and Relationship

Last weekend, the social media sites lit on fire over one young man’s Youtube rap. Have you seen it yet?

My Facebook news feed had at least eight friends who posted and praised it. The video has over 15 million views since posting last week. But as it turns out, not everyone is so happy about the poem. Talking about religion tends to do that. Now you can find a bunch of video responses from people who disagree. I read one blog post that criticized the guy for saying Jesus fought religion when, really, Jesus was a good Jew who honored religious traditions.

Perhaps the controversial poet didn’t do enough to answer people’s questions, but it’s asking a lot to explain Jesus in four minutes. Yes, Jesus did follow the Jewish customs. What is important to note, though, is that when this controversial poet says, “I hate religion,” he refers to static religion that traps people in rules. He doesn’t say anything against religious practices like attending church or praying.

The main point this video tries to get across is the same thing the Bible shows us. God doesn’t care about religion so much as he wants a relationship with His creation. This theme appears again and again throughout the Old Testament, Jesus’ ministry, and the early church. Religion is just humanity’s way to connect to God, to reach up to Heaven. It’s a tool we use. But God has already reached down to us. He’s holding out his hand, not to shake on a business deal, but like a parent cups his child’s hand or a man intertwines his fingers with his bride’s. If we ignore his hand for relationship and rely on religion alone, we’re just banging our fists on the ceiling without seeing the stairs to the roof.

You can look forward to another post on this topic tomorrow. My sister gave me Searching for God Knows What by Donald Miller (the same guy who wrote Blue Like Jazz) so we could read it together and discuss the issues that come up. Unfortunately, I’ve put off reading it because of school, friends, and other commonly used but still pathetic excuses. Now I’m well into the second chapter and… well, I’ll save that for later.

 
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Posted by on January 19, 2012 in Other thoughts

 

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Branches on the Olive Tree

E-books are the current driving craze in publishing. Last Christmas, my own mother got a Kindle Fire and started loading it up with free e-books. I’ve had friends ask me how I feel about the future of e-books since I plan on being a book editor. I told them I’m not worried because writing in any form will always need editing.

If e-books are the future, it only makes sense that you could download the Bible to your tablet or smartphone.

This week, I started an editing internship with Olive Tree Bible Software, which specializes in helping people “connect with God and the Bible via technology.” The company produces various translations and versions of the Bible as well as study resources like commentaries and devotionals.

Off the website, customers can download Olive Tree BibleReader, an application for every major platform that allows you to organize your library of electronic Bibles and study materials. Think iTunes. It’s free to download and then you load it up with your purchases. It is entirely searchable and allows for easy note-taking and highlighting… almost like real books.

Here’s a video (also produced by Olive Tree) introducing the BibleReader for Windows, which recently came available:

In the 1450s, Johann Gutenberg looked pretty cool printing his Bible with a moveable type printing press. He set each letter by hand. Now publishing Bibles doesn’t require letter blocks, a press, ink, or even paper. Doesn’t that sound crazy? To publish and distribute Bibles today, a company just needs a software engineer, a computer, and probably lots of coffee.

If you’ve jumped on the e-book bandwagon, you might as well know Gutenberg did, too. You know, a few hundred years after he died. You can find free e-books (most of which have expired copyrights) at Project Gutenberg. The website is the “first and largest single collection of free electronic books.” It could be worth a look.

 
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Posted by on January 17, 2012 in Publishers

 

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C. S. Lewis Part 2: An Answer to Prayer

The search continues.

With a little googling, I found another essay on prayer by C. S. Lewis. This one, titled “The Efficacy of Prayer,” printed in another collection, The World’s Last Night and Other Essays. You can read the essay on Scribd, so you have no excuse to miss out. I’ve never heard of Scribd before, but apparently it’s “the world’s largest social reading and publishing company.” Sounds interesting. I’ll take another look later.

But back to Lewis. “The Efficacy of Prayer” again tackles (or at least arm wrestles) the two patterns of prayer the Bible gives us. He focuses more this time on the confusing connection between praying and getting what you ask. He starts off by making the clear conclusion that prayer isn’t something we can test and prove scientifically. We can’t run experiments to see whether prayer actually does anything for us.

Lewis suggests it might help comparing prayer to our usual requests of other people. One example he uses that I particularly liked was a man asking a woman to marry him. Even here, there is no way to prove causation between the proposal and engagement.

“As for the lady who consents to marry you—are you sure she had not decided to do so already?” Lewis wrote. “Your proposal, you know, might have been the result, not the cause, of her decision. A certain important conversation might never have taken place unless she had intended that it should.”

An accurate observation, Lewis. Well done. He then draws the relation between asking something of your lady friend and requesting something of your Lord. We must have the same doubt of causation when we receive something from God. Our prayer may have already been something he intended to give us. Going on, Lewis points out that really we shouldn’t even discuss prayer as in whether it “works.” That suggests that prayer is some form of magic to use to get what you want. Lewis corrects this thinking.

“Prayer in the sense of petition, asking for things, is a small part of it; confession and penitence are its threshold, adoration its sanctuary, the presence and vision and enjoyment of God its bread and wine,” Lewis wrote. “In it God shows Himself to us. That He answers prayers is a corollary—not necessarily the most important one—from that revelation.”

So petitionary prayer is interaction with the living God, not a scientific process that obtains wishes. God isn’t a genie. And here comes my most serious question: “Can we believe that God ever really modifies His action in response to the suggestions of men?”

As Lewis explains: “For infinite wisdom does not need telling what is best, and infinite goodness needs no urging to do it.”

Why would God need or want to hear human requests? What good could they do? Then again, God often uses finite means to carry out his infinite will. He allows us to act in his plans, even though an all-powerful god would not need our help. He allows us to impact the world with our actions.

“It is not really stranger, nor less strange, that my prayers should affect the course of events than that my other actions should do so,” Lewis wrote. “They have not advised or changed God’s mind—that is, His over-all purpose. But that purpose will be realized in different ways according to the actions, including the prayers, of His creatures.”

We are not watching a movie of life without any power to decide the story. We are players in the greatest video game. God allows us choices. Even with this understanding, Lewis still resists a firm conclusion like he did  in “The Problem of Petitionary Prayer.”

“The reality is doubtless not comprehensible by our faculties,” Lewis wrote. “But we can at any rate try to expel bad analogies and bad parables. Prayer is not a machine. It is not magic. It is not advice offered to God. Our act, when we pray, must not, any more than all our other acts, be separated from the continuous act of God Himself, in which alone all finite causes operate.”

To leave off, he dispels one last misunderstanding. He says answered prayers, when we receive what we requested, do not prove a stronger relationship with God. The example of the Son of God in Gethsemane should be enough to show this. If God refused Jesus, how can we claim a stronger faith is necessary for answered prayers?

C. S. Lewis has covered most of my struggles with prayer and at least eased them if not gave me a complete assurance. His reasoning makes sense and has given me a new perspective to consider. I agree with his half-hearted conclusion that we can never fully comprehend the reality of God’s world. There will always be questions, and I can be content with that. What would life be like without a little mystery? The point is to keep asking the questions and trust that one day God will help me understand.

The search continues.

 
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Posted by on January 12, 2012 in Books

 

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