Humphrey and The Trade

Humphrey digital header

When I was a kid I remember watching a short Disney cartoon that made an indelible impression on me. It showed a bear named Humphrey, who desperately wanted some fish. He swiped at the lake over and over, and all that he ended up with was a tiny minnow. As he held it above the water, sad that it was so tiny, a bigger fish jumped up and swallowed it whole.

At that point he had an epiphany.   He could hold the fish over the water and one by one collect the larger fish that jumped up to eat the minnow. Soon his arms were full of large fish. Just as he was about to walk away a fish bigger than all the others floated by. He dropped all of the other fish and pounced. Continue reading “Humphrey and The Trade”

Insensitivity

Insensitivity Header

I worked in management for Sears throughout college.  It was a good job that treated me well and gave me a great opportunity to build a business management resume that has benefited me throughout my whole adult life.  But that was a very different Sears that I have seen over the last 10 years.

Last week, I was on lunch and decided to pull up a YouTube video of Chris Tomlin (a Christian worship music artist) singing a song I’d hurt at church the weekend prior.  As most of us know, YouTube regularly plays videos of sponsored content (a.k.a ads) before your chosen video.  It is part of the monetization that Google brings to all of its products.  When a company pays for an ad to run, they specify all of the criteria that will determine who sees the video.  This includes thing like the geographic location of the watcher, the viewer’s history, and the specific thing searched for, as well as everything in between.  I’m simplifying the process, but it is nearly infinitely customizable, ensuring that the only people who see your video are the exact people you want to see it.

So, I search for Chris Tomlin and the title of the worship song (I don’t remember right now exactly which song it was) and I click on the video.  Before my video starts to play, this is the ad I see (feel free not to watch the whole thing):

I skipped the ad when it gave me a chance and watched my worship video, but the more I thought about it the more upset I became.  I can’t think of a YouTube history on my account that would have been pertinent or anything else that makes sense…unless either they were putting that out to everyone, or they were specifically targeting people watching worship videos.

So, I took to Twitter, incredulous that Sears would be so insensitive.  The screenshot from my Tweet, and Sears’ response not long after, are below.

Sears Tweet

It is 2014,  know.  I am not surprised by a company supporting homosexual marriage.  I don’t like it, but I know it happens.  I don’t support the homosexual mafia attacking companies like Chik-fil-a simply because their CEO said that he believes a marriage is between a man and a woman.  But most of all, I can’t support the incredible rudeness of a company deliberately attacking the morality of Christians in this way.  Whether their Tweet to me was an automatic response to mine or not, it doesn’t matter.

I’m not one to start a boycott and get worked up over anything secular.  I think that secular complies not guided by Christians will not act Christian.  However, companies that deliberately attack Christians is another story altogether.

You know why they do it?  They do it because they know that they will insult us and treat us disrespectfully in whatever ways they choose, and we will buy their products just the same.  We might post a Facebook complaint and feel like we accomplished something, but as soon as the next sale comes along, we will open up our wallets again.

For me, it stops here.  I have drawn a line in the sand.  I have a lot of Craftsman tools and a Sears credit card.  I’m canceling the card and have bought my last tool from them.

—-

Incidentally, if you want the story behind the video (which I actually haven’t seen in its entirety), Sears sponsored a float in the recent Chicago homosexual parade.  On that float they had 4 homosexual couples getting “married” and this video was celebrating that.

Next time you buy a Sears product, know that is where some of your money is going.  If you support that, then great.  If you don’t, you are supporting it anyway with your money.

 

Election Blue – part 1

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the seriesElection Blue

Flag Header

I’ve been licking my wounds from Tuesday night’s election.  I worked professionally on two campaigns this season, and volunteered walking and working the polls on another.  All of these went the wrong way.  One was expected.  One was an incredibly close and shocking loss, and one was a surprise blowout.

The sense of loss I felt on election night I can’t describe.  The most painful for me was of course, the presidential election.  Like many others, I fasted and prayed leading up to Tuesday.  At the polls I prayed between approaching voters, as my Democrat rivals laughed and joked about how the Republicans were in their final days of idiocy.

As we refreshed web pages and watched the TV in the command center, our hearts sank.  I’ve talked to many who feel the same as I do.  Our country has been going in a direction that is an offense to God.  We have a lot to repent of.  As Abraham Lincoln once said, “I know God is always on the side of the right.  It is my constant prayer and anxiety that I and this nation should be on the Lord’s side.”  That is the farthest place from where this nation has been, and this election was not a step in the right direction.

Further, it feels like quite a hopeless place.  First, this election (even more than the last) highlights a massive racial divide.  Only 39% of white people voted for Obama, yet over 95% of black people did.  The Red State/Blue State divide is bigger than ever.  Christians voted even more for Romney than they did for McCain.  The fact is that young and minority groups are voting in larger numbers than they ever have, and overwhelmingly for Democrats, and if something doesn’t change, Republicans will be the permanent underclass.

Like many I’ve talked to, I’ve felt like I am in a daze.  I’ve even thought about what country I could move to that wouldn’t murder as many babies and hold up choices that God says are sins to be virtuous.  But tonight during my bath, something in my brain clicked.  We are supposed to be “salt and light.”  Many…no most, of the people in the Bible were called to stand for God in places and cultures that were hostile to Him in ways that we can’t fathom.  Sure, being against homosexual marriage might get your business boycotted.  But when was the last time that I was thrown in a pit full of lions for praying to God?  When was the last time that people stoned us for talking about Jesus?   Were you chained to prison guards because you preached the name of Christ.

The prophet Jeremiah proclaimed the word of God to his generation his entire ministry, and no one ever listened.  The people were just as hostile to the things of the Lord when he died, as they were when he started.  We aren’t called to change the world.  We are called to proclaim the truth of God in love.  Sometimes we will reap a harvest in revival, and sometimes the people will throw rocks.  Jesus even said that many will hate us for being His followers, and in John chapter 3, He said that people would reject Him because they love darkness more than light.

The second thing that my mind went to, as I sat in the tub pondering the election, is that Jesus took a group of about 120 followers that were dedicated to Him (with 12 main leaders) and changed the face of the world.  So on Friday, the leader of this strange heresy was put to death on a cross and his followers scattered in fear.  The plotters of the status quo were victorious.  But by Monday, these same scattered losers were rallying around their risen Christ, willing to give their lives to spread His good news throughout the entire world…and they did both.

I know that Republicanism doesn’t equal Christianity (or vice versa).  But no one who truly understands both politics and orthodox Christianity can believe that the Democratic Party is any friend to God.  Remember, they removed Him from their platform this year…although it was merely a formality after removing any reference to His teachings from the same.

So, it is time for our Resurrection Sunday type of moment (once again—not equating the two).  Yes, all that our country stands for may indeed be lost.  But it doesn’t matter.  We are called to stand for Christ and His principles regardless.  But it is time to rise from the ashes of defeat, and face this with the steely resolve of people who are not afraid, because they cannot lose. -Ryan

Carts

Carts

The other day I went to Home Depot.  I had a small list of things to buy, and decided that a shopping cart was in order.  I have this broken part of my brain that won’t allow me to grab a buggy upon entering a store.  No, instead I go walking through the place grabbing items and juggling them in my arms until I either drop them all, or successfully make it to the checkout line.  The benefit of this is that I don’t often impulse buy, and only get what will fill my arms without falling out.

But on this particular day I knew that I needed to get more, and a cart was in order. Home improvement stores have some strange practices regarding their carts.  There are the regular carts in the line outside the doors, but there are also different types of contraptions for larger items.  These carts (pull carts, and those vertically divided ones) are hidden throughout the store randomly.  This makes shopping more fun, because you have to first find the cart before finding the items you came to buy.  It is like a little Easter egg hunt.  I needed one of these.

The first one that I found was in the paint aisle.  It was staring at me, daring me to just try and take it.  I grabbed in victory, and headed to find the first item on my list. Thumpity-thumpity-thumpity it dragged, a worn out mule.  Looking underneath the cart, I noticed that one wheel had a flat spot where the rubber had worn off.

I abandoned that one, wondering why they didn’t just retire it (no pun intended).  I had already been down a host of aisles before I found that lame cart, so I wondered where the others could be.  I felt like Magnum PI, looking for clues to the case of the missing cart.  I pretended to have a bushy mustache.

Finally, down the lumber aisle I found a grazing herd of carts.  I snuck up behind and grabbed one, quickly heading off to get what I needed, both because now I was behind schedule and so as not to spook the rest of the carts.  A few aisles into my escape I noticed that I, like a hunting lion, seemed pretty good at picking off the weakest of the pack.  This cart pulled constantly to the right, making me muscle it left with every push.

Not to overly spiritualize (OK, I’m over-spiritualizing), but as I sat in my devotions moments ago, I realized that I am very much like these carts.  Broken wheels, I clack along, my progress slower than it should be and loudly complaining the whole way.  With every step forward, I turn my attention to things around me.  I take my eyes off of my goal and soon I find myself headed straight for those distractions, and toward a crash.

In Deuteronomy 30:17-20, God told His people that the wonderful promises He had given them were indeed conditional.  His blessing would become a curse if they turned away.  His promised life would become death—a scary thought.  We scoff at the faithlessness of the Israelites in syncretism and enslavement to idolatry.  How could they be so foolish?

Yet, like my wounded cart, we prove ourselves unable to walk out the things that we commit to.  We list and complain in the deceitfulness of our hearts.  The very things we say we want to do, we forsake.  And the things that we claim to abhor, these are the things we find ourselves doing.  Who will save us from these bodies of death?  Thanks be to Jesus.  On our own, we are nothing but terrible shopping carts.

The Wall

Wall Header

I decided to undertake a massive project this summer, which we now affectionately call the Great Wall of Ryan.  My house sits on the top of a little hill, which is a pretty novel thing in North Texas.  This means that in every direction, the ground slopes down and away from my house, like a little rollercoaster for any topsoil.  The only defense I have found for this problem in my front yard is to build a massive retaining wall near the street.

In preparation for this project, about two years ago I imported a large amount of dirt into the front of my yard.  Then about a year and a half ago, we were able to swing a deal for a whole lot more soil, which was also dumped on top of the existing pile.  And there it sat, for over a year.  It was embarrassing.  My neighbors would occasionally comment.  I was afraid I would get a brick thrown through my front window, but I was handicapped by work projects that I could not walk away from.

This summer I finally got the time, and I dedicated my life to making this wall.  And what a wall it is!  Nearly 120 feet long, in its two sections framing my yard, and just under 4 feet at the tallest, it is a giant monument to hard work and dedication.  And I built it all by myself…with lots and lots of help.

While to my neighbors, the most important thing is that the former Prairie Dog Farm in front of my house now actually adds to the aesthetic of my block, the biggest lesson to me was the kind help that my hard-working friends put into the project without asking for anything in return.   And the lessons I learned this summer, alongside teenagers and grown men while building this wall, are what is most worth mentioning here.

Much of the summer played out this way: I would start working relatively early in the morning, mostly to avoid the heat.  Then I would call to, or answer a call from one of the teenagers I know, who said he was “bored,” and “do you need some help today?”  I would pick the teen up and drive him to my house.  We would then work until lunch (which I’d provide), go back at it, and often bust our tails till evening.  Many times, we would also feed them dinner before taking them home.

Not a single teen sat in the yard and complained.  Not one 13 through 18 year old said, “It’s too hot!” as we worked in 105 degree sun.  None of them avoided me the rest of the summer.

What I did hear a lot of were things like, “Wow, this is so much fun.  I’ve never done anything like this before,” and “Hey, call me when you need more help.”  They always thanked me as I dropped them off back at home filthy from digging, looking like some Depression era dust farmer.

There was the 13 year old who begged me to let him come, after his brother had helped.  We spent the day driving stakes and putting up line-levels to set the height of the project.  I had to force him to wear sunscreen and drink water.  He laughed the whole time, and wondered why I only let him put in some of the stakes.  Mostly, he wanted to use my axe and a few other sharp tools to try and cut a log.  I let him.

I also spent many days with the 16 year old who practically lived at my house.  He stayed in our guest bedroom on the weekends, not because there was something horrible at home, but because he wanted to work.  This teen doesn’t even attend my church or youth group.  His family is from a different country, and they sent him here alone for High School.  He approached my front yard project like it was food, and he a starving man.

We were cutting some blocks for the curving corners of the wall, a task that takes forever and I really dislike, when he asked for a turn at the saw.  I showed him how to operate the angle grinder with its sharp diamond blade, and he went to cutting.  When he finished, I was astonished at the quality cut he made.  It wasn’t quite as good as what I could do, but it was an amazing first attempt.  I told him so.

From that moment, he wanted to cut every single block.  He spent hours making perfect cuts and angles, which were eventually far better than the work that I could do.  I told him that he was good at it, and he became a master at it.  He later told me that it was actually his least favorite thing to do, even though he was always the one who asked to do it.  He did it because he was proud and accomplished.

But this was far different from what parents and teachers have been telling me about teen guys.  Huge numbers of teenage boys are getting barely passing grades in Junior High and High school, and are deciding not to go to college at all.  They aren’t doing this to chase after wild dreams in art, music, sports, or to travel the world.  Instead they are staying home and sitting in front of the X-Box until their parents force them to get a job.  In fact, according to a government official in the State of Washington recently, “Teen males, 16- to 19-year-olds, have an unemployment rate of about 40 percent. That is certainly something unique to this recession.”[1]

So why did I experience such a difference in the guys I was working with?  Why were they sweating in 100+ degree temperatures and not complaining?  Why were they thanking me at the end of an 8-hour day instead of demanding payment?

I think it is because they were engaging in something that is hard-wired into guys, and part of what manhood is about.  They were out building something, working with their hands, and accomplishing a project.  They were doing something they were being told not only that they could do, but also that they were good at.  They were also seeing immediate results of their labor.  When you shovel a pile of rocks for an hour, after that hour the rocks are no longer there.

But the narrative for success that we are telling our young men does not involve those elements.  What we tell them is to be quiet and listen in school, which many of them are naturally not any good at.  They also need to invest in things that they won’t see any results of for many years.

This is told to teenagers in High School career programs, and as a threat to keep them studying hard.  “I mean, you don’t want to not get into college and have to be a construction worker for the rest of your life, do you?”  You can almost hear the sad trombone play in the background.  But that threat doesn’t appear to be working on many of these boys anymore.  Now more than ever, their response to this question is “I don’t care.”

That response says far more than most people realize.  “I don’t care” isn’t a complaint.  “I don’t care” isn’t a cry for help.  It isn’t something you can argue past or even fix through stern lecturing.  “I don’t care” really means, “I have lost hope, and I don’t think anything I do will actually matter.  So, I’ve given up.”  It is a crisis beyond education and employment.  Our men are in a crisis of hope, and a lack of hope makes a person’s heart sick.  Sick hearts don’t produce healthy lives.

They lose hope when they aren’t involved in things that they see as making any lasting difference in the world.  They lose hope when we hold up feminine qualities as good, while simultaneous saying both that any good male qualities are expressed equally through women, and that most male qualities are actually negative.  They lose hope when they have no true heroes that express virtuous male qualities.  Why should they have hope?

The message is, “Just be a like the good girls.  Sit down and be quiet.  Try not to be such a boy.”

In our church’s youth ministry, one of the things that we instill in our leadership team is that our job is not to fill buckets, but to light fires.  This means that we don’t want to just teach students not to “smoke, drink, or chew, or date people who do.” Instead we want them to know mostly that God built them to do great things, that He put destiny in their hearts, and has an awesome future planned for them.

The only way for them to really see this completely fulfilled in their lives is to be in close relationship with the God who created them and loves them dearly. When they fall in love with that God, they will want to know how He wants them to live their lives and will want to live according to that.  Expecting them to follow His rules for any other reason is like expecting people watching a soccer game on TV to also not use their hands during the match.  The spectators are not on the field and haven’t committed themselves to the game, so why would they commit to following its rules.

So we believe that when the teenagers fall in love with Jesus, and commit themselves to Him, then they will want to passionately follow what He tells them He cares about.  They will try to do less of the things that hurt that relationship, and more of the things that deepen it.  Their actions will be fueled by the passion inside, not just from some list of dos and don’ts.

Remember High School Algebra?  At some point in the semester a student raised his hand (it was almost always a boy) and asked the teacher, “When will I ever use this in real life?”  Our boys are asking that question of almost everything, and our response is to tell them to be quiet and let us put more in their buckets.  It is obvious that as a society, we aren’t lighting our boy’s fires.  We are just trying to fill their buckets, and they are responding accordingly.

So back to the wall…

What happened this summer is that a bunch of boys got to invest their time in activities that are inherently manly (yes, there are other manly qualities that don’t involve shoveling).  They built things that will hopefully last far into the future, and they saw immediate fruit from their labor.  They got to work with an adult man who not only cared about them, but also modeled certain qualities, and told them that what they were doing was good and important.  And they were also told that they were good at what they were doing, and were thanked for their help.

They left feeling accomplished and good about themselves. These were boys that for a while at least, didn’t say, “I don’t care,” at all.  They seemed to care about something a great deal.  They left fired-up.


[1] Arum Kone, a regional labor economist for the Washington state Department of Employment Security, as quoted in The Spokesman-Review. February 13, 2012.

Thoughts on Vancouver

Vancouver Header

vancouverI’m sitting near Point Grey, outside a coffee shop in Vancouver, British Columbia.  Through my almost two weeks here, I have been taking in all that Vancouver has to offer, and have seen it as a city of contradictions.  Surrounded by both ocean and majestic mountains, beautiful parks and beaches are everywhere, and local produce markets dot the landscape.  It is here that people fuel their active and healthy lifestyles.  In the summer sun they are outside everywhere, walking, biking, and playing Frisbee.

Canadian people are ridiculously nice.  Almost anyone will stop to talk and answer questions*. Everyone thanks the bus driver when they get to the bus stop, and they say “I’m sorry” frequently.  People live a little bit slower than we do in the States, and it is refreshing.

Indians

Vancouver is also highly multicultural.  It isn’t a separated mix with everyone in their own areas like it is in the US.  On every block,you hear German and Korean, Slavic and Chinese, yet they still thank the bus driver and say “I’m sorry” in English.

But, as if to counter-balance all of this, there is much more to the picture.  Much of the downtown has an aroma of urine and marijuana smoke with a hint of BO and urban decay, similar to almost any huge city but more pervasive.  During my time here I have seen 1 dead body (a suicide), 2 people convulsing from overdoses (one with the needle still in his hand), and three people in handcuffs.

This is also one of the gayest cities (not intended as a dysphemism).  The rainbow flags everywhere preach acceptance, but the numerous erotic shops, flyers for transvestite shows and homo-erotic film festivals, shockingly-graphic billboards for gay matchmaking, and open displays of over-affection are nothing but perverse.  Stores in most of downtown all display rainbow stickers for support, but also to avoid retribution.

suicide

I can feel a spiritual darkness: a sense of being unmoored.  Parts of the city are more safe and calm, but the feeling is inescapable.  It is the kind of spiritual environment where someone jumps out of an 8th story window while a block away men drink and dance in an all-male club.

Two days ago in a drugstore, I passed by a Canadian magazine with a cover story about what is happening to Canadian youth.  The article mentioned that half of all teens report high levels of hopelessness and thoughts of suicide.  There are many conflicting theories as to why.

boatsI’m looking at the bay, filled with sailboats following the wind and subject to the waves, as giant cargo ships in the distance thunder toward port.  It is an apt metaphor.  As I sit in the breeze, it seems that the biggest lesson Canada has taught me is that great beauty and serenity don’t satisfy the spirit when you are unable to chart a course and guide your life by anything other than a billowing purpose or the tide of popular opinion. A life will just crash against the waves as the soul becomes seasick.

—-

Right after I wrote this sentence I had a 5 minute conversation with the people sitting around me concerning real estate prices.  Walking away one of the women just said, “Hey, any Canadian will be happy to answer any of your questions.  Just stop us and ask.”  It was as if they could read what I had just written.


Listening

Listening Header

I’m preaching in church this weekend.  I always love this opportunity.  To paraphrase Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire, ‘when I preach I feel His pleasure. ‘

As often is the case, I have little advance warning of this opportunity.  Officially, I have 7 days to put it all together, which is certainly less than I’d like.  I’m not really complaining, but at this point my brain is a jumble of thoughts.  I’m going to use my little blog this week to highlight the process that goes on inside of me as I prepare.

—-

I’ve had a growing frustration over the last few years as to what exactly is happening in the Western Church.  Over this time I’ve had the constant allegory of The Emperor’s New Clothes, by Hans Christian Andersen, in my head as an example of what I think most people feel about Church.  Books like Simple Church, The Essential Church, and a host of others talk about the mass exodus going on in this segment of the church, particularly among young people.

What these books highlight is that growing amounts of young people are seeing the Church as being superfluous  to their lives, good but not all that important.  There is also a constant secular assault saying, “You are deluded, worshipping an imaginary God.”  Much of this is happening while we parade around regally in our nakedness.

I have recently been reading a book called The Naked Gospel.  The thesis of the book (so far) is that the Church is failing because we are not really teaching proper doctrine.  I had to put the book down.  I could not disagree more.

I have no desire to abandon the Church, any more than I desire to disown my own mom, but what I have experienced in the Church in the past few years is a dedication to doctrine, and a disconnect between living out that doctrine in a powerful spiritual life.  God has become ceremony, even in our low-church commonness.  Christianity is what happens on Sunday and midweek services.  What happens on Sunday morning doesn’t seem to affect much outside of the Church.  But even worse than this, there doesn’t seem to be any sense that it is designed to.  In short and in the words of many teens, “it’s boring.”

I know I sound negative, and in a real sense I am.  But all of this comes from love, because I don’t believe that God is boring, and I don’t denigrate the Church, it is the freaking Bride of Christ, after all.

Now that doesn’t mean that plenty of people don’t take their faith seriously.  I would say that majority of them do.  But we sing songs about victory and we speak of miracles, we pray for them, but we don’t really believe they’ll happen, do we?  Well, at least not every day.  We believe in miraculous healing, but we don’t pray for the guy in the wheelchair at Starbucks.  I say that evangelism is good, but I walk by throngs of people everyday who don’t believe, and yet I have no intention of embarrassing myself in front of them.

This gets communicated in every part of our popular thinking.  In the media we speak about “religious extremism.”  The real problem is not Islam, but people who take the Koran really seriously.  Christianity is not seen any differently.  Believe all you want, just don’t let it affect any visible part of your life.  Read the Bible, just don’t ever quote it in public.  Talking about Jesus is OK, only if it is a vulgar interjection.

How antithetical to all of Christianity is that?  The message of Jesus is supposed to permeate every pore.  Christ wants to be lord of your life, not just our Sunday mornings.  The problem in Church as I see it, is not that there is no proper doctrine.  The problem is that we don’t believe that doctrine should do anything.

What if this Holy Spirit actually could give us gifts to do wonderful things?  What if we could actually tell people about Jesus and they’d believe?  What if that guy in Starbucks actually got up and walked?  I wonder if Christianity would be boring then.

This is some of what God has been working inside of me.  I don’t know how much of this will make it into my message.  We’ll see.  -Ryan

Grinchoversy

GrinchoversyHeaderThe following is a reprint of an article published by Ryan Shinn in his channel on Examiner.com

This year the keep Christ in Christmas debate has heated up anew with First Baptist Church of Dallas pastor, Robert Jeffress, new website listing businesses that are refusing to acknowledge Christmas.  He has appeared on Fox News as well as local news outlets discussing this apparently controversial site.

The current debate seems to have three sides, those who support Jeffress for taking a stand on this issue, secularists who are attacking Jeffress for various reasons, and Christians who think the whole debate is distracting from the purpose of Christmas.

Eric Wallace’s blog, The Unwasted Life, summarizes this last perspective quite well with a list of reasons why Jeffress is off-base.  Yet while Eric makes very good points about why Christians should not take part in this debate at all, most of the discussion seems to be missing the point.

Most of the anti-Jeffress discussion falls into three basic categories.  The first is that while Christmas is about the birth of Jesus, it has always been primarily a secular holiday with most of its elements derived from pagan sources that have little to do with the actual birth of Christ.  People have pointed out that elements such as Christmas trees do not have Christian beginnings, but most of these things were adopted by early Christian missionaries as cultural touch points used to relate the gospel to the people’s pagan traditions.  This sort of evolution is happening currently with Halloween.  Many churches celebrate the holiday as a Harvest Festival and exchange the day’s original purpose with a Christ-centered message.

The second attack is that Christians have no business getting involved with political debates that play into the hands of the secularists. The problem with this argument is that it misses the point entirely.  Many Christians are simply tired of the expectation that they will spend a lot of money for gifts at stores that refuse to even mention Christmas.  The message is, “give us money while we disrespect you.”  Many Christians are responding with their dollars.  This is not as much a sign of protest, but capitalist democracy.

Finally, they attack Jeffress directly for more controversial statements he has made, particularly regarding homosexuals and Muslims.  This is not surprising.  When people have little of value to say in defense of their positions, they often resort to ad hominem attacks.  Whether Jeffress is against homosexuality or Islam, or kills puppies, it has no bearing on this issue.  -Ryan

5 Keys to Reading the Bible

BibleHeaderHere is a list (by no means exhaustive) of a few guidelines to help in reading and applying the Bible to your life.

1. Read the Bible with an eye for genre.

Some biblical critics (meaning people who examine the actual literature of the Bible) look at the text as nothing more than ancient literature.  This causes some Christians to react with statements like, “I take the Bible literally.”  This statement sounds devout, but it is quite absurd.

Psalm 36:7 says “People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.” Jesus follows this same metaphor in Matthew 23:37 saying, “I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.”  No one actually suggests that the Bible is saying God is actually a bird.  The text is using a picturesque metaphor.

The Bible is quite robust as literature.  It contains narrative (Genesis, Matthew, et al.), prophetic literature (Daniel, Revelation), Poetry (Psalms, Song of Solomon), epistles (instructional books like Ephesians), personal letters (to an individual like Philemon), and others.  A person wouldn’t read a love letter the same way that they would read an instruction manual.  In the same way, they shouldn’t read Psalms the same way that they read Galatians.

A lot of problems in understanding the Bible come from not considering the intended purpose of the book they are reading.  For instance, the purpose of Psalms is to glorify God and remember His goodness, not to teach doctrine.  This is not saying that Psalms cannot teach doctrinal truth, or even that it is not the inspired word of God, just that doctrine is not the point of the book.

2.      Get yourself into the heads of the original readers.

Many Bible experts will make the statement, “something in the Bible can never mean to us what it didn’t mean to its original hearers.”  This doesn’t quite make sense, as original readers of prophetic books like Daniel couldn’t quite have understood the completeness of the prophecy.  But this is a generally good guideline to follow in most cases.

For instance, Genesis 9:4 and Leviticus 17:10 both state provisions against eating blood.  Some religious people use this as reason for God to be against blood transfusions.  While the Bible neither speaks supportively nor prohibitively specifically about blood transfusions, an original hearer of God’s message in these passages would have not thought about a medical procedure to save someone’s life.  They would have connected it to pagan idol worship that required drinking blood.  Therefore, it is doctrinally quite dangerous to make a leap in applying these passages to a life-saving medical procedure.

3.      Practice Exegesis not Eisegesis

No, this isn’t misspelling Jesus.  These two words refer to interpreting scripture.  Gesis refers to the text of the Bible.  Ex (ek) means out of and eis means into.  For any student of God’s truth, the goal should be to find out what the Bible means, and then apply that meaning to life, even if that isn’t quite what a person really wants the Bible to say.  The opposite of this, eisegesis, is to twist the scripture (or cherry-pick verses out of context) in order to get the Bible to say what a person wants it to say.

A good way to remember the difference is that exegesis is to find out where Jesus is, and place an X in that spot (x-a-Jesus) as the marker for where God wants people to be.  Eisegesis is like putting Jesus on an ice rink, where a person could push him to wherever he’d like Jesus to be (ice-a-Jesus).

4. Allow the Bible be a little bit mean.

Actually, the Bible isn’t really mean.  It is the loving word of God.  But unless a person is perfect, the Bible is going to point out a lot of ways in which humans cannot meet God’s standards.  It has been reported that Martin Luther, the father of the Protestant Reformation, said that if we always find the Bible to be our friend, perhaps we haven’t read it.

The Bible was clearly not written as a self-image booster for humanity.  Whenever a person comes face to face with the presence of God, the first realization is always how unworthy, frail, and weak humanity is when measured by God’s standard.  The second understanding is that God forgives and loves us anyway.  Before a garment can be cleaned, a person must admit that it is dirty.  The same is true with a person’s soul, and the Bible is one of the major ways that God teaches this lesson to humanity.

5. Let the Bible change you.

The Bible is not meant to be merely literature.  The serious student of Jesus should read the Bible asking 3 basic questions:

  • What did God mean by this (especially to the original readers)?
  • How does this meaning apply to me today?
  • What should I do about this?

God never intended people to read His word, smile to themselves, and then go about their daily lives.  He meant it to be poignant, “sharper than any two-edged sword,” and potent for changing lives.  Swords were not meant to be decorative wall ornaments.  They were meant for stronger stuff, as is the Bible.

Critic

Critic Header

Remember the old show At the Movies with Siskel and Ebert?  It was a TV show with two movie critics who were about as opposite as they could be.  One was fat, the other thin.  One was hairy, one bald.  They even had completely different tastes in movies.  They would sit each week and review the movies that they’d watched.  They’d argue a lot, but if a movie got “two thumbs up,” you knew it would be good.

I used to watch the show sometimes, not really for the movies, but mostly because of the conversations and interplay between the two men.  What always struck me though, was that the joy of just getting lost in a film seemed to be missing from them.  They discussed plot elements and the charisma of the actors, but there was no awe.  I suppose that a movie critic wouldn’t be a good one if he just said, “wow,” about every movie.  But nonetheless, I don’t think I’d ever want to be one of those guys.

Actually, I’ve never wanted to be a critic of anything.  But I feel a bit of a constant struggle to keep that raw innocence, that “double rainbow” fascination with things in life.  My psyche keeps wanting to judge and consume.

I thought about this more when I recently had a friend email me some songs as part of an informal music exchange we’d been having.  I waited until I had the time to truly sit and absorb the music before responding.  One was depressing and felt a little like emotional manipulation, but other than that exception, they were all melodic and quite beautiful.

I opened up an email reply and started to type out a detailed dissertation concerning the qualities and various elements of each song.  One was lacking a significant hook.  One seemed to have excessive vocal runs.  On it went, till suddenly I stopped myself midsentence and…

I looked at what I had been typing.  This was truly a great job of music criticism, yet in my flurry of analysis a beam of clarity broke through.  My friend wasn’t sending me songs so that I could give them the Simon Cowell treatment.  The point behind the exchange was to say “Here is some music that is affecting me right now.”  It was about sharing a little of what is happening in our lives and hearts.  And here I was, trying to determine the musical quality of each song.

I don’t know exactly why my emotional train got off track.  But I do know that it seems a lot of people I talk to have become perpetual talent scouts of almost everything around them, and I guess I am starting to fall into the same sort of thinking.  But I don’t want to.

I don’t think God wants us to either.  As far as I know Him, God seems to be less focused on judging us all the time, as He is in enjoying relationship with us.  It is not God who focuses constantly on judgment, which is funny because He is the one who has the right to be.  It is us who have made Him out to be perpetually on the judges bench casting down pronouncements on everything.  My favorite quote of all time, by G.K. Chesterton goes:

Perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

Maybe God makes the sunset every night both because He has just never gotten tired of it, but also because He just wants us to see its beauty.  No, I’m not denying that chemicals in the atmosphere and moisture produce the color.  But maybe God directs it all like some heavenly maestro, blues and reds, sweeping violets and touches of orange, all for some unwitting audience here on earth who spends more time focusing on our business than on any great cosmic ballet.

I’ve never sat looking at the sunset and picked out the colors that are lacking, or even debated whether it was as pretty as other sunsets I’ve seen.  I know people who can do that, but not me.  I don’t feel like I have the qualifications to do that.  I can’t make a sunset, but I can enjoy it.  It could be that is why God made it, for me to enjoy.

I want to approach much of life with that same wild-eyed wonder of a child.  I want to listen to music with a smile.  If I don’t want to be a movie critic, I should try not to be one in other areas of my life too.