"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

VIDEO: Remedy Mission VII “The Flipbook”

Posted in Good Causes, Videos, Videos By Others by matt on Saturday, November 19, 2011

We just wrapped up Remedy Mission VII, our latest edition of life-saving and doctor-training. The above video is from that mission. Some of you have asked me what surgical missions are like; this video is your chance to see. 24 children received lifesaving operations over the 2-week mission (a record for us!), and we gave our 200th operation to date!

These are some huge milestones, but they’re really just the beginning. We’ve got a lot planned for 2012. Please pray for all the Preemptive Love Coalition staff as we spend the rest of 2011 attempting to map out 2012. We know that “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.”

Please pray for us as we try to align ourselves with His purpose over the next few weeks of 2011.

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Passing Time

Posted in Day-To-Day, Philosophical, Theological by matt on Monday, May 31, 2010

There’s a story I love about a conversation between Alexander the Great and a man he called a “gymnosophist” (meaning wise, naked man). The conquerer arrives at the Indus river (now in Pakistan) with his army and finds the gymnosophist sitting buck-naked and staring up at the sky.

Alexander: “What are you doing?”

Gymnosophist: “I’m experiencing nothingness. What are you doing?”

Alexander: “I’m conquering the world.”

And they both laughed, thinking the other person foolish.

Gymnosophist: “Why is he conquering the world? It’s pointless.”

Alexander: “Why is he just sitting around doing nothing? It’s a waste of a life.”

These are the kinds of East-meets-West collision stories that have made me rethink the phrase, “time well-spent.” The two men had very different perspectives on life that were a direct result of the stories they told themselves, and that dictated how they spent their time.

So which is the right story? Which one was wasting his time?

In our transitions and travels between Thailand and America, I’ve found there’s a lot more to adapting in a new culture than just jet-lag (kind of a no-brainer, right?).

In Thailand it felt like we had all the time in the world. We were busy, for sure, but it didn’t feel that way. Everything was mai-pen-rai (the Thai equivalent of “hakuna matata”) and no worries.

It was frustrating because, to us, it looked like laziness, but we came around to it over time.

But now that we’re back in America it’s a totally different feel. You’d be lucky to score eye-contact with someone, much less spend unscheduled quality time with them. It makes me think of the Kenyan proverb, “All westerners have watches, no westerners have time.” We’re addicted to the busy feel. We are, in a sense, conquerers.

It’s been frustrating because it looks too hectic, but we’ll come around in time.

So, for me, this begs a lot of questions: how are the differing viewpoints on life and time reconciled? Are they? Is there a right or wrong here? Should we be “conquering the world” or “experiencing nothing?”

At what point am I staying too busy, pursuing efficiency and accomplishment at all costs? When am I slacking, wasting my own time and the time of others?

Or maybe it depends on the person. Maybe God just made some conquerers and others…naked ponderers? I’m not sure, but I do know that God made work and rest to be a part of our lives and that there’s a mandate on us to work and rest well (though the gymnosophist wasn’t exactly resting, you get my point).

The Bible has been helpful here – particularly passages in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes about work and the meaning of life, as well as the story about Martha in Luke 10. I’ll keep reading and processing all this! I thought I should post some profound resolution, but I’m just not there yet. It may be too much of a balancing act to ever ‘arrive’…

How about you? What are some things that have helped you with what you consider time well-spent? Any advice for me?

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.

segue*

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.

Whoa.

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.

Secularism Isn’t Real (and other bluntness)

Posted in Theological by matt on Saturday, February 13, 2010

My computer’s dictionary defines the word ‘secular’ this way: “denoting attitudes, activities, or other things that have no religious or spiritual basis.”

The problem with this definition is that there are no such “attitudes, activities, or other things.” I don’t think the concept ‘secular’ (as defined above) is bad, per se, it just isn’t real.

It’s like glow-in-the-dark elephants. I can imagine that they exist (and I do!). And, if they existed, they’d immediately become my favorite animal, but that doesn’t mean they exist (except in that one trippy dream Dumbo had).

Everything in life has a religious or spiritual basis. God (Spirit) is related-to spiritually, and everything exists by and is held together by God (Col 1:15-20). That means that this physical reality we see is grounded in and held together by a spiritual one we don’t see.

So whether you’re eating a burrito, talking, on a date, driving, praying, cutting toe-nails – even sleeping! They all have spiritual implications. None of those are ‘secular’ activities.

In short, there is no part of our world that is spiritually exempt, because there is no part of our the world from which God is exempt.

But most Christians (and many of other faiths) can go with that. It’s abstract, but it sounds really good, so it merits a head-nod or even a hearty, old-fashioned “Amen!”

And, honestly, who doesn’t want a perfectly good, freedom-giving, life-loving God to be a part of every aspect of their day-to-day? It’s all beautiful rhetoric, but do we believe it in a way that informs our life?

Let’s keep going, then, and move from abstract to a couple concrete examples.

1) Take music.

No such thing as secular means that a ‘secular artist’ is just as capable of singing something that’s True as a ‘Christian artist’ is – regardless of what record label they’re with. Christians may know the Truth, but that doesn’t mean they have a monopoly on it. Artists like Coldplay or Richie Spice may or may not know Christ (I hope they do/come to), but their music has shifted my focus heavenward on quite a few occasions (not to mention they’re really talented).

2) Or conversations/lectures/sermons.

God has used strung-out homeless guys to speak convicting Truth into my life that literally changed me forever. On the flipside, I’ve listened to sermons by health-n-wealth bums in suits and makeup that were nauseatingly unbiblical. Who was secular, who was spiritual? I don’t think it’s as simple as we try to make it.

3) Or how ’bout books?

A few years back I had a good friend tell me I was wasting precious time by reading classic novels and obscure philosophy when I could be reading ‘theological books.’ How sad! Many of the books that God has used most in my life were old school fiction; Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky, The Trial by Kafka and many others have helped me understand my own need for God and His outrageous love and grace in a way that plain words just couldn’t.

And this goes for magazines, universities, movies, and many other things we try to segregate into secular vs. spiritual. Truth can’t be copyrighted; it either is truth, or it isn’t. Is there any Truth that isn’t God’s Truth? Is there such a thing as ‘secular Truth’?

Inevitable preface: We need the Spirit’s guidance and Scripture as our standard, or everything I’ve said up to this point unravels and we end up in heresy-land, but you get what I mean: Truth is Truth, regardless of context.

So give me some feedback. Do you agree? Disagree? Is this unsettling to you or normal? What are some evidences of Truth in a ‘secular’ context in your own life?

Spiritual Inoculation

Posted in Day-To-Day, Theological by matt on Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Wednesday before last we met up for Fuel, our midweek meeting where we catch up, pray together, eat food, read, etc.

My attitude wasn’t great going into it, but I went anyway because I knew it’s my duty as the ‘facilitator.’ I got there, forced my smiles, and tried my best to hide the fact that I was feeling desensitized toward what is usually my favorite part of the week.

Everyone had split into smaller groups to discuss the passage, and I moved from group to group hoping to help guide the discussions. This week’s passage was the part in Mark 10 when Jesus tells his followers:

“See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

Then one Thai guy who I’d never met before was totally amazed by this text. He got really excited and started asking questions like, “Did he really come back to life?!” and “How did he know he was going to die?”

The guy’s questions were so fresh and honest – it startled me! When I’m at Bible study I’m much more accustomed to glazed eyes, short attention-spans, and partial interest. But at the end of the night (after a looong talk about the suffering and death that Jesus requires) the guy committed himself to Christ.

But, the more I thought about his childlike eagerness for Truth and understanding, the more frustrated I got with myself. Don’t get me wrong, though, I’m enthused for him and his decision – really!

I just want to understand why I’m so inoculated toward so many things. How do we ‘denoculate’ ourself toward people, work, the Bible, etc.? I’m going to spend time thinking about this, and I’d appreciate any insights.

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