Examining Culture Through Words

The other night, while listening to a Christian radio station in my car, a DJ was talking about Google’s Ngram viewer. Google’s Ngram viewer has digitized data from over 15 million works of literature. The DJ made an intriguing insight. He took the position that words communicate culture. His logic was that changes in culture can be seen by both the emergence and frequency of words used over various time periods. If we believe the adage that we tend to speak about those things which occupy our thoughts, wouldn’t that apply to what we write as well? Most likely, right? Continue reading

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Self-Imposed Limits

Immediately prior to the new millennium, American rock band Lit released “My Own Worst Enemy.” A teenager at the time, I found the song to be catchy and meaningful, because I was regularly engaging in new experiences and too often learning the hard way—by screwing up.

The driving element of the song’s chorus is:

It’s no surprise to me, I am my own worst enemy

Continue reading

The Hulk Within

“Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity” (Acts 8:22-23).

The Hulk is a fictional character that was created by writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby for Marvel Comics in 1962. The Hulk comes into being when genius scientist, Bruce Banner, finds himself the victim of a gamma radiation accident. Similar to the body timeshare nature that exists between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the massive and powerful Hulk is generally depicted as taking form whenever Bruce Banner is overcome by stress or anger. Continue reading

Reverence

The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed. So Moses said, “I must turn aside now and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burned up.” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then He said, “Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said also, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God (Exodus 3:2-6).

I was raised in a devout, Roman-Catholic household. My family always sat in the first couple rows of pews every Sunday morning. We even attended holy days of obligation.

My parents also fostered a commitment to church service. Starting young—I think that I was eight—I joined the choir. I was its youngest member. A few years later, I became an altar boy. I served as an altar boy through high school, until leaving for college… Continue reading

Kings or Servants?

And [Jesus] said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves” (Luke 22:25-27).

Working in higher education, I constantly encounter students with grandiose aspirations. They are young, their careers are still in front of them, and they often envision—as they see it—the most idealistic career circumstances possible. Many want to hold leadership positions that are highly visible and possess substantial power. They desire to become CEOs, political leaders, leading-edge researchers, Nobel prize winning scientists, hall-of-fame athletes, etc. In other words, their aspirations often align with a secular (i.e. worldly) perspective of success and influence. Continue reading

Symbols and Signs of Association

Prior to the beginning of 2017, I found my James Madison University (JMU) class ring. An expensive graduation gift from my parents, it had been MIA for nearly four years. To ensure that my ring wouldn’t get lost during the move to a new apartment, I had secured it in a safe place. The place was so safe and secure, I couldn’t remember where I had put it 😛 Continue reading

Home

“For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst” (Matthew 18:20, NASB).

“And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25, NASB).

“In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2-3, NASB).

“For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have the opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Galatians 6:8-10, NASB).

WHAT IS HOME?
Understanding what constitutes home for us is an extremely important question, as our conceptualizations of home have major implications on how we both view and behave towards others. Continue reading

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

“Believe it or not, Christianity is not about good people getting better. If anything, it is good news for bad people coping with their failure to be good.” ~Tullian Tchividjian

As a Christian, there is a certain question that is bound to arise when speaking with someone who has recently encountered tragedy. I’ve had this question asked of me by both people who’ve professed faith in Christ, and those who’ve claimed to possess no faith whatsoever (though, in a previous post, I’ve pointed out how everyone has faith). In a culture that frequently attempts to ignore the realities of evil, sin, and death; when encountering circumstances where we must—it leaves us having to ask ourselves some difficult questions. This question always seems to be one of them: Continue reading

Whole-Hearted Discipleship

Discipleship Tested

Now large crowds were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions (Luke 14:25-33, NASB).

Scripture regularly mentions Jesus surrounded by crowds. I’d suspect that these were large crowds. Yet, considering the regularity with which crowds surrounded Him, I’m left with a question:

While there are often crowds, how many from these crowds are His followers?  Continue reading

A Clear Conscience

But this I admit to you, that according to the Way [Christianity] which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets; having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men (Acts 24:14-16, NASB).

No Regrets.

This has always been a personal goal: to live my life without regrets. There are definitely decisions that I’ve made during my life that weren’t the best in hindsight. And I’d call “bollocks (i.e. nonsense)” on anyone who suggests that they’ve never made a poor decision during theirs. Yet, I’ve been fortunate. I carry few regrets—at least, based on how I define regret. Continue reading

Backsliding or Unsteady Foundations?

A Tree and Its Fruit
“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.”

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’

The Two Foundations
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.”

When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes (Matthew 7:15-29, NASB).

Backsliding…

It’s a term that I was introduced to when I moved to the Southeastern United States—also known to many as the Bible Belt. The term’s use is not on par with the phrase bless your heart, but probably falls somewhere in that next tier of Christianese, alongside phrases such as help my unbelief and create a hedge of protection. For those not familiar with the word’s use in Christian vernacular, backsliding Christians are true followers of Christ who are allowing sinful habits to move them away from their Lord. For Christians, to be backsliding is a serious matter, as it deters sanctification. Continue reading

A Well-Placed Faith

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, NASB).

Whether we acknowledge it, we all possess faith. We all worship someone (e.g. ourselves) or something. For most of us—possibly all of us—we worship that which we perceive as truth; thereby, placing our faith in it. Our faith in that truth is what establishes our beliefs; subsequently, driving our actions.

How does it establish our beliefs?

Glad that you asked 😉 Continue reading

Prejudice

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:43-48, NASB).

“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:254, NASB)

THE INCREASINGLY COMMON PRACTICE OF EXHIBITING GROUP PREJUDICE
The intense hatred and divisiveness that is commonly seen whenever checking the news or conversing through social media is harrowing. Much of it seems driven by group prejudices towards various classes and ideologies. Regardless of our race, ethnicity, gender, social class, educational background, or ideological worldview, we’re all susceptible to prejudicial thought and behavior.

None of us are immune. Continue reading

The Narrow Path

Lukewarm people feel secure because they attend church, made a profession of faith at age twelve, were baptized, come from a Christian family, vote Republican, or live in America. Just as the prophets in the Old Testament warned Israel that they were not safe just because they lived in the land of Israel, so we are not safe just because we wear the label ‘Christian’ or because some people persist in calling us a ‘Christian nation.’ ~Francis Chan

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I’ve come to believe that how we respond to our circumstances—whatever they may be—is highly correlated with our identity. Continue reading

Like A Child

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:1-4, NASB).

But Jesus, knowing what they were thinking in their heart, took a child and stood him by His side, and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in My name receives Me, and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me; for the one who is least among all of you, this is the one who is great” (Luke 9:47-48, NASB).

INTRODUCTION
My mother has often told me that I was born an old man. When I finally asked her for clarification, she answered, “You were a serious kid, and very aware of your surroundings.” Continue reading

An Unimaginable Relationship

In Power Evangelism, Wimber spelled out his understanding of the impoverished framework that is so basic to Westerners that they cannot even see the assumptions as assumptions but rather as fundamental truths about the world. Westerners, he said, assume that we live in a truth only through empirical study and rational thought. We feel confident in our ability to control our environment, and we feel little need for any help from anything outside ourselves. We assume that only that which has been tested and proven is true. And finally, we accept reason as the only and highest authority in life. This secular, self-reliant, materialist, and rational culture is, Wimber argued, the greatest impediment to a Christian’s personal encounter with Christ. Now, he argued, we live in a world in which most intellectuals have abandoned the hope that we have a purpose for being, and we live in a moral crisis and a miasma of existential doubt (Tanya Luhrmann, When God Talks Back, p. 317).

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There appears to be a growing approach to practicing Christianity—particularly in the United States—that concerns me. Maybe this is simply a case of semantics. I, however, believe that it’s much more divergent and deadly. What some would probably argue to be semantics, I consider fundamental differences of core belief; for these semantics lead to differences in how individuals come to know and relate to God. Subsequently, there is a schism in Christian orthodoxy (“correct belief”), which is noticeable when considering Christian orthopraxy (“correct practice”). And—truthfully—it’s always been there… Continue reading

The Weight of the Cross

“We sinned for no reason but an incomprehensible lack of love, and He saved us for no reason but an incomprehensible excess of love.”
~Peter Kreeft, Jesus-Shock

Not too long ago, a friend of mine commented on how it seems as though I’m always wearing a necklace. The comment caught me off-guard; their observation truly came from out-of-the-blue. The regular adornment of a necklace doesn’t seem all that noteworthy to me; particularly given how little of my necklace is typically exposed. It’s never worn outside of my other attire (this is intentional), leaving only a small portion of the chain visible. An inch by half-inch tungsten carbide cross hangs from the chain; but again, rarely do others see it. Continue reading

Feeling Pressure: Fear Versus Faith

The only pressure I’m under is the pressure I’ve put on myself.
~Mark Messier, NHL Hall-of-Fame player (Oilers/Rangers)

Pressure is something you feel when you don’t know what you’re doing
~Chuck Noll, NFL Hall-of-Fame Coach (Steelers)

‘Pressure’ is a word that is misused in our vocabulary. When you start thinking of pressure, it’s because you’ve started to think of failure.
~Tommy Lasorda, MLB Hall-of-Fame Manager (Dodgers)

Courage is grace under pressure
~Ernest Hemingway, Author

Whatever you see—any good results—are all from the pressure
~Ziyi Zhang, Author

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AUTHOR’S NOTE: The following post intentionally applies a secular position through its majority, eventually applying a Christian perspective near its conclusion. The rationale for this decision is that it will help non-Christians see the general relevance of the topic, while also highlighting my view that a Christian perspective for addressing moments when feeling pressure (or confronting those poorly dealing with pressure) is best. This post focuses on issues that I believe are both prevalent and pervasive within the culture in which I find myself. I attempt to be as thorough as possible in my logic and as reasonable as possible with my justifications. What I do not claim is omniscience or perfect clarity on this issue—or any issue. Therefore, I welcome thoughtful dialogue with anyone who may disagree with any or all of my positioning | Any bold, magenta words within this post are hyperlinks that provide useful, supplemental information. If the magenta hyperlink is followed by (a), for example(a), then there is an available blog or appendix page that allows for a deeper look into the topic hyperlinked.

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INTRODUCTION
Feeling pressure. Who doesn’t feel pressure at one time or another? But for as frequently as we feel pressure, do we even understand why we feel it? And, what is “pressure”—really? Continue reading

bad eyes

To say that a thing is good is merely to express our feeling about it; and our feeling about it is the feeling we have been socially conditioned to have.

But if this is so, then we might have been conditioned to feel otherwise. ‘Perhaps’, thinks the reformer or the educational expert, ‘it would be better if we were. Let us improve our morality.’ Out of this apparently innocent idea comes the disease that will certainly end our species (and, in my view, damn our souls) if it is not crushed; the fatal superstition that men can create values, that a community can choose its ‘ideology’ as men choose their clothes. Everyone is indignant when he hears the Germans define justice as that which is to the interest of the Third Reich. But it is not always remembered that this indignation is perfectly groundless if we ourselves regard morality as a subjective sentiment to be altered at will. Unless there is some objective standard of good, over-arching Germans, Japanese and ourselves alike whether any of us obey it or no, then of course the Germans are as competent to create their ideology as we are to create ours. If ‘good’ and ‘better’ are terms deriving their sole meaning from the ideology of each people, then of course ideologies themselves cannot be better or worse than one another. Unless the measuring rod is independent of the things measured, we can do no measuring. For the same reason it is useless to compare the moral ideas of one age with those of another: progress and decadence are alike meaningless words.

~C.S. Lewis, The Poison of Subjectivism, p. 73

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a world claiming truth found solely in self,
within identities of limitless varieties,
an idol of independence placed upon a most prominent shelf,
while succumbing to sin and its subjectivities, Continue reading