Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Symbolism in Christmas

Symbolism is a great thing. I've always had a tendency to think in terms of drawing analogies, and in my Bible reading I've discovered with glee that God seems to enjoy communicating important messages to us by way of symbolism. The Parables Jesus told are extended metaphors. And various important moments in history are themselves symbolic of future events, seeing that God controls history from beginning to end and can arrange it this way. The Ark of Noah was the only means of salvation from the Flood, and this is considered by theologians to be a "type" of Jesus Christ, who later said (in John 10:9) "I am the door; if any man enters by me he shall be saved."

I found that I could assign symbolic meaning to many typical sights from the "Christmas holiday season," such as these:

* evergreen tree. Symbolic of eternal life, one of the gifts God promises to us through Christmas (in the sense that God's arrival on earth in human form was necessary for His death on our behalf that would enable us to receive eternal life). The throwing out of the Christmas Tree at the end of the season can symbolize either that Christ, who is Life (John 14:6), and was cut off for the sins of God's chosen people (Isaiah 53:8), or it can symbolize man's life, which is like a "fading flower" (Isaiah 40:6-8), and while it wears a veneer of eternity, apart from God (the roots of the tree, one could suppose), the tree dies, and is destroyed.
* the lights can symbolize the "Light of the World" that Jesus is (John 8:12), which enables us to see and not walk in darkness.
* the significance of red, the other main Christmas color, can be taken to contrast with green (eternal life) to represent the blood of Christ. It reminds us of His death on the Cross, and its intertwining with green is a memorial of the fact that His death is what makes possible our future life.

And on and on and on. But these comparisons are not my preference, for a twofold reason: One, I can't be completely certain that these parallels were the original intent of the designers of those aspects of the present celebration, and I prefer to honor original intent. Two, the holiday today is so far removed from anything having to do with Christ that I've been treated to commercials of salespeople singing "Go go go go go, shop shop shop shop," boxer-clad (otherwise undressed) 20-something males doing hip-thrusts as "we wish you a merry Christmas" plays as if their testicles were metallic bells, and an ad campaign featuring "the Gifter," an imaginary movie trailer about a woman who "never settles, but always saves"--money, on gifts. 

This isn't what the holiday should be about, as I see it. Consumerism, porn, selfishness...What does this have to do with the free gift of God to save people from their sins? Only that they represent the very things that God wants to save us from: idols. The lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16).

What I was intrigued to discover was that the first gifts on Christmas were not simply objects of material wealth. Instead, they THEMSELVES were also symbolic.

Gold is symbolic of the splendor of royalty, and was given to Christ to show that the wise men recognized Him as their KING.

Frankincense is a smoky substance which was used in Temple rites, where the High Priests would offer sacrifices for the forgiveness of the People's sins, and it was given to Christ to show that the wise men recognized Him as their HIGH PRIEST (Hebrews 8)

Myrrh is an embalming agent used on corpses to make them smell less worse, in preparation for burial, and it was given to Christ to show that the wise men recognized Him as their SAVIOR, who had come to be born so that He could one day die, giving His life for theirs.

In light of this knowledge, considering that giving gifts in the sense of granting objects of desire to people was not the original intent of the gift-giving at Christ's birth, I am resistant to making it a staple of my future life when I have a spouse and children. Giving items to one another is a thing that can be done year round, and is more joyous when done spontaneously, not as a requirement. When a special occasion comes around that offers reflection on the past and the future, I think memories are the important thing to create. And I believe that any gifts I do give are going to be symbolic gifts, to serve as mementos and reminders of the important things in life. I'm still thinking out the specifics, but the general outline of how I want to do Christmas, if we even do a celebration at the same time as the rest of the world does, has taken shape in my head.

Symbolism, not traditions that aren't understood by those keeping them. A focus on the intangible gifts God has already given to and promised to us, rather than an eagerness for material blessings, which fade away.

What will you celebrate in years to come, and how? ~ Rak Chazak

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Grind

Life goes on, and while it's a slow phase as concerns getting to where I want to go, I'm content with everything because of my confidence that there is value in everything that is happening, whether it is something I make happen or something that happens to, for, or around me. In the meantime, I'm putting in the groundwork to do well at my workplace so that if and when the opportunity arises, I could move up and earn more money than the bare minimum wage. My manager told me that he'd asked his bosses "what is the maximum raise I can give someone?" Their response: "Maximum? Don't you mean minimum? Why do you want to give someone the maximum raise, lol?" As it turns out, it's only $0.20. The expectation is, if you're good enough to warrant a raise, you're not going to stay at regular crewmember status and just get 20 cents in raises every 6 months, you're going to get promoted up the ladder, which carries with it bigger raises--and heftier meal discounts. It's a waiting game, but it doesn't mean I'm idling in the mean time. I'm putting in the hours, literally and figuratively, to build up what I need to in order to be prepared for the next phase of my jolly little life-experience. 

Church-wise, perhaps you guessed that my last post about young married couples was related to that. Correct. Another musing: I suppose a "beautiful couple" is one where both the man and woman are attractive people? But more than that, a harmonious (beautiful) relationship is probably strongly implicit in that designation. Otherwise it would just be a "cute couple," I suppose. Of all the random times for me to attend, I had popped in to see the budget meeting, but I was late by two weeks. They were simply getting a quorum to vote on it. What happened after was more noteworthy. The pastor announced that he was leaving to go to SC, and everybody gathered around him and his family and prayed, and more than a few people got teary-eyed. So it turns out that I've come around at an interesting time. One of the assistant pastors who's going to seminary is likely going to become the head pastor soon, consequently. The guy who's the youth pastor had talked to me before, and now in my hearing spoke to another guy (the husband of a girl I knew from school--7 months married, 6 months pregnant :D ) to say that he was hopeful that more people would be taking leadership roles soon, to lead Bible studies, etc. He had 'interviewed' me a couple of weeks ago, and the essence of the meeting was that he seems to think I'm ok theologically, and recommended me attend the membership class that starts in January, because as a matter of 1 Thessalonians 5:22, the reasonable church policy is to keep adults who are not parents away from the youth in the youth ministries. This is because if a person is not a member, then 'church discipline' can't be done on them. They're not under that contract. Further, a legit background check is done on anyone who will work with the youth. I wasn't quite anticipating being ushered into that--the youth pastor guy, who's 28 himself, frankly seemed eager. xD But I wouldn't have any problem with it, and I think I could be 'of use.' I remember my time in the Boy Scouts. I'll have to tell of those stories at some future time on the blog. 

I got a ton of stuff done today. Very pleased with myself. Washed all. the. laundry. And the kitchen is spotless--or at least it was when I left, who knows what my brother's done to since I've been out, haha! He has a tendency to not wash bowls he microwaves eggs in right away, and it leaves a residue that's hard to scrub out and the dishwasher is useless on. I have had some experience with different cleaners at work and made the decision last week to buy a spray bottle of bleach of my own initiative, and it made the floors look beautiful (linoleum. I didn't use it on the wood). My mother is coming home after having been away for a while, and I definitely appreciated the experience of having to budget my time so that I could manage living essentially alone without letting things pile up and not get done. I think she'll be pretty pleased with the house she'll walk into this evening.

I ate at Chick-Fil-A today (to be polite. You don't just use wifi without getting some food). I decided to leave a nice comment for a few of the staff members on CFA's website, to "pay it forward," since I know personally that nice compliments like that can make you look good for your managers. I spent the day "internetting," and even had the time for 3, count-em, 3 blog posts, haha. No 3 hour time limit like at the library because of the in town parking restrictions. And not to forget, I downloaded some Wretched podcasts that I can listen to at home for my education and edification. And on top of it all, I finished off a "special-occasion-cake" (it's not just for birthdays anymore) to surprise mom with when she comes home. Today will go down in recent history as one of my most productive and satisfying ones yet. Despite that I still haven't done any further career-searching to date. But now might just not be the best time for it, after all. So I'm trusting and praying. Life is good.

~ Rak Chazak

A Comparison of Single People to Young Children

Here's the main idea I had, which came to me this Sunday after getting to watch young married couples together for the second time that day:

                Young children observing their parents/adults are like single people observing young married couples. The shared way in which they observe and learn is this: it is an instinctive directional growth, to mature into that which you are inherently geared to mentally absorb everything you see about.

Kids are not destined to always remain children. It's commonly known that children notice things that their parents or other adults don't expect them to. And besides simply observing that they pick up on things that they're not often given credit for, I want to posit that the reason kids are like this is because God has geared them that way from the very start. It's in their spiritual DNA (nothing mystical is meant by that) to be influenced by and model behavior of adults. They're made this way so that they'll grow up instinctively, as opposed to growing up being a conscious decision for them to attempt to begin to do. Of course, I'm not denying that children exercise their moral agency in acting out what they imprint from adults. But ask a child why he does what he does, and good luck! They just do. It isn't conscious. 

This brings me to my parallel. While the child might not be conscious of their inherent predilections, I'm older and have spent much time analyzing why I do things, think things, and how and why circumstances are and ought to be. Absent a conversation partner, in moments of solitude I have ample time to devote to introspection. I am, perhaps uniquely among most people my age, or people in general, very capable of psychologically analyzing myself on multiple deep levels. [Caveat: certainly, my conclusions are colored in part by my experience] This is just to preface what I say next: I have noticed myself observing young people in relationships, whenever possible, and I've pondered this and suppose that I'm interested in learning anything--not anything in particular, because I don't know what there is to learn--that I can, by watching how the husband and wife interact with each other, and how they talk about each other in the other's absence, for instance. Body language. Etc.

I settled on an analogy with the young child, because I recognized that it wasn't a primarily rational choice, but an instinct. And also, I have not noticed this with younger people, or people who are clearly in inappropriate or destructive relationships. That led me to hypothesize that I'm naturally geared toward "looking up to" young people who are a few years older than me (3-10), and are married, in a seemingly healthy and joyous relationship. Ah, and that they are or appear to be Christians of sound theology. As you can see, these are all things I yearn for myself--perhaps the child does not know that he yearns to be an adult, but perhaps he does. That's an interesting thought in itself, worth exploring--and so it wouldn't be unreasonable to me at all, if I were to find out that single people do "imprint" on married people. I have some sense of this already, in that unmarried women, perhaps Hollywood-stereotypically, obsess over bridal catalogues and weddings/dresses, because that's what they're drawn to; they want to be a bride. Maybe I'm just experiencing a male version of that. And more low-key, because Hollywood hasn't told me what to think (something to be grateful for, and if I find a lady who hasn't been influenced by the modern conception of what a wedding must be like, sparks may fly...is that phrase usable in a positive way?). 

Keeping an eye out for a good relationship by keeping an eye on good relationships, 

~ Rak Chazak

Follow-up Spurgeon Quote on Calvinism

This was what I was actually looking for when I posted the block-quote text of Spurgeon in the previous post.

Born, as all of us are by nature, an Arminian, I still believed the old things I had heard continually from the pulpit, and did not see the grace of God. When I was coming to Christ, I thought I was doing it all myself, and though I sought the Lord earnestly, I had no idea the Lord was seeking me...I can recall the very day and hour when first I received those truths in my own soul—when they were, as John Bunyan says, burnt into my heart as with a hot iron...
One week-night, when I was sitting in the house of God, I was not thinking much about the preacher's sermon, for I did not believe it. The thought struck me, "How did you come to be a Christian?" I sought the Lord. "But how did you come to seek the Lord?" The truth flashed across my mind in a moment—I should not have sought Him unless there had been some previous influence in my mind to make me seek Him. I prayed, thought I, but then I asked myself, How came I to pray? I was induced to pray by reading the Scriptures. How came I to read the Scriptures? I did read them, but what led me to do so? Then, in a moment, I saw that God was at the bottom of it all, and that He was the Author of my faith, and so the whole doctrine of grace opened up to me, and from that doctrine I have not departed to this day, and I desire to make this my constant confession, "I ascribe my change wholly to God" (AUTOBIOGRAPHY, pp. 164-5).

~ Rak Chazak

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

TULIP -- A Quick Breakdown

Since this will be an introduction and not an exhaustive polemic, I will utilize diverse prooftexts to demonstrate the truth of each point concisely in a way that makes sense. I'll cite source texts that show where the doctrine is taught in the Bible, and I'll give a philosophical angle as well, to demonstrate the logical consequences of rejecting each point. TULIP is an acronym, its points referring to five fundamental concepts about salvation as set forth in the Bible, and these concepts describe the theological system colloquially known as 'Calvinism,' after John Calvin, the Reformer who most clearly articulated them together for the first time.

Total Depravity

The short and sweet: All humans are inherently sinful by nature, from the earliest moment of their creation. This depravity assures the following: man is not incapable of doing good, but he is incapable of not doing evil. 

The Biblical basis

Isaiah 64:6 All of our righteous deeds are like filthy rags in the sight of God.

Matthew 7:17-18 Every good tree bears good fruit, but every corrupt tree bears evil fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.

Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.

Psalm 58:3 The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth.

Ephesians 2:1, Ephesians 2:5 Man is dead in his trespasses and sins.

Romans 3;10-11 As it is written, "there is none righteous, no not one. There are none who seek after God."

Romans 8:7 The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God. It does not submit itself to God, because it cannot.

The common sense: All that is needed is for a person to live a little while in this world for them to encounter irrefutable evidence before their very eyes that all of humanity, individually, is horrendously and inescapably internally corrupt. Good people don't do bad things. Everybody does bad things. Therefore nobody is a good person. It is self-evident. The only way to avoid the conclusion that we are not good is by rationalizing that "bad" things are not really "bad." No one in their right noggin can deny that these "good people" do bad things, but to hold on to the hope that we are good (only necessary if you believe that people must earn heaven by being good), the evil that we do must be minimized. It gets explained away as merely being 'imperfections,' 'flaws,' 'mistakes,' etc. But in doing this, we deny the existence of sin, and that denies the motive for Christ to have gone to the Cross. What would be the point of dying for the sins of mankind if mankind could redeem itself by being good? Ignoring the blatantly obvious depravity of man is to declare that Jesus died in vain.

PS the only reason man can do any good at all is by the grace of God that enables him to. So a more forceful presentation of total depravity would hold that man is incapable of doing any good by his own efforts, which is utterly true as well. 

Unconditional Election

The short and sweet: God chooses who will be saved. They do not attain salvation themselves. It is God who initiates and man who responds, not the other way around. Salvation is therefore a free gift and no one can say that they deserved it, or that they accomplished it through some effort or desire on their part.

The Biblical basis:  

Ephesians 1:4-5 "He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, "

Romans 9:15-17 "15 For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” 16 So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy."

The common senseThen, in the fulness of time, He purchased me with His blood; He let His heart run out in one deep gaping wound for me long ere I loved Him. Yea, when He first came to me, did I not spurn Him? When He knocked at the door, and asked for entrance, did I not drive Him away, and do despite to His grace? Ah, I can remember that I full often did so until, at last, by the power of His effectual grace, He said, "I must, I will come in;" and then He turned my heart, and made me love Him. But even till now I should have resisted Him, had it not been for His grace. Well, then since He purchased me when I was dead in sins, does it not follow, as a consequence necessary and logical, that He must have loved me first? Did my Saviour die for me because I believed on Him? No; I was not then in existence; I had then no being. Could the Saviour, therefore, have died because I had faith, when I myself was not yet born? Could that have been possible? Could that have been the origin of the Saviour's love towards me? Oh! no; my Saviour died for me long before I believed. "But," says someone, "He foresaw that you would have faith; and, therefore, He loved you." What did He foresee about my faith? Did He foresee that I should get that faith myself, and that I should believe on Him of myself? No; Christ could not foresee that, because no Christian man will ever say that faith came of itself without the gift and without the working of the Holy Spirit. I have met with a great many believers, and talked with them about this matter; but I never knew one who could put his hand on his heart, and say, "I believed in Jesus without the assistance of the Holy Spirit."

 I am bound to the doctrine of the depravity of the human heart, because I find myself depraved in heart, and have daily proofs that in my flesh there dwelleth no good thing. If God enters into covenant with unfallen man, man is so insignificant a creature that it must be an act of gracious condescension on the Lord's part; but if God enters into covenant with sinful man, he is then so offensive a creature that it must be, on God's part, an act of pure, free, rich, sovereign grace. ~ C H Spurgeon, A Defense of Calvinism

Limited Atonement

The short and sweet: Jesus died on the Cross for everyone who would ever believe in Him and be saved. He did not die for all people who ever lived. Consequently, He does not bear the sins of the damned, but only of the saved. The damned bear the punishment for their own sins.

The Biblical basis:  

Isaiah 53:11 the righteous One (Christ) will make many to be accounted righteous, and He shall bear their iniquities.

John 3:16 ...whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.

The common sense: This is one of the easiest ones for me to understand, to be honest. Clearly it would be pointless to say that whoever believes will be saved, in John 3:16, if those who do not believe will also be saved. And there's the rub. Does anyone truly believe that there will be unsaved people in heaven? No Christian can, this is heresy. If someone is in heaven, they are saved, but to be saved they must believe, and it is obvious that not all people (to make an understatement!) believe. So, then, did Jesus die for the sins of those in hell? He couldn't, that would be double jeopardy. It would be unjust of God to punish someone for their sins if Jesus was already punished for them! So if there are any people in hell, then they are dying for their own sins, and that logically means that Jesus did not. Jesus only died for the sins of those who would believe in Him. 

Irresistible Grace

The short and sweet: If God wants you to do something, you're gonna do it.

The Biblical basis:  

John 6:29 this is the work of God, that you believe Him whom He has sent.

Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

John 6:37 All that the Father gives Me will come to Me

John 6:44 No man can come to Me unless the Father draws Him
The common sense: Of all the points of Calvinism, this is the one that seems to matter the least to me, because it's something I already take for granted. Of course God gets His way, it's writ into the whole concept of omnipotence. If God wanted to make something happen and we had the ability to prevent Him, then God would be too weak to accomplish His own will. What a puny and futile view of God that is! No, clearly if God intends to do something, then He will do it. If He doesn't, then He wasn't committed to doing it. Simple. So let's apply this: if God wants to save someone, can they resist His draw, and refuse to be saved? No. Does this mean that God saves people against their will? Here's the interesting thing: God saves EVERYBODY against their will. God isn't unfair in acting against their will, though, because everybody He 'overrules' is desiring things that will hurt them. God lets the un-elect get exactly what they want! Remember the T in TULIP: nobody wants to go to heaven. Sure they do, they just want to go on their own terms and they don't want God to be there. This is everybody prior to being saved. So when God saves somebody, He does what He knows is best for them, even though they don't agree at first! The only people who would have the right to complain that God contradicted their 'free will' are those who are saved, and the irony is that these people are in the least likely position to complain, because they received an amazing gift that they didn't deserve because of it. It's a humbling thing.

Mark Driscoll explained it perfectly in this video, by way of an illustration.

Perseverance of the Saints

The short and sweet: if you are saved, you will never become un-saved. You can be confident that you will be with God in eternity. The corollary is this: those who appeared to have been saved but now are not, were never actually saved in the first place

The Biblical basis:  

1 John 2:19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us.

John 6:37,39 37 All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. ..39 This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.

Hebrews 6:4-6 
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.
The common sense: Again, it's double jeopardy. If Jesus died for your sins, is it possible for you to "undo" that by falling away from the faith? And if you did, and came back to the faith, then you would be crucifying Christ again--He would have died twice for your sins, which would be an injustice. No, either you were saved before, and while you seemed to fall away you were still saved, or you were not saved in the first place. This is known as a false conversion, and that's also Biblical. 

Matthew 7:21-23 21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

There's so much to say on these subjects that I almost feel rushed to finish this post. But hopefully this cursory overview does the doctrines justice.

~ Rak Chazak

Further reading: 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Word Study: Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me

It's time again to do another short word study to gain a deeper insight into the message of the Bible.

What is "God?"

The word "God" in the first of the Ten Commandments is the Hebrew word Elohim, defined here at BlueLetterBible.com, together with a list of the instances where it is used in the Old Testament. There is also a word study on that site here. Elohim is a plural word (-im is the plural ending to words in Hebrew), and always refers to the Trinity when used of God in the Bible. The plural always takes a singular noun when referring to God, also, driving home the point of the existence of the Trinity by grammatical evidence. Likewise, the singular word El is used of the individual persons of the Trinity, the Father, Spirit and Son, as shown in the BLB word study linked.

I briefly touched on the meaning of Elohim in a previous blog post. The word connotes strength and when referring to humans can be understood to mean "mighty ones," powerful people whom even in Modern English could be symbolically spoken of as "gods among men," without anything being lost in translation. The word is translated in various places as 'judges' or 'rulers'

Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods

What does this mean?

Let's look at it grammatically. 'other gods' implies a comparison rather than a contrast with God. The 'other gods' are clearly presented as false gods, in context of the Ten Commandments, but the word Baalim (a catch-all term for false gods), the plural form of Baal, which means "lord" and was the primary [implied false] deity of the Canaanites, as defined here, was not used, since that would imply that God was a false god, grammatically speaking, because of the usage of "other." 

Why is this significant?

I think it's because if God had inspired Exodus 20:3 to read "thou shalt have no false gods before me," then there would undoubtedly have been those who would have claimed, "God, we don't believe in any false gods [baalim], we simply worship 'true' gods [elohim] in addition to you; is that so wrong?" By not merely forbidding "false gods," but forbidding the worship of any conceivable deity of any kind God closes all loopholes and makes no excuses possible.


Yet, Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox today put church "saints" [elohim*] before God and worship them.

Others put charismatic figures such as politicians, celebrities, etc as their [elohim] in their life, which they worship in the sense that worship consists of respecting and obeying your god, desiring to please your god, and looking to your god for guidance and hope in accomplishing a solution to whatever problem you're praying to them for their aid in fixing.

And most of the rest think so highly of themselves because of persistent self-esteem campaigns and the Gospel of The Inherent Goodness of Man that they are their own elohim, the highest ruler and authority in their life to which they give deference above all other earthly and heavenly authorities.

God says that no matter what sort of "mighty one" you can conjure up, whether you recognize it as a "false god" or not, it is wrong of you. Whatever your alternate object of worship, it is not worthy and you should cast it aside and worship only God, Elohim-Elyon, the Most High God. 

The Call of the Individual

What is your idol today? We all have temptations. Even if you have no person or earth system that you put your faith in for deliverance, perhaps your tendency is like mine, the most simple kind: that subtle pull of your inclination to worship self, to consider your own wants first and to be the final arbiter of what course of action you will take. No matter how often you've mentally handed the reins over to God and repented of trying to be your own God, there are always improvements to be made. For the Christian believer, this is part of sanctification. And if you are not Christian--if you have never yet stopped serving "other gods [elohim]"--or if you are not sure where you stand, may I encourage you to seek to be saved? The same website I've been utilizing for this post has a concise and clear explanation of what it is your soul needs, even though it's our natural tendency to do just the opposite. I encourage you to give it a read: How to Know God.

~ Rak Chazak

* in context of this blog post. Not to be confused with the actual old testament word for saint, Qaddiysh

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Update: Going to Church

I took the first step and have gone to church the last two weeks. I have to wake up early since I couldn't catch the late service due to starting work at 12. It's nevertheless nice to be on day shift, since that lets me both go to bed and wake up at reasonable times, at least in theory. I've already seen some people I recognize, and maybe I'll get the chance to get to know them better now. I went, in honesty, partially motivated by an attitude of being tired of just going to work and going home, and feeling a need for socialization. I think that's one of the purposes of Church. It's a place for believers to interact with people they can connect with -- just like how all people naturally form cliques between those who are like them. The difference is that Church prevents this from being a clique based on likes and dislikes, appearance, origin, etc, but makes the distinguishing characteristic of the fellowship a shared theology. That makes it very intellectually stimulating to me, and I hope to have some in-depth conversations with people soon. Another thing I've noticed is that the only other guy my age (but 5 years older) is married to one of the young women in the group. It reminded me of the statistic, that the demographic least likely to be found in church is an early or mid-20s male.

In other news, I learned some plumbing terms as I watched a guy replace the 'bladder tank' and 'pressure switch' for our house. We only lived one day without water, and thankfully it was my last day off (also why I didn't post last week), but it reminded me to be mindful of the things that I have stocked at home, because in an emergency, you can't go to the store and casually get some stuff together to prepare for it, because it's already happening.

Tonight's my t.v. night. I watch Person of Interest because it's got one of the most intricate running plots (good writing), and the nature of it being the type of action drama that it is makes it refreshingly void, by comparison, of the stuff that makes me want to turn off the tv that I find in other places, whether it be extreme lefty-politics or unnecessary sexual lewdness. Its late time slot is forgivable since it now comes after the NCIS/LA shows. Maybe tonight I'll work in the kitchen, keep the computer off, and watch all three shows.

Life goes on!

~ Rak Chazak

Spurgeon on Calvin

I loved the short quote in this, the first time I heard it. It encouraged me, because I had been researching Calvinism and was unsure whether it had been believed through history, or was a recent invention. What had "big-name" pastors and preachers of the past said about it? Spurgeon was a name I'd heard mentioned positively in the theological circles I'd been crossing into. So this served to unify my understanding, and conclude that "these guys are on the same team. We are on the same team."

If anyone should ask me what I mean by a Calvinist, I should reply, "He is one who says, Salvation is of the Lord." I cannot find in Scripture any other doctrine than this. It is the essence of the Bible. "He only is my rock and my salvation." Tell me anything contrary to this truth, and it will be a heresy; tell me a heresy, and I shall find its essence here, that it has departed from this great, this fundamental, this rock-truth, "God is my rock and my salvation." What is the heresy of Rome, but the addition of something to the perfect merits of Jesus Christ—the bringing in of the works of the flesh, to assist in our justification? And what is the heresy of Arminianism but the addition of something to the work of the Redeemer? Every heresy, if brought to the touchstone, will discover itself here. I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation after having once believed in Jesus. Such a gospel I abhor.
The website I chose to use for the source text is Spurgeon.org. Please read the whole sermon, called "In Defense of Calvinism."

~ Rak Chazak

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Poem: Awe

I wrote this poem over text to a friend one night when I was walking the dog before bed and looking up at the stars.

The airplanes flying overhead
In contrast to my waiting bed
Bespeak no comfort, only awe
And ‘mind me of the sight I saw
The night before, when in the chill
Of falling Winter I stood still
And contemplated yet once more
The wonders which remain in store

The Maker of the stars above
Has promised to bequeath in love
To those who hold him dear at heart
A grander world in which t’ take part

If knowing how enormous all
The stars are makes you feel so small
As to be speechless at the sight
Of brilliant pinpricks in the night
Then let your wide eyes squint in light
Of Him who made both day and night
And whom, like stars, we know in part
Because of the surrounding dark

For that which makes you stare amazed
Is not the spots that color space
But what they say about the source
Who placed and set them on their course
If nature so strikes awe in men
That they revere it, even when
It proves itself an unfit king,
Then what of Him who made all things?
Should not the God of nature too
Strike awe in hearts of men like you?
And unlike nature, God does not
Consider us a ‘pale blue dot’
It’s true He wants you to feel small
When you are deep in nature’s thrall
It’s so that you’ll depend on Him

Since power comes not from within.

I've noticed that the Orion constellation now contains the "scabbard" stars, but when I looked for them all summer I couldn't see them. I wonder if there's an astronomical explanation for this? That perhaps the sky is clearer in the winter and the longer nights means that there is less light and dust pollution that obscures fainter stars. At any rate, despite the cold, I'm enjoying my nighttime walks a lot right now, since the sky is rarely overcast.

~ Rak Chazak

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Video Post: Discernment & Duck Dynasty

I used to pray for wisdom, in my mid to late teens. I was inspired by the way that God responded to Solomon's request for wisdom. Clearly the better thing to ask the Giver for is not things, but the correct understanding of how to utilize the things you have. I was amazed, years later, to consider that the end result of all the theological, historical and scientific education I'd gotten with regard to Biblical truth online had been an answer to the prayer I had made a habit of praying on night walks by the road. My mind is bursting with valuable, helpful information about an extremely wide and deep assortment of topics concerning the Christian Faith, and my concern now is how to best use this knowledge now that I have it, so that the last word won't be that all of the facts I knew were simply random trivia.

Discernment is the next step of wisdom. Whereas wisdom is the proper application of knowledge, discernment is the accurate and consistent application of wisdom. Let's say you could wisely conclude that a course of action is appropriate. But if you never took the time to reach that conclusion, and never acted, then your wisdom was in vain, because you didn't use it. Suppose that you know that certain song lyrics are not appropriate for your children to hear, but you don't know that your child is listening to a singer who employs such lyrics. You have the knowledge to determine what the lyrics are. You have the wisdom to determine that your child shouldn't be influenced by such music. But you lacked the discernment to identify the bad lyrics under your nose so as to take action against letting your child listen to them. This 'last step' is what I want to improve on, because my great fear is that I won't successfully identify and separate what's good from what's bad, and everything "in between," and reap the consequences of that inability.

My new prayer is for discernment. And to show an example of what I mean by drawing a distinction between "wisdom" and "discernment," please watch the following video. I have the knowledge of what is orthodox soteriology (the doctrine of salvation). I have the wisdom to know that I shouldn't promote people as Christian brothers whose doctrine is heretical on the topic of soteriology. But I am uncertain that I could identify, on my own, that a certain person is espousing a heretical soteriology, if it wasn't directly and obviously stated.

That's where men like Todd Friel come in. I discovered him first when I investigated whether Roman Catholicism was authentic Christianity or not, and someone had uploaded a video of him comparing Catholic and Christian positions. I liked his style and the information delivery in each of his short video uploads I would find, so I've eventually come to consider him an online, impersonal mentor figure in my Christian walk. Every young person ideally should have an older, more mature Christian of the same gender from whom to receive advice and take cues from as they model the Christian walk for you, so that you can grow in the faith, etc etc. I'm still working on finding such a relationship in person, but thanks to the Internet, I've been able to benefit from Todd's podcasts and video clips from his show, Wretched, and continue to polish up on my theology and practice. He has seemed to me on more than one occasion to serve the purpose of a theological watchdog, on the alert for errors, heresy, and other dumb-but-not-damning silliness that ought to be avoided. Following is a video clip of him helpfully analyzing a segment of Phil Robertson talking about salvation. Phil is one of the "Duck Dynasty" characters, which is the most popular reality show of all time, and their family's faith is bound to be a huge influence in America going forward. So just what do they believe? The nuance is very important, and Todd explains it below. Please check it out.

~ Rak Chazak

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Stay Away From My Penis! What the Government Has Against Uncut Guys (Pics)

                This is shamelessly titled to hopefully show up in search queries by people looking for internet pornography. And yes, there are pictures. Here’s one:

                This is an image I created in Photoshop myself so as to avoid potential copyright issues, which I’ll use to identify posts which will discuss sensitive or personal subject matter. It will alert people who may be discouraged from reading something that they think is “TMI” (too much information) or that would make them feel awkward or uncomfortable. For extremely intensive (one could say ‘descriptively explicit’) blog posts, I’ll utilize a different image, one with an exclamation point instead of a period. 
                Today’s discussion will require the latter identifier. From the title, you may have guessed that ‘uncut’ refers to someone who has not been circumcised. Circumcision is the process of cutting off the foreskin of a penis. For those who may not know what a foreskin is, imagine the texture of your cheek, inside and out, but with the thickness of the thin edge of your ear. It covers the whole glans penis (the purple/red part) but can be pulled back to completely uncover it, where it then can sit rolled up against the back edge of the head of the penis, quite similar to how a rolled-up pantleg or shirt sleeve is prevented from unfurling past the knee or elbow. The immediate benefit of a foreskin is that it protects the tip of the penis like a sheath protects a knife’s blade, or a cap protects lipstick. Both by reducing sensitivity and to a lesser extent by keeping dirt out. This is great for a guy who doesn’t want to use a restroom and have something splash back up and hit the vulnerable parts. That would be like getting something nasty on your eye, rather than on your eyelid, wherefrom you can then wash it off, since it just hit the skin.

                Now that the stage is set, with the reader understanding why the presence of a foreskin is more sanitary than the lack of one, it’s time to get to the point. Apparently some educated idiot has gotten the bright idea to claim, in alarmist tones, that having a foreskin makes you more at risk of STDs. The solution, they promise, is to promote circumcision among males, particularly in Africa (because of the HIV epidemic there).

                But wait. How does the presence of a foreskin make one more at risk of STD transmission than a ‘snipped’ guy? Doing a little digging reveals that the science behind the claim is thus: the foreskin has a lot of blood vessels, and since it has very thin and tender skin on the inside, small tears from sexual activity would allow infectious agents to enter the bloodstream and make the person sick. But wait. Where would these infections be coming from? An infected person. And how are they transmitted? Through sexual activity. So what is really going on here?

                A foreskin is only going to “put” a person at higher risk of contracting a disease if the uncut guy is having sex with someone who has a sexually transmitted disease! If you’re not having sex with STD-positive people—for example, if you’re not having sex with anyone at all—then no problem! It’s the wanton sexual activity that’s the risky behavior, having a foreskin isn’t what makes it risky. Snipping yourself is a non-solution that doesn’t make you immune, just reduces the chance that you’ll get what’s coming to you for doing the wrong thing. In that way, it’s just like a condom. It doesn’t make your unsafe behavior suddenly become “safe sex.” It just slaps a 98% chance rating on what was previously a 50/50 or 100% guarantee that you would become a victim of the consequences to your own bad choices. There is absolutely no need to get snipped if you aren’t, just like there’s absolutely no need to ever use a condom, if you’re doing it right. If you’ve gotten married to someone, after years of knowing them, and being totally confident that their sexual history is either nonexistent or at least hasn’t left them with a disease, then there is no necessity to adopt “risk-reducing” behaviors, because you aren’t “at risk” in the first place. Wouldn’t it be nice to not have to be afraid of that? That’s just one of the many wonderful benefits to submitting to God’s rules for human behavior. Sexual purity and monogamy. Risk-free sex with no strings attached.

PS So what did the government have to do with this? They’re promoting short-term fixes to a problem that requires a spiritual and not a medical solution. This government would NEVER recommend Biblical morality, that is to say, abstinence from promiscuous sexual behavior, as a way to avoid the spread of STDs. Instead they would recommend “safe sex,” which is code for minimizing, but not removing, the inherent risks that are part and parcel of sexual promiscuity. The only 100% guaranteed way to avoid sexually transmitted diseases is to not engage in sexual activity outside of a marriage that fits the Biblical model. This isn’t popular or politically correct. But people have always hated the truth when it gets between them and their personal gratification. This is nothing new. What would be new would be if people started rebelling against the norm and chose to refrain from the things that they weren’t expected to refrain from. Imagine the attention that such a divergence would garner. 

~ Rak Chazak

Proof I'm not making stuff up, with regard to the government-promoted circumcision program:
http://open.salon.com/blog/judy_mandelbaum/2012/07/27/africas_male_circumcision_crusade_boon_or_boondoggle -- hah, this site even criticizes the methodology of the tests that led them to conclude that circumcision reduces risk!
I kinda wanna leave it there. But here's the rest of the results of the google search:

See, I gave you links favoring circumcision and links critical. That's what it means to be unbiased. Not that you have an objective view, but that you considered all views without prejudice, before making your own decision.

Is the Name Redskins Really Racist?

My university forum is bringing up a lot of articles about racism these days. The most recent one was about the apparent (I don't watch football) controversy over the name "Redkins," where the media has found some representative of an American tribe to demand that it be removed because it's a racial slur.

Here's two of my responses. I figured they were concise and thoughtful enough to be worth a blog post.

What about the Vikings? That's racist against people of Norwegian, Danish and Swedish heritage.What about the New England Patriots? That's racist against white Americans above the Mason-Dixon Line.What about the Bengals? That's racist against Bengalis. We all know it's not about the tigers.What about the Texans? That's racist against white American southerners.Or the Cowboys for that matter? That reinforces stereotypes about white American westerners.Why is "Redskins" racist but "Chiefs" isn't?What about the 49ers? That's racist against poor white working-class gold-diggers.
No one seems to care. I declare selective outrage. 
Look at it this way: football teams pick a name that they wish to identify with in order to project an image of unity, strength and skill. Calling themselves "Redskins," as with calling themselves "Lions," "Eagles," "Giants," or "Titans," is a sign of HONOR and RESPECT of the namesake. Whoever the redskins were, clearly they were perceived as badasses who would strike fear into the heart of their enemies and achieve victory through strength and merit. That's why the name is chosen. What part of that is racist? Doesn't racism require denigration or negative implications about the supposed object? If everything said or implied is honorific or at least positive, it is the exact opposite of racism. 
and then in response to someone saying that it was a racial slur,

What makes it a racial slur? Is it because you assume that all native-american people have red skin, so that it's referring to them? Isn't that a racist assumption itself?
I want to challenge people to question themselves with this: "what IS racism?"
Is it a word? Or is it hatred and prejudice toward a group of people? If there is no prejudice, hatred, or negative connotations of any sort whatsoever, then what makes it racist except that you have personally placed the name "redskins" on your banned-words-list?

~ Rak Chazak

Friday, October 11, 2013

Near-Future Plans

Yesterday I watched Oblivion which I got from Redbox. $1.27 is way more worth it than $7 in the theater. It's probably $1.35 with tax. I've gotten used to quickly trying to tack on sales tax to the cost of things, since the prices of food at the fast food restaurant aren't the same as the final price the customer pays. I sometimes have to explain why the cost seems so much higher, so quickly figuring out a round number of how much tax they paid is helpful. The movie reminded me a bit of Terminator and Independence Day, with a little bit of Transformers and Battle:LA elements in there, too. Probably one of the few movies I've seen in a long time that didn't have an obvious religious theme in it at all (although the evil-alien-robot says "I am your God," to its human creation at the end, but that came across more as a demoralizing insult [like the pivotal point with the Reaper in Mass Effect] rather than a metaphysical claim about God's existence).

Last week and this week, I've been working on getting a number to call, or a link that would give me some solid information on what my loan repayment amount will be starting in November. I finally found a loan calculator on a website that has my information (but apparently isn't who'll be servicing the loan--servicing means to be the one to send the bills and acquire the repayments; they aren't necessarily the same people who "hold," i.e. own the loan), and I ran some income numbers to see what the differences are between the following:

Standard Repayment
Graduated Repayment
Income-Contingent Repayment
Income-Based Repayment

I need to do some more research to find out what the "catch" is for any of these and then weigh my options. I have a feeling I have to do some "exit counseling" before the loan repayment starts. No one told me. 

That's the responsibility part of maturity. Your situation might not be your fault, but it's your responsibility to take care of effectively.

In the meantime, I'll keep working, and in a few months I'll be up for a promotion. By late Spring, I could potentially be in a low-level manager position so long as I keep getting better at handling the things that the store needs taken care of for it to run properly. And by that time, I should have raised enough money to buy my own car for the first time. Then I could use it in my spare time to drive farther when looking for work, or going in for interviews. Next summer could see me with a number of different doors opened for me. Just gotta be faithful and diligent day by day until then.

That's what's going on with me. Keep the faith :)

~ Rak Chazak

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Errands of the day

Today I went for a flu shot and visited the post office. When I got to the library I had a debate about evolution with the brother of someone who's my 'facebook friend,' and I gave him this link. Downloaded some Wretched podcasts with the aim of listening to them at home. It's been raining a lot, mostly in the evenings, so that when I walked the dog yesterday I actually needed to grab the umbrella.

The television lies to you. Nora O'Donnel is one of the anchorladies on CBS This Morning, and when they were interviewing a Republican congressman from Utah last week, he corrected her to say that many businesses are exempt from Obamacare, but she reiterated the lie, phrasing it thus: "businesses are already moving to comply with the law." If I didn't already know about the exemptions, I wouldn't have known that she was deceiving me.

And today I discovered that Baroque architecture is a Roman Catholic response to Protestant minimalism. Protestants, when they took over old Romanist cathedrals and chapels, did away with what they considered idolatrous decorations, and the passive-aggressive response of the Papists was to effectively say, "oh, so it bothers them that our churches are decorated with false deities? Let's really lay it on thick, then!" An excessively bombastic Eastern Orthodox person on my university's website justifies what I expect the mindset of those who commissioned the architects was. It's essentially 'short-man syndrome," where a person overcompensates with elaborate cars, houses, clothes etc to make up for something that is lacking in his life. The Roman Catholic Church decorated their churches to such a ludicrous ('baroque' means 'bizarre') extent because their physical edifices were all that they had. Their religion is empty, so they compensate with large cathedrals, acts of charity and take up offense when they feel that their religion has been disrespected. The protestants didn't have to boast in the ornamentation of their churches, because the focus of their worship and faith is their God, not any earthly thing. God doesn't need defending, so protestant worship centered on God-righteousness and not man's righteousness. There was no need to make a big show of things to impress people, because they had no insecurity--they were secure in God, and His grace was enough for them. 

~ Rak Chazak

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Still here

Just letting any readers know I haven't abandoned the blog. I just don't have the time to write a post today. My schedule at work has gotten more regular, so I now have Thursdays and Fridays off. Blog posts will for the foreseeable future, then, be made on these days, so now you know when to look!

~ Rak Chazak

Friday, September 27, 2013

Sarcastic Apologetic Response of the Day

One of the characters that I met through my university forum had an excellent response to a few aggressive feminists and postmodern pro-"transgender" debaters on a discussion thread a while back. I think it was succinct and powerful enough to be worth sharing here.

If I may demand of society how it perceives me in one way, then why not in another way? What limits that principle to gender?
Why can't I demand to be perceived as a different species? So my DNA says I'm human. Who cares? Species is a social construct, just like gender. Species is genetic, while species expression is external. I choose to live as a T-Rex.
[omitted for conciseness]
[OPPONENT], if I or my ancestors make money and I become wealthy, then I am wealthy according to the natural order. If I run for office and get elected President, then I am President according to the natural order. If I am born genetically human, then I am human according to the natural order. And so on. If I am born with XY sex chromosomes, then I am a man by the natural order.

I'm a middle class male human being. Economic and genetic reality dictate those facts beyond any doubt. So if I were to declare right now that "I am a millionaire" or "I am a T-Rex" or "I am a woman", why would the first two statements be nonsense while the third wouldn't?

~ Rak Chazak