All posts by Sam

Isaiah 44

Today’s Old Testament reading in the daily office is a favorite of mine.1 The reading is Isaiah 44:9-20 and it’s a little long to reproduce, particularly in poetry form, so here’s a link.

It has a nice dose of prophetic judgment, but it’s the incredulity of Isaiah that really stands out. “Who fashions a god or casts an idol that is profitable for nothing?” (v. 10, ESV). Who does that? No, seriously, who does that? The passage follows immediately after YHWH’s reminder of his character, his essence. Looking upon God and his nature—proven by his acts among and for his people—how could these people make idols?

Isaiah continues, decrying the very absurdity of any idol-making. You cut up some wood, you throw some in the fire. Get yourself warm, cook up some vittles. And with the leftover bits, carve yourself a nice god!

Who. Does. That.

Oops.

Me. I do that. We do that.

It’s easy to think that I don’t since I don’t do any actual idol-carving. But we as residents of “the developed world” are in fact quite quick to look to our own achievements for salvation. There is a common rhetoric about about idols that decries setting any particular thing up in the place of God as the one we ultimately serve. The downside of this sort of talk is that it neglects all of the small idols we make and set out for ourselves. We are quick in our personal lives and as a society to identify a problem (or, more likely, misidentify a symptom as a problem) and then figure out how we can fix it. It’s easy to see this in technology, medicine, politics, education—you name it. If we just had a new tool. If we just had a new medicine. If people only knew. If we all just banded together.

But the Bible is quick to point out that our problems are far deeper than they appear. “Humans striving and failing to fix problems by themselves” is a repeated theme of the Old Testament. Humans misidentifying symptoms as root problems is also a repeated theme.

The things we build are not deserving obedience or obeisance. We are deluded when we think that what we fashion can save us from problems that are in fact bigger than we are. They are powerless and they make us powerless because they separate us from God.


  1. You probably know by now I have a lot of favorites. #sorrynotsorry

Lighthouse shining

“To Bless You by…”

Elise and I have been reading through Acts in the mornings of this Easter season. It’s been a while, but a passage from Acts 3 has really stuck with me (emphasis added):

Acts 3:17   “And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18 But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. 19 Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, 21 whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago. 22 Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. 23 And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’ 24 And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days. 25 You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ 26 God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.

#blessed is a thing these days. Free champagne at my hair stylist #blessed. Found my coffee rewards punch card with only one to go #blessed. Got that promotion I was really hoping for #blessed. Or maybe we identify blessings apart from the material world. I feel true peace about this decision #blessed. I had an amazing quiet time I know Jesus loves me #blessed.

None of these #blessings is opposed to the Christian faith. How many of us, though, feel “blessed” to be turned away from our wickedness by somebody else?

Too often, we consider any external constraints to be encroachments on our freedom and, as Americans, on our happiness. Freedom, after all, is a fundamental American virtue.1 Freedom, one might surmise by listening to the way American speak, is to be equated with autonomy and control; the less control we have, the less happy we must be.

This is not the way of the Christian disciple. Politics and political philosophy aside, this is not the message of the Bible for those who are a part of God’s kingdom. “Wickedness” is not a term we want to use—lest it be pointed back at us, I suppose—but the very first of the Ten Commandments forbids us to have any god except for the Triune God: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. The “greatest” commandment2 Jesus gives is to love God with everything we have, but there is no Hebraic understanding of loving God apart from obeying God.

Each and every time that God turns us aside from loving false gods—from placing our faith on anyone other than Jesus Christ, from putting anyone or anything before God, from making our ultimate allegiance to anyone or anything besides God—we are to count ourselves blessed, no matter how unpleasant. We are not to begrudgingly return to our loving Creator—we are to count ourselves blessed or even, dare I say, happy.

Such a blessing may feel unpleasant when it arrives—how many times is #blessed appended to unpleasant narratives, do you suppose?—but St. Peter here offers a clear rebuke to us for understanding God’s correction as anything else. A ship may not feel like altering course based on what some land-lubber says, but shipwreck awaits one who disobeys. In the life of the Christian, such a course correction may come from prayer and silence before God, from the guidance and conviction of the Holy Spirit at the reading of the Scriptures, or through the godly counsel of other Christians.

When Christians are being  led thusly, when they are truly sitting at the feat of their Lord and learning to follow and obey him more fully every day, the natural outcome of the blessing of God’s correction is that those around them will also be blessed—until the whole world is covered in that blessing. That is, the blessing of turning aside from false worship, from idolatry, from wickedness. This is the covenantal promise to Abraham.

#blessed


  1. There are many asterisks, exceptions, and exclusion to this statement that I wish I could unpack!

  2. Matthew 22:36-38

Crusty old rollers.

Planting Update, Spring 2016

Elise and I have owned our condo in Fleming Island for almost eight years, 1 and we’ve always been juuuuust about to paint. When we moved back last November, we decided we were really going to do it. Nearly five months later, we have two bedrooms and two bathrooms painted. 2 I suppose I should post a few photos—perhaps when it’s light out.

As we were working on our bedroom earlier this week I thought to myself, I really thought we’d be further along than this by now. I was thinking of the big picture (more of the condo painted by this date) and of the room I was in (it was after lunch and we hadn’t started rolling yet).

That’s the story of our church plant. It’s a lot more like painting our bedroom than I understood a year and a half ago. See, the reason it was taking so long to see any real difference in the room is that we had much, much more prep work to do than I accounted for. And all of that prep work took far longer than I had estimated. I really want to be in the “rolling paint on the wall phase” of planting—the one where suddenly people are streaming to weekly worship, people are coming to know the Lord Jesus right and left, our church is making a difference in our community. I believe that stage is coming. I believe there will be visible fruit of our labor, and that it will be really visible fruit.

But the prep work is taking longer than I thought. And I know if that if we don’t get all those edges taped up, and all the furniture moved out, and two coats around the edges even up at those 11-foot ceilings, and all those other little detail things done now, we will regret it later. What’s left as a result of our work would be less satisfactory if we didn’t do those things.

So we’re continuing to prep. Specifically, we’re pouring into the work of recruiting for and developing our leadership team, so that when there is growth, we will have the capacity to fold in new people and help disciple them into disciple-makers in Green Cove Springs.


Image from: Alex Rubystone used under the terms of the Creative Commons license.

 


  1. of course for three of those years we didn’t live in it

  2. Mostly. We’ve some work to do on the baseboards and other moulding.

Patterns and Reversal

I have two or three circuits of habit I take when walking Rori (or MrH for that matter) and this afternoon when Rori asked to go out I took one the usual—a loop comprised of Kenyon, 68th, Pearl, and 67th. I have always traversed that path counter-clockwise; I don’t know why.

Today I went clockwise and it felt like a completely different walk. It was refreshing. I saw things I do not usually see. There is, I’m sure, a lesson there for Christians and their congregations.

There are some things I will really miss about this neighborhood. The alleyways. Every house (for better or worse) being different. The proximity and tranquility of the river. The number of people walking by in the course of a day.

I Reject the Premise

I’m reading a book for my thesis work that attempts to help its readers better understand Jesus’ Jewishness. One of the authors describes her journey to Israel and mentions that some have called the Holy Land “the fifth gospel”, and I started thinking about mine. I thought about how very much I agreed. There is something about being in the place.

We’re told it doesn’t matter. In church, we hear things like:

“You can worship God wherever you want. You don’t need a fancy building.”

“You can approach your ‘quiet time’ however you want. You shouldn’t let anybody tell you when, or where or how long, or what way to practice your spirituality. The important thing is that it’s yours.”

“You can pray however you want. You don’t need anybody else’s prayers.”

“You can sing new songs even if the old people don’t think they’re very good. The important thing is that they’re yours.”

And I thought about trying to defend my feelings about being in the land where Jesus walked and taught and live and died and rose and ascended. I tried to think about how it “works”—about how God “uses” a pilgrimage. But I can’t think that the premise behind this way of thinking is fairly recent (Englightenment?) and false on its face (though with a kernel of truth).

What is necessary shouldn’t be the question. I didn’t need to choose a romantic spot to propose. Elise and I didn’t need to marry in a church building. We didn’t need to use a common liturgy with roots in a historic liturgy. We would have been just as married. But those things were important. Nobody questions a couple who returns to the scene of their wedding to renew their wedding vows. Nobody questions the value in going to the same place. Must a vow renewal take place in the same place—or another place of significance? Of course not. But whether or not I can prove empirically that these things result in a longer, healthier marriage is beside the point.

Place, time, rhythm, ritual, history—these are all intrinsic parts of being human. Why do we think there is value in ignoring them? Why is there so much pushback (mainly in Protestant churches and even more so in evangelical/conservantive/non-denominational/descendants-of-the-frontie- tradition churches) on many of these things? Why do we fear admitting that there can be value in kneeling (kneeling!) in a place where countless throngs have knelt before and prayed? I don’t think that’s magic, or superstition.  I don’t think it needs to undercut the “essence” of worship or prayer or spirituality, if there can be such a thing. I think the premise that there is some essence we can reduce all things Christian down to, and that that essence is all that “matters” is foolishness. I think it’s destructive.

Yes, I think that attitude is destroying churches, families, the entire discipleship process.

I also think the attitude of a certain Church that there are laundry lists of requirements for certain things to be “valid” is also destructive. But that’s an easier argument to take on. Another time.

NERD ALERT: Error 0x8007003A

If you’re not interested in weird technical things, stop reading. I’m putting this here first and foremost so I mayr ever to it later. If it helps somebody else, even better.

This was a new one. At work we were trying to copy some files from a Mac OS X 10.10 server onto a Windows 8.1 workstation. The logged-in user had read/write privileges on all the files in the folder, but was presented Error 0x8007003A on file copy. From a Mac, I could copy the files just fine.

For some reason, seemingly arbitrary files were marked as having been downloaded from the Internet. Specifically, they had Extended Attribute com.apple.quarantine. You can detect the presence of extended attributes from the output of ls -al when files are marked with an @ at the end of the permissions column. ls -al@ will output the extended attributes.

To remove an extended attribute, you can use xattr. In my case, though, with sporadic files spread across dozens of directories and subdirectories, there’s what I used:

find ./ -print0 -type f -exec xattr -d com.apple.quarantine {} \;

Karen Marie Yust in Real Kids, Real Faith:

When adults act as if religious education is mainly a tool for children’s moral development, children quickly catch on to the irrelevance of religious culture for the grown-up world. They have no incentive for committing themselves to a particular spiritual identity in adolescence if faith is portrayed by adults as something one sheds with childhood.…If they discover that our own spiritual practices are given little explicit attention and power to shape our lives, they are likely to imitate our indifference to the religious culture.