"Thanks and thanks again to Him who offers to the man whom the sorrows of life have assaulted and left naked–offers to him the fig leaf of the Word with which he can cover his wretchedness." -Søren Kierkegaard

4 Awesome Things I’m Reading Right Now

Posted in Day-To-Day, Good Causes, Preemptive Love Coalition, Stuff I'm Reading by matt on Thursday, January 3, 2013

These days, my clipboard is uncharacteristically free of to-do lists. I’ve barely left my neighborhood in weeks. I’m sedentary and stressless. It’s a great time to read. 

Aside from a couple video projects and Preemptive Love’s year-end fundraising campaign, I’ve had a good bit of free time to catch up on all my books, RSS feeds, and bookmarked articles. And—thanks to Instapaper—my ‘to-read’ list is quite a doozy.

Here are 4 of my favorite things from the list and why I’d recommend them:

#1) BLOG: Coppyblogger—the king of writing blogs; if you have any interest in improving your writing, I’d highly recommend this site. I subscribed last year and have used them more as a referential source for whenever I have questions about a particular genre of writing. But they cover it all: Social Media, marketing, blogging—even letter-writing. Their Copywriting 101 guide is a great place to start, but it’s really all quality (though I didn’t love their newsletter). And most of it is free. If I’ve managed to get anyone’s attention with my writing over the past couple of years, it’s probably because of these guys. Go check ’em out.

#2) BOOK: The Kingdom of God Is Within You—written by Leo Tolstoy, the book heavily emphasizes nonviolent resistance and Christ’s teachings on the Sermon on the Mount. Like Kierkegaard, Tolstoy is disgusted by the blended church-state entities of his day, and he is more than willing to sink his teeth into them—particularly when it comes to their acquiescence to violence and war (his book was banned in his home country of Russia and was first published in Germany).

Tolstoy is relentless in this simple belief: a Christian cannot follow and support both God’s new governance according to the Sermon on the Mount and a government that perpetuates violence. For me, this generates questions over the difference between ‘submitting’ to a government and ‘supporting’ it, how do we read Romans 13 in relation to the Sermon on the Mount, etc. Very interesting stuff.

A couple of my favorite quotes:

“A virtue cannot be practiced in all circumstances without self-sacrifice, privation, suffering, and in extreme cases loss of life itself. But he who esteems life more than fulfilling the will of God is already dead to the only true life.”

“Having withdrawn from human protection, what can sustain us but that faith which overcomes the world?”

#3) EBOOK: DSLR Cinematography Guide—the video capabilities of DSLRs went from nothing to holy-crap in about 2 years. I’ve made a few little short videos with these magical machines, and I’m quite impressed. Still photography is fun, but if you’re willing to put in the work, a short video is a phenomenal way to tell a story. So I’m hoping this Ebook will provide a little growth spurt for me as I create videos for PLC’s Remedy Missions. Stay tuned for more videos in 2013.

#4) VIDEO: Neighborhoods—OK, so this isn’t technically ‘reading,’ but this short is really beautiful. It’s simple, it’s low-budget, and it’s worth a couple minutes of your day—I’ve watched it more times than I can count!


So those are my top 4 picks right now. What about you? Comment below with recommendations of your own and help me replenish my ‘to-read’ list—I could especially use some good fiction recommendations!

Waterfalls With An Extra 4 F-Stops—A Quick Trip To Ahmed Awa

Posted in Nature, Preemptive Love Coalition, Stuff I'm Reading, Travel by matt on Friday, July 27, 2012

A photo of the waterfalls in Ahmed Awa, Kurdistan.

A photo of the waterfalls at Ahmed Awa in northern Iraq.

A picture of one of the waterfalls at Ahmed Awa in Iraqi Kurdistan.

A photo of a Kurdish man crouching near a waterfall in Ahmed Awa, northern Iraq.

A photo of waterfalls in Ahmed Awa, in Iraqi Kurdistan.                  A shot of waterfalls in Iraqi Kurdistan.

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A Few Objections to Reformed Theology

Posted in Good Quotes, Stuff I'm Reading, Theological by matt on Tuesday, May 25, 2010

At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about all this support-raising business. Asking people for money isn’t much fun, but there are loads of positives that make it much more enjoyable than I’d previously expected.

The truth is that (many) people really are eager to give, and most of them have interesting stories of their own. We’ve met so many amazing people so far that I’m usually more interested in hearing their story than in telling ours.


Last week Cayla and I met with a man to share about our work with PLC. He was enthusiastic about networking for us and about hearing our story, but about midway through our sit-down he let us know that it would be much easier for him to garner support for us if we were reformed.

I told him I wasn’t.

He encouraged me to carefully work through a few of the standard passages reformed people throw out (Romans 9, Ephesians 2, etc.).

I told him – in a nutshell – that I had.

He encouraged me to take some time to go through them again – just to be sure – and then we moved on to other things.

All-in-all, I walked away from the meeting feeling encouraged. Who wouldn’t be? A guy I don’t even know wants to advocate and network on our behalf.

He was by far the most gracious, least annoying hardline Calvinist I’d ever met, and I was excited about putting the sovereignty vs. free will issue back on the mind-table for the first time in years.

So, after a couple weeks of intermittent mulling sessions, I’ve pretty much arrived right back where I was last time, only this time I’m turning these objections into a blog post for all to criticize. Here’s to online transparency.

1. God ≠ the author of evil

A syllogism makes understanding this easier:

Major premise: God, in His sovereignty, preordained everything that would come to pass.

Minor premise: Evil has “come to pass.”

Conclusion: God is responsible for the evil in the world.

R.C. Sproul called this a “monstrous assault on the integrity of God” and “a radical form of supralapsarianism” in his article, Double Predestination.

But how is this different from what Calvin claimed? In his book, Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, Calvin writes:

First, the eternal predestination of God, by which before the fall of Adam He decreed what should take place concerning the whole human race and every individual, was fixed and determined. (p.121, emphasis mine)

So, later recognizing the obvious logical tension, Calvin then writes:

First, it must be observed that the will of God is the cause of all things that happen in the world; and yet God is not the author of evil. (p.169, emphasis mine)

He continues:

“Whatever things are done wrongly and unjustly by man, these very things are the right and just works of God. This may seem paradoxical at first sight to some . . .” (p.169)

“Further what I said before is to be remembered, that since God manifests His power through means and inferior causes, it is not to be separated from them.” (p. 170, emphasis mine)

Translation: God wills everything to happen, but His creation takes the fall for the bad stuff. Thus, He’s off the hook. This is Calvin’s doctrine of “secondary causes” and, by it’s logic, me having John Calvin killed by a hit man is OK since it was the hit man who committed the act, not me. =P

**Do you see how tangled this gets when there’s no element of human responsibility? Because, if we aren’t responsible for our sinful choices, the who is?**

2. Paul’s abused, red-headed stepchapter (a.k.a., Romans 9)

As a result of Reformed theology, people are inclined to think this chapter is talking about God’s election for a very select few, and that those not chosen should shut up because God is sovereign and He can do what He wants to. And, if you read the chapter at the expense of the book’s context, that might make sense.

But Paul is actually addressing the question of Jewish identity under the new covenant and the inclusion of the Gentiles. In chapter 2 Paul argues that being Jewish isn’t much help if you can’t live up to the law. In verse 29 he makes this claim:

Better to keep God’s law uncircumcised than to break it circumcised. Don’t you see: It’s not the cut of a knife that makes a Jew. You become a Jew by who you are. It’s the mark of God on your heart, not of a knife on your skin, that makes a Jew. And recognition comes from God, not legalistic critics.


Do you get what Paul just said about what it means to be Jewish?

One writer summed it up this way: “Gentile ‘dogs’ who have faith in Christ may actually be more Jewish than ethnic Jews and go into the Kingdom while God’s chosen people are shut out! Unthinkable! Scandalous!”

Paul continues this line of thinking in 9:6 by saying, “From the outset, not all Israelites of the flesh were Israelites of the spirit. It wasn’t Abraham’s sperm that gave identity here, but God’s promise.”

So the problem here is simple: how could the chosen people miss out on God’s salvation while the ‘nasty’ Gentiles were receiving it?

Answer: it’s not about bloodline.

And this would have seemed unfair to some of Paul’s readers, which is why he writes, “Who in the world do you think you are to second-guess God? Do you for one moment suppose any of us knows enough to call God into question?” (9:20)

So the purpose of Romans 9 isn’t to narrow things down to just the few people God chooses (the Reformed view), the purpose is to include even more people – namely, the Gentiles.

The literal bloodline of Abraham isn’t what counts. It’s about faith!

So you see that it is men of faith who are the sons of Abraham. Gal. 3:7

3. Double predestination? Really?

I won’t say much here since I’ve already written so much, but this is the belief that God chooses (elects) who goes to heaven and who goes to hell, and that the decision is unalterable.

I can honestly see the logic in this. To put it crudely, if God decides who gets “in” why wouldn’t he decide who’s left “out”?

However, because I believe humans will be held accountable for their response to God’s sovereign grace, I also believe they play a part in determining their own eternity. If they don’t have any choice, well, see rant #1 above.

4. I stink at math, but…

Bottom line: there are things about our faith that are logically inconsistent and still affirmed by the Bible. Consider the math:

| God = 3 | God = 1 |

| Jesus = 100% human | Jesus = 100% divine |

Rationally, we know that 3 can’t equal 1 and that you can’t be 100% divine and human and yet we believe it. So what’s to keep us from believing that God sovereignly elects and humans have the free choice to respond to grace?

My answer: nothing. Our God is logical, but there are issues that He calls us to simply believe in spite of the logical challenges presented. I believe this is one of those issues.

“The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” in (very brief) Review

Posted in Stuff I'm Reading by matt on Sunday, January 3, 2010

The holidays bring spare time, and spare time means reading. And how I’ve missed it! Why didn’t anyone tell me it’s hard to find time to read once you’re married?

Not complaining, though, just adjusting.

Anyway, my in-laws got me a slick new Amazon Kindle for Christmas, so I christened it by reading The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes over New Years. The book, along with thousands of others, was free online since it’s public domain. Good thing most of my favorites have been dead for a long time!

It was light and a quick read, but I loved it! Where was this book all my childhood?! Stroking chins, smoking pipes, and being an all around mystery-solving wizard – I know who I’m being for 2010 Halloween baby!

5 Sites I Stick To

Posted in Day-To-Day, Stuff I'm Reading by matt on Saturday, December 5, 2009

My work has become manageable to a fault, and I’m often bored with all the free time. The best remedy to this boredom is keeping a diverse RSS feed to read every day – especially since most of my friends and family members rarely update their blogs. (…not that I’m bitter or anything)

There are countless lovely faucets of information to keep me occupied, but sifting through all the internet slop can thwart curiosity pretty quickly. So here are just a few sites I’ve found to be worth following so far:

1. The Preemptive Love Coalition – A fantastic NGO providing heart surgeries for the thousands of kids in Iraq suffering from congenital heart disease. Cayla and I are a bit biased with this one since we’re planning on joining them around this time next year. So check ’em out!

2. Soul Pancake – A quirky site devoted to asking ‘the hard questions’. Like all good post-moderns, they almost never take a stance on or ‘answer’ any of the questions (irritating to me), but the questions are fun to mull over, and the idiotic comments offer that cherished “laughing at, not with” kind of entertainment that’s fun for the whole family. Minus any children, or course.

3. This Is Why You’re Fat – If you browse these pictures and your mouth waters at all, you need counseling. And better eating habits. Just looking at this makes my arteries clog.

4. The Prosblogian – Nerd-alert! This is a philosophy of religion blog that melts my brain. The content’s kind of esoteric, but enough effort and Wikipediaing (present-progressive tense of the noun Wikipedia?) usually provides me with enough info to understand what they’re talking about. My daily theological bench-press.

5. Copyblogger – This one’s been recently added to my list. They provide “copywriting tips for online marketing success.” For me, that basically means they dish out advice on how to write online in a more compelling way. This is important because a) I like writing and therefore want to improve at it, b) I plan on writing a lot for PLC (see site #1) and c) They’re just plain excellent at their craft and I enjoy reading what they produce.

So these are some of my online haunts. If you have any of your own that you’d like to share, share away. Goodness knows I’ve got time for browsing. Peace.

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