I Double Dog Doubt It…

The youth just finished up a two week series on doubt and the role it plays in a life of faith. We started out like last week by looking at the character of Thomas “the doubter”. The funny thing is that Thomas’ nickname as “doubter” always seems to be considered a bad thing, yet Jesus never tells him his doubt has pushed him away from faith. In fact, the Thomas narrative is the last story we read of before John gets to the thesis of his Gospel in John 20:31, “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” The last miracle we read of before John finishing his account of the life of Christ is not that Thomas doubted and Christ showed up- the miracle is that Jesus cares enough about us to alleviate our doubts. He won’t leave us out to dry. 

Jesus who knew the scriptures front and back (for obvious reasons) was quite aware of the accounts of doubt in the scripture. Doubt as a concept (doubting God’s existence) was a pretty foreign concept to ancient Israelites, but doubting whether or not God would come through for Israel was not. In fact, Jesus called to mind a Psalm that both spoke of doubt and was a foreword looking prophecy about Jesus, the coming Messiah, when he quoted the first line of Psalm 22 while hanging from the cross. The line went like this, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 

Many have interpreted this as meaning that God actually turned his back on Jesus while he hung on the cross. They say that since God can’t be in the presence of sin, and Christ took on all sin, God left Jesus. I think that’s a wrong interpretation for a couple of reasons. First, that says that there is some place in this plane of existence that can be devoid of God’s presence, since God somehow left. That’s not right according to the picture painted about God in the rest of the Bible. Even more than that, though, is knowing that first century Jews, like Jesus, had to quote sections of scripture by reciting the first line of that section. The Bible wasn’t numbered into chapters and verses until around 1400 AD by some monks, so before then you would ask people to open to sections of scripture by quoting the first line of it to them. Jesus, when calling out “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” was not posing an actual question to God himself, but was reminding those at the foot of the cross of Psalm 22, a Psalm of David. That Psalm speaks of David doubting whether or not God would come through for him. The beginning of the lament Psalm starts out with David stating his position, where he felt abandoned by God. He was speaking both for himself, and perhaps for the Messiah, but David ultimately acknowledged that he felt abandoned by God. 

Have there been times in your life where you felt abandoned by God? Maybe your parents were divorced when you were in elementary school and that left you feeling uncertain about God and why he would allow that. Maybe you were abused as a child and wonder where God was while you were being hurt. Maybe you had your heart broken by a boyfriend and wondered why God let you get into that mess in the first place. We have doubts about God’s sincerity. That’s okay. David did. But he didn’t just run away from his doubts- he took them straight to God (and made a song about them… huh). 

We can take our doubts to God. He’s big enough to handle them. If the God you believe in can’t handle your “brilliant questions” then you aren’t serving a big enough God. The God of the BIble can handle your questions. Before you were born he knew you. He predestined you to the fold of God. He isn’t afraid of your questions. 

David, throughout Psalm 22, came back to recognize that despite his doubts, and despite his worries about God, He always comes through for His people. Psalm 22:27-28 says, 

 

All the ends of the earth
    will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
    will bow down before him,
for dominion belongs to the Lord
    and he rules over the nations.

David came to realize that God is bigger than His doubts. That God, in his covenant faithfulness, does not forget His people. Ultimately, Christ will cause every knee to bow and tongue to confess that He is Lord. And that’s a good thing, because that same Jesus will come to us, and through every possible means (including walking through walls to put our hands in his wounds) will alleviate our doubts. 

So, may you remember that your doubts don’t scare God. May you remember that He can handle your tough philosophies. Your scientific inquiries. Your insecurities. God is bigger. And He loves you so much he’ll work through whatever means necessary so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the son of God, and that believing in Him you may have everlasting life. May God’s shalom find shelter in your heart. 

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iPhone vs the world

This post is a little different than normal. I don’t typically weigh in on tech specific issues, but I feel like it might be worth it to contribute my voice to the dialog surrounding Apple’s release of the iPhone 5… also, I am aware that I’m way late to the game.

I’m just getting tired of all the anti-Apple folks griping about Apple fans being “iSheep” as Mark Prince recently called them on Google+, while being just as dogmatically anti-Apple.

Before I get into this, I just want to say, I was actually disappointed with the iPhone 5 release for the most part. Apple really did no serious innovating, which has been one of the driving focuses of their business (that and pillaging other companies for using similar technology). If I had to start fresh, I’d probably be going for the Nokia Lumia 920, a Windows phone that is set to release here soon. Regardless, I don’t have an upgrade for a while, and I’m still MORE than pleased with my iPhone 4S.

I have a couple areas of beef with the anti-Apple apologists (affectionately referred to hereafter as the AAA).

Their continued assertion of:

1.) The notion that more features equals better phone
2.) The notion that Applites have no real reasons to stick with Apple
3.) That Android/Windows Phone are clearly superior

One continually parroted thought by many in the tech community, and particularly the AAA is that more features means a better phone. For instance, Paras Valecha (@ParasValecha) went on a nice tweet stream about all of the features that the Lumia 920 has over the iPhone 5, going so far as to cite color options. The number of articles floating on the web comparing features is simply astounding. Features, though important, aren’t the metric we ought to judge a phone by. Features are merely marketing techniques to sell people on a product and are only valuable if they add something significant to the user’s experience. For example, when Apple introduced Siri, it was supposed to be this monumental thing. For the most part, it’s only been used as a joke conduit (though sometimes I do want to know where to hide my dead bodies…) and I only really use it to set reminders. The newest iteration seems geared towards being a more usable feature… which brings me to my point.

Features only matter in-so-far as they enhance our experience. Who cares if my phone doesn’t have NFC and wireless charging? Honestly, it’s just as easy to plug my phone in to an outlet (via whatever stupid connector I’m using) as it is to set it on a charging station. I only want wireless charging if it comes to the point where I can charge over the air anywhere I am (sounds dangerous too). The AAA continually asserts that iPhone is less superior because it doesn’t have these features which at this point don’t particularly add anything to my experience of using a phone.

My second beef with the AAA is that they pretend like Apple has nothing good going on. I wholly disagree with this simply in terms of fit and finish being the best of any phone on the market. But furthermore, I think the AAA is missing one of the most compelling reasons people continue to buy Apple products… because they already own Apple products.

I’m not talking about brand loyalty here. I’m talking about straight up cost-efficiency. For such a long time, Apple was the dominant player in the phone/mp3 market that people went with Apple for quite a while. And while they owned their early generation Apple mobile devices, they started purchasing a library of apps. Many people have spent in excess of $100 on apps, and have loaded them to their preferences. These apps transfer across various iterations of Apple products (which is one of the reasons I went with iPhone in the first place… I already had a bunch of apps via my iPad), and so they don’t have to purchase them again. In order for a person to leave the Apple ecosystem, they are giving up more than just the monetary value of the phone- they are giving up a library of apps, and probably losing a SIGNIFICANT amount of money. This was perhaps the most brilliant marketing move Apple ever made. They didn’t just make a phone. They made a lifestyle.

And finally, the AAA seems to think that Apple’s products are inferior in almost every way. Beyond the whole user experience being highly polished and optimized for human usage, Apple has by far the best ecosystem across their products. Their laptops, iPads, and iPhones are pretty much extensions of each other, and eventually extensions of their users. My first Apple product ever was my iPad 2. Now I own an iPhone 4S and my church bought a MacBook Pro for my use. I went for my iPhone because of its ability to sync with my iPad (and already owning a bunch of apps), and to be a smaller extension of my iPad. Apple products may not be as loaded feature wise, but they dominate in the overall synergy their products provide.

So my point here is this- AAA please, stop saying that people who are going for the iPhone 5 are simply fools that just follow Apple blindly. It might make you feel better about yourself, but there are some compelling reasons to go with Apple/stick with Apple right now. You have problems with Apple? Make a better product, market it better, and give me a better experience. Until then, I’m going to use the best possible tools to enhance my life, which was Apple during my last purchase cycle.

Beale on Typology

G.K. Beale sure to bring some revitalization on the topic of typology. Typology has been mostly forgotten or stayed alive only in Reformed traditions and is a vitally important piece of good exegesis in my opinion. Excited to see a forward scholar weighing in on such a vital topic. Beale is currently my favorite scholar for his impeccable work in digging deeper into the Biblical text while remaining faithful to the overall theological narratives being communicated in scripture. Thanks to Kevin Fiske for the heads up on a must purchase for pastors and scholars.

One of the most controversial and potentially difficult issues within the realm of biblical interpretation is that of typology.  How are the people, places, events, and circumstances of the Old Testament text to be interpreted and understood insofar as their connection to subsequent people, places, events, and circumstances is concerned; especially as they relate to Christ and the church?

Greg Beale, in his forthcoming book, Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament: Exegesis and Interpretation (Baker Academic, 2012), provides a helpful definition for considering that which may be properly understood as having typological significance.  He defines biblical typology as:

The study of analogical correspondences among revealed truths about persons, events, institutions, and other things within the historical framework of God’s special revelation, which, from a retrospective view, are of a prophetic nature and are escalated in meaning. (p. 14)

After defining biblical typology, he offers…

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Dealing with Disagreement

Thanks to memecenter.com for this awesome meme.

To (aspiring) Christian leaders- if I can tell you one thing that will come during your leadership, it is disagreement. People will disagree with you. Some people may not like the way you do a certain thing, your views on a certain area, or your approach to an issue. This is inevitable. People aren’t going to like every single thing you do. Get used to it.

That doesn’t mean you have to throw a tantrum any time somebody thinks you’re wrong. Being wrong doesn’t mean you are a terrible leader. The fastest way to prove that you’re a bad leader is by responding poorly. One of the best ways to show that you’re a good leader is to respond to criticism with grace, understanding, and wisdom.

There are a couple different ways of dealing with disagreement.

1.) You can be angry:
It’s easy to become angry when somebody disagrees with you. It’s easy to buy the lie that if somebody disagrees with you, they dislike you. They very well might, but generally we should separate disagreement from dislike. James 1:19-20 tells us that the proper response for a Christian includes being “quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.” Anger only stops us from hearing what the other is saying: don’t let your pride stop you from hearing what God may be saying to you through the other. It also can offend someone very easily. It also makes you look like a jerk and can alienate you from many Godly relationships. And it can make people hate you. Just sayin.

2.) You can be discouraged:
It’s discouraging when somebody disagrees with you. But it doesn’t have to be. Instead of letting yourself be discouraged when somebody disagrees with you, see it as a time to grow. The other person may be genuinely crazy and be completely wrong. But it’s not very likely. Much more likely is that they have a legitimate concern. Be quick to hear it, and see it as God using people to push you in the right direction. You should pray, weigh their opinion against scripture, and consider the context and the consequences of their critique. You may come to the conclusion that they were wrong. But you should be encouraged that you grew closer to God by praying through it, studying the scripture, and approaching the situation with a gracious heart.

3.) You can use it as a growing experience:
I consider myself incredibly blessed to have a leadership team that is far more experienced and practiced at Youth Ministry than I am. In fact, I have leaders on my team that have been in youth ministry longer than I’ve been alive. That is a challenge at times- but I respect so much their willingness to submit to my authority (those crazies!!!!) and trust God’s guidance for bringing me into ministry where I am. That said- when my leaders, church members, or others feel the need to say something to me, I listen. I often come to a different conclusion than they do, but by goodness I’m going to listen. I may view ministering to students in our context differently than they do based on a number of factors- life experience, growing up with students like we’re ministering to, etc. but God brought these leaders and church members into my life to teach me as much as I’m supposed to be “leading” them. Every time there is a disagreement, even though I may not agree about the issue at hand, I can still grow by submitting to their God-directed concerns. I can still see it as a chance to grow in grace. I can still use it as an opportunity to lovingly disagree.

What are some ways you deal with disagreement? Are there constructive ways that you deal with it? Destructive? Any stories you’re willing to share of times where you grew through disagreement?

In Tension- Father’s Day reflections

Holidays are weird. I’ve found that they often breed more tension than other days of the year because they come with lots of expectations. Unmet expectations, the wise Kevin Hall once told me, are the root of every relational conflict we experience. But this Father’s day I’ve experienced a very interesting emotion: tension. 

Most of you know my wife Julia and I are expecting a baby girl, Evelyn Rose Mooney, on July 25th, 2012. This has left me in a really weird position during this Father’s day… I’m kinda a father, but not yet fully a father. I have a child, but she hasn’t yet emerged into this world, ready to make it a better place, so I’m left in this awkward tension of kinda father/fully father. I don’t feel like a father yet- I don’t have a little girl to hold, to give baths, to cuddle with yet so I don’t really feel like a father. But I am a father. Though Evelyn isn’t in the world to brighten my day and lengthen my nights, she still is. She exists and is among my family… my wife’s profile attests to it! I have fatherly responsibilities, to take care of my wife, to prepare our home for Evelyn, and to make sure we have all the medical things taken care of (let’s be honest… Julia’s been doing most of that…), but I haven’t fully experienced fatherhood yet, things like teaching my daughter to walk, taking her on daddy-daughter dates, teaching her how to make espr… cookies, how to behave appropriately, etc. 

This tension of having a something already be a reality but not a full reality is exactly the same sort of tensions Christians have felt through the ages. We are currently experiencing the reality that God’s Kingdom is being injected into the world, but it has not been fully realized. Bible scholars and theologians refer to this phenomena as the “already/not yet eschatology.” The word eschatology comes from the Greek word “eschatos” which means ‘final’ and “logos” which means ‘word/reason’ so eschatology is the reasoning (study) of final things, sometimes called the “end times.”

Eschatology, in Evangelicalism, has unfortunately taken on a very “Left Behind” vibe, where the Antichrist will come and some nation, likely some communist country like Russia (wait, they aren’t communist anymore?) or China, will rise up to make the world into a “One World Government.” This paranoia of “the beast” and all sorts of crazy prophecies of Christians coming under intense persecution and such, while having some Biblical merit (highly dependent on how you read Apocalyptic literature in the Bible), strips away much of the important value to studying eschatology from our lives. For the longest time I completely avoided eschatology because there are so many interpretations (some people think Revelation is a prophecy where John was predicting modern technology… other people see many of the forward thinking prophecies as being already fulfilled) and so many people will call you a heretic for having a different interpretation than they do. However, since attending Northwest University, I’ve come to appreciate eschatology in a much deeper way. 

When Christ came to the Earth he began the process of eschatology, the process of God restoring the Earth to the way it was in Eden. Luke 11:20 tells us that with Christ came the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God (Matthew generally refers to it as the Kingdom of Heaven to avoid offending Jewish readers because the name of God was to be used sparingly) is where God’s will is done- both “on Earth… and in Heaven.” The Kingdom of God is now, when Christians gather together to celebrate Jesus, we are participating in the Kingdom of God. When Christians feed the widow and orphan, we are participating in the Kingdom of God. When we comfort the downtrodden and marginalized, we are participating in the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God exists now. 

But it is not fully here. We still live in a world marked by brokenness and suffering. We still taste pain and hurt. We still see injustice in the world. We cannot see God’s perfect Kingdom just yet. But it is coming. God will restore our earth from the brokenness we have caused. Through Adam came sin into the whole world, but through Christ sin will be removed- and has been removed! This fallen world we live in will be restored to paradise- we will live in good relationships, we will not harm the Earth, we will not experience sickness, suffering, or pain.

Just like I am a father but not yet a father, so too is this world restored and not yet restored. Take hope! The day is coming where we will experience completion and joy, just like the day is coming where I will get to hold my baby girl in my arms and teach her about God’s graces in this world.

 

#Phony2012 (part 1)

Joseph Kony, number 1 on the ICC's Most Wanted List

I am writing this blog to clear up a few issues surrounding Kony 2012, the initiative started by Invisible Children (IC) to raise awareness and garner momentum for a grassroots movement to stop Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

I have some issues with this movement, and I think they need to be talked about.

I understand that at Northwest University I have a certain reputation that precedes me. As one of my primary roles at NU is as a debater I am often seen as being fairly abrasive and I am often in the thick of controversies. Many who have classes with me will probably know me as the guy they think asks too many questions. I am a very inquisitive and cautious mind. I understand that I can come across as a douche at times and I want to acknowledge that up front.

But in writing this post, I’m asking you to take me very seriously here. This post isn’t just me playing Devil’s Advocate to cause people to think critically. This post is meant to point out some VERY serious issues with the K2012 movement, and to ask people to reconsider their endorsement of said plan- at least parts of it.

Also, I want to be upfront, when I first watched the video I was really excited about it. I was jazzed to see people doing some things for it. I didn’t even watch the whole thing (it was late at night) but I posted a link to their merch page for my youth to see if they would be interested in helping. I was stirred as well. But I couldn’t help but think through a few of the other issues that were nagging me, and I’ve come to disagree with the main goal of their plan- to apprehend Kony (yes, I know their main plan with the campaign is to make him “famous” but the are lobbying for government intervention).

Before moving into my concerns, however, I would like to state where I feel IC does well. Firstly, they have a very genuine and authentic passion to make the children who are forced into rebel armies known to the world and to see them emancipated from their captors. They also genuinely want to see young people in America consider others around the world beyond their own little world. Secondly, they are BRILLIANT marketers. These guys could be making 6 figure incomes or more working for retail companies. Many ministry students would also do well to watch and analyze how they persuade people to action (though their techniques can be a bit manipulative… more on that later). Thirdly, I absolutely support their mission to make Joseph Kony a well known criminal- awareness can breed action. Their execution of their marketing strategies has always been fantastic, but this time they outdid themselves, which is why I’m particularly worried, actually.

I have a few issues with IC’s Kony 2012 campaign. My major concern is how they are trying to accomplish their mission of removing Kony from power. In the video that they released they argue for a couple things, things that besides being contradictory, are silly, dangerous, and do not take the complexity of geopolitical events into account.

First, my favorite part, they tell us that the world has changed and now WE are the ones in power. This is good marketing and is very manipulative because it stirs us to action thinking we can actually do something (which we can… but not by posting their video on your social media site). The problem is that it makes us content to think we are actually contributing to change while we sit behind our computer screens. This shifts our attention from more local issues, of which there are MORE than enough (my area of ministry, Everett, has massive gang issues, hard drug addictions, and severe homelessness). So, instead of actually engaging with the felt needs around us, we pay $30 to buy a highly packaged “Action Kit”, wear a bracelet and feel like we’ve done our good deed for the day/week. Eventually, as I’ve seen before, we will forget about this, and your bracelet will become a mere fashion accessory to show how “socially conscious” you are, instead of actually leading to serious change. So my first issue is that it builds local apathy and complacency. But that’s not even the worst part!

So, after the video tells you that YOU are the catalyst for change in the world now, they tell you that the only way of achieving any solvent change is to enlist their “2012 campaign.” This campaign involves targeting the 20 most popular cultural influencers (Rhianna, Bono, Justin Bieber and others) and the 12 most influential policy makers (John Kerry, Condy Rice, and others). So wait a second… I thought WE were the most valuable asset, yet we have to get the higher ups to still do stuff? See what I mean? Contradictory and done for the purposes of manipulation.

Now the 20 part of this campaign I really don’t have that big of an issue with. It’s the 12 part. The intentional targeting of US policy-makers to intervene militarily in Uganda. This is the part that I feel is incredibly misguided. Because, unlike their website suggests that they’re simply filmmakers and social activists, they have now moved into the realm of geopolitics and thus are playing with some serious fire. It’s no longer about social activism, it’s now about foreign policy making and political action. The problem with IC’s plan is that they want to push the US to train and provide the intel to the Ugandan military so they can apprehend Kony and bring him before the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The problem that occurs for me is this: the Ugandan government itself is incredibly corrupt and the US will simply give them more knowledge, more firepower, and better training. Sure, they may be able to capture Kony, but it will only leave a bigger mess in its wake.

Some of my friends have rightly asked me what a better option would be, if I didn’t like IC’s initiative. I would have to say- pretty much anything is better than this plan. See, African politics doesn’t work like Western politics. Africa is a hotbed of culture wars, where tribes are often stuck within borders that don’t make any socio-economic sense. During the colonial era, western powers went through and just partitioned off whole chunks of Africa according to whatever land they could grab. They didn’t pay any mind to the regional politics that were in place. In the post-colonial period, the borders stayed, even though there was (and is) significant amounts of in-fighting that occurs. This caused serious regional instability. The West cause serious regional instability. The same exact thing occurred in Afghanistan (and Iraq, Iran, Israel etc.) conveniently. So we just assumed that everyone could all get along. Well back in the 80’s the US was in the Cold War with Russia. Russia was, at the time, occupying Afghanistan. Many Afghan locals wanted to see Russia gone, so the US capitalized on this and started funneling weapons, training, and intel to a rebel sect called the mujahideen, the group that later formed into the Taliban. Osama Bin Laden was a part of this group, and this group eventually went on to subjugate women, commit numerous human rights violations, razed farmer’s land, and contributed to a whole host of civilian problems. Then the US decided that they had to go fix the problem it created by propping up and providing weaponry and money to the very regime that would come to do MORE harm than the predecessors originally had done. The same exact thing can be said for Iran and Iraq.

So, I think that providing a corrupt government with more power and money is actually MORE harmful than good. So, if you must know, I think that the current problem is better than what they’re supporting. I also have problems with utilizing the Ugandan government to apprehend Kony and any other LRA leaders who are no longer in Uganda. They would have to invade other countries and break their sovereignty which is a major issue. It’s also problematic to ask the US to fund a mission to apprehend Kony to take him before the ICC, which the US revoked its support for. The UN would be a much better actor in this situation, because they have international legitimacy, peacekeeping forces that wouldn’t violate national sovereignty (not perfect but better than Uganda), and a larger pool of internationally supported money. Also, this furthers the silly notion that the United States needs to serve as the police of the world. It takes away from the international accountability that ought to be brought for other countries as well.

This is my biggest complaint with the Kony campaign. Even though the intentions are there, it will actually lead to more problems than it actually solves. There are some more issues which I will illustrate more in my next post, as well as address any concerns that may be brought up regarding this post.