IN the Holy Spirit: mINd

A response to the "small group questions" for the 20 October 2019 message at First Pres, Boulder. [1]

But, as it is written,

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—

these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

Religion has been described by some as a human striving upward to discover the divine. In contrast, Christianity has been described by others as God’s descent downward in revelation to humanity. What do you think about this statement?

I think it's reaching to say this is a contrast of statements from "some" and "others." In my experience, I have only ever heard Christians make either of these statements. I don't necessarily disagree with the sentiment; though I do worry that it betrays a certain ignorance of the perspectives of non-Christians; that it serves more to bolster our own pride rather than to proclaim the gospel.

Why was Paul careful not to use eloquence or wise words and persuasive speech in proclaiming the gospel to the Corinthians (1Cor.2:1–5)? What did Paul use instead?

Paul did not want the Corinthians faith to "rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God." [3] Even if Paul used eloquent words to spread Truth, the eloquence itself might be used to undermind himself in pride, or to undermine the Truth by misdirecting attention. By sharing the Truth simply, there are no distractions.

What type of wisdom did Paul speak?

"Not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age [but] a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory." [4]

Jesus said in John 16:13 that when the Spirit of truth comes he will lead you into all the truth. How is Paul saying something similar?

Paul says that "no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God" and that "we have received [...] the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God." Further, that "we have the mind of Christ." [5]

I find this particularly interesting in relation to other studies that I am working through; because sometimes we are exhorted by modern teachers and traditional theology that, because God's ways are higher than our ways, we cannot question where theology draws conclusions that seem counter to our understanding of good. Here Paul encourages us that, if we are in Christ, we should be able to understand what is good (and Christ also seems to expect the same of the people he ministers to.)

When have you sensed the Holy Spirit was guiding you or leading you in your life? What were signs of this?

I think the Holy Spirit guides us at all times; the question is whether we prioritize that Spirit or what remains of our flesh. As a result, I feel the Spirit's leading most in retrospective meditation, when I see all that God has done in my life, against all likelihood.

What helps you listen to the Spirit? What hinders you?

Prayer. Meditation. Calm. And just acknowledging the Truth of what is good to myself.

[1] IN the Holy Spirit: convINced
[2] 1 Corinthians 2:9-16
[3] 1 Corinthians 2:1-5
[4] 1 Corinthians 2:6-10
[5] 1 Corinthians 2:10-16

IN the Holy Spirit: saINts

A response to the "small group questions" for the 27 October 2019 message at First Pres, Boulder. [1]

I don't begrudge the church its tradition, especially on All Saints' Sunday; but I am frustrated that this is being passed off as a message in the series about the Holy Spirit.

Depending on one's age and personal health we have varying degrees of understanding our own mortality. When have you personally felt most vulnerable to death, or at least an end to your vitality?

Being a parent probably makes me the most aware of my own mortality, such as it is. In my children I see a reflection of the age I have lived so far; and my life on earth is largely oriented around providing for their welbeing. I find myself wanting to be with them forever.

Read Psalm 27:1–10 and Psalm 91 in parallel. Discuss the promises you see that overlap, and why are the important to us as God’s people?

Psalm 27:1-10 Psalm 91
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?

When evildoers assail me
to eat up my flesh,
my adversaries and foes,
it is they who stumble and fall.

Though an army encamp against me,
my heart shall not fear;
though war arise against me,
yet I will be confident.

One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in his temple.

For he will hide me in his shelter
in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will lift me high upon a rock.

And now my head shall be lifted up
above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.

Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud;
be gracious to me and answer me!
You have said, “Seek my face.”
My heart says to you,
“Your face, Lord, do I seek.”
Hide not your face from me.
Turn not your servant away in anger,
O you who have been my help.
Cast me not off; forsake me not,
O God of my salvation!
For my father and my mother have forsaken me,
but the Lord will take me in.
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”

For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only look with your eyes
and see the recompense of the wicked.

Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—
the Most High, who is my refuge—
no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
no plague come near your tent.

For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the adder;
the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.

“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my name.
When he calls to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.”

Both beg--and trust--to live with God in his temple, and I expect that is the focus here, given the topic of the passing of the saints; but I must point out that both of these passages focus on refuge from troubles in this life, and not explicitly in anything like an "after-life."

Read Romans 8:31–39. How might these passages be used by you if you were visiting someone on their deathbed?

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I was afraid that I was going to feel this was a tenuous conection at best; thankfully, Paul makes it explicit, that "neither death nor life [...] will be able to separate us from the love of God."

Read 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18. What is new here to you, and how can a verse like this change the way we live in the present?

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Erik mentioned this in the sermon; but it's worth repeating that it is not that we do not grieve; but that we do not grieve in the same way as those who have no hope.

I feel like there is context here that we are missing; because the focus is not simply on assurance that the dead will rise; but that they will rise before those who are still living on the earth are caught up with Christ. Perhaps it is only a matter of emphasis?

[1] IN the Holy Spirit: saINts

IN the Holy Spirit: convINced

A response to the "small group questions" for the 20 October 2019 message at First Pres, Boulder. [1]

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

excerpt from the English Standard Version of the Gospel according to John [2]

How would you describe the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to someone who is not familiar with this teaching of the Bible?

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. [3]

We as humans are broken relative to our purpose, and our spirit misunderstands the difference between good and evil. Through Christ we are able to return to the created purpose, and our spirit is superseded by God's, which leads us toward Good.

What role(s) does the Holy Spirit play in our lives?

The Spirit is the life God breathed into creation. Our life died when man chose to follow his will over God's; but through Christ we are able to live again, and the Spirit leads us in the will of God.

What are the different names/descriptions for the Holy Spirit throughout the pages of scripture?

I've got to be frank: I'm going to Wikipedia for this one. [4]

  • Spirit of God
  • Spirit of "Yahweh"
  • Spirit of Wisdom
  • Spirit of Christ
  • Spirit of Truth
  • Paraclete (advocate; helper)

I don't know why I haven't noticed this before; but the Holy Spirit (such as is described in the Gospel of John) is the literal opposite of the Satan in creation. The Satan is the accuser or the adversary. The Holy Spirit promised by Christ is the advocate or the helper. Both refer to a legal context, as in a trial, with הַשָּׂטָ֖ן ("the satan") being not unlike a prosecuting attorney, and ὁ Παράκλητος ("the paraclete") being not unlike a defense attorney.

One of the roles of the Holy Spirit is to convict us regarding sin. How would you define sin? How has the Holy Spirit recently convicted you regarding your own personal sin?

My understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit is that he is the replacement of our wills with that of the Father's. By giving us a spirit of Truth, a spirit from God, we know what is truly good for us, whereas before our will was broken and choses what is not part of God's creation. Part of this is a conviction of sin, where we are pointed away from the good that God has for us, so that we can recognize it and replace it with a desire for what is good.

The Holy Spirit is working in my life most recently (and, in reflection, throughout most of my life) toward having a right heart that is pointed at God and not as an accuser myself, even tangentially. I am habitually a creature of justice, and my desire is to bring the world around me into better alignment with "the good"; but when I am unable to do so (either by my own ignorance or by the fact that it is outside of the sphere of my control) I too easily allow myself to behave incorrectly out of frustration. It is a kind of worry, I think: that if I cannot bring about good outside of me, it somehow indicates a deficienty in myself. But it is precisely the worry that is the deficienty, and I must focus on having a heart after God without external dependency.

Why is it important for the Holy Spirit to convince us of righteousness?

The scripture says that the Spirit ἐλέγξει ("will convict" in the ESV; but potentially significantly more ambiguous [5]) of righteousness because "I [Christ] go to the Father, and you will see me no longer." Because we will not have Christ incarnate in the world to serve as an example for righteousness, the Spirit will show us what is good. He will question, check, and test our understanding of good; control, check, and monitor our pursuit of it; and audit our behavior to help us better understand the good into the future.

How should an awareness of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit affect our daily lives? In what ways has it affected your life personally? How do you hope it affects your life in the future?

My mind keeps bouncing around in scripture; but I settle most on Romans. [6]

I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

The Spirit, sent by the Father and come in the name of the Christ, fills us with the Word and frees us from our bondage to sin. To set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. I pray that this peace will continue and expand, that I will live more tomorrow than I do today.

[1] IN the Holy Spirit: convINced
[2] John 16:7-11
[3] 2 Corinthians 5:17
[4] Holy Spirit in Christianity: Names
[5] Wiktionary: ελέγχω
[6] Romans 7:18-8:6

IN the Holy Spirit: wINd

A response to the "small group questions" for the 13 October 2019 message at First Pres, Boulder. [1]

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested[a] on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

excerpt from the English Standard Version of the Acts of the Apostles [2]

Last week Erik humbly said that his theology of the Holy Spirit is more robust and developed than his personal experience of the Holy spirit. How about you? Which is more developed--your understanding of the Holy Spirit or your experience with the Holy Spirit? What does that tell you about yourself, if anything? Share one way that you like to grow personally as we continue through this series.

I like this question a lot. I think my experience of the Holy Spirit might be more developed than my understanding of him. As should likely be obvious from my last post in this series, I am unconvinced of many of the Trinitarian perspectives on the Spirit; but his work in my life is clear, at least to me. My life is an ever-increasingly-unlikely series of serindipity, and I attribute this to God's Spirit at work in my life. Even just examining my heart, and comparing it with my younger self: I know I have further to go, but I can not take credit for how I have changed.

We explored the name Ruach/Pneuma or Wind/Breath for the Holy Spirit. What stood out to you from the message and the scripture? What was your take-away or lingering question?

Jane used The Bible Project's video on the Holy Spirit [3] to impart this context, and I must say that it's stuck with me. I think we miss out on a lot of useful metaphor in the scripture because we don't have the same anthropology as the authors, and it's great to have that illuminated. I've been watching so many of their videos [4] and listening to their podcasts [5] since then.

Take some time to read these various passages: Ezekiel 36:24-37:14, John 3:1-8, John 20:19-22, Acts 2:1-21. Make note of all the references to the Holy Spirit. What do you notice? What questions do you have? enjoy your time together exploring God's word.

The Spirit is life. New life.

I am fascinated to see John record the coming of the Holy Spirit to his disciples from his breath before pentecost. I don't think I knew it was so explicit.

What practices do you currently have in your life that help you be open to the Holy Spirit at work in you? Are there practices you would like to try? Talk together about how you might do something together to be more open and surrendered to the work of the Spirit. Commit to it until you meet again--be sure to check in next time you are together.

Say "yes" to things. Have a heart for God, and attribute leadings toward and in him to the Spirit. You wouldn't be afraid of it if you didn't think you were going to be required to do it.

[1] IN the Holy Spirit: wINd
[2] Acts 2:1-4
[3] The Bible Project: Holy Spirit
[4] The Bible Project
[5] The Bible Project Podcast

IN the Holy Spirit: TrINity

A response to the "small group questions" for the 6 October 2019 message at First Pres, Boulder. [1]

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

excerpt from the English Standard Version of Genesis [2]

What is your own best understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity? How do you explain it? What Scriptures, if any, help you?

I scarcely know how to begin with this question.

That's a lie: I know that my fist reaction is, "I can't believe that a message on the Spirit has immediately become about the Trinity in stead." It strikes me as very Presbyterian, that the Spirit is too uncomfortable, too mysterious, to actually talk about for too long, so we have to talk in the abstract about the Trinity in stead.

Erik's message purported to embrace an admittedly detached Presbyterian mindset by defending a discussion about the Spirit before really getting to know the Spirit. This seemed fair enough to me; but then these three things were:

  • is God (that is, the Holy Spirit is actually God)
  • is love (but, already, the message went far away from being particularly about the Holy Spirit, in stead saying that "the Trinity", or God in his entirety, is love)
  • is transformation? (talking about the redemptive work of God in creation; but, again, this was largely talking about God in his entirety, not necessarily or specifically the Holy Spirit)

So I come away from this disappointed that a series purportedly about the Holy Spirit is already in this first message almost entirely about the doctrine of the Trinity, not the least because I consider the doctrine of the Trinity extra-biblical and likely completely incorrect.

The second helvetic confession states that "there are not three gods, but three persons, consubstantial, coeternal and coequal"; but even this simple, essential facet of Trinitarian theology is anti-scriptural.

The prompt asks what scriptures help me with my understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. I recognize that this isn't the intent; but I can think of no more succinct defense of my leaning than to quote Christ:

You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.

excerpt from the New Living Translation of the gospel according to John [3]

If the Father is greater than Christ, then they are not coequal. And if they are not coequal, there is no Trinity.

I further and specifically reject the assertion that life without the Spirit leaves us with a "two-thirds God" as Erik claimed in his sermon. The Spirit is a comforter to us in our life as inheritors of the kingdom of God; but the Father is not "one third" of God, nor is Christ. Israel was not worshiping one third of God when they worshiped the God of Abraham; and Christ's disciples were not restricted to the presence of one third of God when they followed him.

I have been overly negative here, and I think with purpose; but I am aware that I have failed to answer the question, "What is your own best understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity?" My views on this matter are incomplete, and I am afraid they will remain so until the Spirit has broken my will over the study that will be necessary to complete it. Hopefully that will appear here some day. Not today.

Many protestants work with a functional "Bi-Une" God, focusing primarily on the Father and Son. Why do you suppose that is?

The Father and Son are relatively easy to consider in the abstract, as actors in history or the cosmos relatively distinct from ourselves; but to understand the Spirit is to invite God into your life. To be transformed. "Life," such as we think we know it, without the Spirit is the lie of our age. It is the temptation we are each confronted with: to know good and evil by our own wisdom, rather than to surrender our spirit to God's redeption as his.

What gets lost in our faith and our understanding of God if we set aside the Holy Spirit?

Christ is the promise of an escatalogical salvation from damnation or destruction. The Spirit is the living comfort of salvation from the hell of our broken creation today. In Christ we have hope of life into eternity. In the Spirit the new life starts now.

Throughout this series we will be reminded of the Holy Spirit's vital role in our faith. As we get started, what role does the Holy Spirit have in your life now?

I recognize the Spirit's action in my life, and often. I attibute much of my life and my being to the work of the Spirit, and I consider this attribution an intentional declaration of faith and an act of worship.

John 14:15-31; Romans 8; and Galatians 5:13-26 are some of the prominent places where teaching on the Holy Spirit can be found. What do you notice about the Spirit's work there?

I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

Many of these passages reflect the role of the Spirit as comforter, as originally promised by Christ to his disciples. I do think that many of the uses of the word spirit (πνεῦμα) in Romans 8 are misattributed and coarsely interpreted to be explicitly the Holy Spirit. Paul explicitly distinguishes the Spirit of God with Πνεῦμα (a capital Π), even though the ESV grossly categorizes all uses of the word as Spirit (with a capital S).

This is notably not the case in Galatians, where most (all?) of the instances of the Spirit are rendered with a capital Π.

How can you seek to be more aware of God as Trinity this week? What may happen if you do this?

Since I'm coming to this three weeks later, I suppose I have missed the call; but, as I expect I've made clear above, I question the validity of the doctrine of the Trinity, so I don't think this call carries much weight to me.

Now if you want to know what might happen if I seek to be more aware of the work of the Spirit this week, that's a whole 'nother deal. I can always use more awareness of God at work in my life, and his presence is felt in my relationships with my family, my community, and even myself. He convicts me when I do not want to do what I ought. He convicts me when I do what I ought not do. And he comforts me with a heart that ever-increasingly desires the things of God. [4]

[1] IN the Holy Spirit: TrINity
[2] Genesis 1:26-27
[3] John 14:28
[4] Romans 7:13-25

Good Friday, Tenebrae 2019

I have historically (perhaps until recently) not written much out of my faith, and my (perhaps self-serving) explanation is that I value my faith so much that I am afraid to fail it with my writing. This is only more true now, this Easter, as we celebrate the life of Christ. How could I draw anything uniquely meaningful from today's message, when my experience is so wrapt in the presence and celebration itself? How can I convey my feelings about today to someone who doesn't already feel it themselves?

This year I attended our church's "Tenebrae," a "Good Friday" service that memorializes Christ's death through the image of darkness. I was particularly struck by the scripture reading--not that I have not heard or read them before; but I often have this experience, seeing or hearing the words as though it is the first time.

Failing as I am to convey any distinct or unique thoughts on the resurrection, I will in stead simply share the passages that so struck me on Friday, as I was sharing the service with my oldest son for the first time.

All excerpts taken from the English Standard Version.

Behold, my servant shall act wisely;
he shall be high and lifted up,
and shall be exalted.
As many were astonished at you—
his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,
and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—
so shall he sprinkle many nations.
Kings shall shut their mouths because of him,
for that which has not been told them they see,
and that which they have not heard they understand.
Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

excerpt from the book of Isaiah [1]

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest.

Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried and were rescued;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
“He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
you made me trust you at my mother's breasts.
On you was I cast from my birth,
and from my mother's womb you have been my God.
Be not far from me,
for trouble is near,
and there is none to help.

Many bulls encompass me;
strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.

I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.

For dogs encompass me;
a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet—
I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
they divide my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.

But you, O Lord, do not be far off!
O you my help, come quickly to my aid!
Deliver my soul from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dog!
Save me from the mouth of the lion!
You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen!

excerpt from the twenty-second Psalm [2]

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor's headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.

and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”

Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’”

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says,

“They divided my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.”

So the soldiers did these things, but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.”

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.”

When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.

excerpts from the Gospel according to John, [3] interwoven with excerpts from the Gospel according to Matthew [4]

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!

excerpt from the fifty-first Psalm [5]

[1] Isaiah 52:13-53:6
[2] Psalm 22:1-21
[3] John 19:17-34
[4] Matthew 27
[5] Psalm 51:1-2

The Kingdom Underground: Hometown Hero

A response to the "small group questions" for the 14 April 2019 message at First Pres, Boulder. [1]

When Jesus had finished telling these stories and illustrations, he left that part of the country. He returned to Nazareth, his hometown. When he taught there in the synagogue, everyone was amazed and said, “Where does he get this wisdom and the power to do miracles?” Then they scoffed, “He’s just the carpenter’s son, and we know Mary, his mother, and his brothers—James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. All his sisters live right here among us. Where did he learn all these things?” And they were deeply offended and refused to believe in him.

Then Jesus told them, “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his own family.” And so he did only a few miracles there because of their unbelief.

excerpt from the New Living Translation of the gospel according to Mathew [2]

How would you describe the current posture of your heart towards Christ? Are you giving him a warm Hometown Hero's welcome? Or are you battling unbelief like the people of Nazareth?

I don't struggle with unbelief towards Christ; or, when I do, I wholeheartedly trust that Christ will "help my unbelief." [3] I expect that where I fall short is in the warmth of welcome; I let myself become distracted by the mundane logistics of life, even with Christ. I am "anxious and troubled about many things" and neglect the "one thing that is necessary." [4]

How would you describe the difference between doubt and unbelief?

I don't know, man. I expect the intent here is to differentiate between doubt that is covered by faith vs. unbelief that rests final; but the father in Mark 9 describes his "unbelief" while asking Christ to help him through it.

I think I've got to call "meaningless rhetorical difference" here.

Can you identify any ways that your intellect may be limiting you from experiencing all that Christ wants to offer you?

Sure! For lots of examples, see basically the entirety of my medidations here so far. It's basically my own personal little microcosm of sin.

Are there any areas in your life where disappointment has left you disillusioned? What do you think God wants you to do with your pain?

Probably the closest thing was when we left New York. I left feeling defeated--like I had either not understood God's direction to go in the first place, and had led my family down a needless path of stess; or that I was failing, giving up on God's plan for us.

I am blessed now to have been given peace; both at the time, by virtue of God's faithfulness in leading us here, where I am confident we are in his will; and later, when we briefly (and accidentally) passed through Manhattan and God sent me a spirit of peace unlike anything I had experienced before.

In all things, I think God wants us to praise him.

If there are any areas in your life where you are battling unbelief, take some time to confess those to one another and to Christ. Repent and choose to believe. Remember, even when we don't understand what God is doing, we can trust who He is!

I believe; help my unbelief!

[1] The Kingdom Underground: Hometown Hero
[2] Matthew 13:53-58
[3] Mark 9:23-24
[4] Luke 10:38-42

The Kingdom Underground: Nets and Fish

A response to the "small group questions" for the 7 April 2019 message at First Pres, Boulder. [1]

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

exerpt from the English Standard Version of the gospel of Matthew [2]

Which of the parables from MAtthew 13 has been the most significant for you (Sower, Weeds, Mustard Seed & Yeast, Treasure & Pearl, or Net)? Why?

I don't know that I could count one most significant; but I do struggle to receive the parables of Weeds and the Net more than the others. The others of these parables focus more on the power and effectiveness of the kingdom of heaven; but the parables of Weeds and the Net more specifically describe the discarding of "the evil" or "the sons of the evil one"; and more than discarding, they describe "weeping and gnashing of teeth."

Part of my tentative personal theology has been, given that I am not judge; and that God is "allowed to do what he chooses with what belongs to him." [3] I don't "begrudge his generosity." On the contrary, I have praised him for it; but implicit in that has been the hope that God would save all people in reconciling creation to himself. But I don't see room for that theology in the image of "weeping and gnashing of teeth."

But I suppose, before I rest in an interpretation of this passage, I should call into question my understanding of "the kingdom of heaven." Is it the ultimate end of such people? Or is there something more going on? Here Christ specifies that he is talking about events to take place "at the end of the age"; and I have also been operating recently under the tentative escatology that the age referred to here is the end of the Jewish age, succceeded by the Christian age; but I would be reticent to equate the work of Nero with that of "the angels of the Son of Man who will come out and separate the evil from the righteous."

My escatology and theology clearly need some work. [4]

How does the setting (A fishing boat) and Jesus' tone (loving warning) impact the way you hear this passage?

It gives me a sense of place; like poetry, it conveys a mood. But I don't know that I can draw any specific meaning from it.

It does set the stage for the two-forum presentation, where he preaches to the crowd on the beach, but then relates more personal information to his disciples, ostensibly in the boat with him.

If you were an original hearer of the Parable of the Net, how do you think you would have responded that day? How do you think Jesus wants his hearers to respond to this warning?

I don't know that I _do_ consider it a warning. No-where in the parable is there room for weeds to become wheat; or for bad fish to become good. They are judged by what they are, and there is no call to righteousness here.

I cannot be proud. I expect that, were I an original hearer, I would "hear but never understand; see but never perceive." [5]

As for how Jesus might have hoped his disciples would respond: I expect it begins and ends with that they should "see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn."

Jesus' invitation to discipleship in Matthew 4:19 has also been considered a definition of discipleship: "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men."

Which aspect of discipleship is most evident in your life? Which is most lacking? Spend some time considering how you might be more intentiaonl in pursuing a life of Christian discipleship. Talk to God about and and tell someone else about it as well.

I follow Christ. I want to be transformed by following him, and I see the work of that transformation in my life. I expect that I most lack in my willingness to be in fellowship with God in his spirit, and so in vulnerable fellowship with others. I tend to intelectualize discussions about my faith; but it shouldn't end there.

I've felt a desire--and I think it it from the spirit--to start reading scripture in a public forum (e.g., in my neighborhood) and to invite others to join me. I've talked about this with a friend, but I haven't actually discussed it with God, yet. I just keep feeling like he's mentioning it to me.

[1] The Kingdom Underground: Nets & Fish
[2] Matthew 13:47-50
[3] Matthew 20:1-16
[4] Matthew 16:1-3
[5] Matthew 13:10-17

The Kingdom Underground: Pearls

A response to the "small group questions" for the 31 March 2019 message at First Pres, Boulder. [1]

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field.

Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!

exerpt from the New Living Translation of the gospel of Matthew [2]

Recall a story of a time when you stumbled on something of great worth. What was it? How did it make you feel?

I don't think I've quite had a "treasure in a field" moment. The closest thing that comes to mind are the employment opportunities that I've had. I often tell the story of when my team lead at Argonne first casually mentioned KAUST over lunch. That day I asked Andi for her thoughts about applying for a job there. She was a bit dismissively reluctant at first, but we pursued the possibility together, in response to the niggling sense that there was something important there. (And was there! "Everything that follows is a result of what you see here.")

And there was a similar situation when we came out to Boulder. Andi felt a niggling that this was where we were supposed to be; and, though I was more than a bit reluctant at first, I went looking and found... this. The life we have now.

Both of these situations make me feel like the way ahead of me is prepared. The truth is apparent to those who honestly seek it. I pray I continue in earnest.

Where have you experienced in your own life some of the "treasure" of knowing Jesus Christ?

I've meditated before on the nature of having been in the church "a long time." I think I'm ill-equipped to understand the proportional value of the treasure of Christ in my life, being as I am so assumptively familiar with it--I know little else.

I see the blessings of the life that I have, and I thank God for it; but I can't say that that's sufficient, because I thank Christ for more than that.

I often think that my children and my family help give me peace; because I don't have to worry about having correct motivaiton. No that my motivations are always correct; but because I can consider whether my motivations are in support of or at the expense of my family. It's a useful metric.

But the same is true more fundamentally of Christ. If I need to evaluate the rightness of my heart or my actions, I only have to meditate with the Spirit. Beyond that is faith.

What holds you back from going "all in" with Jesus and his kingdom?

I often allow myself to become distracted or consumed by the mundane logistics of daily life. More completely, I procrastinate many things in the face of the seeming mundanity. Or, because of a sense that there is too much for me to be able to complete (at least, in the time that I wish it would take for me to complete it) I in stead do nothing.

How might you cooperate with God and move closer to joyful surrender to Jesus?

But that is not where it should end. I need to realize that even mundane daily tasks are--or can be--worship, and as such have the potential for intrinsic value. I haven't read it yet, but Andi is talking well of The Liturgy of the Ordinary, and I'm thinking I should read it soon as well.

[1] The Kingdom Underground: Pearls
[2] Matthew 13:44-46

on the defiance of expectations in Epic Mickey

I love it when a game defies my expectations sufficiently to make me uncomfortable. If a game can make me feel discomfort, there's something worth considering there--something that merits deeper understanding. There are things that a game can say about the player that couldn't be said in any other medium, and sometimes the message is all the more effective when I'm caught vulnerably by my own assumptions.

My first experience with this kind of discomfort came during my first playthrough of Mass Effect 2. Near the end of the game Shepard--the protagonist and player character--has accumulated a band of compatriots toward a final mission to stop the Reapers; but just before that final mission, the ship's crew is abducted by the Collectors.

Mass Effect is a role-playing game, and understanding genre tropes is an important aspect of interpreting a work and its impact. Many fantasy role-playing games have a similar plot point: the hero has completed his preparations. He is near the end of his journey. The stakes have never been higher, and the situation is urgent: Meteor is about to crash into Midgar; Gannon is about to destroy Hyrule; or, as is the case in Mass Effect 2, the Reapers are preparing to consume all life in the galaxy.

But role-playing games have another trope: the side quest. These are typically available throughout the game; but the moment before the final climactic mission is the last chance in most RPGs to finish up any side-quests that have been left undone. In Mass Effect 2, side quests take the form of "loyalty missions"--character-specific missions that provide additional backstory and inter-personal context for the members of your cohort. Completing these missions also improves an invisible but important loyalty stat which affects how team members respond to Shepard.

I'm a bit of a completionist, so I took this opportunity before the final mission to complete all of these loyalty missions. I did this all while I poked fun at the video game tropes on display: the big bad, poised and ready to attack; we, the player character, traipsing about the galaxy on unrelated menial missions. After all: Meteor won't crash into Midgar until the plot is ready for it; Gannon never will destroy Hyrule; and the Collectors will wait around until Shepard is good and ready to face them.

But that's not what happens. When I finally did embark on the final mission to stop the Collectors and rescue the crew, we found only Dr. Chakwas alive.

They're gone. All of them. I'm the only one left.

I watched them die. They were... processed--rendered down into some kind of raw genetic paste and pumped through these tubes.

What took you so long, Shepard? You could have saved them if you'd gotten here sooner!

Dr. Chakwas' words are true. While I was taking my time maximizing a gamified loyalty stat, the game was monitoring my activities after the abduction of the crew. Leave immediately, and you may save them all; but the longer you wait, the more of them die.

With this, the game defies trope, and punishes the player for approaching the work as a simple genre piece. In reality, Shephard would never meander about, but would prioritize the mission and the retrieval of the crew. But it's just a game, right?

But it is the fact that it is a game that enables this experience. A character in a book won't die because you waited a week to read the last chapter; but in my Mass Effect, we lost the entire crew: named characters with backstories and interactions that had developed throughout the game. And the consequences don't end there, either: Mass Effect is a three-part series, and the death of these characters carries on even into the next game.

Mass Effect 2 expects you to care about its characters; and, if you don't--if you just play it like a video game, expecting it to behave like other video games--it punishes you for it by taking those characters away.

But even then, I never would have expected to feel this same defiance of expectation from Epic Mickey.

Small Pete

Epic Mickey could hardly be more different from Mass Effect. It's a third-person platforming character action game with light adventure elements. It's a children's game, contrasted with media hysteria regarding Mass Effect's "mature" content. More immediately, Mass Effect is a good game; and I definitely wasn't enjoying Epic Mickey.

But I have kids, and those kids were excited about Mickey, so I was playing through it as a social activity with them. I really wasn't taking it seriously: jump on the platforms; paint the environment with the magic paintbrush; mash "A" when characters talk to you; make "progress."

Not too far into the game, I ran into a character called "Small Pete," a rendition of a classic Disney character, "Pete," who often serves as the antagonist of a Mickey Mouse story.

I spent years getting' along with gremlins. Only had to knock 'em around on occasion. Then, the ONE TIME I crash my boat into their village, they seem to think I'm some kinda villain.

Not that I give two hoots what they think, but it WAS an accident. And my ship's log will prove it.

Those little monsters won't let me near the wreck to get it, though. Hmm... I'll bet they'd let you.

I was immediately suspicious of Small Pete's story (assuming I paid it any mind at all, beyond just mashing "A"); but we got a quest objective and moved on.

I continued jumping between platforms, tagging the environment, and mashing "A," until we met Gremlin Shaky.

Gremlin Shaky offers to trade a pin for Pete's ship's log

I smell treasure! You found it!

How's about you trade me that ship's log for a flashy new pin?

I still wasn't paying attention. Why would I? The platforming was mediocre. The characters were either flat or carbon-copies of each other. Each gremlin looks the same as all the others. So I interpreted this interaction with the same level of attention that I would pay to most collect-a-thon games:

"Oh, right. The ship's log. I guess I picked it up along the way. Pete wanted us to get that for him, right? What was that for, again? This must be the guy I'm supposed to give it to. And when I do I'll get a pin as a reward, eh? Ok, I guess it's a collectible, so I guess I'll do it."

Thank you very much. This will make excellent reading. Here's your pin.

But that wasn't all there was to it. Immediately after finishing the interaction I received a "quest failed" notification.

Quest Failed, find Small Pete's Ship's log

I kept playing, just accepting that I had failed the quest, and probably missed out on some minimal benefit. But something about the interaction bothered me. Small Pete seemed to be a character teetering on the edge of villany. He was willing to "knock 'em around on occasion"; but he seemed genuinely (if covertly) concerned with clearning his name. He wasn't a villain yet. He was a bully.

So you left my ship's log with those grubby gremlins, eh? Well, here's a little taste of what happens to those who cross me!

I had betrayed Small Pete. I hadn't done it out of malice. Worse: I had paid him no mind. He asked for help, and I ignored him. Eventually, I traded his name for a collectible pin I didn't even care about. In a literal sense, I had turned him into a villain: Small Pete had become a video-game boss, generating a combat encounter to punctuate the chapter.

I found myself considering what it would take to correct this mistaken path through the game's narrative. I had overwritten my save several times since I had given Pete's ship's log to Gremlin Shaky. I would have to start the game over from the beginning.

The very fact that I was considering it made me uncomfortable. I did not enjoy playing this game. But, for the sake of a fictional character as absurd as Small Pete, I was considering sacrificing some portion of my time in pursuit of his redemption.

I tell my kids that it's part of a parent's job to give them consequences that they can learn from and grow through, while protecting them from consequences that they can't recover from, if only for a time. In a small, but very real, way, Epic Mickey was that for me. I ignored a call for help. I was careless. A character was treated unjustly, and that injustice led him to embrace his own darker tendencies.

I never did go back and do right by Small Pete. In fact, I don't think I played the game again after that. I'm sure we were called down for dinner, and then distracted by another game I enjoyed playing more. But I still think about Small Pete, about the time I didn't pay enough attention, and about the consequences that might develop when I allow myself to become just a little bit more callous to the world around me.