I really hope this column will bless you. You can read the most recent column below and previous columns at the archive.
Are you a good person?
Evangelist and author Ray Comfort thought of a simple way to test a person’s goodness. Look at the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20. It’s a pretty simple test. Anyone who has violated them is guilty. Anyone who is guilty cannot be a good person.
But the Ten Commandments are in the Old Testament. Jesus, in the New Testament, didn’t judge, right? He wasn’t about guilt. He even said, “Do not judge” (Matthew 7:1). One popular interpretation is that God in the Old Testament is judgmental where God in the New Testament is loving.
Everyone knows about the New Testament’s most famous definition of love. It is the safest bet for a Bible verse in almost any wedding. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. “Love is patient, love is kind, love does not …” Much more than just marital love, though, it describes the kind of love God has always had for his creation, even in the Old Testament.
I’ve been exploring how, in both the Old and New Testaments, God is the same eternal, triune creator whose character is perfectly holy, righteous, just, merciful, gracious and above all loving. In both testaments, he acts to judge, bless and redeem all of creation. The last, but perhaps most important, aspect of God’s character is his love. John goes so far as to make the audacious claim that God is love (1 John 4:8). It is equally true in the Old Testament as in the New.
I had an intern at the church last spring. It was great not only to have the help, but also to learn from his perspective. One aphorism I shameless lifted from him, which he stole from one of his professors, was, “rules without relationship lead to rebellion.”
I found this to be most true when I applied the wisdom of the saying to the way I discipline my children. Instead of being strict, I found that if I let my children believe they deserved punishment for things like lying or disobedience or general nastiness, then gave them some mercy from time to time when they were caught, their behavior would improve.
In June, 2013, Wendy Davis delivered her famous filibuster on the floor of the Texas Senate chamber to prevent a new law restricting abortion access from passing. It seemed everyone with a stake in the abortion issue flocked to Austin to protest, but not Sandra Franke.
Sandra is the director of the Pregnancy Help Center.
There’s a municipal court judge in Painesville, Ohio that does justice a little differently.
Judge Michael Cicconetti offers guilty parties in his courtroom the choice between traditional, legally prescribed sentences (jail time and fines) and his own more creative punishments. One woman was sentenced to picking up trash for animal cruelty. Another man had to ride a bike in a charity parade with a humbling sign as punishment for stealing a bike. The judge’s method and sense of justice been the subject of several national news stories.
As unique as Cicconetti’s approach is, I wondered how he would approach more serious crimes. The thief can return what they stole to “make things right.” The liar can tell the truth. But what can the murderer do? If he dies too, you haven’t set things right. The victim is still dead and you end up with two dead people instead of just one.
Being a prophet in the Old Testament was hard. Nobody listened to Jeremiah. Hosea had to marry a prostitute. Ezekiel had to chop his hair off, lay in bed for just over a year and two months and eat food cooked over cow poop. Daniel was thrown in a pit with lions. Sure God saved him, but I’d take not be thrown in a pit with hungry lions over being saved after being thrown in a pit of lions any day. Of all the prophets in the Bible, one deserved his hardships more than all the other. Jonah was the worst prophet.
I am in Austin doing various Christmas things with my family. My wife and I were both born and raised here, and most of our family still lives here. We just got back from the Trail of Lights in Zilker park, and tomorrow morning, we’re going to my mom’s house to open presents.
I’ve mentioned before that Christmas isn’t my favorite holiday. I tend not to like holidays in general. I don’t even celebrate my own birthday. Most of these traditions I just tolerate. But I got to do something this morning that really embodied the “Christmas Spirit” to me.
I love woodworking. It’s cheaper than therapy, and you get to walk away with something useful. I’ve got a whole woodshop in my garage. One day, I realized that though my half of the garage was too small for my truck, it was just big enough for a small woodshop, and my wife never minds as long as her car isn’t put out of the garage for more than a couple days.
From time to time, she’ll use a tool in my shop. I want to be clear that I don’t mind the concept of my wife using a tool in my shop at all. Scripture is clear that we are one flesh, so what belongs to me belongs to her, and vice versa.
I learned very fast not to tell new acquaintances what I do. When I was ordained, people stopped cussing around me and I haven’t heard a dirty joke since. All the sudden, it was like I was a completely different person. All the sudden, it seemed everybody expected that I would have something to say about God or the Bible in every conversation.
With the benefit of retrospect, though, I now realize it wasn’t sudden. After a period of self-observation, I have realized that even on my “time off,” I think and talk about the Lord a lot. And it was that way before I entered full-time ministry. When people in my life accuse me of always talking about Jesus and being obsessed, I have to concede.
But is being obsessed with the Lord unreasonable?
Many of Christianity’s staunchest opponents point to the doctrine of the Trinity as not only irrational, but a wholly novel Christian invention that even the Apostles didn’t hold.
Predictably, I disagree with this position. Instead, in both the Old and New Testaments, God is the same eternal, triune creator whose character is perfectly holy, righteous, just, merciful, gracious and above all, loving. In both testaments, he acts to judge, bless and redeem all of creation.
Infinity is a hard thing to write about. It seems paradoxical to write about something that has no beginning. Or, how will I end an article about something that has no end? Outside abstract mathematical concepts, nothing we know of is infinite.
Cosmologists know that space-time is not infinite. The most liberal estimates are that the universe began 13.7 billion years ago. That’s longer than I would estimate, but the universe had a beginning nonetheless. It is not infinite. Time began, and space itself seems to have limits. An older theory of the size of the universe holds it to be 27.4 billion light years wide, but newer estimates put it around 156 billion light years. That’s big, but it is not infinite. It has a limit.
Because I was raised in Austin and lived most of my adult life in West Texas, I have been blessed with friends and acquaintances that spread across the entire political spectrum, including the extremes. I don’t spend a lot of time on Facebook, but Wednesday morning I thought it would be interesting to see the differences in reactions to the election results across the spectrum from my various friends. Boy, was it diverse, but everyone had something in common. Most responses to the election seemed to communicate a major shift in American politics. Something had drastically changed.
My first column was published on April 28, 2012. I made the argument that neither of our major two modern ideological containers — conservatism and liberalism — were able to encapsulate the kind of living and thinking God wants. Instead, I argued that we should reject both labels and “look up” to Scripture as the ultimate authority for life and godliness.
As early voting closed and the big election day approached, I found myself wishing I could just reprint that article. Never have claiming the name “Christian” and jumping wholeheartedly into one of America’s political boxes been so demonstrably incompatible.
My wife calls me The Grinch. I don’t like holidays. I don’t like decorating. I don’t like shopping. I don’t like putting all the effort into preparing for a holiday, disrupting my normal routine, and then going back to normal like none of that effort ever counted for anything — it’s a whole lot of effort that didn’t end up making any real, lasting difference. Maybe my wife is right.
But I love Halloween.
Last Saturday, I was backpacking in Big Bend. On Saturday, while you were reading about Esther, I was climbing Emory Peak and the thought of you reading my column was on my mind. I've been writing about women in the Bible, so I also began to wonder if the Bible ever talks about a woman climbing a mountain because that's what I was doing in the moment.
Having wracked my brain for literally miles of hiking, I finally discovered an instance of not just one woman climbing a mountain, but at least five.