Deuteronomy 30:19-20

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Remembering 2008

2009 is on the horizon as 2008 comes to an end tomorrow night. Personally, I cannot wait for a new year. I am excited to think about what the new year could hold. But before jumping on into January 2009, I want to take a look back at the year that was... 2008.

January - Began with a New Year Party at the house in the midst of my long break from school. I was at home most of the month waiting for a new semester with new roommates.

February - A new semester began with new roommates and new friends. We played crazy games around campus enjoying our first weekend back at Union. But the fun came to a standstill on the 5th when the tornado destroyed part of campus. The rest of the month was mostly spent at home, waiting to go back to school. On the 19th, we returned, and I lived in a hotel for the next few months.

March - A cancelled GO Trip led to a spring break at home, which was a great rest from a stressful, hard, long semester that had only barely begun. But summer began looking brighter when I received a phone call to work at Christian Wee Learn for the summer. This was a welcomed phone call since I was no longer going to be able to work at Centrifuge at Union.

April - The semester continued, and this blog was born. It became a place for me to keep friends updated, talk about books that I had read, and vent about whatever popped into my head.

May - The semester finally ended, and campus was looking much better! Dorms were popping up everywhere, but it was time to go home and put an end to a hard semester. Then work began, and I began wondering if summer was going to be fun after all.

June - Work became much better as the kids began listening somewhat better. They were soaking in the material much faster than I ever expected, and I was growing attached to every single one of them. But even in the midst of fun, I was missing Union.

July - Kids Kamp kicked the month off, and it was a great time away from the daily activities at work. But it was also a time of work as I co-pastored for those 3 days. But summer was beginning to end, and the kids were about to head to school.

August - The summer program ended with a huge party day. I was so impressed with the kids and could not believe that they had accomplished so much in such little time. As they went back to school, I really longed to head back as well, but summer was not yet over. I continued to work with them in the afternoons.

September - A new semester finally began, at a "new" Union. Things looked completely different, and it was great to reconnect with friends. We were all excited to begin a new semester on a campus that was still in the process of rebuilding. But we could not walk on the sod.

October - The semester continued along as we saw more work being done all around us. The buildings were complete, all minor repairs were being wrapped up, and little things to help campus look better began popping up (such as lampposts).

November - Campus went through homecoming, and old alumni came to see what the new Union looked like with the new dorms. Another semester was ending, as the election came to an end as well.

December - The economic crisis seemed to grab everyone's attention as the semester ended. But the excitement of Christmas took place over all fears of the world around us. Then the semester ended and we all returned home for a great Christmas with friends and family.

Now here I sit wondering how 2009 will begin. Will there be another life altering event take place that will shake the very foundation of my world again? Or will 2009 begin like some of the more normal years of my life? I have plans for what I see in 2009, but will they be fulfilled or changed like last year? We never can know the future, but when it comes we have to work with what we get.

I hope that I am able to participate in my mission trip this year as well as setting up a summer job that will not be changed. I hope that I have a normal semester in the spring, unlike the previous 2. I hope that I can have a normal, peaceful year. But I realize that in an instance, that could all change. I cannot become comfortable with my life, because the unexpected could come.

Make your plans for the New Year. Set your goals. It is a good thing to set goals in life and work towards completing them. But while you are setting goals for the new era of your life, remember that your goals may not be God's plan. Be willing to change those goals if the need arises. Be willing to conform to God's will and not your own. You may have great plans (like I thought I did in 2008), but I can guarantee you that if God changes those plans, His plans are greater. I experienced that first hand in 2008, and it will be a year that I will not soon forget.

Matt

Monday, December 29, 2008

Field of Blood



You may remember the Aramis Black series that I spoke of many months ago. Well this book is the latest from the mind of Eric Wilson. He has now begun the Jerusalem Undead Trilogy, and Field of Blood is the first in this series. In this story, fiction collides with history and archaeology. Wilson visited Romania and Israel, did his research, and produced a very well written story.

Now if you do not like vampire books, then you may want to stray away from this one, but then again it might be a good experience for you. After all, it is only fiction.

But anyways, the story begins with Judas' suicide. And then in this fictional story, his blood seeps into the ground below him and the Undead are "born." A family of demons, known as the Collectors, are in a way awakened by his blood, and 2000 years later, they are released from their tombs. Now the Collectors roam the world tracking down the Nistarim, those who have been marked by Jesus' blood.

Now I am sure this talk of Judas' and Jesus' blood having some crazy impacts on people may sound crazy to you, but remember that this is fiction. However, it is a clever story. The Collectors are "doubly dead" and the Nistarim are "doubly alive" or immortal. And they are pitted against one another throughout this story. As always, I do not want to ruin the story for you. So I have provided you with the background of the two forces that battle in this story. But know that Gina (Regina) is what I would consider the main character of the story who finds herself in the midst of this spiritual battle. Follow Gina as she tries to protect the Nistarim and discover the secrets about her past with her as she is confronted with the truth.

Like I said, if you do not particularly care for the idea of vampires, you may not like this book. You could always give it a chance and see what you think. But there are some graphic vampire scenes in the book. I did enjoy this book and would recommend it as a good read.

Matt

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Jesus Calling

This song is off of the same CD as One Life to Love by 33 Miles. I have recently been listening through the CD, and this song in particular caught my attention. There always seem to be those songs that just seem to jump out at random times, and this is one that has stuck out to me over the past few days.

Jesus Calling by 33 Miles

What do you see when you look at your world today
Is it so full of clutter that you feel like you’re going insane
And you can’t fight back cause you’re just too afraid
and it seems like the clouds in your sky don’t wanna change
You see there’s always another story, another side to every coin,
And how you see your circumstance is all about a choice

CHORUS
When you see the rushing wind , feel the pouring rain
hear the thunder now as the clouds roll in
and you’re blinded by the lightning
do you also hear that still, small voice saying
It’s okay, you’re not alone, you may be scared to death,
But I won’t let you go
You may think the sky above is falling
But can you hear Jesus calling

What do you see when you look at your world today
Do you see a glimmer of hope, or has it all turned to gray
Well start by counting your blessings one by one
Oh and I’m sure right there, you’ll start to see the sun
You see there’s always another story, another side to every coin
And how you see your circumstance is all about a choice

CHORUS

Because the darker the night, the brighter He can shine

CHORUS

This seems to apply to the world today. It seems to be gray skies of gloom and doom. Whenever you turn on the news, it seems like there is only bad news and not many "glimmers of hope." With all of this depressing news, it would be easy to get down every day never finding happiness in any aspect of life. But is that what you want your life to be, days, weeks, and years filled with depression? Because it does not have to be that way. True, life is hard, and times are tough right now. And just because you choose to have hoped does not necessarily mean that those hard times will suddenly disappear. But it will give you a new perspective on those hard times. Instead of looking at the hard times and dwelling so much on the negativity, which causes you to be depressed all day every day, you can try finding those "glimmers of hope."

As this song mentions, there is always another side to the coin, another story, and a choice to make when these hard times come. The chorus of this song is great! When we see and feel all these hard times in and around us, we must remember that we have something or someONE that can help. That is the message of this song, and it applies so well to the news of today.

I do not want you to think that I am saying that being a Christian is the cure to the problems in your life, because that is sadly not true. Hard times will continue to come. But the secret to your problems is the way that you choose to deal with them. So as we continue to go through these hard times in our country, be sure that you do not forget that Jesus is there with you through it all. It may be hard now, but you can look on to a brighter day, a day that is coming, even if it is not in this life.

Matt

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas 2008



I have enjoyed the Christmas Holiday these past few days. It has been a great time with family and friends as we attended the Vesper Service at church and then visited all the many different sides of the family.

Here are a few things that I received this year, which will give me lots of great things to do during the new year. I received about 8 books this year, giving me plenty of reading for the next few weeks. Also, some books are coming out that I will use some of my Christmas money on to buy. I am excited about this new batch of books. Also, I received some great new music including the new Rush of Fools CD and 33 Miles' music. So far, all 3 CDs sound great. Finally, the last big thing I received this year was the ESV Study Bible. I have patiently been waiting to get this for many months.

But on the giving side, I was able to give my dad some "retro" television antiques from a neat store at OpryLand. We gave him a yellow submarine mug and an Andy Griffith photo of Barney. As for my mom, we gave her a Union rug that LifeWay was selling during the fall.

The gifts were great, but as I have gotten older, they no longer have as much significance as they once did. It is now more fun to shop and try to find neat gifts for others. But more than that, it is just fun to hang out with some family members that we only see a few times a year. We had a great time Christmas Eve night at my uncle's house and stayed there late into the night. Then on Christmas, we spent all morning at my Grandparents' house. It truly was a great Christmas.

I hope you had a great time as well. I hope that the time spent with your family was wonderful and fun. Now, as we enter back into life and the daily routine, try not to feel so run down. Keep the joy that comes with Christmas with you into the New Year. I pray for a safe 2009.

Here are a few pictures from our Christmas stops. I will have to find the one from Christmas morning later:

Alabama Family (Mom's Uncles)

The 4 of us Christmas Eve Morning

Henry Christmas (Mom's Brothers)

Matt

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

Now that we are officially entering the 2 days of celebration for the Christmas holiday, I thought it would be appropriate to look at the Christmas story once again. But this time I want you to look at it in a different way.

The past 2 days at Christian Wee Learn, we looked at the story of 2 young cousins. John and Jesus were born just months apart from each other, and their parents did not know what would become of their lives years later. They knew that these 2 babies were special and were born with a purpose, but they did not know that it would one day lead to brutal deaths for each one. But prior to those tragic days, their lives were filled with many great moments of teaching, preaching, and miracles (for Jesus).

When looking at the story about their births in Matthew and Luke, it seems like so many things could have gone wrong at any given moment. For instance, the angels came to many different people delivering messages to set these plans into motion. Because of the faith of these people, these babies were born and brought up for a specific purpose. And yet problems still arose. Herod tried to kill young children, hoping that Jesus would meet His death as a young baby. But once again, Joseph's trust in God's direction led the family to Egypt, saving Jesus' life for the time being. The story about these 2 children ends with their early childhood and does not pick up again until we find John in the wilderness preparing the way for Jesus, his cousin. From there we get the Gospels, the story of Jesus' life and His sacrifice for us, the ultimate gift in life.

But what would have happened if things had fallen apart in this story? What if Jesus had never been born? Would Christmas be what we know it as today? Or would this Christmas season just be another part of the year for everyone? We can never know the answers to these questions. What could have happened is never known, only what happens. But knowing that the odds were stacked against Jesus and John as kids should add a little more emphasis on the Christmas story. We would not be opening gifts with families and eating nice Christmas dinners if this story had been drastically different.

So in the midst of the chaos of travel, gifts, and food, take a minute to reflect once more on the Christmas story. Read through the first few chapters of Matthew and Luke. Thank God for His gift of Jesus, in the form of a baby, and for the sacrifice He made for us. Do not let this Christmas season pass without focusing on the One who gave it to us in the first place, Jesus.

Matt

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Enjoying a Break

The semester has come to an end, and that means that I now have 6 weeks of almost "study free" free time. I took my last final last Thursday, and on Friday I went back to work. I am back at Christian Wee Learn for the winter. I will be working there through much of the month of January. Then, it will be time to head back to school for another semester. But in the meantime, I am home, enjoying Christmas and a break.

I do have homework in Greek. That is the thing about a 2 semester course. If I do not study during this break, I will lose much of what I have learned during the semester. So I am going to have to read through the chapters and review vocab while I am at home, but that won't be too bad. Other than that I plan on kicking back and reading a lot. This is always a good time to catch up on reading.

I feel like the blog has been slow for the past few weeks. Most of that is due to the fact that I was finishing up the semester. I did not have as much time to sit and write these past few weeks as I normally do. But now that I have a lot of time on my hands again, I should be able to find plenty of things to write about. I am hoping to get a lot of books for Christmas. If that be the case, then I will have many new books to discuss on here. Also, I am wanting to begin a new series after Christmas, I just have not figured out what that is going to be yet. But look for something new either late this month or at the start of the new year.

I hope that there is a lot more to come on here. Stay tuned.

Matt

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Is Your Faith Just Head Knowledge?

Hebrews - A Look at the Book

Tomorrow marks the end of the semester, and I will take my last final in my class on Hebrews. For part of our final, we were asked to write about a way that Hebrews has affected our lives. So I began thinking about the book as a whole. What is one of the general messages of this book? It took me a while to narrow it down to one lesson I have learned, because there really are so many throughout this book. But I decided to take the approach of looking at the book as a whole. And what I discovered is a common problem among most Christians, a problem that we probably all face at one point or another.

Is your faith just head knowledge? Or is there a much deeper relationship present?

Many times we learn so much about the Bible that we store the information in our head for future use but never apply it to our daily lives. We learn about who God is and what He has done for us, but then we go about our daily lives as if we had never been taught the first thing about God. This problem can arise when reading through the book of Hebrews. The first 10 chapters of the book is filled with knowledge about God. The author makes amazing connections back into the Old Testament, and he lays out what Jesus did on the cross for His readers. He compares Jesus to the angels, elevates Jesus as our High Priest, describes Jesus position at the right hand of the father, and explains the differences between the Old and New Covenants. With so much information, one could easily just learn about God without actually getting to know God.

But just as our lives should not end with knowledge, the book of Hebrews does not end with a discussion of Christ. Instead, the author continues in the last 3 chapters by providing his readers with many examples of those who have lived out the faith. He then connects in to Jesus, as our ultimate example (see my posts on "Running the Race"). This is where the application comes in. Through chapters 12 and 13, the author lays out practical applications for our lives. He gives us ways in which we can incorporate these teachings into our walk with Christ. The faith does not end with knowledge, it extends into action and application.

So listen to what the author of Hebrews says, and consider what your life is like right now. You may have already learned this lesson in your life. You may already understand the importance of applying Scripture to life and not only learning about it. But you may be in a tough spot right now. I hope this is an encouragement to you to think about how you can apply Scripture into your daily life. Just remember that the Bible should not only be head knowledge.

Matt

Monday, December 15, 2008

Snow and Ice

Well as we enter into these winter months, remember all of those who will be trapped in snow and ice storms this year. These weather systems began many weeks ago in the northern areas of our countries. I know that they are pretty much used to this type of weather, but that does not mean that it is hard to deal with at times. I would be frustrated with the shoveling of snow and power outages that come with these storms.

Snow and ice are typically the main weather problems during winter, and this year it seems like much of the country is being hit by it earlier than normal. In fact New Orleans received quite a bit of snow just last week. And now tonight West Tennessee is about to be hit with a snow and ice storm, although we do not know how bad it is going to be yet. I guess we should be thankful that it is snow and not something worse, but those of us at Union are frustrated that some of our finals are being postponed due to this weather system.

No matter how much fun it is to play in the snow, it can always be bad for those who have to travel in it. Pray for safety and keep everyone in mind as we see these type of systems continue to pass through the country over the next couple of months.

Matt

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Call - Lucy and Aslan

Prince Caspian was released on DVD last week, and of course I went out and bought it immediately. Now I have previously stated in other posts my thoughts on this movie, both the positives and the negatives, and you can see that in the movie section on the right side of this page. But this post is not about the movie itself. Instead, I want to specifically comment on one of the songs that they included in the movie that I feel fits so well. This song is "The Call" by Regina Spektor:

It started out as a feeling
Which then grew into a hope
Which then turned into a quiet thought
Which then turned into a quiet word

And then that word grew louder and louder
'Til it was a battle cry
I'll come back
When you call me
No need to say goodbye

Just because everything's changing
Doesn't mean it's never been this way before
All you can do is try to know who your friends are
As you head off to the war

Pick a star on the dark horizon
And follow the light
You'll come back when it's over
No need to say goodbye

You'll come back when it's over
No need to say goodbye

Now we're back to the beginning
It's just a feeling and no one knows yet
But just because they can't feel it too
Doesn't mean that you have to forget

Let your memories grow stronger and stronger
'Til they're before your eyes
You'll come back
When they call you
No need to say goodbye

You'll come back
When they call you
No need to say goodbye

I loved this song when I heard it for the first time in the theater. It seemed to fit the movie perfectly. And now that I have seen the movie several times since and read these lyrics, I think it is a perfect fit for Lucy at the end of this book/movie. Lucy is leaving Narnia for the second time, hoping again that she will one day return. Aslan almost assures her that she will be needed again, and she feels like she will be making a third visit to Narnia. Through this song, it seems like Aslan telling her to wait for his call, and then she will be able to return. What a powerful message if Aslan is related to God! Wait on God's timing in life.

The song then talks about change. With Lucy returning to England, life will once again change, returning back to her normal life in England. But change can be good, even if things are hard. The song suggests some hard times (war). The series was set in and after WWII, so again the song seems to tie in well with the book. The part about looking to a star seems off if considering Christianity, but it does allude to the light. Jesus is the light, and this could be seen as Aslan encouraging Lucy to look to the light as she goes through her next stage of life.

Finally, there is an encouragement to hold on to the feelings of Narnia. Those around Lucy and her siblings will not know how they feel about Narnia. They do not know what Narnia is or how it has affected these children. But that does not mean that the children have to forget their memories. Aslan encourages them to hold on to the memories of Narnia, not forgetting the lessons that they have learned. Also, this seems to connect with Susan, who at the beginning of the movie was letting go of her Narnia feelings (not in the book from what I recall). But later in the series (book form), Susan does forget about Narnia as she gets caught up in worldly affairs. Lucy is encouraged to hold on to those memories as she awaits for her call back to Narnia.

I really like this song. It seems to have been written in light of the Narnia series, but it may not have. If it wasn't, then there are a lot of connections that can be made regardless. Just like this song, The Chronicles of Narnia have a lot of lessons that we can learn. The children that travel to Narnia go for a purpose. Not only do they help those in need in Narnia, but they are taught various lessons themselves. And once they have learned all that they can, they are sent back to their own world to put those lessons into practice. May we take the lessons that we hear from God and put them into practice in our life, just as these children have.

Matt

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Commons Under Construction

(Click on the picture to get a better look at the Quads)

As we enter this last week of the Fall 2008 semester at Union, a sense of joy and excitement will go along with us. No it is not the joy of taking exams all next week and wondering how we will do in all of our classes. But as we walk to those exams, we can catch a final glimpse of a building that is currently under construction.

The 15th dorm of the new Quads has pretty much been completed, and next semester, it will be opened for students. But even more exciting than the newest dorm is the Commons. We have been without a Commons (on this side of campus) for over 10 months now. We used to have 3 total, and now we only have the one in the Heritage Complex. But in Fall 2009 the new Quads Commons will be completed.

This past week, we have seen them move dirt, and today the ground has pretty much been leveled out. Pretty soon, we will see the framework of this 16th building. The new Commons (according to our campus newspaper) will be 30,000 square feet. Now we do not know what all will be in the Commons at this time. All we know is that they have gone over several floor plans trying to make the best one possible. They wanted to use every inch of space for something, and it sounds like this Commons will be amazing! The RDs will live in the new Commons as well.

Other than the Commons, the Quads have been transformed over the course of the semester. When we arrived, we had buildings and sidewalks with some newly laid sod. We were not allowed to walk on the sod until after Fall Break. Since that day, lampposts have been put up all through the 4-Quad area. Also, the Tornado Monument/Memorial was finished early this semester. Today, trees are being planted all around the area. Come Spring 2009 the Quads will look a lot different, yet again, and the Commons will be well on its way by then.

By Fall 2009, we will hopefully have the Residence Life Complexes back to normal, with new dorms and a new Commons. Then it will be time to conquer the next big task, more dorms. With completion of the 15th dorm, we are back to where we were the night of the Tornado. We have not increased our number of rooms on campus. But our enrollment has increased and is projected to increase again next year. If this happens, we will be tight on space to house everyone. So new dorms are in the works, as Dr. Dockery works on another plan for more housing.

So concludes another semester at Union. Finals are on the way, and the Commons is coming up. Spring 2009 promises to be another great semester.

Matt

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Next Christendom



This was my final textbook of the semester, and I just finished reading it last night. In the class I have been taking on Christian History, we have discussed the history of Christianity, stretching from the time immediately following the Apostles up through most of the 1900s with a glimpse into the present. This book, The Next Christendom, moves past the idea of history. Instead of looking primarily at the past, it stretches into the future and looks to see what Christianity might look like in 2050.

The book begins with some history, looking at how Europeans spread Christianity across the world, including America. But the book does not center around European and American Christianity. Instead, it focuses on Latin and Southern America, Africa, and Asia. Christianity has flourished in these regions over the past several years, and it is still continuing to spread. According to Jenkins, the author of this book, the "next Christendom" will be located in the southern hemisphere in areas such as these. He bases his predictions off of current statistics and provides readers with a look at what Christianity will look like in these regions in the coming years. Such statistics predict a vast spread of Christianity, moving the majority of Christians to these southern countries rather than Europe and America (where Christianity is centered now). From there, he speaks of what the future holds for these countries and how they will one day be reaching into Europe, spreading Christianity anew in those lands.

Do I agree with all Jenkins says in this book? Yes and No. I agree that there seems to be a shift in where Christianity is being centered. Even today we are seeing a secularization in Europe primarily but also in America. And in the southern hemisphere, Christianity is spreading like wildfire. I do not disagree with Jenkins' assessments on the spread of Christianity.

What I question is what Jenkins considers to be Christian. For instance, he states that he includes anyone who claims to be a "Christian" in these statistics. It does not matter how off their theology may be, if they claim to be affiliated with Christianity, then they are included. As a result, Mormons are even placed in this group. He does leave Mormons out at times, but on several occasions they are included in his statistics. So if Jenkins' idea of a Christian is covering too vast a range of people, then are the statistics skewed? In some ways, I would think so. It may be true that Christianity is spreading drastically in these regions but maybe not to the degree that Jenkins states. With skewed statistics, maybe his judgment of the future is a little off base.

However, I do think a day is coming when we will find the center of Christianity in some of these regions (unless a great revival occurs in the Northern Hemisphere). That is my other problem with the book. There almost seems to be no hope. Although I do not believe that Jenkins reads this as fact, I do wonder where he stands on this issue. Is this the absolute future that we will one day see, or is this just a possibility of what could happen? Are we going to sit around and let Christianity die in Europe and America, or are we going to attempt to prevent the secularization of these areas? I am glad that Jenkins pointed this shift out to Christians. It should give us reason to stand up and press on, holding on to what we have. But I do not think that this book should be read with the idea that there is no hope for our country.

Read this book if you get the chance, but do not be depressed at the end. Do not let it paint a picture of hopelessness in your mind. Instead, take this very possible future and use it as motivation to spread God's word in our own lands as well. Our country can still have a spiritual awakening.

Matt

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Preparing for Christmas

Luke 2:1-20

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

"Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those
with whom he is pleased!"

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us." And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Have you read the Christmas story yet this Christmas season? I thought it was appropriate to post it on here for someone to read. If yo have not sat down and read this yet, read back through this familiar story. I think many times we gloss over the details and forget what really happened on the night of Jesus' birth. We have heard the story for years, and it becomes easy to go through the yearly motions of reading the story for tradition's sake and never focusing in on learning something new about Christ's birth.

We looked at this passage Sunday at West Jackson for this very reason. It seemed almost too simple for a college Sunday School lesson, but once we began discussing the story, we all discovered small details that we had never paid much attention to in the past. Have you ever thought of Mary's condition as she was riding the donkey? She was right at the point of birth, and yet she was traveling on a stubborn animal. Think of her determination to get to Bethlehem for the census.

And think about the shepherds' faith in believing the angel and then traveling to the manger. Afterwards they praised God and gave Him the glory for this birth. For the shepherd's, this was "breaking news." They did not grow up hearing the "Christmas story." When Jesus was born, they spent the night praising God. Have we let the story become so old in our lives that we find ourselves not giving God glory for His gift? This Christmas season, read back through this account, as well as the one in the opening chapters of Matthew. Search the Word and see if there are some details that you have overlooked. Seek God, and allow Him to teach you something new this year. Don't treat this just like a traditional story that you must read every year. Instead, read this Scripture as God's Word written to us, for us. Jesus is more than a story!

Matt

Sunday, December 7, 2008

A Summary of Christian History



No, you cannot click to look inside. Sorry, this image is from amazon.com, but you can go there to order it.

This has been another one of my textbooks for this semester, and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to read a good summary about the History of Christianity. It is great when you actually enjoy your textbooks in school.

Most people, unless you are a history major or minor in college, do not particularly care to read a book with a bunch of dates and facts. But for me, this is not an ordinary history book. Of course, those elements are present in this book, but for a history book, I found it quite easy to read. From the first chapter I was impressed with this book. I never got bored with all the details that the author presented about each period of history. Many times my mind shuts down when reading pages and pages of historical texts. But this one was different, and I think that part of it is due to its almost story-like read. Now it is not exactly written like a fiction book or a story, but it is kind of close. My point is that I think it would be an easy read for most people, especially if you enjoy history.

Also, the author does not focus on one specific movement. He takes into consideration all view of Christianity from the end of the 1st Century to the present day. He shows how the early church dealt with various heresies, how and why the Reformation began, and what denominations have formed over the past two to three hundred years. He explains each movement and comments on the various leaders who started the movement and were the major influences on the movement.

But if you are not into reading 450 pages of history, you can even pull out specific chapters. Pick up wherever you would like in history, and you will not be too lost. Of course, you will miss out on some of the background, but I feel like you would still be able to get a good understanding of what was going on in that particular era. So I recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand the history of Christianity better. If you have ever wondered how we got to this point today, pick up this book and see where it all started. I hope you find this a good read.

Matt

Friday, December 5, 2008

Finals on the Horizon

So yesterday I was talking about being stressed. I think that for the life of the college student, the word stress is immediately associated with finals. It is the single most stressful point of any student's semester. But like yesterday, it is also important for us not to become too stressed at this point. Stress only leads to late nights of studying and uncertainty when we are taking the test. Nothing good ever comes out of stressing about finals. But no matter how we say that we might change our study habits, it never seems to happen. Semester after semester, we push it to the last minute and have to start some late night studying.

For me, these late nights are only a week away. Next week is our last week of classes at Union. The following week will be finals week. So next Friday night, I will be sitting in my room looking through notebooks filled with notes as I begin to compile all of my information for the tests.

So finals are coming soon. But the great thing about finals week is that you can finally see the light at the end. The end finally seems close, and another semester will be complete. So my 5th semester at Union University will soon be over.

Matt

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Have You Been Stressed?

We all go through times of stress in our life. And it seems that when one crazy thing pops up, stressful situations continue to come into our lives. But is stress worth it? We know that the Bible specifically commands us not to worry about things in life. Jesus tells us this in the Sermon on the Mount. But how easy it to follow that command?

I do not know about you, but I know that I can easily find myself stressed out if I am not paying attention. Different situations will begin popping up in my life, deadlines will arise, and before I know it, I am running frantic trying to get everything done. It normally leads to long days and short nights. I find myself missing out on sleep, and I am always exhausted. So is it worth it to be stressed?

Not only does the Bible warn us about worry, our bodies let us know when we have too much going on in our lives. I am not saying that it is wrong to busy in life. However, it seems that the busier life gets, the more stressed we become. They normally go hand in hand.

We are all going through difficult times right now with the economy. That is affecting every American, and even many around the world. But my guess is that the economy is not the only stressful situation in your life. More than likely, you have other struggles such as sickness, bad work environment, heavy workloads, or bad relationships. When all these hit you at once, life seems like it is too much to handle.

So how should you handle the stress in your life? Well first of all, I would encourage to try to prevent stressful situations by not making your life too busy. But if stress has crept up into your life, go to God. He can give you comfort and a clear head to help you work your way through the stress.

I am on the brink of finals, and I can see stress on the horizon. My goal is to kill the stress before it arrives. If I prepare now for my tests, then I will not be as overwhelmed come finals week. Planning can also help you in your quest to kill stress. So be careful. I understand that life is hard, and that stress is almost inevitable. But as Christians, we know the one who can cut out the stress in our lives. Give it to God.

Matt

Monday, December 1, 2008

NIV Application Commentary - Hebrews


Now that the semester is drawing to a close, I am beginning to finish up many books, all the text books that I have to read over the past few months. This, the NIV Application Commentary - Hebrews, has been one of the books that I have read this semester. Now I have not yet finished this book, but I only have 1 or 2 chapters left to read.
..
George Guthrie, the author of this book and my professor, wrote this commentary about 10 years ago. This commentary does a good job in going through each passage verse-by-verse so that the reader can gain a better understanding on the book of Hebrews. But what aids this book are the the two other sections found in each chapter: Building Contexts and Contemporary Significance.
..
I am assuming that other commentaries in this series have these same divisions, and if so then it might also be worth your while to look into those books as well. But as for Hebrews, these two sections really help in further understanding the text found in the book of Hebrews. For instance, Guthrie begins each chapter by doing his verse-by-verse analysis, discussing the original meaning of the text. What did the author mean in accordance with his original audience? How did this text apply to their lives? But then he moves into the Bridging Contexts section where he shows how the text is still applicable today. What is it that we can gain from this text in our daily lives? Does this text still apply to our lives? Finally, he provides numerous examples on how to live out the teachings of Hebrews. If Hebrews teaches me to live in this manner, how can I be sure that I apply these lessons to my life? When put altogether, Guthrie walks his readers through the book of Hebrews by showing them the meaning of the text and why it is applicable to our lives today.
..
I find this process very helpful. The Bible has obscure passages that people do not always know how to interpret. We find ourselves lost in the text and wonder how it can help us in our spiritual life. It has been great to dive deeper into the Word, discovering the meaning of the text and also learning how that text can apply to my life.
..
As I said, I only have a couple chapters to go, but I will have to finish the book within the week (for class). I cannot wait to see what else lies in the pages of this book. I highly recommend this to anyone who wants to study the book of Hebrews. Whether you are just reading through the book or preparing to teach about one of the passages, this commentary can help aid you in your studies.
..
Matt

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Saying Bye to Phil

The end of an era. No longer will Fulmer be the head coach of Tennessee. And this truly is a sad day up on Rocky Top. Despite all the negative remarks that have been made throughout the season, seeing Fulmer go is sad. He has meant a lot to the Tennessee football program, leading them to 2 SEC championships and 1 national title. But since those great years in the late 90's, things have been going down hill for the Vols.

For me, Fulmer is the only coach I can remember being at Tennessee. I was 4 when he began his career, and for every ballgame that I remember sitting through, he has been the man on the sideline leading his team to victory. But that all ended tonight, and Tennessee will now head into a new era, a new page in the history books.

It has been reported that Kiffin will take the head coach job for the 2009 season, but that has not been officially announced yet. We will have to see what comes from Knoxville on Monday. But until that day, Fulmer will be the man in the spotlight as everyone reflects on his accomplishments over the last 17 years at Tennessee.

Maybe he deserves a little bit of ridicule over this season (which has not been good, finishing 5-7). But do not let this 2008 season overshadow all the other ones. He did have some great accomplishments that we must remember. But just like in all football programs, sometimes it is time for the coach to go. They have done all that they can do, and with them staying the team would only be hurt. And sadly, I feel that is what has happened to Fulmer. He truly loves Tennessee, but if he stays, we may just continue the downward spiral. There may not be anything else he can do. But it is nice to end a great career on a win.

He will be missed. But this ending is also the start of a new beginning for the Vols. 2009 will be a great year for Tennessee football.

Matt

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope everyone has had a great day today. You have had time to eat, sleep, rest, watch football, and be with family. And I hope that you took time to enjoy the day. We all know that Thanksgiving is a time when we can think about the things that we are thankful for. So be sure that you have either taken time to or that you will take time to think on those things.

One thing to do on Thanksgiving is think back to last year at this time. What has God done in your life during this last year? What things do you have to be thankful for? We are now entering into the Christmas seeing, where God gave us the ultimate gift to be thankful for, Jesus. So use this season of Thanksgiving to thank God for what He has done for you and what He is continuing to do for you.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Matt

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Everytime I Breathe

This song has a powerful message, and describes how we are supposed to live in relation to God. But sadly, we fall short of this on a regular basis. But before I make a judgment about everyone, read these lyrics for yourself. And while you are doing so, think about your life. Is this the way that you see God on a daily basis?

Everytime I Breathe

I am sure all of heaven's heard me cry
As I tell You all the reasons why
This life is just too hard

But day by day
Without fail I'm finding everything I need
And everything that You are To me

Every time I breathe You seem a little bit closer
I never want to leave I want to stay in Your warm embrace
Oh basking in the glory shining from Your face
And every time I get another glimpse of Your heart
I realize it's true
That You are so marvelous God
And I am so in love with You

Now how could I after knowing One so great
Respond to You in any way
That's less than all I have to give

But by Your grace I want to love
You not with what I say But everyday
In a way that my life is lived

Every time I breathe You seem a little bit closer
I never want to leave I want to stay in Your warm embrace
Oh basking in the glory shining from Your face
And every time I get another glimpse of Your heart
I realize it's true
That You are so marvelous God And I am so in love with You

Wrapped in Your mercy I want to live and never leave
I am held by how humble
Yet overwhelmed by Your majesty
Captured by grace and now I'm finding
I am free
You are marvelous God And knowing You is everything

We should love God with all that we have (See #1 A Look Back at Deuteronomy 6:5). But many times I feel that we go to God when we need Him. As the first verse shows, life is hard. And we are very good about going to God during those hard times. Of course He helps us, and we are grateful for His help, but for our relationship to grow deeper, we must go to Him in all areas of life. So do we go to Him "day by day" in the good and the bad. Is He really "everything" that we need?

I am not trying to harp on anyone or make you question your relationship with God. However, I do not feel like He is everything that He can be in my life. And I would guess that many others feel the same way. I desire a deeper relationship with my God. And I sometimes wonder if the relationship that this song describes is the relationship that I have with God each day.

Please do not think that I am saying it is wrong to go to God in the hard times in life. It is very important to entrust Him in helping us in those times. But our relationship with Him should not solely be based on His help in those times. It should go deeper, and it should be a daily relationship with the God who created us, loved us, saved us, and will be with us for eternity. Run to Him each day, and be caught in His "warm embrace." That is the perfect place to be in life.

Matt

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Much Needed Break

It is almost that time around campus. Thanksgiving Break is coming, and "thank"fully, that means that we will not be on campus.

After a long semester (so far), it is time again to take a break, and I will be heading home tomorrow afternoon. My last week was filled with tests and papers, but now that is all a thing of the past. I will not know my grades until we get back to campus next week, and I can now enjoy a long Thanksgiving Holiday. The busy homework assignments are over (for now), meaning that I do not have too much homework to do over my break. So I plan on sitting back and relaxing for several days (which is much needed right now).

But that is not all good news. The sad thing is that once break is over, the semester will speed up (like it always does). Those last few weeks when we get back to campus always seem to be the worst due to the fact that finals will be just around the corner. However, this semester, we will not get to finals for a while. We have two weeks of classes left prior to our finals, which is due to the fact that we started two weeks late this semester. Plus, they shaved off a week of the semester to make up for lost time. So we have been on a somewhat accelerated schedule yet again. But two weeks of classes, one week of finals, and then it will be Christmas Break for six long weeks.

So over all, Thanksgiving will be great. I can catch up on some sleep, do a little bit of homework, and prepare for the home stretch. That's the latest news from Union. There is not too much going on right now other than the regular basketball games. Once we get back, we will have some time for a few last events before finals week.

Matt

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Jimmie Johnson - 3-Peat



When a sports team wins 3 consecutive championships, do you consider them a dynasty?

In the case of Jimmie Johnson, I think that this must be true. For the past 3 seasons (including this latest 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series), Jimmie Johnson has been the victor at Homestead.

When the season started this year, all eyes were on Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, because of their great success at the end of last season when they battled for the championship in the final race of Homestead. But things changed very fast when Ryan Newman won the first race, Daytona, and Jimmie Johnson finished further back than normal. This cause Jimmie to start the season very low in the points.

Then, Kyle Busch, after switching to a new team, became a very dominant driver, winning race after race. It seemed as if he was the one that would be in contention for the championship when the season came to an end. Summer began, and Jimmie Johnson slowly made his way up the points standings. He was nowhere close to Kyle Busch, who would start with a great advantage in the chase, gaining 80 bonus points for his 8 regular season wins. But that would not stop Johnson.

The Chase began, and shockingly Kyle Busch had 2 bad first races, putting him at the bottom of the Chase standings (from 1st to 12th). This opened the door for Johnson, who took over the points lead just a few weeks into the Chase. And once he got on top, no one could touch him. His only major competitor was Carl Edwards, and Edwards battled him to the very end. But at Homestead last Sunday, Johnson had a substantial lead on Edwards, and the only way for Edwards to win was for Johnson to wreck out of the race. Johnson pretty much had things wrapped up, and by the end of the night, he won his 3rd consecutive championship in NASCAR's top series.

So in 3 seasons he has won the championship in different ways, showing his strength in new avenues. Is this a dynasty? I would argue yes. Jimmie Johnson is the one every driver better watch out for in the 2009 series that starts next February.

Matt

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Running the Race - Part 6

This is the end of the "Running the Race" Series. After all that we have talked about in Hebrews 12:1-4, how does this apply to our life? Sometimes we read Scripture, think that is a great lesson but nevre consider that it might be directly addressing us. Yet, we can and need to grasp the author's message from this passage. So here is my application for this passage:

Much like the Christians of the early church, life can be hard for the one who choose to devote their life to Jesus Christ. The world still hates those who follow Him, and just as Paul promises in 2 Timothy 3:12, all Christians will face persecution. However, the fear of persecution should not deter the Christian from the running the race that is set before him. Christians have great examples from the past that they can look to for guidance and encouragement. This passage comes directly off of chapter eleven, where the author lists many of the Old Testament heroes that endured through hard times, kept the faith, and followed God. In the same manner, Christians today have personal heroes that they have seen persevere through different circumstances of life. They too can provide Christians with encouragement. Seeing the example of personal heroes, Christians can learn to follow in their faithful footsteps. One way in doing so is through removing sin from their life. Sins will only slow down the Christian and will hinder further success in the faith.

Not only can Christians look to biblical and personal heroes of the faith, they can also look to Jesus, who ran the race of faith perfectly. One must remember that Jesus did not die just for believers of the past. He died for Christians today as well. So His example of faith continues to provide encouragement today, giving Christians the perfect example to look to. He founded the faith, beginning it and leading Christians in it throughout all eternity. He also perfected the faith, giving people the perfect example by which to live. He did this by looking to the joy before Him, despising the shame He had to face on earth, and enduring the cross. Christians must take this into consideration when they face persecution. They have the perfect example of a man who never failed in the faith. Even when things went badly and everyone was against Him, Jesus continued to persevere. So when persecution arises in the life of a believer today, they too must learn to persevere, understanding that Jesus endured much worse sufferings. But if the story ended with His death, there would be no hope today. And thankfully the story does not end with the cross. The author of Hebrews mentions Jesus’ exaltation. And because of His victory over death, we too can share in this glory through perseverance of the faith.

I hope you have enjoyed this series. It has been good for me to continue to look at the meaning behind this passage in the weeks that have followed my paper. This was not just an assignment for me but a great study of four small verses. Remember to look to Jesus for guidance in life because He is our perfect example. Let Him guide and direct you, and do not fall to the side of the track. Keep persevering in the race and finish it strong.

Matt

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Running the Race - Part 5

Hebrews 12:4

In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

As the author begins to transition into the next section of the chapter, Lane offers the idea that there is a link between verses one through three and verses four through thirteen. The phrase, “not to lose heart,” links the focus upon Jesus’ endurance to the Christian’s call to endure.[1] Verse four begins with a similar idea already presented in verse one. In verse one, the author presents an example of great leaders from the faith. Then, he connects those examples to an exhortation about getting rid of the sin in their lives. In verses two through three, he provides another example in Jesus. Now, verse four seeks to encourage them to resist sin that will inevitably come up into their life leading to struggles and possibly persecution and martyrdom.

Frederick Fyvie Bruce points out that these believers had “endured severe persecution for their faith” at one point, but in those moments martyrdom was not present.[2] The author now alludes to a possibility of martyrdom for these believers. Kristemaker notices a continuing comparison between Jesus and the believer. He states that “if Jesus endured the persecution and shed His blood, His followers ought not entertain illusions of being exempt.”[3] Jesus is presented as an example for believers all throughout this passage, and this example should be followed. Therefore, when the author mentions Jesus’ sufferings and His shedding of blood, He uses that as an example of a lifestyle that Christians should be willing to model. He does not state that they must shed blood for Christ to be considered a Christian. Instead, he states that they must be willing to suffer unto that point, if the need ever arises.

According to Ellingworth, it appears as if these believers had faced persecution at one point, but at that time, it did not involve martyrdom. He sees this connection in Hebrews 10:32-34. But now, the author fears that more persecution may be on the way, and he wonders if these believers will stand their ground and resist.[4] So this verse seems to be a continuation of the author’s encouragement from chapter ten. He reminds them of the persecution that they had already faced and warns them of what could come in the near future. But the key to this passage is that they are called to endure, resist the temptation to quit the race, and continue to look to the example of Jesus.

This is what we should take from this verse: Endure in the race of life, resist the temptation of those around you that may encourage you to quit, and continue to look to Jesus for encouragement and guidance in life.

Later this week, I will conclude this series on "Running the Race" by expounding on the above statement. How does this passage apply to our lives today?

[1] Lane, World Biblical Commentary: Hebrews 9-13, 417.
[2] Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Epistles to the Hebrews, 342.
[3] Kristemaker, New Testament Commentary: Hebrews, 373.
[4] Ellingworth, New International Greek Testament Commentary: Commentary on Hebrews, 644.

Matt

Monday, November 17, 2008

Westmont College

Before I dive back into my study cave for the night, I wanted to ask that you pray for Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California. As many of you may have heard, there has been a recent outbreak of fires in California. Last Thursday, Westmont College was one of the victims to this fire, receiving fire damage to some of their buildings on campus. As Union students, we know what it is like to go through a natural disaster, and we are asking for people to pray for this college (our sister university) during this troubling time.

Pray that they will be able to rebuild soon, getting a plan of action ready this week. Pray that students will be able to return to classes as soon as possible, if they have not already done so. Also, pray that God will be able to use this situation to His glory, that He will be seen through their testimony during such a trying time. I can understand what many of them are currently going through at Westmont, and I pray that God will be with them every step of the way. May they seek His guidance in the days ahead.

Matt

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Jane Eyre



Part of my current large homework load is due to this novel. Over the past 2 weeks, we have been reading Jane Eyre for British Literature. Now it is paper time, and I am currently working on writing yet another paper (on this novel).

I am sure many of you (especially men) might wonder why I have been reading Jane Eyre of all books. But you might be surprised at how well written this book is. There is a really good storyline throughout its 500+ pages. And although it is definitely a love story that women love, there is plenty of mystery and action to keep anyone interested.

As part of our in-class assignment, we had to follow a certain image throughout the whole of the novel. By doing this, I was able to see how Bronte incorporated other images into the storyline. She uses paintings and other cultural images to support her novel, which helps place it in the culture of her day. She also alludes to past and present (of her time) fairy tales and myths, which show where some of the characters come from. Finally, there is an abundance of religious images (ranging from description of the church and clergy and allusions to various Biblical stories).

One of the images I noticed was the description of God as our master. This was illustrated through the character of Mr. Rochester. He was the "Master" of Thornfield Hall. He owned the property, and Jane seemed to idolized him throughout the course of the novel. But there are also points in the novel that point to him as not being a "godly" master, and the connection to God is lost through his sinful actions. However, this idea seems to play out through the novel, ending with Jane's recognition of her own idolatry and the service she needs to devote to the true God.

The novel spans Jane's entire life. She begins with the death of her parents, which forced her to live with her hateful Aunt for many years. From there she moved to Lowood School and spent several years learning various tasks and subjects. She then became a teacher for 2 years and eventually moved to Thornfield Hall to become a governess to Adele. This is where she encounters Mr. Rochester and the strange mysteries of Thornfield Hall. What is the secret, and how will it affect her life? Well, eventually she moves yet again and encounters her cousins. She begins a school of her own, but she then returns to the remains of Thornfield, where this novel introduces its own happy ending (with some consequences).

All in all, anyone can enjoy this novel. There is mystery and action for those of you who do not like the love story lines of Victorian novels (like me). But for any woman who may be reading this blog, I know you will enjoy all the elements of the story, love, suspense, mystery, etc. So basically, whatever elements you like in a novel you will find in Jane Eyre.

Matt

Friday, November 14, 2008

Running the Race - Part 4

Hebrews 12:3

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.

This example for the Christian life flows right into verse three where the author continues to speak of Christ’s sufferings in comparison to the Christian’s. From there, the author provides the encouragement for Christians to persevere. But there is a switch in verse three that focuses on a new aspect of Jesus’ suffering. Attridge points out that the author switches the focus of the suffering to “the hostility of sinners.”[1] And Koester shows how this hostility came from the Jewish leaders and men who crucified Jesus.[2] Once again, the author takes the sufferings that Jesus faced and compares them with what Christians will continue to experience. Suffering will be a part of the Christian life, and Christians will face many of the same trials that Jesus endured. So the author once again directs their attention to Jesus as he provides another exhortation on endurance.

In the second part of this verse, the author states that if their focus remains on Jesus they will be able to continue in the race, not growing weary. Delitzsch makes an interesting comparison back to the sporting imagery. He compares the soul’s weariness from trials to that of weakened knees of a runner.[3] Just as it is easy for a runner to grow weary after a long race, the Christian can grow weary after enduring many trials. However, the encouragement this verse provides will help spur the Christian on. But more than physical exhaustion, the author also provides encouragement to his fellow Christians to not give up. Guthrie points out that “to lose heart” can be translated as “fainting or giving up.” He says that their weariness would also lead to the desire to quit the faith.[4] The idea of quitting is never endorsed in this passage. Instead, the author continues to encourage his readers to endure despite the cost. And endurance will only be possible if they look to Jesus.

But when thinking about endurance, we must also remember that many times endurance involves suffering. That is where verse 4 will pick up next time. Although we are called to endure and persevere, there is never a promise that it will be easy.

[1] Attridge, The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, 358.
[2] Koester, The Anchor Bible: Hebrews, 524-525.
[3] Delitzsch, Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews Volume II, 309.
[4] Guthrie, The NIV Application Commentary: Hebrews, 399.

Matt

Life at UU

School.

That is about all there is to it at this point in the semester. There really is not that much going on around here other than papers, tests, and homework. However, we do still find time to be involved in other activities. But now that I have had my break this week, it is time for me to climb back into my shell and prepare for 3 big tests next week (along with a paper).

Sports have been big around campus these past few weeks. Last week was homecoming week, and on Saturday we had 4 homecoming games. First our lady bulldog basketball team played and dominated! The guys backed them up by winning in overtime. Meanwhile, the lady bulldog soccer team won their first round tournament game. But sadly, the guys lost and their season came to an end. So as soccer begins to fade out around campus, basketball season has just begun.

About the only other thing going on around here for me is the fact that we have been hosting prospective students in our room. Last Friday night, we had a kid from Texas stay with us. We showed him around campus, around Jackson, went bowling, and just hung out for a while. I'm hoping he is sold on Union (and if you are reading this, we hope to see you in the Fall). Then on Saturday night, a kid came in late from Colorado and left the next day. Tonight we have two more from East Tennessee staying with us for the night, here for Preview Day tomorrow. It is a great opportunity to begin investing in the lives of these students. Many of these will be freshmen next year if they decide to come to Union, and I am sure they will enjoy seeing a few familiar faces in the midst of that big change in their life.

So like I said, I will be crawling into my cave/hole, whatever you want to call it. I have to study and do well on these last few tests before finals. And that may mean that I drift away from the blog once again. But I will try to finish up the series on Hebrews 12:1-4 despite the high work load I have right now.

Matt

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Running the Race - Part 3

Hebrews 12:2

looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

We ended in verse 1 with the runners looking down the track, and today we will see what that object (or more accurately, what person) is down the way. Verse 2 is the meat of this passage, and there is more information presented here than in any other verse that we will be looking at in this passage.

The object down the track is what keeps the runners going. Whereas verse one present the runners as looking at what lies before them, verse two shows the runners looking to a specific person, Jesus. The author has already made a connection to those who have run the race successfully, the witnesses. Now he introduces the man who ran the race perfectly, the one who they can look back to for an example and look towards for encouragement. The author does this in three distinct ways. He refers to Jesus as the founder and perfecter of the faith, speaks on how Jesus endured the cross, and once again alludes to His exaltation. Through these three references, the author presents Jesus as the perfect example for his audience.

In one sense Jesus is just another example for Christians to look to when running their own race; however, the author of Hebrews presents Him as the perfect example. First off, Jesus founded the faith. Paul Ellingworth suggests two possible meanings when referring to Jesus as the founder. For Ellingworth, this word means either beginner or leader, and he proposes that both descriptions are adequate. “In the immediate context, the contrast requires the meaning ‘beginner.’” But in relation to Hebrews 2:10; 11:40, Christ brings many sons to glory, and Ellingworth believes that this shows Him as a leader or pioneer.[1] V. Rhee latches on specifically to this idea of Jesus as the leader of the faith. In so doing, he remains consistent with the racing imagery of the text. Jesus is the leader in the race much like He was in Hebrews 2:10,[2] where He founded and perfected salvation. In other words, He is the one that Christians look to both as the one who founded the faith and the one who leads it onward in the race.

The second descriptive term, perfecter, also receives a pretty good consensus on the meaning of the word; however, there remains a debate as to how unique this word actually is to the text. As already seen, Jesus is described as the founder of the faith, and John MacArthur presents the idea that when the author uses the word “perfecter,” Jesus is also being described as the “One who carries it through to completion.”[3] Owen explains this same thought a little differently saying that Jesus “carries it on unto perfection.”[4] Both men introduce the idea that Jesus not only begins the faith, but He also finishes it, bringing it to full perfection. Thus, He offers Christians the perfect example of running the race of faith. Furthermore, Attridge points out that it is not Jesus or the Christians that are being perfected in this verse. Instead, Jesus is perfecting the faith.[5] This will further be seen in the remainder of verse two: through His suffering on the cross and His exaltation.

However, commentators have argued over whether the term used here for “perfecter” is unique to this biblical text or if it can be seen in other documents from the first century. To begin with, Lane states that it is “not found elsewhere in the Greek Bible and is unknown from other literature of the period.”[6] Although others agree on the fact that this Greek word cannot be found in any other biblical text, it seems as if Lane has overlooked a document in which this term is found. Koester points to a document written by Dionysius of Halicarnassus, in which Dionysius uses this word to refer to an orator as a completer.[7] N.C. Croy also caught on to this piece of information and rebukes against those who state that Hebrews is the sole place in which this term is used. He argues that “the author of Hebrews did not coin the term, or at least was not the first to use it.”[8] This may seem to be a minute detail for this passage, but by seeing how this word is used by a non-biblical writer, one can more fully understand what the term might have meant in the culture of the first century. Using that definition, more light can be shed on the meaning of the word in the biblical text as well. This document helps further show that perfecter in Hebrews refers to one who brings something to completion, and in the case of the book of Hebrews, the faith is being brought to completion.

So first, the author describes Jesus as the one who both founded and perfected the faith. By describing Jesus as the perfecter, he transitions into the next part of this verse where Jesus endured the cross. When Attridge describes Jesus as perfecting the faith, he states that this “perfecting activity consists first in the creation through his death and exaltation of a new possibility of access to God in a new covenant relationship.”[9] So it goes through his death on the cross. Jesus withstood the ultimate price by dying on the cross so that Christians can see an example by which to live. Once again, looking at the Tyndale Bible Dictionary, they define crucifixion as a “form of execution…by which Jesus procured atonement for humanity.” Furthermore, they state that this term is “also used figuratively by Jesus to portray the sacrifice in discipleship.”[10] This definition points out both Jesus’ actions as well as the example that His followers are called to model.

The runners are commanded to look towards how Jesus endured the cross, in which He despised the shame and ran toward the joy before Him. Ellingworth comments on this joy saying that Jesus did not run for the earthly joy before Him. Instead, Jesus endured the cross in order that He might receive the heavenly joy.[11] He knew what was before Him in the exaltation; therefore, he continued to endure the sufferings placed before Him while on earth. Guthrie comments on how Jesus looked to the reward ahead of Him by simply enduring through the present sufferings. Through this, He provides the “preeminent example of endurance.”[12] This shows why Jesus’ example is so important to understand. The examples provided in chapter eleven were necessary and great ways to provide encouragement for the runners, but now Jesus is the ultimate example to follow. In life, Christians must look beyond the hard times, endure through them, and look toward Jesus in faith.

Finally, verse two ends with Jesus’ exaltation at the right hand of the Father. Exaltation, as defined in the Tyndale Bible Dictionary, is “the glory and dominion which Jesus attained [upon] completion of his earthly work of suffering and death… the reward of his full obedience to the will of the Father.” Furthermore, Psalm 110:1 comments on the exaltation by saying, “…sit at my right hand…” God speaks to His Son, and makes His enemies His footstool. Guthrie comments on this exaltation by stating that it should provide Christians with encouragement to persevere.[13] And Owen further expounds on this by saying that since Christ suffered yet endured, should Christians not persevere through those their sufferings?[14] Both men make a great point. Christ is being portrayed as the ultimate example, and yet He had to endure the suffering of sinful men. But despite those hard times on the earth, He still persevered through them and is now exalted in Heaven. This is the example that the author gives Christians, and this is what Christians are to look to for encouragement during their personal tribulations.

With verse two alluding back to Psalm 110:1, one must take time to see why the author once again alludes back to this verse. Lane shows how this idea was first presented in 1:3, and then how the author continues to expound upon the point in 2:5-9; 8:1-2; 10:12-13.[15] The exaltation becomes one of the major themes throughout the book of Hebrews. And Attridge says that this is the last allusion back to this passage in the book.[16] In this final allusion, the author plainly states that Jesus is seated by God’s right hand. It does not allude to some future event, saying that Jesus will be exalted to that position at some point. Instead, it clearly sits Him there, making this final allusion a critical one for the reader. Once again, the exaltation is the goal that Jesus looked to through His sufferings. And it provides Christians with an example to look to through their own sufferings.

Please remember that these posts are a series of excerpts from my paper, and you will be presented with the majority of my paper and research by the end of this series. Now verse 3 will begin to provide the application of this passage, and we will look at that next time.

[1] Paul Ellingworth, New International Greek Testament Commentary: Commentary on Hebrews (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993) 640.
[2] V. Rhee, “Chiasm and the Concept of Faith in Hebrews 12:1-29,” Westminster Theological Journal 63, no. 2 (2001), http://web.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.uu.edu:2048/ehost/pdf?vid= 5&hid=103&sid=3211ba31-00a5-4e1e-b72e-f8f1341c4b37%40sessionmgr104 (accessed October 11, 2008).
[3] John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Hebrews (Chicago, Illinois: Moody Publishers, 1983) 379.
[4] Owen, The Works of John Owen: An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews with Preliminary Exercitations Volume VII, 239.
[5] Attridge, The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, 356.
[6] Lane, World Biblical Commentary: Hebrews 9-13, 411.
[7] Koester, The Anchor Bible: Hebrews, 523.
[8] N.C. Croy, “A Note on Hebrews 12:2,” Journal of Biblical Literature 114, no. 1 (1995), http://web.eb scohost.com.ezproxy.uu.edu:2048/ehost/pdf?vid=6&hid=103&sid=3211ba31-00a5-4e1e-b72ef8f1341c4b37%40s essionmgr104 (accessed October 11, 2008).
[9] Attridge, The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, 356.
[10] Elwell and Comfort, Tyndale Bible Dictionary, CD-ROM.
[11] Ellingworth, New International Greek Testament Commentary: Commentary on Hebrews, 641.
[12] Guthrie, The NIV Application Commentary: Hebrews, 399.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Owen, The Works of John Owen: An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews with Preliminary Exercitations Volume VII, 244.
[15] Lane, World Biblical Commentary: Hebrews 9-13, 413.
[16] Attridge, The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, 358.

Matt

Monday, November 10, 2008

Somewhere in the Middle


In your relationship with God, have you ever felt like you did not know exactly where you were? I mean, have you thought "I know I have made progress," but still feel like "but I know I am not there yet." If so, then you are completely normal. However, like me and so many others, you probably tell yourself that you find yourself stuck in the middle. Take heart, the Apostle Paul found himself in a similar situation as well in Romans 7. He says that he does the very thing that he hates and not the thing that he knows is right. He in essence is stuck somewhere in the middle of what is right and what is wrong. Casting Crowns does a good job in expressing this idea in their song, "Somewhere in the Middle."

Somewhere in the Middle

Somewhere between the hot and the cold
Somewhere between the new and the old
Somewhere between who I am and who I used to be
Somewhere in the middle, You'll find me
Somewhere between the wrong and the right
Somewhere between the darkness and the light
Somewhere between who I was and who You're making me
Somewhere in the middle, You'll find me

Just how close can I get, Lord, to my surrender without losing all control
Fearless warriors in a picket fence, reckless abandon wrapped in common sense
Deep water faith in the shallow end and we are caught in the middle
With eyes wide open to the differences, the God we want and the God who is
But will we trade our dreams for His or are we caught in the middle
Are we caught in the middle

Somewhere between my heart and my hands
Somewhere between my faith and my plans
Somewhere between the safety of the boat and the crashing waves
Somewhere between a whisper and a roar
Somewhere between the altar and the door
Somewhere between contented peace and always wanting more
Somewhere in the middle You'll find me

Just how close can I get, Lord, to my surrender without losing all control
Fearless warriors in a picket fence, reckless abandon wrapped in common sense
Deep water faith in the shallow end and we are caught in the middle
With eyes wide open to the differences, the God we want and the God who is
But would we trade our dreams for His or are we caught in the middle

Lord, I feel You in this place and I know You're by my side
Loving me even on these nights when I'm caught in the middle

This song has so many great images, and I have felt them so many times in my life. Some of the ones that stick out to me are:


  • Somewhere between who I am and who I used to be, who I am and who you're making me... How many times do you feel like you make progress and then revert back? I have been through this, and at times I feel like I am stuck there. Now we will never get to what we want to be in Christ this side of Heaven. However, we are called to try continually.

  • Somewhere between my heart and my hands... Our thoughts and ideas on how to serve Christ are sometimes just that, great ideas. They fail to be backed up by action. And I know I am guilty in this area.

  • Somewhere between the safety of the boat and the crashing waves... This is a recurring theme through Casting Crowns music (appearing on all 3 CD's), and it is very true for some of my life. It goes well with the second point. We know what we are supposed to be doing in Christ, but we like the comfort of the boat and are scared to get out and work for Him.

  • Deep water faith in the shallow end... This one of the most vivid images of the song. At times, we can get so caught up in wanting to know the theological issues or know God so much better that we find ourselves wading in the shallow end of the pool, again afraid to see what else God has in store for us. Knowledge is great, but when it is not backed up by action, we are just wading in the shallow end of the pool.

There are many other images that speak to me, and these are just a few. But my encouragement for myself and for you is to take action. Stop sitting around with great ideas on how you can better serve God and go out there and work for Him. Take hold of the gifts that He has given to you and let Him use you in life.


Matt