Saturday, December 6, 2014

Book Review: Emissary by Thomas Locke

Thomas Locke delivers something to his readers that, by all measures, is really quite good. Mystery embedded in mystery. Adventure in fantasy. Love in trust. Story in words.

Instead of giving you a book summary like many of the other reviews, I’ll give you a more analytical/critical review to help you gauge (not whether it will be a riveting story, but) whether you want to read this philosophy over-against competing philosophies.

Book Philosophy: Greater good can be had in denying myself, even being willing to sacrifice everything, and pursuing the cause of the outcast and the downtrodden; in pursuing good for goodness’ sake.

Main Point:
Sacrifice self, pursue good
Supporting Points:
            There are greater things at stake
            People follow whom they can trust
            Every individual needs others
            There are mysterious, guiding forces at work

Genre: Fantasy Adventure
Setting: Medieval world, undefined universe
Plot Flow: Ascending, monochronic; Rags-to-riches; quick-paced
Additional literary elements: Self-discovery, community building, battle

The primary characters presented offer the antitype Hero-Leader, Chaos-Villain, comforter, and sage      

Cultural Target: youth, young adults, fantasty

A few mechanical corrections need to be made—there were several times in the first 50 pages that a sentence felt cumbersome or lacking in a word. But after these first few, the writing style and sentence structure was flawless. So perhaps it was simply that I needed to get accustomed to the way Locke was writing, but nonetheless: there were a few times I had to reread a sentence because I couldn’t distinguish subject from object or distinction of antecedents.

Along a similar vein, there were several times in the book that I thought the plot developed to quickly—almost like there were gaps in the plot development (not to be confused with plot holes!). It occasionally thought: “There wasn’t enough time for Hyam & Co. to determine that course of action. He didn’t even have a chance to think through the events.” Hyam seemed to respond too quickly and adeptly—he’s not done these things before, but he is somehow the perfect leader in every situation and knows how to react to things that are coming his way. If it were intended in Hyam’s characterization, he would appear haughty and presumptuous, but the characterization of Hyam was humble and compassionate (albeit holding grudges).

And occasionally it seemed like Locke didn’t spend enough time staging and describing the scene—this critique I know will be dismissed by most because many people want to ‘get to the story/action’ and find description overbearing, but I sometimes found myself rushed from one area to another without ever getting a chance to ‘look around’ as it were, and experience. Now this was not always the case, but I think more often than not the pace of the story was too quick for enjoying the world… and to be honest it was never quite clear in the story why there was such a rush. It seemed like Hyam ‘just knew’ that everything had to be done as expeditiously as possible without a clear plot element that gave cause.

And yet! All these critiques being leveled, the story was so good that all was quickly forgiven. The problems didn’t really even matter because the whole package was so enjoyable the whole time. In fact, all you have to do is read other reviews to understand the things that are so excellent.

I give this book 4/5 stars and recommend it to any fantasy readers as young as age 10.

Thomas Locke's book Emissary is released January 6, 2015
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Revell in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Book Review: A Complete Handbook of Literary Forms in the Bible

This excellent handbook by Ryken lists, explains, and exemplifies the full spectrum of literary elements that we find in Scripture. It truly is a remarkable companion to Bible study, and I believe it should be on every preacher’s, teacher’s, and Christian’s shelf.

The thesis of the book states: “if we know what the terms mean and how they apply to reading and teaching the Bible, we will see a great deal more in the Bible than we would otherwise.And the ‘if-then’ proves true; when you read the examples drawn from Scripture, you will say, “Aha!” unless, of course, you’re prone use “Eureka!” instead.

Even if the Bible student can’t memorize each term and its implications, a single read-through will familiarize her/him enough with the basic categories to enhance study exponentially, and more importantly: they will garner the eyes to see the Bible as literature—an absolutely indispensable tool. Genre, subgenre, motif, character archetypes, plot mechanisms, symbols, and countless other details are expertly explained in concise fashion: just enough for you to understand what it is and how it is used, and then push you back into Scripture. Indeed, the esteem for Scripture is seen throughout every page—A Complete Handbook of Literary Forms in the Bible is a servant, not a master.
In several places throughout, Ryken references his work Dictionary of Biblical Imagery for fuller explanations, arguments, and examples; similarly Ryken has edited The Literary Study Bible—and while all three are valuable resources, the Handbook occupies the middle ground: offering a push on the swing (instead of the training wheels/guided tour of the Study Bible or the enduring wrestle of the Dictionary). Ultimately I can’t tell you which resource would be best suited for your use, but it is important to recognize the overlap.

The book delivers an insightful introduction which defends the science of literary study in Scripture. And it offers an index of all the ‘forms’ in case you can’t quite remember the name of ‘that one thing’ that bears upon your passage next Sunday. It should be noted that there is no index of Scripture—perhaps a helpful addition in further editions.

I fully recommend this book without reserve, and I look forward to further editions that might improve unnoticed problems, and maybe even a bonded leather edition to handle all the referencing the Handbook is sure to incur.

*I received a copy from the Publisher as part of their book review program "Beyond the Page." My thoughts are my own, and I was in no way encouraged to write a favorable review.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Heroes, Antiheroes, and Us

Over on CT Alissa Wilkinson offered some questions for thought and discussion on the idea of female antiheroes--you know characters like Olivia Pope from Scandal. She asks
Where do we get the idea that protagonist ought to equal hero?
Protagonist technically means "first sufferer" or in other words: the character whose perspective you most closely follow as they encounter conflict. Wilkinson also asks a series of other questions
are there uncomplicated, unironic heroes on TV today? And were there ever really in the past? And do we want uncomplicated heroes? Could they be dangerous in any ways? How much of this is distinctly American? Are there ways that heroism outweighs the danger of presenting unmitigatedly good guys (other than Christ himself)?
I encourage you to read the whole article here.

She also references a couple other pieces.

This one which spurred her own thoughts.

And these two which she offers for reference.

You can read my response below:
I think we get the idea that protagonist equals hero from our own subjective viewpoint. As embodied humans we view ourselves as the "main character" of our life. 'Life's a movie,' and the camera follows me: it watches how I interact with situations and people and gives its overwhelming approval of (nearly) everything I say and do. Even when we lose an argument or flail in clumsy (or sinful) behavior we console ourselves: "If I had said _______ then they would have agreed! And if the circumstances had just been a little different I would have done right." We blame our failings on the externals... I'm the hero of my story.

When we then turn to the screen, we see the protagonist and imagine: "Ah. This person is the main character (like me). So s/he is the hero (like me)." And even though 'relatability is a trap--[a] cage for artistic ambition,' most viewers try to relate or see themselves in the shoes of the hero. When the character breaks out of that mold by doing something *I wouldn't do* then we react like pushing a parasite out of our body. We don't have to be taught to treat protagonists as heroes, it's simply our disposition. Something Disney reinforced by following our dreams in the shoes of one-dimensional princesses/kings. And something parents and teachers reinforced in the stories they told: children's stories like Aesop's, or retelling stories in child-fashion (eg. Sunday school Noah/Jonah/Gideon/David).

The truly phenomenal stories are the ones that develop a dozen (complicated) characters so well that you don't view any single one as *me* or as *hero*, but you view them as a cohesive whole. Playing to one another's strengths and weaknesses. Acting wisely even in moral ambiguity--since there is often more than one 'good' action to be taken. Stories like these are found in Tolkien's works, Doestoyevsky, Jane Austen, Alexander Dumas, Shakespeare. These stories teach people to analyze virtue and wisdom in the context of relationships and circumstances.

And certainly, if someone is going to make a character all-good, that character will have to be God... or else they will be bound by human limitations (or quasi-human limitations) and will fail to be all-good at a moment need.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Common Christian Misunderstanding: Don't Judge

Perhaps I should stop saying that [this] one or [that] one is popular. After all, that is part of the point of the ‘common.’ Nonetheless: this one is widely believed and thought true by many Christians and countless unbelievers too.

“Don’t judge” comes in many forms including:
“I don’t mean to judge, but ____________________”
“Only God can judge me”
“Stop judging me! You can’t tell me what ________________!”

In fact just typing them gives me a bad taste in my mouth, and I feel I should cleanse my palate with ginger and water.

Where does the idea come from? In my honest opinion I think it comes from gross individualization, and overpronounced postmodern existentialism. In simple terms: selfishness. It’s sad that such arrogant self-focus can be shoved onto the teachings of Jesus, but that’s what happens. Already convinced that “my way is most important” and that “nobody can tell me what I can/’t do” indoctrinated into us American people by our psychologized parents, we read passages like Matthew 7.1-6:
“Judge not, that you be not judged.  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.
And we automatically assume it means. Never tell someone “no.” Never correct someone. Never rebuke someone. A lot of good that would do our corporate world—with no just grounds for employee evaluation or dismissal from jobs; indeed with no grounds for ethical legislation. You’d see a lot of… well, what we see now: people suing others left and right (and the very reason that they sue discredits their own case). We would see legislation that attempts to make everything acceptable except for deeming something inacceptable. We would see the intolerance of so-called ‘tolerance’ which demands (not just coexistence, but) co-agreement while pulling the trap-door lever beneath them. All the while remaining positively blind to their own illogic.

“First walk a mile in his moccasins” or some variant of the Native American proverb assumes a ‘second’ action. First walk… then talk. And the same with Jesus words: first remove your obstruction, then remove theirs.

The Bible constantly teaches that there is judgment we must make in everyday life. Judge this day whom you will serve. Does the passage actually say “choose”? Maybe, of course if you don’t know Hebrew, how would you know how closely related choose and judge are? The fact is every decision is an act of judgment: I choose this thing which means I choose against that thing. Sometimes there is no choice which is ‘more right’ than another, but sometimes there is. And removing the possibility of judgment across-the-board will absolutely help no one.

What if Jesus is talking about condemnation? What he means: Don’t condemn someone because they will condemn you. And don’t even try to remove their speck. At least not until you’ve removed your plank. After you’ve removed your plank, then help them remove their speck. But make sure you do it with the right person--the one who won't trample your gracious correction and then attack you with condemnation (and violence). The idea of judgment-condemnation in this passage is distinct: it entails an upfront, unapologetic criticism. But Jesus invites us to judge. He invites us to judge-discern whois a worthy recipient (v.6). He tells us that are responsible for choosing rightly. He tells us that we are to correct our sinful neighbors. He tells us that we are responsible for judging amongst Christians because we will one day be set as judge over his messengers (poss. angels). He tells us that he is the ultimate judge. And one day he will judge! Oh, that we would accept the judgment of our neighbors before we approach his judgment throne! Oh that we would accept the correction offered by his servants before the great judgment when we cannot turn back. Judging rightly is a blessed gift that God has given his rational, moral creation, and Oh, that we practiced it rightly instead of maintaining our state of insolence with the wrath of God hanging over our head.

In the words of my friend Alex, “You would so much rather me judge you than God.”

Other articles in this series:


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Book Review: Chance and the Sovereignty of God

Vern Poythress sets out to instruct (mostly) Christians in the coherence and randomness God has given us in this world. I say ‘mostly Christians’ because he allows room for unbelievers to read and follow his arguments, but his book is quite explicitly theistic; and while Poythress offers sound mathematics and logic, this book is only an Apologetic, not an Evangelistic—and although I was convinced of the Theo-centricity of his arguments concerning chance, probability, coherence, and harmony, I am also in his same camp and cannot properly evaluate how ‘an outsider’ would respond to his depictions.

Book thesis: We need to look at the nature of chance not only to address personal questions that we have about the meaning of everyday events in human life, but to address the issue of what confidence we should have in the sciences and their claims. (15)

Poythress includes several common reasons people are interested in the idea of chance and the sovereignty of God as a stimulant: “Why did my family escape the mountain highway accident? Why did another person suffer from a ‘chance accident?” “Is God in charge of these ‘accidental’ events or not?” Of course, these are excellent questions, and fortunately I believe Poythress well answers them—at least to the extent of which our human knowledge is capable, a point Poythress is astute to frequently return to. In fact, there are several ideas Poythress often elucidates that could be said form the core of his presentation:

  • God is infinitely knowledgeable and wise.
  • Man is finitely knowledgeable and wise—patterned after God’s own.
  • There is harmony between the world and our thoughts because God created it, and we think his thoughts after him.
  • God has created laws of chance and probability which he controls.
  • We cannot expect God to alter outcomes for personal benefit/detriment, though he can.
  • If God does not control chance, then another god must—whom materialists call Chance.

Of course, with nearly 350 pages, Poythress fills in all the gaps, supports, and draws further conclusions such as the probability that God exits—a mathematical question; the futility of gambling—though many of us want to doubt his veracity; classic math problems like the game show and the same birthday questions; and the ‘just so happens’ serendipity that influences so much of our life.

I’m aware that some reviewers have claimed that the mathematical portions are too full of calculations and not for the average reader. While it’s true that the math will not make sense to all, I believe Poythress made the math as accessible as possible. In other words: if you failed your college math class and aren’t willing to spend time trying to understand, the math sections will be disappointing; and since the math sections are what give support to Poythress’ claims, you will be left slightly unconvinced.

Poythress is thorough. In fact, that’s the only thing I would have had changed. Poythress offers equation after equation after equation and chapter after chapter after chapter elaborating on the major principles time and again. By the end, no one will have said he left anything out; but some will never get to the end for that very reason. I’m aware that in mathematics, it’s necessary to prove everything in ways that logic might mistakenly call “circular,” but it may be too much for the non-mathematician to handle with perpetual excitement. That being said, I believe the book is excellent in all categories, and it certainly deserves some time: perhaps just not all that it requires.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in mathematical philosophy, as well as any apologist in a collegiate setting. And perhaps the pastor in a college-city.

10/10 in Theology, in Math, in Accessibility, in answering Thesis

Comparable to no books of which I’m aware, though it’s closely related to a series by Poythress on the sciences: “Redeeming…”

I hope that you walk away with deeper assurance in the loving hand of our sovereign God and delight in the mastery of his creation.

[[This review is crosslisted on Goodreads and Amazon]]
[[[This book was received through Crossway's Beyond the Page program]]]

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Common Christian Misunderstanding: "Jesus Hung Out with Sinners"

This one’s pretty popular: “Jesus hung out with sinners, so we should too.”
Sometimes they get more specific: “Jesus hung out with tax-collectors and prostitutes, so __________________” in order to justify whatever it is they’re doing. Like hanging out at strip clubs… or going to frat parties… or dating an unbeliever.

You’ve heard it before too, haven’t you?

Well, before we affirm what’s true in the thought and statement, we first need to call out what’s wrong.

It’s Plainly Untrue

Put simple and clear: the statement is untrue. Give me your evidence if you can. I find it interesting that the people who say this most often are people I wouldn’t trust to know that there are four Gospel books, or that the kingdom is Jesus’ chief theme in three of them. But such people certainly know that Jesus hung out with sinners even if they “don’t care about theology, but the practical stuff that’s relevant to my life” like ‘hanging out with sinners.’ The few who are a bit better versed in Scripture point out the feast with Levi in Luke 5 or Jesus’ compassion on Mary Magdalene (who’s never actually said to be a prostitute, by the way).

But in reality Jesus didn’t ‘hang out’ with these people. He hung out with his disciples. He himself personally selected and called 12 men to be his students and friends. One of them was a tax collector, yes. One of them was a political revolutionary, yes. Most of them looked with lust, I’m sure, but Jesus didn’t spend evenings at the Venus’ Brothel, he spent them with his disciples—teaching them on a boat; he spent them with Mary and Martha dining in communion; he spent them in the Judaic Temple asking questions of the teachers; he spent them praying alone on a mountain or in a garden.

When we say “hang out” we mean “spend time with,” and we imply “participate with.” Jesus didn’t follow Levi or Zacchaeus around helping him extort people; and he didn’t talk with the Samaritan woman at the well about how good the sex was with another woman’s husband. Jesus doesn’t and never has delighted in sin. He didn’t hang out with sinners, he called them to repentance. He didn’t come and lay with sick, he came as physician to heal them. As he walked passed Levi’s tax booth, he told him: “Follow me,” not “See you tomorrow, bro, we’re gonna get rich.” As he talked with the adulterous woman caught, he told her “Sin no more.” Jesus called sinners to repentance. Jesus healed the broken. Jesus brought dead to life. And to say anything less is to minimize the love and power and justice of God. Can you imagine Jesus catching up on the latest Kama Sutra buzz in the brothels when he will sit in his judgment throne in the last day and sentence them to second death? How horrendous; what a moral monster God would be!

Hold up: Aren’t we all Sinners?

Yes. It’s true. We are all sinners. And his disciples were sinners too. And he did spend time with his disciples. But if you’ll let me use some philosophy with you: Jesus is the reference point, not the disciples. In other words: the disciples hung out with Jesus, not the other way around. Jesus was the standard to which they were being called and carried along. They participated in his doings, not vice versa. That’s why Jesus goes on and does his own thing from time to time without his disciples. He often prays by himself. And occasionally he rejoins the disciples on a boat… for which he gave the direction. Jesus didn’t join the zealot, the tax collector, the fishermen, etc. They joined him. Jesus operates on his own time and will—just look at the wedding in Cana: “Woman, what is that to you and me? My time is not yet come.” Even when Jesus calls his disciples friends, isn’t it interesting that he positions it, “I call you friends” and not “I am your friend”(Jn.13.12-17)? The reference point is Jesus; he is whom we must acquiesce to .

But can’t we say that Jesus could have hypothetically spent time in the brothel and still have been the so-called ‘reference point’? Yes, I suppose so, but he didn’t do that. He had a public ministry for three years, and his closest followers recorded that he spent most of his time teaching people… in synagogue, at Temple, on hillside, and more intimately in rooms. Having dinner with his few closest followers.

What’s Good and Right about ‘Hanging Out with Sinners’?

But I must remember that every perversion has a true gene within, and so what is good and right about this idea?

1.)    It reveals, hopefully, a heart for the lost, hurt, and broken
Jesus did come and call the sinners to repentance, but he had to interact with them somehow sometimes in order to do so. I submit that most of them followed him and came to hear him. After all, Levi seems particularly prepared to get up and follow Jesus in Lk.5. Zacchaeus climbed a sycamore tree to catch a glimpse. The adulterous woman came to wipe his feet uninvited. But Jesus did go through Samaria on purpose. And he did spend much time in the slums of Galilee. And he did go to the pool where the self-absorbed cripple lay. And I hope that we too care for those who need care. But we can do so in places and times that aren’t explicitly sinful and debauch.

2.)    It recognizes tension between what is and what should be

Jesus—the perfect man; the holy God—who is light came and dwelt among the darkness. We are all darkness, and Jesus is wholly light; but still he came, and still he called us. It doesn’t make sense… because it shouldn’t make sense: because in the presence of God sin cannot remain and dwell. And so it will be one day. When we are fully sanctified and made perfect, we will dwell with God in perfect harmony. That’s no reason to bash and criticize a Christian because they enjoy church and community groups—that their primary friends are Christians; it’s a reminder that they desire what will be reality in time soon come. And it’s a reminder that it’s not yet that time. And so we refresh and enjoy friends, and we call and welcome sinners… and we are the reference point in Christ. We are the ones who pursue life the way it ought to be lived, and we call the sinner to Christ.

Related articles:

Other articles in this series:


Saturday, September 27, 2014

One Year Reflections, Guest Post in Lessons Abroad

We have another article in our Lessons Abroad series, and I trust, as always, that it will encourage your faith.

Lord of the Cloud and the Fire,

I am a stranger, with a stranger’s indifference;
My hands hold a pilgrim’s staff,
My march is Zionward,
My eyes are toward the coming of the Lord,
My heart is in thy hands without reserve.

A most appropriate prayer for all Christians, especially for me in my most immediate context abroad. I have successfully lived (that is, survived) an entire year away from my country of citizenship. Lord willing, I will live another year here in the Middle Kingdom, a place that strangely captures your heart. Though certainly still a novice at this whole “living abroad” thing, there are some things I will undoubtedly walk away with in the wisdom graciously given to me by God. So, besides a new language, what have I learned these last 12 months in the mountains of Yunnan?

1. Home is where Christ is
Whether from friends and family in America, or from locals and expats here in China, I get this question a lot: When are you going back home? A fair question, since I have been traveling quite extensively for some time. But I don’t like that question. I don’t like it because it’s wrong. California is not my home. The grand ol’ US of A isn’t either. Nor is it any Christian’s. The Apostle Peter refers to his readers as sojourners and exiles, because they wait eagerly for their true home, a New Jerusalem. Indeed, and so do I. Do I miss America? Some days, very much so. But am I learning and understanding a new language and culture and even experiencing a new normal? Again, yes. But all of this is fluid. Whether I am in California eating Chipotle or in China ordering a bowl of noodles, I am a sojourner passing through this broken world, waiting for the next, where Christ is king and all things are made new. My true citizenship is not defined by what passport I hold, but by who has redeemed me.

2. Cultural roots are deeper than you might expect
Let me swing the pendulum the other direction. As the Lord has sanctified my heart in longing for my true, heavenly home, it has surprisingly come with an increased appreciation for American culture. If you’ve studied culture for any length of time, one of the first lessons is always, “Different doesn’t mean bad.” So, just because another culture does something different than your own culture, it does not necessarily mean they are wrong and you are right. And with that I give a hearty amen. However, as I discover these differences, I can’t help but sometimes prefer my own. And I think that’s okay. I’ve come to love (well, mostly) the culture I was raised in. I love telling students what life is like in California, not because it’s better but because it’s different. As I celebrate their holidays I get to share with them the holidays Americans celebrate and why. So somehow, in all this Asia living, I guess distance really does make the heart grow fonder. We often reflect on all the peoples of the world one day worshiping the Risen King. Each will do so uniquely with their own tongue and cultural expression. I can’t wait to be apart of that, using my own heart language and singing old historic hymns that have shaped our Western Church.

3. Gospel Goodbyes have become a regular part of life
Goodbyes are never easy. And, in fact, rather than getting easier, I believe that the more frequent they are, the harder they get. As a group of expats and I sat in a living room on a recent Sunday morning, we listened to Matt Chandler preach. For a few minutes he discussed these things called “gospel goodbyes.” And, to paraphrase, a gospel goodbye is when one follows the Lord to another physical location sacrificing deep friendships along the way. And indeed, how hard gospel goodbyes are. China was not a whim decision. It was concluded and made clear only after many months of prayer by others and myself. But it came with a price. I said goodbye to my family. I said goodbye to the friends who knew me deepest. I said goodbye to my church and the students I invested my life in. I missed weddings. I’m still missing weddings. And now, as my life has sort of started over, I will one day say goodbye to my local friends and my expat friends, now the people that understand me best. It is likely that after two years here I will never see most of these people again. Not until we arrive home, that is. So why did I do it? Why do I still do it? Why don’t I regret it? Because knowing and obeying Jesus is supreme. The joy of following Christ; the joy of yielding to his will; the joy of surrendering my life and comforts, is greater than any friendship I have here. And he is faithful. He has sustained me.

4. Oh, how sweet his sovereignty is
Uh oh, a Calvinist talking about sovereignty. Here comes Romans 9. Just kidding. Though I unashamedly hold a high view of the sovereignty of God in salvation, the Lord has taught me much about his sovereignty in daily life these last 12 months. I was so busy in college. My schedule was demanding. And that produced a (mostly) productive and efficient lifestyle. Then I came abroad... Today it took me twice as long to get home from school because I got off on the wrong subway stop (and it took me awhile to realize it!). There are many things I still can’t do because of the language barrier. Some days I ask God, and myself “What did I even get done today?” Which, after a few of those in a row turns into, “What did I even get done this week?” Then “…this month?” and so on. One of my biggest fears is that I will waste my two years overseas. The problem with that thought is that it simply is not possible. If the Lord really did lead me abroad—which I am more than confident he did—then none of this is a waste. Because with the same purpose he brought me here he keeps me here. Certainly the sovereign God of the universe did not guide me here only to have me figure it out on my own. No, he is still sovereign over life. Even on the other side of the world he guides my path, he opens doors, and sometimes he even closes them. It is in this my heart rests.

So what have I learned in a year? Well, a lot I guess. Even though I have a new love for the culture in which I was raised, it is certainly not my home. And even in the confusion of feeling unproductive or un-useful after hard gospel goodbyes, the Lord is sovereign still. 

Whatever my lot,
Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Ultimately, this I know. I love Jesus more now than I did a year ago.


Other articles in this series:

Other related articles:


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

If God is perfect and perfectly deserving of all glory; if God is able to accomplish and reigns over the world, then I must believe that everything which occurs is necessarily the best means to the best end(s).

If God is perfectly deserving of all glory, and perfectly accomplishes that which is good—it is good that he receive all glory due his name—then God perfectly pursues and effects his glory.

God does not fail in procuring his honor and worship.

God does not fail in pursuing good.

God does not fail in accomplishing his intent. 

God has established a good and perfect end—this is undisputed in Christendom.

Curiously: it is often debated or questioned that the means God uses are similarly good and perfect.

In fact: such a thought is so problematic that many Christians remove God from the equation indeterminately: “God will win in the end, but for now evil reigns.”

But that does not agree with Scripture. Throughout the testaments it is God who reigns. And all evil is subordinate to God: “For the earth was subjected to futility by him who subjected it in hope…” It appears to the Psalmists that the enemies of the righteous have the upper hand, but so they pray to God for deliverance—because he maintains control (as Adam Ford has pointed out: what’s the point in praying if God is not sovereign?).

Do you believe that God is good?
Do you believe that God is perfect?
Do you believe that God is in control?
Do you believe that God is wise?

Then you must also believe that history is perfect. No—I don’t simply intend: a necessary evil; a justifiable means to a better end. I mean that it is a the best means to the best end. That history is a good in itself [because] of God himself.

Anything less than such belief is a biblically unsupported faith.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Introduction: Through the Bible

Here begins a 68-segment video series through the Bible. I intend to record and post a video approximately once a week dealing with a book of the Bible. Next week however, will be an overview of the Bible as a whole. And then we should be moving through the 66 books of the Old and New Testament (no apocrypha or pseudepigrapha), recognizing the traditional divisions in an English bible.

If you have any questions about something I've said, unclear or vague, then let me know in the comments and I'll provide a response.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Guest Post: Spiritual Gifts

 (This post is part of a series in Lessons Abroad, learned and explained by my dear friend Alexander Hannis. His first post can be found here.)

I swear I’ve taken nearly a hundred spiritual gift tests (who hasn’t?). I have listened to lectures, sermons, and academic debates on the gifts. Heck, I’ve still got my sermon notes from when I preached on them. I’m by no means a charismatic, and I’ve never been a cessasionist. Personally, I’ve always taken more interest in the more mundane, non-miraculous spiritual gifts. I praise God that he has created each believer to participate regularly in different ways with different gifts for the benefit of the Body of Christ.

I spent the latter part of high school and most of college distinguishing the gifts God has given me. Over time, it was revealed to me by peers, professors, fellow church members, experience and of course the all-knowing spiritual gift test that I have some ability and enjoyment to teach. Now, I was probably more in my element at a Corner Bakery exegeting Ephesians with 5 teens than I was on stage preaching to 100. Nevertheless, this began to be one of the primary ways I desired to serve my church. Not because I think they need to hear what I have to say, but because I felt this was one specific way I could use my understanding of my gift for the Bride of Christ.

But the question I have learned to wrestle with over the past nine months is this: What if you are in a season in your life when you are unable to use your gift(s)? I haven’t heard a sermon on that one yet. I left Cal Baptist as an affirmed teacher. I showed up in East Asia as a student. I couldn’t speak the language. I didn’t know the culture. I couldn’t help or teach anyone. I used to joke that I felt like an adult baby everyday for the first few months. Since then I have become more of a toddler, semi-self sustaining. But I’m not in any real, consistent teaching role. And honestly, teaching is only one gift I haven’t been able to use, and the one I chose to use as my example.

I’m still a student of this culture and language. And I will be until the day I return to the States. So what have I been doing in the meantime if I haven’t been using my gifts? The Spirit has worked and sanctified me in new ways. That is, I have been forced to work on areas of my obedience that have been lacking. One of the biggest examples would be hospitality. I have been blessed with an above average sized apartment here. I use it regularly to host my local (and sometimes foreign) friends. As I desire future eldership, 1 Timothy 3 explains that he must be able to teach, but he must also be hospitable.  So is it possible that the Lord has willed a season of learning instead of teaching, for the purpose of a more well-rounded, humble journey of obedience? I think so.

Romans 8:28 explains that for all those who love God, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. The purpose, I believe, is found in the following verse: to be conformed to the image of his son, Jesus. Therefore, I have full confidence that God is using this seemingly frustrating season of my life to further sanctify and conform me to Jesus Christ.  All of this by means of other routes of service and obedience that I am not necessarily comfortable or familiar with.

All glory be to God. Amen.

Other Articles in this Series:

Monday, June 23, 2014

I Subscribe to Heretics

On my various social networks I subscribe to heretics, false teachers, dramatic teenagers, wicked sinners, edgy satire, and arrogant ‘Christians.’ On my bookshelves sit books by Rob Bell, Jacques Derrida, Rousseau, Nietzsche, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Philip Pullman, Leo Tolstoy, and even J.K. Rowling. Now some of these persons have exponentially more merit than others, and I would even prefer reading what they’ve written over many bestsellers in the Christian bookstores (which are all too full of false teachers themselves). Even in my Spotify account, I follow such unsavory characters as Nicki Minaj, Jack Johnson, Lily Allen, and Macklemore. But this isn’t a confession and declaration of repentance. In fact I intend to continue paying attention to these people and others. But neither is this a request for you to follow suit: I do not know your tendencies toward sin, and which temptations would cause you to mistrust God. So instead, this is an explanation of my reasons.

I Do Not Approve of What They Write

Although it should be relatively obvious, I’ll say it clearly: as a general rule I do not approve and agree with what they write. However, as the old saying goes: even a broken clock is right twice a day. And those two statements give me enough reason to pay attention to what these people say. I receive daily emails from a LinkedIn Group that question the basic tenets of Christian faith, and deny them. I open my email in the morning and see questions like, “Do you believe Jesus is God?” and answers like, “No” or “Interesting question” or some strange hybrid of Buddhist ‘Christianity.’ Other questions include: “What would change if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead” (the overwhelming answer: nothing, and many denials that he did rise from the dead) –or- “How could Jesus reference Adam and Eve or Noah and the flood with authority?” (implying that we know these accounts are wholly false). I read such things and find them absurd and logically fallacious. But I still briefly read them. Why? Because…
1.)    My heart grieves, and I know that when my heart ceases to grieve I am in danger of losing the heart of Jesus for the world
2.)    My anger is kindled, and I know that when I cease to become angry I am in danger of compromising truth
3.)    My mind is forced to defend and reconcile truths
4.)    If I agree with what they’ve said, I must first examine myself and second learn humility in accepting truth from whatever its source
But my [Heresy] for Today LinkedIn Group isn’t the only one. (Thank my fiancée for that nickname.) All of us are friends with dramatic teenagers on Facebook, and follow them on Instagram and Twitter; we are frequently bombarded with desperate statements about friendship and silly statements about love. Does your heart grieve? Do you pray for them? And we all have ‘that friend’ who posts arrogant and insensitive statements about Christianity. Are you angered against pride and all evil? Do you pray for them? Do you pray for yourself, that you might not be like them? Or do you criticize them… and so become the very person you despised.

I’m aware that my modus operandi isn’t valid for everyone. The kids in my youth group would fall sway to the deceits couched in melody. Rocks dull and blunt blades, but they can also sharpen them if you use them correctly.

I Need to Be Reminded of What’s Alive in the World

Nearly all of my friends are believers. I hardly have a handful of unbelievers. So while most of my friends are encouraging and refreshing; while they can and do point me to the grace of God revealed in Christ… my life can become insular. Church on Sundays. Church on Wednesdays. Church peeps on the others. A churchly fiancée. All of this is good in its own right, but I can easily forget the insanity that wreaks havoc on the world at large. I see the world when I grocery shop, go on a date, drive in the car, but for the most part my imagination of the way life works is formed by the beautiful bride of Christ. Beautiful and desirable she is, but she is also incomplete. And I need to be reminded of what’s alive in the world. I need Lily Allen to tell me what goes through her mind when she hits the club or falls in love. I need Nietzsche to express the fatalistic nihilism that saturates so many minds. I need arrogant Christians to remind me that Jesus’ representatives often fail, and my unbelieving friends have probably been exposed to a few. I need Jehovah’s Witnesses to show me that they are offering a counterfeit gospel in almost the exact language I would use in a street evangelism conversation. I need dramatic teenagers to weep worldwide tears on Twitter so that I remember the 13 year olds I talk to on Wednesdays have a small picture of life and their position before God. I need these people to tell me that they don’t know Jesus so I can stop assuming that everybody is filled with peace and joy, struggling against sin, and looking forward to Jesus’ eschatological kingdom.

Perhaps your life is filled with worldly sinners, and these things would be unworthily burdensome. But perhaps your life is surrounded by Christians, and these things would be worthwhile to notice.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Prayer for Your Sunday Evening

Timeless and Tireless Lord Jesus,

Another week has gone or come depending on how I look at it. But either way, when I’m honest with myself I can hardly remember a single minute as distinct from another… let alone distinct seconds… like those ones where in your eternal wisdom you stopped me with a traffic signal; or the ones where my clamorous alarm disturbed my sleep and felt entitled to more rest. Seconds, mere seconds, in the scope of eternity and they seemed mountainous at the time. True, you have made me a dynamic, time-bound, and finite creature who must deal with events as they happen—so it’s fine that I do, but how often did those moments turn to sin? How many seconds did I waste away apart from your glorious joy and peace? In those regretful moments I doubted your goodness and your wisdom, and so now… days later I ask forgiveness. You are my Protector and my Guide but I assailed you. Forgive me. I know now that every single moment is intended to bring about eternal goodness for me and everyone else who loves you, but time after time I forget it—or call it lie. Forgive me and every other one of your children who has done so this week. Restore us to an awareness of your being. Eternal, infinite, powerful, good, Savior, Creator, Provider, Redeemer, Father, Love, Deliver, King, conquering Priest, Holy One—you are. Remind me.

It is easy to make the big jump: it’s easy to promise that when it comes down to it I would sacrifice my life, a martyr for your name. But it’s much, much more difficult to live in the menial and tedious moments in such a way that I truly consider you worthy of sacrifice. Self-sacrifice in monotony is immensely more difficult than self-sacrifice in a flash of glory… at least it certainly seems that way. In the same way, it’s easy for me to know and remember that all things weave together for the sanctifying good of your people, but it’s much more difficult to remember that in ‘chance’ events in miniscule degree, the same is true. So please sanctify me to such a degree that I doubt not your providential hand in minutiae, but instead can show unto others the presence of peace you offer because of your wondrous acts. Make me like you as much and moreso as Phileas Fogg—never regretting a moment of mischance but engaging it for all you have prepared it to be worth. When trapped by an overhanging red signal, compel me to breathe deeply and enjoy the world around me. When coerced by pseudo-melodies to leave dreamland, impress my mind with a semblance of waking from death to life through your renewing Spirit.

Do not let me forsake the small things. It is only because of Christ’s own incarnate righteousness that I know this is even possible, but now I ask that you unite me unto him in greater measure. May my life reflect such reality.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Common Christian Misunderstanding: "God Helps Those Who Help Themselves"

I’m quite sure you’ve hear the statement before. Perhaps it was in the form of an encouragement, perhaps in the form of a correction or rebuke, perhaps even in the form of a defense. Whatever the circumstances may have been, our next common misunderstanding is the belief that “God helps those who help themselves.”

What are they actually saying?

Those who say this and believe it are saying some variant of “If I do my part God will do his.” It can be particularly reciprocal: “If I scratch his back, he’ll scratch mine,” or legalistic: “God will only show his goodness if I am good first,” or manipulative: “God! I did this, so you owe me.”

But what do they think they’re saying? Something much more admirable, to be sure. They’re trying to recognize some degree of ‘synergism’ or ‘working together’ with God. If you’ve followed the recent happenings with TGC and Tullian, you know that synergism is a hotly-debated topic. Nonetheless there is a type of synergism that everyone would agree to: God has chosen to work through means. Under ordinary circumstances, God uses ordinary means to achieve his desired ends—also known as providence. God typically uses rain to water the ground. God typically uses gravity to draw the rain to the ground. God typically uses the mass of the earth to create its gravitational pull. And on and on we go. Similarly God uses humans to accomplish his mission upon the earth. God has instituted and established certain laws and principles by which life abides—just read the Proverbs of King Solomon. In his wisdom, Yahweh has provided for societies to be built, and for economies to subsist. He has given unto men and women work to be accomplished. So in a way… yes: God has provided means to those [helps those] that they might sustain life [who help themselves]. But  that is not what most actually mean (see above paragraph).

A greater truth…

Actually, we ought to be ecstatic that “helping ourselves” isn’t prerequisite. Because the reality is that we are all helpless beggars, in treason from the law of God and in rebellion against his person stumbling along and making use of his generous provision—from the slightest breath to the most pronounced intelligence and voice. God is the initiator. He is the first cause. And with his unwarranted generosity, we would be left desolate and destitute destined for asphyxiation. No, but far from it: God looks to those who are humble and contrite in heart (Is.60), he shows grace to the poor (Mt.5) and the ones who weep and mourn. The desperate and needy are precisely those who receive unfathomable mercy and grace from the abounding goodness of God. In other words… God helps those who cannot help themselves.

In grace, Christ has appeared to us while we were trapped in the dominion of death and sin. He has liberated us.

We who could do no good, and could not even lift our eyes to the heavens without worshiping creation—us has he wakened.

Who can ascend the hill of the Lord? Only the one who is pure and upright in heart. That was none of us, but now it is any who believe in Jesus; for we have received his righteousness in place of our own.

God does not need you to be good for him first, so that he can finally pour into you the blessings he’s been longing to give. Contrary to what some people believe, God can break into your heart whether you’ve opened it or not; God can break into your mind whether you’ve opened it or not. God is omnipotent, and you cannot compete against omnipotence. God will do whatsoever he will do. You’re the one who has to respond.


Instead of throwing off the sheets and jumpstarting your life agenda… spend a few minutes or a couple hours in solitary dependence upon the gracious and wise, all powerful God who supplies you with all your needs; who has worked even before you have. And then get out there and accomplish the good works he has prepared in advance for you to do (Eph.2.10).

Others in this series:

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Nomad, a parable

Aimless he seemed to go, though not straining left or right--but endless, endless, endless. On he walked. At times guided by vision, sometimes sound, and occasionally in those tight, damp places--touch.

More than once he traveled through the same place again, but few if any saw him return from whence he came.

They simply watched on, only half-realizing his presence. Unmistakable and hard to miss, but dreadfully difficult to notice. Perhaps embroidered on the fringe of their mind there was a pleasant scent... a warm spring breeze of sorts.

A memory, though, is usually all it was because the real presence of the nomad was so natural that only rebels and stock brokers took notice.


Was there one alone in the lands? None might say with certainty for while often two passed in proximate time too close to be one, or three passed too close to be two... yet their likeness was so akin that even politicians could not divide the few. And any time several were seen at the same instant... circumstances forbade certain proof. Desert weather may give hallucinations as much as far view and rain weather might impel even locals a course of safety pursue.

Of course unnature should say that a nomad who walks for centuries must have died. But legends of old rumor it is the same man walking thence as now.


Measured at 30 miles a day for the pace of an average man might yield two-ten by the seventh. But the nomad is rumored never to rest. Even so, with 30 for a day, a distance can be achieved. To the ends of the earth a nomad might reach well before the third year of wandering. But perhaps that is too small a feat for the nomad because rumor and legend are whispered of late that the nomad walks not to sea or shore but to the sun.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Why I Appreciate Nightmares

Dreams are strange to me. I know there must be psychological and circumstantial reasons why I dream what I do. If I fall asleep thinking about a person or incident, often my dream(s) involve those elements. But not always. And sometimes my dreams have nothing to do with anything logical or any past experiences. Dream interpreters have been around for millennia—those who find intended meaning in dreams: dream journals, dream decoders, dream catchers. God has spoken through dreams in the past… even for eternally significant purposes. Even today there are stories of conversions in the deep parts of the world because God appeared to a man/woman in a dream and told them or showed them something. Those of us who aren’t Pentecostal are hesitant to affirm such ‘testimonies,’ but why? Do we not believe that God is sovereign and capable of preparing a dream for you and me? Yes, there are psychological reasons, and circumstantial reasons for our dreams, but nothing escapes the guiding hand of Yahweh.

Recently I had something of a nightmare.

But instead of dreading it upon waking up, I was curious and satisfied.

Here are two reasons you can try to appreciate your next ‘bad dream.’

ONE: The “Oh, so that’s how it works” Effect

When we are awake, we could talk days on the hypotheticals:

  • What if… zombies started to overrun the world? Would you pack up and run? Would you grab a gun and kill? Would you buckle and hide? Would you accept your fate?
  • What if… somebody broke into your house… what would you do?
  • What if there really was a giant spider who found its way into your room?
  • What if you got in a car crash with your loved ones?

Some of the more incredible ones (like zombies) are fun to discuss because if we’re honest, most of wouldn’t make it past the opening sequence in a movie, let alone be the last man (or woman) standing. But in our talking we are working with hubris and pride and incredulity.

Transpose the same event from dialogue into dreamland, and you get a different story. In your dream, where you assume that everything is reality, you respond to a situation as if you were in that situation. You aren’t telling your friends, “Oh—I would grab a sword and fight until my dying breath.” Instead… you are actually grabbing a sword or offering surrender as the case may be. It's the "Oh, so that's what I'd actually do" or the "Oh, so that's how that would work." Sure pride infests our dreams to some extent, and I may not actually be as skilled in par core as I like to dream, but the ultimate payoff of nightmares isn’t in “jump through the window, tuck and roll, et cetera, et cetera.”

It’s much more foundational than that. It reveals your character when hard pressed.

In the tough situations, do I care for loved ones or my own survival? Am I bold and haughty or am I sly and sneaky? Am I resourceful and creative? Am I quick or disbelieving? The "Oh, so that's how it works" is subservient to the greater knowledge: "Oh, so that's who I am." And that is very valuable. That shows us where we need to experience the grace of Christ in effecting righteousness.

Of course the very circumstances of your dream may reveal something about you too: how do you perceive life and the world? Is it kind of like a war? Like a dangerous (mis)adventure? Like a struggle to maintain family and friends? Like a monotonous drone with unexpected surprises? And how can your worldview shift to encompass everything God has told us about the world?

TWO: The Numinous

There’s a term in philosophy: numinous. People have used it in nuanced ways, but I’ll give you an acceptable generalization. The numinous is the confrontation of an overwhelming sense of spiritual dread: it is a fearful overcoming. It is a sense of inescapable ill fate.

I’m not sure who first said that horror genre can be party to the numinous in beneficial ways for the Christian, but I agree. In my Christian context, the Fear of the Lord, the trembling at his might and righteous judgment is sorely lacking. I know and her often that God is compassionate and loving and savior. And I need to hear it more than I already do. But I also need to know that God is a mighty tempest threatening to sink me below the deeps; that he is an uproarious earthquake who can swallow families whole; a King who will make war with the sword from his mouth. God will bend back the heavens and climb into the world to decimate wickedness. But I don’t hear that very often.

Horror stories try to revive this sense. I just read I Am Legend and a series of short stories by Richard Matheson. They fit into this horror genre, and they were absolutely excellent. And one thing they provided was a sense of numinous. The last man alive in the world is nightly threatened by the inescapable precipice of death. The spirit-doll is relentless in accomplishing his dreadful mission—nothing can stop it and the blade he wields. The sinister husband is wicked. The little girl cannot suppress the evil dominion of the dress.

And nightmares can do the same. They present you with a reality of dread, a sense of inescapable, insurmountable fear. Raw power whispers with serpentine lips, “You will fear.”

Nightmares can instill within us the forgotten knowledge of a mighty God of raw power. It can show us again that as enemies of God, we were children of wrath and fear, but in his adoptive care we are utterly loved. It can give us a fear of disobedience lest we come under the crushing arm of the God who speaks galaxies into existence, who limits tsunamis, and relaxes tornadoes.

Thanks be to Christ Jesus who is God the Son, for his love casts out our fear of judgment and replaces it with a solace of his love. His righteousness replaces our ineptitude and gives us hope.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Messy and Complex Reality of Love

Please feel free to use this Prezi to help understanding.

It’s spring, and love is in the air. At least it’s supposed to be. But here in Southern California, the heat waves followed by wind storms are more likely to aggravate people than to cheer them up. In fact, the general cheer and benevolence during Christmas seems much more love-saturated than the season when school is weighing heavy upon minds and people are looking for new jobs. Even St. Valentine’s Day passed several months ago, and ‘Ring by spring’ didn’t actualize for many of my friends. For those following the liturgical calendar, it is the second week of Easter with today commemorating Saints Philip and James, but the majority of the world couldn’t care less that Philip showed love to countless people by proclaiming the love of God incarnate, dying, and living evermore—first to the Ethiopian official and then across the ancient world. Nor do they care that James was the first martyr, beheaded for his love of Jesus.

Tonight I teach the junior high of my church about love. But they’ve been taught be hundreds of thousands of television commercials, movies, magazines, tweets, Instagram photos, Facebook posts, UpWorthy videos, vines, novels, friends, moms, weddings, store aisles, coffee mugs, jean pockets, tattoos, billboards, demons, and sinful hearts that love… is romance, and romance feels like helium in my stomach and a swelling sponge for my heart. And it is my job to begin to undo everything they’ve ever been taught and likely will be taught about love. Pray for me.

For the world around us, love is easy. And if it’s not easy, then it’s not love. It’s something that happens to you, not something you have to strive toward… in fact, if you’re working toward it, then you aren’t loving, you’re pretending. Hypocrite.

Information on love abounds. Thankfully, there is a small subversive strand that attempts to open the floodgates and let forth the messy and complex reality of love. The romantic comedy is dead, being female doesn’t automatically mean you get eligible bachelor #1, God is love, but love is not God, and every medium I criticized above has the occasional rebel within. And of course there are the teachers and leaders who have been telling us for years that love isn’t simple, and it isn’t simply about romance: D.A. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God  and C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves… along with much of either of their writings. Gerald Bray’s recent theology book God is Love, John Piper, Francis Chan, and plenty of others who attempt to expose the reality of love in all its glories. The problem is that the many who love God and communicate his love are a small battalion in comparison to the world superpower they inhabit. They are like rebels that do not need to be silenced because the whole culture has been deafened anyway.

Well to Those Who Can Hear

To you who can hear, and not simply listen, I want to help you see the immensity of love. It is not simply a river flowing from source to destination. It is like an ocean, wild and unpredictable. Vast and deep as it curious.

God is love. (I Jn.4.8)

But God in his Triune being gives and receives a deserved love. The Father loves the Son because the Son deserves love. The Spirit loves the Son because the Son deserves love. The Son loves the Father because the Father deserves love. The Spirit loves the Father because the Father deserves love. The Father loves the Spirit because the Spirit deserves love. The Son loves the Spirit because the Spirit deserves love. Each person of the Trinity is wholly, and beautiful perfect and worthy of infinite glory and love. But… the way the Son loves the Father is different than the way the Spirit loves the Father, and the way the Father loves the Spirit is different than the way the Son loves the Spirit, etc. The essence of their love (ie. That it is love) remains unchanged, but the way it plays out is intimately nuanced. The Father did not love the Spirit by raising him from the dead, and the Son did not love the Father by sending him among the disciples.

So love can be love even if it does not look the same when it changes recipient.

But God does not only love himself… in fact, he is much too unpredictable, unfathomable, and wonderful for that. God crosses the essential divide and loves something that is entirely different, entirely other than himself. (Consider our post on Creator & Creature to realize the ‘insanity’ of this.)

God loves with Charity (often in Christian circles αγαπη) all creation. All of it. He gives charity love to all, realized in (1) creation, (2) provision, (3) sustaining power, and (4+) anything I forgot at the moment. In God’s charity love toward ALL, he pursues the ultimate good of the object in the context of all objects. Get it? You and I are not the only individuals at play in the world and time. Nor is an animal the only thing at play. Like a beautiful tapestry, God is weaving together the ultimate good for his ultimate glory which may result in the displacement/disprivilege of certain things (ie. We don’t always get what we want). All creation includes Angels—both elect and fallen, animals, living nature, unliving nature, and unliving unnature… and humans.

Does God love the fallen angels? Yes. They continue to exist, right? He continues to provide life and breath and being? This fits into God’s charity love. Hatred, if you remember, is still a form of love

God loves animals. “Not a single sparrow drops to the earth without his permission.” Ninevah had “many cattle as well.” Noah was saved with the animals on the ark. There are commandments about animals in Leviticus. And in fact, God’s love toward animals is slightly fuller/greater than his love towards nature and unnature. Elm and Willow tree seeds were not commanded to pass in the ark.

But God does love living nature (plants, trees, grass, flowers). “He clothes the lilies of the field” in great splendor! “Creation groans” for redemption. He set man in the garden to tend it. He takes delight in the works of his hands.

And God loves unliving nature (rocks, dirt, cliffs and caverns). He established the foundations of the earth (I’d reference it, but there’d be too many verses… and though it’s usually stated incidentally: God is in charge, it has inferential value). It is he who calls forth planets to stand (Is.48). Things are a ‘pleasant aroma’ to him (anthropomorphic language, sure, but do you mean to tell me that he created the scent of roses indifferently?).

And God loves unliving unnature. Songs are created by man… therefore one step removed from the ‘natural’ process. It does not ‘live’ in the ordinary sense, nor is it made directly by God. But we make a joyful noise in worship, and it is pleasant to him. And what of the benevolent widow who gave out of poverty? It was for the Temple Tax. Jesus praised her faith, but her faith found concrete expression in physical presentation.

God loves vastly.

But what of Humans?

God created humans in the image of God, crowning them with glory and honor. He has placed a particular favor (over and above his charity-creational-provisional-sustaining-love) upon humankind.

“Are you not much more valuable?” he asks with reference to the sparrow and the grass.

But of Humans there are two kinds: sheep and goats: redeemed and unredeemed. Upon the unredeemed his wrath and hate still rests even while “he causes rain to fall…on the ungodly.” But upon the redeemed, he has loved with a redemptive love. What is love? To lay down his life for his friend. To serve them. What is love? “While we were still sinners Christ died for us.” God loves his bride with a redemptive, and dare I say erotic love—one that is pictured in the love of a groom for a bride. In Hosea’s reconciliation with the whore. In Solomon’s love for the Shunnamite. And not just this, but as a Father loves a child. Pictured in the redemption from Egypt in the Exodus. In the parable of the prodigal father. Of course, the pictures abound: priesthood, kingdom, building edifices.

But even of the redeemed, there are two types of people… those who “abide in his love” (Jn.15) and those who do not. The faithful and the unfaithful. Toward the faithful there is pleasure and great joy. The joy of brotherly love and camaraderie, moving toward the goal together. And toward the other there is rebuke, discipline, and chastisement.

The love of God is complex indeed.

But what of Humans… Who love?

But the love of God is not all there is. What of humans who love others? As humans, we get our source of identity and action from the identity and action of God.

And so our love of God is a love he deserves. It is worship-love.

And our love of angels is one of honor. Of fallen angels: respectful hatred. Of elect angels: respectful mimicry and of hospitality.

Toward animals, we take our cue from God who has crossed essential divides, and we love. Both pets and nonpets in a charity-love. Pursuing the ultimate good of the object in the context of all objects. Destroying termites is valid. Unnecessarily harming rabbits is not. Naming pets and redeeming them is good. Disciplining them in misbehavior is good. Cherishing our family pets is also good.

We are stewards of living nature, caring for it. Of nonliving nature, utilizing it for the good of others. And of unliving unnature as a means for loving everything appropriately.

And humans love other humans. Christians are required to love our enemies, those who hate us; those who hate God. We must still provide charity love in provision and sustaining them. We must love.

And we must love our nonenemies. We must love our friends with a brotherly love (φιλη), standing side-by-side looking towards the goal. Brotherly love must be given toward all who believe because we all have the goal of the glory of God. We have an assumed love toward our families, but while assumed it cannot be forgotten… we must constantly provide and sustain them, living for their good. Toward our parents, an honorable love. Toward our children, a providing love. Toward our siblings, a brotherly love. And we must love our spouse (who is part of our family, and who is the closest friend) with a love that throws myself to death’s gate for their sake.

Love is immense and complex, because love is the relationship between my relationship to anyone and anything. It looks different towards different things and at different times. It is colored by wisdom in any given situation which may result in the apparent bad of one recipient in order for the ultimate good of another in the context of all. Love is no simple thing. Fortunately we have a God who loves us, even when we fail to love him and others.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. And love your neighbor as yourself. Go, and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you, and baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. This command I leave with you, love one another. If someone does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? Husbands, love your wives… do not exasperate your children. Children, honor your father and mother, and it will go well with you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love. There is no flaw or defect in you. I lay down my life for my sheep. I say to you, love your enemies; do good to those who persecute you. Repent and believe. God is love.